What’s an entrepreneur supposed to do after he’s made his dream a reality?
This story originally appeared on Buffer
We often recommend crafting your social media posts according to your audience.
But how do you know who the individuals that make up your social media audience are? And how do you know what content they like?
Answering these two questions is essential if you’re looking to execute a successful social media strategy. And often, you’ll find the answers by turning to data and social media analytics.
Related: Never Run Out of Content: More than 70 Places to Curate Great Content
In this post, I’ll share a few ways of using data to find out more about your social media audience across the major social media platforms — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.
How to learn about your social media audience on the major social media platforms
Here’s an overview of the tools that you can use to help you understand who your followers are. Feel free to click on any of the social media platforms to skip to its section.
Facebook: Audience Insights, Page Insights and graph search
Instagram: Instagram Insights and SocialRank
Twitter: Twitter analytics, Followerwonk and SocialRank
LinkedIn: Linkedin analytics
Pinterest: Pinterest analytics
Audience Insights: Demographics, Page Likes and more
The most powerful tool to help you understand your Facebook Page fans is hidden within the Facebook Ads Manager: Audience Insights.
Here’s how to access your Audience Insights:
- Click on the dropdown menu in the upper-right corner of any Facebook page
- Select “Manage Ads”
- Click on the “Facebook Ads” menu
- Select “Audience Insights” (you might have to hover over “All Tools”)
Or you could access it via this direct link: https://www.facebook.com/ads/audience-insights.
Once you’re at your Audience Insights, select “People connected to your Page and enter your Page name under Connections > Pages.
Facebook might have, by default, selected “All United States” under “Location.” If you want a global view of your Facebook Page fans, hover over “All United States” and click on the cross.
Now, let’s find out who your Facebook Pages fans are!
Under the “Demographics” tab, you can get the following information:
- Age and gender distribution
- Relationship status
- Education level
- Job title
Under the “Page Likes” tab, you can get the following information:
- Top categories that your fans might like
- Pages that your fans might like
Under the “Locations” tab, you can get the following information:
- Top cities
- Top countries
- Top languages
Here’s the other information you can dig into:
- Activity — as in Facebook activities and their device usage
- Household — as in household size, income, etc.
- Purchase — as in purchase behavior
Household and purchase information is only available for audiences in the U.S. currently.
You can get a good understanding of your Facebook fans from all this information. For example, here’s what I found about Buffer’s Facebook Page fans:
- In terms of age, the biggest group (45 percent) is people between 25 to 34.
- We have slightly more male (57 percent) than female fans (43 percent).
- Most of them work in “Management,” “Sales,” “Arts, Entertainment, Sports and Media.”
- They also like software and internet companies like Hootsuite, MailChimp and Social Media Examiner.
- In terms of location, the biggest group is people in the U.S. (31 percent), followed by people in the U.K. (9 percent).
What did you find about your Facebook fans?
Page Insights: When your fans are online
Besides knowing your Facebook fans’ demographics, interests and locations, you can also find out when they are using Facebook in a typical week and day.
In your Page Insights, under the “Post” tab, you have a section called “When Your Fans Are Online.” (It should like the screenshot above.)
Under the section, “Days,” you’ll see how many of your fans are active on Facebook on a given day. Under the section, “Times,” you’ll see how many of your fans are active on Facebook during each hour on a typical day. This is a great way to find your best times to post.
Most of our fans seem to be on Facebook every day of the week. On a typical day, they tend to be most active between 12 p.m. and 9 p.m. EDT. How about your fans?
Graph Search: Other Pages that your fans Like
While Audience Insights tells you the Pages your fans might like, Facebook’s Graph Search can tell you the Pages they have Liked.
To do this, type “pages like by people who like (your Page name)” on the search bar at the top of any Facebook page.
In the results, there’ll be a section, “Pages liked by people who like (your Page name).” As the section title suggests, those are the Pages like by your Facebook Page fans. One thing to note is that the results seem to prioritize your friends. So essentially, these are Pages liked by your friends who also Liked your Facebook Page.
So what do you know about your Facebook Page fans now?
Instagram Insights: Demographics, location and more
With a business profile on Instagram, the best way to learn about your followers is through Instagram Insights — Instagram’s free native analytics. (If you don’t have a business profile and want to convert, here’s how. If you don’t want to convert, read the next section.)
Here’s how to access your followers’ information in Instagram Insights:
- Tap on your profile photo in the lower-right corner of the mobile app
- Tap on the analytics button (the chart icon)
- Scroll down to the “Followers” section and tap on “See more”
Related: What to Post on Each Social Media Platform: The Complete Guide to Optimizing Your Social Content
Here’s the information about your Instagram followers that you can get from your Instagram Insights:
- Gender distribution
- Age range distribution (men and women)
- Top locations (cities and countries)
- Times and days when your followers are most active
Tip: If you tap on the bar charts for age range and location, the percentages will be revealed.
Our Instagram followers are quite similar to our Facebook Page fans.
- We have slightly more male (52 percent) than female followers (48 percent).
- In terms of age, the biggest group (45 percent) is people between 25 to 34.
- In terms of location, the biggest group is people in the U.S. (38 percent), followed by people in the U.K. (8 percent).
- They are most active on Tuesday and Wednesday on a typical week and between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. for most days.
How does this compare to your Instagram followers?
The follower information in Instagram Insights doesn’t tell you your followers’ interests. A way to figure this out is to look at your top posts. In the third step above, instead of tapping on “See more” in the “Followers” section, tap on “See more” in the “Posts” section.
Here, you’ll find your top posts by impressions — the total number of times that each post has been seen. I would recommend filtering your top posts by engagement, instead, to find out which types of posts your followers like to engage with. To change the filter, tap on “Impressions” at the top and select “Engagement.”
Sometimes, it might not be immediately obvious which type of posts your followers like. In such cases, you could make hypotheses, test a few types of posts and see what works.
Social Rank: Interests, activity and more
If you don’t have a business profile on Instagram or prefer not to convert, you could use free Instagram tools like Social Rank.
Once you have connected your Instagram account to Social Rank, click on “Show Summary” in the top-center of the page. Here, Social Rank will show you the many different information about your followers, such as the following:
- Gender distribution
- Top followers locations
- Popular bio words
- Popular hashtags
- Popular time to post
- Followers distribution (how many followers your audience has)
The information under “Popular bio words” and “Popular hashtags” might reveal the interests, job title or industry of your Instagram followers. For example, our Instagram followers like to use words like “marketing,” “social” and “media” in their bio, which is what our ideal audience does — social media marketing.
The “Popular time to post” section shows you the times your followers are posting, which is when they are online and when it might be best for you to post.
You could also make some inferences about your followers by looking at your most engaged followers. To do that, sort your followers by “Most Engaged.” Social Rank will show you the followers that have interacted with you the most in the past 45 days. Click on the top 20 to 30 profiles and check out their bio and websites. Are there any similarities?
Twitter analytics: Interests, demographics and more
The native Twitter analytics provides comprehensive information about your Twitter audiences — your followers, your organic audience and your tailored audiences.
Here’s how to access this information:
- Click on your profile photo in the upper-right corner of any Twitter page
- Select “Analytics”
- Click on “Audiences” in the top navigation bar
Here are some of the key information you can get from the various tabs (e.g. “Overview,” “Demographics,” etc.):
- Gender and age distribution
- Household income categories
- Consumer buying styles
Here’s what I found about Buffer’s Twitter followers (again, they are quite similar to our Facebook fans and Instagram followers):
- We have slightly more male (56 percent) than female followers (44 percent).
- In terms of age, the biggest group (54 percent) is people between 25 to 34.
- In terms of location, the biggest group is people in the U.S. (36 percent), followed by people in the U.K. (12 percent).
- They are mostly interested in “Business and News,” “Technology” and “Tech News.”
What about your Twitter followers?
Followerwonk: Job title, activity and more
Followerwonk is a great Twitter tool that provides a bit more information than Twitter analytics. And it’s free for analysis of accounts with up to 25,000 followers.
To analyze your Twitter follower base, type in your Twitter handle and select “analyze their followers.”
Here are some of the useful information about your followers that you can get:
- Most active hours
- Word cloud of their bios
Tip: Followerwonk integrates with Buffer so that you can easily create a schedule based on when your Twitter followers are most active.
Social Rank: Interests, activity and more
Social Rank can also be used for Twitter, and it provides similar information as it would for Instagram.
For example, here are the popular words and hashtags used in our Twitter followers’ bio and posts respectively (they are similar to those of our Instagram followers):
LinkedIn analytics: Job titles, locations and more
The LinkedIn Company Page analytics provides a good amount of information to help you define your LinkedIn followers (and visitors).
Here’s how to access your LinkedIn follower information:
- Click on “Manage Page” on your Company Page
- Click on “Analytics” on the top navigation bar
- Select “Followers”
The LinkedIn analytics offers seven types of demographic data about your followers:
- Job function
- Company size
- Employment status
I find it helpful to look at the job function and industry data to get a sense of who our followers are. From our data, it seems that most of our LinkedIn followers are marketers and founders in the digital space.
You can find similar information about your visitors — people who aren’t following your Company Page and have visited your Company Page. Instead of selecting “Followers” in the dropdown menu, select “Visitors.”
What does your data tell you about your LinkedIn followers and visitors?
Pinterest analytics: Demographics, interests and more
If you have a business account on Pinterest, the best way to understand who your Pinterest followers are is to use Pinterest analytics. (You can set up your Pinterest business account here.)
Here’s how to access your follower information in Pinterest analytics:
- Click on “Analytics” in the upper-left corner of any Pinterest page
- Select “People you reach”
- On the right side of the page, click on “All audiences”
- Switch to “Your followers”
Or you could access it via this direct link: https://analytics.pinterest.com/audience/.
Here’s the various helpful information you can get:
- Audience size
- Country and metro
- Boards (Boards by your followers with many of your Pins)
- Brands (Businesses your followers follows and engage with)
Related: An Updated List of Facebook’s Algorithm Changes
Our Pinterest follower base is slightly different from our follower base on the other major social media platforms. Perhaps because of the demographics on Pinterest.
- We have more female (74 percent) than male fans (21 percent). (Five percent unspecified.)
- In terms of location, the biggest group is people in the U.S., followed by people in India.
- They are mostly interested in “Technology,” “Design” and “Travel.”
How does your Pinterest follower base look like?
What do you know about your social media audience?
Understanding who your social media audience is can help you craft the right content for them, boost your engagement and increase your reach. And by using the amazing social media tools around, you can learn so much about your followers — for free.
The two businesses had very different ideas about company culture.
We’ve all taken one of those breaks that we think should only last a couple of minutes but ends up being a few hours. Why do we do this and how can we stop these from becoming routine?
In this video, Entrepreneur Network partner Brian Tracy explains exactly why you need to stop killing time, as well as three easy tips you can use to be more productive on a daily basis. For example, simply by scheduling time for short mental breaks, you can put a cap on the amount of time you spend not working. Or, by tackling the hardest thing on your to-do list and getting it out of the way, you can make the rest of your day seem more manageable.
Click play to learn more.
Related: 7 Little Habits That Are Killing Your Productivity
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Giving presentations, whether during meetings with co-workers or to potential new clients, can often seem intimidating. But luckily, there are tried and true ways to organize your information so that it is both easy to present and clear to your audience.
Related: 6 Ways to Take Your Presentation to the Next Level
In his book, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, Christopher Booker explains how and why all stories boil down to one of seven plot structures, and how these can act as outlines for effectively presenting all sorts of information. By organizing presentations to follow these story structures, your audience will recognize the familiar flow, and find it easy to understand you and your content.
From overcoming a monster to rags to riches, check out this QuidCorner infographic to see how these familiar storylines can help your next PowerPoint leave a lasting impression.
You’ve been working around the clock, beating every deadline and taking on extra assignments: that dream of a raise seems to be close to a reality. But office politics, competition and new clients can take the spotlight away from you and your achievements. Luckily, there are ways to implement the art of persuasion to showcase yourself and secure that raise.
Related: Do Raises Make Employees Happy or Is It Something More?
Small and simple things such as taking an active interest in your superiors and reciprocating body language can pave the way to success, showcasing both your skills and value to your company.
For more trusted tips, check out this infographic from SavingSpot, and be on your way to the raise you deserve.
This time of year is normally filled with stories about holiday cheer and yuletide goodwill to all. ‘Tis the season after all. No wonder that in years past, I’ve typically written about Christmas movies, business or some other jolly topic.
Related: 4 Mistakes We All Make to Perpetuate Gender Bias
This year, however,it would an oversight to address the holidays without addressing what’s dominated the pre-holiday news cycle: gender inequality and sexual harassment. Everyone is talking about these things, and not just media personalities, Hollywood celebs and other high-profile individuals. (Those are the ones making the headlines!)
One reason why so many are talking? While public figures, in a public setting, are the ones we’re hearing about most, the reality is that sexual harassment and discrimination occur on a regular basis, even in fields like ours.
We can’t eradicate the underlying inequality from every industry by snapping our fingers, but we can do something to combat it in our own industry. Entrepreneurship, after all, is contagious. It’s a state of mind, a way of life: A good idea deserves to be launched, regardless of who is launching it. Yet the reality is so often about who gets that opportunity, and when.
Let me show you some numbers:
- Women own only 5 percent of startups.
- Only 7 percent of partners at top 100 venture capital firms are women.
- Women hold only 11 percent of the executive positions in Silicon Valley.
- Last year, venture capitalists invested just $1.46 billion in women-led companies, while male-led companies earned $58.2 billion in investments, according to M&A and venture capital database Pitchbook.
How do we, as entrepreneurs and business owners, help address this national issue? How do we address the gender gap in our own midst, in entrepreneurship? And what does a middle-aged, white man know about this gap to begin with?
Related: Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In 2.0 and Corporate Gender Bias
I’ll start by admitting that I’m not an expert in the topic, but as a student of human nature, I see that the tools to combat this are right in front of us — if we know where to look. Here are some steps we can take.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and the issue of gender parity won’t go away in a week, a month or even a year. Set a goal. For example, Oath CEO Tim Armstrong said during a cable TV news interview that his mission was to fill at least half of his company’s leadership positions by 2020 with women.
He also said that Oath (a company that was born from the merger between AOL and Yahoo!) is “roughly [at] the 30 percent [level] right now.” He said he wanted to achieve his goal of 50 percent female leadership by promoting from within and creating new positions in areas where women can lead.
He said that his initial plan was to launch a new company within the Oath umbrella, where all leadership positions would be filled by women. In fact, the entire company would employ women.
His plan seemed flawless until he had a conversation with none other than feminist icon Gloria Steinem.
She reminded him that women don’t need a separate workspace — quite the opposite, actually. She pointed out to Armstrong that business owners at all levels need to take more risks within their own ecosystems, as companies perform better where men and women can work side by side.
According to a McKinsey report, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to outperform above average, financially, within their industry.
At my own company, I’ve hired more women than men. I know what they’re capable of and I’ve taken steps to empower them to make decisions. One of those steps involves my response when someone asks me a question.
“I will not do the work of my very talented team,” I sometimes reply. That means that I want those team members to make the decision. If their decision ends up being wrong, it’s a learning experience. (More often than not, my team makes the right decision.)
Ensure equal access to capital.
Despite many advances in gender equality, it’s still an old boys network in terms of financing and investing in startups. A study by Harvard Business School found that investors prefer entrepreneurial ventures pitched by men. The study also took a look at video pitches and found they were twice as likely to get funded when they were narrated by men.
This doesn’t even make sense to me. If it’s a good idea, with a good business plan — fund it!
A quarterly report by Fundera found that female entrepreneurs on average ask for roughly $35,000 less in financing their small businesses than men. The report also found that across the board, women entrepreneurs get offered smaller loans (2.5 times less money), than men do.
Because it’s so hard to get funding from VCs or angel investors, especially female-led startups, many organizations have taken steps to address these challenges. Companies like Watermark, SheWorx, Merge Lanes and BBG Ventures, to name a few, are making it easier not just to acquire capital, but to access it as well.
Despite women-led businesses being the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurship, they still comprise a small percentage of companies funded by VCs. Some blame this on under-representation of women’s businesses, but I think that statement is a cop-out. As I’ve said before, good ideas aren’t a monopoly for one segment of the population to own.
In my own company, I encourage anyone with an idea to step forward — whether it’s the president of the company or the intern. A good idea from a female entrepreneur deserves the same shot at funding as any other good idea from a male colleague.
Share the spotlight.
Earlier this year, I attended a conference in New York City. Throughout the conference, I noticed that the majority of the panels were all-male, and I thought to myself, “Why isn’t there a woman on that panel?” Our company does a lot of events throughout the year, so I made a mental note to tell my C-suite network team to make sure we have a diverse list of speakers and panelists at every conference and summit we do.
In fact, this problem is a prevalent one. The upcoming Consumer Electronics Show (CES), was recently called out by female tech executives for its lack of inclusion and diversity. It might be one of the largest tech events, but its keynote-speaker lineup lacked any women.
Twitter CMO Leslie Berland, in particular, took to social media on Dec. 3 to make her feelings known, tweeting, “I’ve got a long list of amazing women to hit your stage. Let’s talk. #changetheratio.” And JP Morgan Chase’s CMO, Kristen Lemkau, chimed in, naming a long list of women innovators in “less time than it took to drink coffee.”
As a result of this backlash, the show organizers made changes to the program. And that was the right thing to do: Giving women exposure as part of a panel, as a keynote speaker or in some other visible role, helps narrow the gender gap — if only in a small way.
Make no mistake about it: The problem we face is a big one. It’s a systemic problem that none of us can change alone, but when we all work toward multiple solutions, progress happens.
Related: Dear Everyone, Let’s Kill the Phrase ‘Women Entrepreneurs’
As business owners and entrepreneurs, we need to take a good, hard look at ourselves and tackle this issue head on. We must ask ourselves, “Are we part of the problem?” And, if so, we have to fix it!
There’s no doubt about it — we are living in the digital age, and we aren’t going back. Truth be told, you’re living decades in the past if your business doesn’t have a solid online presence, particularly if you’re a retail-based brand.
Related: 6 Steps to Building a Million-Dollar Ecommerce Site in 60 Days
However, you likely do, and probably utilize those tried-and-true website design techniques — it should be responsive and optimized for mobile. It should be modern, have some negative space and organized intuitively. There’s some less-obvious care and consideration that goes into a website design, though, that could help you boost your online sales.
I looked at the three largest ecommerce retailers by sales according to eMarketer — Walmart, Apple and Amazon — to determine what it is they do that boosts their businesses into a league of their own, and what you can learn from them.
Walmart.com: The best mobile-optimized ecommerce website
The supermarket behemoth that was once known for Midwestern storefronts and smiley-faced rollbacks has transitioned quite comfortably into an ecommerce destination for all. Beginning in 2014, Walmart.com started updating its website to boost its online presence, likely in a successful challenge to Amazon (more on that later).
Much like its softer, more modern logo redesign, Walmart.com’s new website is accented by a milder blue hue and plenty of negative space that allows each product to shine. However, the most important feature of Walmart’s ecommerce destination is its consistency on all platforms. Whether you’re shopping from your smartphone’s browser, your tablet of choice or a desktop computer, everything from search to checkout is easy, intuitive and dependable on every platform.
Related: Side Hustlers: Watch This Before You Launch Your Ecommerce Site
So, how do these small changes spell big payoff for Walmart’s bottom line? Well, first of all, that stellar mobile user experience reaps some positive reinforcement from Google, which has factored mobile friendliness into its rankings since 2015. Plus, the smartphone ecommerce features a prominent search bar and cart, and intuitive clicking throughout the screen, which makes shopping for steals even more of a breeze.
Walmart’s overall muscle behind its online shopping destination is paying off, too. In fact, Walmart recently copped to hosting higher prices online than it does in stores, proving that consumers really will pay a higher price for a greater convenience. And it’s working, too. Last year, the retailer’s online sales increased by 9 percent, resulting in a staggering $14.4 billion in sales. The bottom line? Ultimately, investing in mobile design will prove to be a big payoff.
What you can learn: A mobile-optimized website isn’t good enough. Instead, you should ensure your mobile destinations have the exact same experience as your desktop versions.
Apple.com: The best brand-oriented ecommerce website
If Apple is known for anything, it’s exceptional design and attention to detail. Lucky for us consumers, this care is extended to more than just iPhones and Apple Watches.
Apple’s streamlined design and sleek aesthetic is showcased throughout its minimalistic website, driving home its overarching brand ideals and solidifying consumer loyalty — something proven to drive bottom lines.
Related: How Clever Retargeting Persuades Customers Who Looked But Didn’t Buy
Need further proof that Apple invests in every detail of a user’s experience? Take a look at its human interface guidelines. While that may deal with designing its products, it ultimately reflects the qualities portrayed in Apple’s online store. After all, you can’t sell a product online without a digital destination, so you might as well make sure they match.
Apple’s interface designs place high emphasis on a consistent look and feel brand-wide, clean grids and placing users in control of their overall experience — all of which is demonstrated in its website. The products are displayed in grids, and interactive demo videos and infographics throughout the website allow the users to compare, contrast and — yes, you guessed it — control the entire shopping experience.
And Apple’s brand consistency, from products to an ecommerce website, pays off in a big way. Brand allegiance and a smooth experience lower bounce rates, which ultimately boost sales.
What you can learn: Put that brand book to use, and employ the same design guidelines in your website as you do each product to drive home a strong user experience and increase brand loyalty.
Amazon.com: The best product-driven ecommerce website
Truth be told, Amazon doesn’t have the best website design on the internet.
Hear me out, though.
The homepage is cluttered, product pages are laden with ads and — combined with the grocery and video options — the overall website can be a bit distracting for consumers who visit the website with a particular purchase in mind. However, Amazon provides great deals, exceptional checkout and delivery, and places nearly every product you could ever need at your fingertips, rendering it almost irreplaceable.
According to Shopify, this clear purpose is paramount to successful ecommerce sites. Amazon’s in-depth reviews, complete product descriptions, and extensive confirmation emails show us that, ultimately, people want an online store that will get them what they need, stat. Amazon.com fulfills that need tenfold, as demonstrated by its third quarter sales, which jumped up 34 percent to $43.7 billion.
What you can learn: At the end of the day, if you sell high-value products, the customers will come.
Related: 7 Tips to Start Taking Product and Lifestyle Photos for Your Small Business Today, According to a Professional Photographer
In ecommerce website design, it’s important to remember that people are looking to acquire a product as easily as possible; at the end of the day, every design decision should capitalize on that end goal. Whether that’s through a simple smartphone purchase, consistent branding, products that are the best bang for their buck or something totally different, find the qualities your demographic values most and execute them on your website. Combined with a simple design and easy UX, your online store’s profits are sure to amaze.
What are your favorite ecommerce websites?
Related Video: How to Create an Online Business in Your Spare Time
Virtually every entrepreneur has experienced that “eureka!” moment or reached for the proverbial napkin to jot down a million dollar idea. But what if you can’t wait around for inspiration to strike? What if you’re not as fortunate as Isaac Newton was with his apple (or Steve Jobs with his)? That’s where brainstorming comes in.
Related: The New Rules of Brainstorming
This activity can be defined as the “simultaneous oral generation of ideas.” Typically, a brainstorming session in the business world involves a small team — six people or fewer — who are encouraged to freely share their ideas, regardless of their position in the company.
In theory, this spontaneous, rapid-fire sharing of ideas by workers opens the doors to creative problem-solving. However, the unfettered sharing of opinion can quickly devolve into chaos if there’s no structure in place.
Here, I examine five tried-and-true brainstorming techniques for spurring creativity when you’re looking for a solution to an entrenched problem in your startup — or starting a new business altogether.
Idea 1: Map your mind.
The mind map is a visual brainstorming tool conceived by Tony Buzan. Mind maps are useful for both groups and individuals organizing thoughts or strategy behind an idea or question.
When Buzan debuted his concept of the mind map in the late 1960s, he suggested using a blank sheet of paper and colored pencils. Today, there are many online, mobile-friendly alternatives, including MindMeister, MindManager, and Mindly. Of these, I took MindManager’s desktop software for a spin, using the hypothetical question: “Should I relocate my business to New York City?” My company produced the following image:
Image Credit: FEInternational
A mind map like this is best suited to solo brainstorming: It’s a valuable technique for breaking down a problem or idea into its constituent parts. It encourages you to find the relationships among individual tasks — and is especially well worth a look if you’re visually inclined.
Idea 2: “Brainwriting”
Typically, brainstorming is thought of as a group spoken activity. But what if we’ve got it wrong? Current research shows that group interactions, like brainstorming, can actually inhibit idea generation. That makes sense when you think about it. While waiting for a fellow team member to make a point, you might miss the chance to express your own flash of inspiration. Group brainstorming sessions are also inherently restrictive, given that only one person at a time “has the floor.”
Related: 4 Ways to Access Your Creative Genius
In any group dynamic, there tend to be individuals who dominate the conversation, but that doesn’t necessarily make any of them the person with the best ideas. This imbalance in communication can prevent the best ideas from being considered or even heard.
In this context, a Hofstra University study suggested a possible solution: brainwriting. Rather than speaking, individual team members write down their ideas before sharing them with the group. The intention is to engender the simultaneous written generation of ideas.
Depending on the size of your team and what you are trying to achieve, there are many different methods of brainwriting. One of my favorites is the 6-3-5 method. This involves teams of six individuals writing down three ideas each to help solve a specific problem in a five-minute span. Spontaneity is still encouraged, but each team member is given equal opportunity to share his or her ideas.
After each “session” is complete, the 6-3-5 form is passed in turn to adjacent team members, who either elaborate on each of the three ideas or add new ideas of their own. This has proven to be an effective, structured method of generating useful ideas quickly. A video tutorial for 6-3-5 is available here.
Idea 3: “SWOT”
Invented at the Stanford Research Institute, a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) is typically used in analysis and decision-making, but it can be a great brainstorming tool as well. Visually categorizing points into the appropriate categories will help flesh out any business concept. SWOT works equally well for individual or group brainstorming sessions.
For the following example using the SWOT method, imagine I am a craftsman starting a luxury leather goods ecommerce business. I’m using SWOT to decide whether to build a Shopify store or utilize Fulfilment by Amazon:
Image Credit: FEInternational
Want to give SWOT a shot using your own problem? Try it out with a blank SWOT form, which can be downloaded here.
Idea 4: “Role-storming”
As you might guess from the name, role-storming is a group-oriented role-playing technique. Role-storming was developed by Rick Griggs in the 1980s. He found that employees, especially lower-level ones, often felt intimidated by the notion of sharing ideas in traditional brainstorming sessions. For example, a customer-service representative might not feel comfortable sharing ideas in front of a vice president.
Customer-facing employees — those on the front line dealing with customers day in and day out — often have extremely valuable insights. Role-storming can help turn intimidation into inspiration. Having team members act out roles different from their actual position frees them to share ideas more freely. This typically leads to rapid idea generation. Plus, it’s fun.
Idea 5: “Starbursting”
Generally, brainstorming is about finding the answers to a question. With starbursting, you work in reverse. The goal is to find the right questions.
Image Credit: FEInternational
Asking the right questions often gives you more insightful answers. In yet another scenario, imagine you have come up with a brilliant idea for an Amazon Associate affiliate marketing site. Before jumping in, feet first, setting up a blog and writing content, you recognize that it’s important to answer all of above graphic’s questions fully and accurately.
Starbursting is great for taking a step back and seeing your business model clearly and objectively. It also can be done on either a solo or team basis. So, try it: And don’t stop brainstorming questions until you run out of steam. Once you do — guess what? It’s time to answer those questions. You can find a blank starburst template here.
Brainstorming — either alone or in a group — is a great way to jumpstart the creative process.
Would-be entrepreneurs dream of hitting upon a flash of genius in the middle of the night. Experienced entrepreneurs, however, know there’s no time to be wasted waiting around for inspiration to strike.
After all, even if that flash of genius does strike, the real work has only just begun.
Related: Great Ideas Can Come From Inspiration — or Brute Force
So, get started on your brainstorming: Consider putting one of the above five techniques to work for you and your team. Pick the one that suits the dynamic of your group — keeping in mind that role-casting can be great for breaking the ice. If you’re looking for some solo inspiration, try a SWOT or mind-map.
Whichever technique it is, you can use it to put the power of brainstorming to work for you — next time you encounter a daunting problem.
This year, BestSelf.Co was among the winners of Shopify’s first Build a BIGGER Business competition. Singled-out for our innovative marketing of the SELF Journal (our flagship product and bestselling success tool), our prize included a week of mentoring with a few big names on Tony Robbins’ Fiji hideaway.
Related: 10 Books Tim Ferriss Thinks Every Entrepreneur Should Read
This is what Tim Ferriss taught us about rapid, sustainable scaling during our one-to-one session.
Image credit: Courtesy of Allen Brouwer and Cathryn Lavery
1. Confirm your endgame.
Ferriss started out by telling us that because he didn’t know a lot about our business, he was going to ask questions and then pull on the threads to extract the information he needed to advise us. We loved this approach because his sharp questions got us thinking, helped us get clarity and unlocked new trains of thought.
Just like in our one-to-one with Robbins, we talked with Ferriss about the importance of our big picture scale strategy — in particular figuring out our endgame. Ferriss stressed the importance of understanding the ultimate goal for our business, and in particular, understanding what company we need to be if we want to do an exit.
It’s only when you’re clear on your destination that you can plan a scale strategy to get there. For example, building a company to sell requires a different approach to growing a business that supports a lifestyle.
Related: Tim Ferriss: If You’re Not Happy With What You Have, You Might Never Be Happy
2. Learn how businesses grow extremely quickly.
Once you’ve identified your endgame, the next step is to figure out what strategy will help you get there.
We talked with Ferriss about how many entrepreneurs see investment as the perfect solution. However, Ferriss warned us to be cautious about seeking early investment. He told us that investors often expect a 10-fold return, which makes investment the most expensive cash. What’s more, not only will you give up equity (and therefore control over your business), but you’ll feel more pressure because of the expectation to deliver. It’s why you pay a very high price for the cash that you secure — especially when you consider the other options that you have.
Related: Tim Ferriss, Gary Vaynerchuk and More Share What Will Make Businesses Successful in 2018
Instead, Ferriss suggests exploring alternatives to investment first so you can grow your business the way you want.
He also revealed the three stages that companies can go through to secure rapid growth.
This is where most of us start. You have an idea that you want to bring to market quickly so you can test it and see if it’s got potential. For this stage of growth, crowdfunding is the perfect scale strategy because it allows you to prove an idea rapidly without taking a big financial risk.
A fast-growing business will soon exceed the point where the founders can grow it alone. When you reach this point, strategic advisors can help you push through this growth hurdle and get to the next step. That’s because the right strategic advice will shortcut your learning curve and become a catalyst for growth.
Ferriss explained that advisory needs will vary by business, but the type of advice you can leverage includes financial expertise, growth hacking, product development or logistics experience.
Related: Tim Ferriss: If You Have to Cut Your Sleep to Be Effective, Your Priorities Are Out of Order
Strategic advice can be informal too. For example, Ferriss emphasized the benefit of finding people who already have the results you want and then arrange to meet for coffee. Use this opportunity to not only discover the strategies used, but find out whether they’d do it the same way again — or if they’d take a different approach. This, Ferriss explained, is a brilliant way to fast-track your growth.
Once advisors have fueled growth, the next step is to find an outside company to get to the next stage. For example, this might involve a venture capital company to fund with cash and resources or to help secure a merger with another company.
3. Overcome cash constraints creatively.
Regardless of your scale strategy, you will need cash to fund your growth and help you implement the actions necessary to take you to the next step.
Lack of cash can be a big hurdle for growing businesses, but fortunately, there are plenty of creative options you can explore before seeking investment and sacrificing equity.
Related: Tim Ferriss Says You Have the Wrong Idea About Fear, and It’s Killing Your Dreams
Here’s a summary of the ideas that Ferriss suggested to us:
Kickstarter and crowdfunding
This cash strategy launched BestSelf.Co. In fact, Kickstarter was a game-changer for us. Not only did we have proof of concept, but we secured over $320,000 to help create our first delivery of SELF Journals.
Creating a new revenue stream
Introducing a monthly subscription model is a smart strategy for any growing business. It’s a long-term strategy too. That’s because as well as creating a regular, predictable income stream, this model can help you secure a higher multiple should you wish to sell in the future.
Working with someone else (who already serves your ideal client) is a quick and effective way to build your audience and create a greater pool of potential customers.
Related: The Tim Ferriss Approach to Setting Goals: Rig the Game so You Win
Selling your invoices
Financing your invoices is a flexible way to generate cash now. It can be useful if you want to boost cash flow immediately so you have the money you need to get your scale strategy moving.
Interest rates are relatively low right now, which means you could secure the cash you need without sacrificing any equity.
Apply Ferriss‘s advice to your business:
Our one-to-one with Ferriss was invaluable for helping us to figure out our plan of action for our next stage of growth. In terms of Ferriss’s three scale strategies, we’re currently at the stage where we need strategic advice. So, since returning from Fiji we’ve been figuring out what help we need to help accelerate us to the next step.
Here’s an overview of how Ferriss’s advice to us could help you, too:
- Firstly, get clear on your endgame. You need to understand your desired destination before you can craft the scale strategy that will get you there.
- Next, figure out whether you need to bootstrap, hire advisors or build relationships with outside parties to get to the next stage of growth.
- Finally, get creative with your financing options. Remember, investment may look attractive, but there’s a good chance other creative cash routes will serve you better at this moment in time.
Related Video: How To Attract The Best Mentors, According to Tim Ferriss