Employees who take vacation return feeling more creative and productive.

3 Ways to Encourage Employee Vacations

American workers don't take vacation as often as they should. According to Project: Time Off, U.S. employees take fewer vacations today than they have in the last 40 years. This has a serious effect on productivity and employee satisfaction, and can quickly lead to burnout. However, it's not just a matter of giving your employees time off – they have to actually take it. Here are some ways you can make sure your employees are taking time to recharge: 

1. Set a Precedent
If your employees see that vacations don't make the office fall apart, they'll be more likely to take them themselves. When someone goes on vacation, make an effort to demonstrate that the office can handle responsibilities while they're away. This way other employees will see that they're not abandoning their co-workers when they take time off. You can also make a strong impression by taking time off yourself. "Do as I say, not as I do" only goes so far: By taking vacations, you're setting an example for others to do the same.

2. Let People Disconnect
Set an office-wide policy that says that employees will not be contacted while they're on vacation except in emergency situations. Define what counts as an emergency, don't leave it to be decided in the moment. Empower employees taking on an absent co-worker's responsibility to use discretion and make decisions without reaching out whenever possible. Encourage vacationing employees to disconnect as well: They shouldn't be checking emails or handing out business cards when they're supposed to be relaxing.

3. Make a Policy
If building a culture of vacationing isn't working, you can instate a policy of required time off. If you do this, it is vital that you build policies to take over work when people are out of the office. It's not fair to require that people take vacation and effectively punish them in the process, so be sure you've already taken other vacation-encouraging steps before you force workers to take time off. 

Your business plan will guide you through key decisions and show investors and hires you're worth their time.

Creating a Business Plan

If you're starting a new business, you need to have a business plan. Your business plan will guide you through all of the key decisions you need to make early on. How will you reach your audience? Who do you need to hire? How many customers do you want to have by the end of your first year? Your third? These are just some of the questions your business plan should address. Before you can start handing out business cards and trying to convince investors to give you money, you must decide exactly what your business is going to do. 

Business Plan Basics
Unlike a mission statement or an elevator pitch, business plans are not meant to be brief. They should be expansive, detailed documents that fully flesh out your company's future. You're going to use this to wow investors and convince key hires to join you, so it has to describe why your business is worth their time and money. Most business plans are around 20 pages long, although some are twice that length. If your business plan is breaking 40 pages, you probably have more information than you need. Business plans already have a lot to take in, so make sure there are no extraneous details. 

Topics Covered
Every facet of your business should be covered in your business plan. Break the document up into sections and include a table of contents so readers can browse in the order that makes sense to them. Topics your business plan should go over include:

  • A description of the product or service your company provides.
  • An analysis of the market and how your company fits in.
  • Your target audience.
  • An overview of your competitors and how you will stand out.
  • A marketing plan that details how you will spread the word about your company.
  • Hires you plan to make and roles your company will have.
  • Milestones your company will reach as it grows.
  • A financial plan that goes over the funding you need and your projected profits.

Before you begin to write your business plan, come up with an outline that includes all of your key points. Gather charts and data that you will use. Write multiple drafts and always look at your writing with a critical eye. Try not to be the only eyes on your work, and stay open to feedback and criticism. 

Elevator pitches should be short and to-the-point in order to inform the listener of what your company does.

Perfecting Your Investor Pitch

In the field of start-ups and budding businesses, the term "pitch" is often tossed around. This very short explanation of what your company does and who you are is incredibly important for procuring investors. Here are some basics to create one to help you gain funding for your latest venture:

Explain yourself
The entire point of a pitch is to leave your audience with the information they need to know about why they should finance your company. Tell them right away what the business name is and what services or goods you provide. For example, "Little Chompers is a dentist office that provides children with a comfortable and fun experience. We are located in San Jose and offer services to anyone ages 2 months to 16 years. We make kids and parents feel at ease so a trip to the dentist isn't a traumatizing experience." This message shares what your company does, who it services and where it is located, all things potential investors need to know. 

Take Questions
You're not providing a lecture to college students, so no need to finish your pitch by asking for questions. Instead, after you've said your part, there shouldn't be any questions left to ask. You've already told them the main points they need to know. In which case, great job! There are, however, often people who want to get to the meat of your pitch by asking particularly specific queries. For the example above with Little Chompers, someone may ask what's so special about your practice that makes it friendly for kids? This is when you delve into the little details, like the TV's are at perfect height for children to watch the Disney Channel or cartoons during their routine cleaning. Talk about the smaller, comfortable chairs and the purposeful design of each exam room that makes everyone feel comfortable. Have a few extra talking points to touch on if someone wants to know more and you'll be all set to ace this investor pitch. The more you know about your company and goals, the better your likelihood is of getting funding.

Avoid Buzzwords
As a company owner, you've likely come across quite a few buzzword-filled resumes. These touchy terms like "innovative," "integrated," and "diverse" have been so overused they often don't mean anything at all. Try to avoid these words and instead say what you really mean. If you think your children's dental practice is innovative, explain why. Talk about the process to make kids annual checkups much less stressful and more enjoyable. That's the information your potential backers really want to hear. Saying the company is innovative doesn't mean anything – in order to be relevant in any industry, you have to be innovative. Share what you're really doing and stay away from meaningless buzzwords.

Be Sincere
In reality, a pitch is a sales move. Yes, you are selling your company and its services to whomever is listening, but that doesn't mean you need a suit, tie and diagram to make a sale. People are drawn to sincere pitches that lay out what a business does and why. Instead of sugarcoating your pitch with big words and colorful phrases, say exactly what your new company does and why they should be interested in getting involved financially. Smile and show your passion for the job, but don't overdo it and end up coming off as cheesy or insincere.

Add a Business Card
Your investor pitch should be so solid that those who hear it recall what your company is and who you are for weeks after you interacted with them. To really help seal the deal, hand out business cards while you talk so your audience can easily contact you about potential business opportunities and networking. 

You can pin your business card to public pinboards to attract attention and gain customers.

5 Ways to Use Business Cards

Business cards are incredibly important. Entrepreneur considers business cards one of the most valuable tools a business can use to increase referrals. However, not everyone uses them to their full potential. If you're only handing out business cards when you're in your office, that's a serious sign that you're underutilizing them. Not sure how to ramp up your business card usage? Here are a few tips and trick that you can use to make sure your card ends up in someone's hands – and stays there:

1. Always Have Them
One of the biggest business card mistakes you can make is never having your business cards around. Your cards are useless if they sit in a box on your desk forever. Keep them in your purse or briefcase, and slip a few into your wallet in case you need one when traveling light. Opportunities to network can sneak up on you, so stay prepared. 

2. Leave Them Around
Strategically, that is. Think about the kinds of businesses your customers might frequent, and see if you can leave a stack of cards there. It may also be worth it to see if that business has cards you can distribute to your customers in return. Building relationships with local businesses can open up opportunities for referrals and even partnerships down the line. 

3. Use the Mail
Any time you're sending out mail for your business, include a business card. Often you will work with people you never see in person: Mail gives you a chance to get those people your card despite this. Don't be shy about adding a few extra cards that they can pass around to people as well. 

If you're sending out personal correspondence where you think a business card is appropriate, you can do that, too. For example, if you're writing a letter to a former professor to catch him or her up on your career, a business card makes a great addition.

4. Make Your Friends and Family Ambassadors
Picture it: Your brother is at a business event. Someone mentions that their company needs someone to redesign their office, and your brother lights up, saying, "My sister's actually just started her own corporate design business, and she's done a lot of great stuff." His new acquaintance is interested, but your brother doesn't quite remember your email address. He gives the person your name, and they promise to look you up, but before they leave the room they've forgotten. 

Now picture the exact same situation, but in this version, your brother has one of your business cards. Your social network is a valuable asset, so don't overlook it.

5. Make People Feel Special
Don't be shy about writing on your business cards to give them a personal touch. If you add a little bit of information to the card, the person receiving it is going to be a lot more likely to keep it and use it. For example, if your business cards have a general company phone number or email address on them, you can personalize that information for your recipient. You can also use business cards to write short thank-you notes or other personal messages that people are likely to appreciate.

Sometimes it's necessary to vent about a situation in order to get your anger out and look at it from a new perspective.

How to Handle Anger at the Office

We've all had a person or situation at work that made us less than pleased, and possibly even full on angry. It's natural to have some conflicts in the workplace, as different personalities and productivity styles try to come together to get things done. As a business owner and manager, you have a huge role in every part of the office, from choosing business cards to handling employee disputes. You may have to help your staff out on occasions when they are angered by something or someone and can't seem to cool off. Here are some proper ways to handle anger in the workplace:

Get to the Root of the Problem
When someone gets mad, they may not even be upset about the particular thing that triggered their anger. With kids, for example,little ones may get mad that a sibling took their toy, but they're really upset that it's not their birthday and they aren't getting any new toys. Similar occasions happen in the workplace. An employee may be angry about the tone of a colleague's email, but they really are resentful that their co-worker got a promotion and they didn't. To help that person get to the root of his or her anger, talk it out. 

Work on Tone
Much of the communication that goes on both inside the office and with customers and clients occurs over email. You've probably noticed that it's a lot easier to come off as mad when you're putting your words into writing. Make sure everyone in your office understands how important it is to pay attention to tone over email. If ever you think something may be misconstrued as anger, consider having that particular conversation in person or over the phone instead. This way the person who would have received the email can actually hear your voice and see your expressions. They'll be less likely to misunderstand whatever you're saying when they can read your body cues.

Take a Step Back
One of the first things many anger management courses recommend is that people who start to feel angry take a step back and remove themselves from the situation. This allows them a chance to take some deep breaths and regain composure. Think about the situation logically and critically – try to remove your emotions and understand what happened that triggered such a powerful response. When you have had a chance to clear your head a bit and calm down, then choose to address the situation or person who elicited this response. You'll be better able to articulate your issue and have a productive conversation once your head has been cleared.

Everyone needs someone to vent to about situations that are frustrating. Forbes mentioned that many colleagues find one or two people they can confide in when this type of need arises. You, however, as the boss need to look outside the company in order to vent. It's inappropriate to talk to a subordinate employee about other staff members or even clients. Instead, talk to family members or friends outside of the company in order to comply with HR laws.

Pinterest is a great way to reach customers online.

A Guide to Rich Pins on Pinterest

Pinterest is an aspirational website. When people use Pinterest, they're planning out how they'd like their lives to be. Pinterest users make boards that cover topics as broad as food and as specific as calligraphy for wedding invitations. This makes it the perfect social media site for businesses looking to engage with customers and drive product sales. 

One of the coolest features Pinterest offers businesses is the ability to create "rich pins." Rich pins are pins that offer more information to users that draws them into your product. Rich pins encourage engagement and drive click-throughs, which means they're more likely to get people on your site and interested in making a purchase. 

Types of Rich Pins
Pinterest offers six different kinds of rich pins, each of which can help your business achieve different goals. 

  • App pins: On iOS, these include a button so that users can install an app without leaving Pinterest​.
  • Place pins: Include location information.
  • Article pins: Mimic a news article by including headline and author information.
  • Recipe pins: Provide information about how to make a pinned dish.
  • Movie pins: Include ratings and reviews of films.
  • Product pins: Show price information that can be updated and tell users where they can purchase an item.

Product pins are most likely to be the rich pin that's best for your business. Because the pin includes information about price and a link to the product's purchase page, it drives customers right to your site. Users who have pinned those products to their pinboards will also get emails if you lower the price by 10 percent or more. This way, the pins do the work for you if you're having a sale or otherwise reducing prices. 

Even though product pins are the most intuitive pin for businesses, other rich pins have a lot of potential. If you have a mobile app, you can encourage users to check it out using app pins. You can use article pins to establish yourself as an expert by sharing content from your blog or website. Food or beverage companies can create recipes that use their products and set those up using rich pins. Location pins can be a great tool if you're reaching out to local customers. 

General Pinterest Tips:

  • Pinterest is photo-based, so use strong visuals.
  • Caption your pins in a way that encourages users to click through and learn more.
  • Engage with users through repins and comments.
  • Share content from other experts in your field.
  • Use wit and humor in captions as fits your overall marketing tone.
  • Most Pinterest users are women, so tailor your content to your audience.
Social media sites like twitter present opportunities for you to engage with your customers.

5 Ways to Raise Brand Awareness

For a business to succeed, people have to know it exists. Brand awareness can be the difference between trudging along and taking off. One of the biggest mistakes a new business owner can make is assuming that brand awareness will happen organically. The reality is, it takes effort to make an impression on consumers. Here are five ways you can bring your brand to the public's eye: 

1. Use Promotional Materials
Promotional materials are elements of advertising 101, yet a lot of new business owners overlook them. Don't underestimate the power of catching someone's attention. Car magnets and other outdoor ads are great ways to get people looking at your business's name, logo and information. Even a short glance at a passing ad can help cement your company in someone's mind. If you're focusing on advertising locally, you can hang up flyers at local coffee shops or restaurants. Try to consider your audience and where they would go, and place your promotional materials accordingly.

2. Be Consistent
One way to sabotage your own branding efforts is to lack consistency. All of your advertising efforts, whether they're online or offline, should use the same logo, style and phrasing. If your company has a slogan, make sure there's a set way of phrasing it. Any changes matter, even if the meaning is still the same. Keeping your image consistent not only prevents confusion, but it triggers the repetition that makes you stick in your customers' minds.

3. Get Online
If you don't already have Facebook and Twitter, make your company profiles and use them. If you have them, but you post once every month or so when you remember they're there, begin posting regularly. You can use social media management sites like Hootsuite to schedule posts so that you don't have to constantly remember to update. However, it's best to regularly check in on your social media sites, even if you schedule ahead of time. The best thing a company can do with social media is engage with its customers: If you're putting the site up and forgetting about it, you're doing yourself and your customers a disservice. 

4. Tell a Story
People like to feel like they're a part of something. If you use your promotional materials and online presence to tell a story, you will catch people's attention. If your company is working toward sustainability and clean energy, let your customers know that. Use social media or start a blog that tells the story of where your product comes from, or that focuses on workers and how they fit into your vision. If people remember your story, they'll remember you.

5. Hold a Contest
Another great way to make people aware of your company is to get them involved. Having contests encourages customers to engage with you, rather than trying to reach out to them. You can have simple random giveaways, or more complicated contests where participants have to enter in something to be judged. Small businesses may think they don't have anything to offer yet in contests, but even simple discounts or small gift cards can encourage people to look your way.

Your mission statement may be the first impression you make on potential customers and investors.

Writing the Perfect Mission Statement

New business owners need to have a strong mission statement. This short declaration of purpose lets customers and investors know what you do and why you do it. Ideally your mission statement will be short and to the point, and can be used on business flyers, door hangers and other promotional material. If you don't already have a mission statement, a few hours of work will help you come up with a paragraph that will impress investors and draw in customers. Even if you've already come up with one, these tips can help you look over your statement and make sure it's the best it can be. 

A Mission Statement's Purpose
The first step toward coming up with a mission statement is understanding what you want yours to do. Generally speaking, your mission statement should explain what your company provides. You'll want to tailor what information you include based on the audience you're most interested in. If you're mainly looking to draw in investors, your statement should say how you're going to bring in a profit. If you're speaking to customers, it should explain what they'll get out of using your product or service. A perfect mission statement would actually do both of these at once. Even if you're mainly focused on one group at this point in your company's life, it's worth considering both viewpoints. Mission statements shouldn't change often, since you're effectively declaring the main point of your company. If they do change, those alterations can reflect poorly on the company, and render already distributed marketing materials out of date.

Writing Your Mission Statement
Before you can get to actually writing, you have to decide what you want to say. Set up a brainstorming session with other people who understand your company and determine what's most important. Forbes recommends answering the following four questions to figure out what your mission statement should look like: 

  1. What do we do?
  2. How do we do it?
  3. Whom do we do it for?
  4. What value are we bringing?

Focusing on these questions and making sure your statement answers them will help you avoid vague, buzzword-heavy mission statements that don't actually say anything. When you're coming up with your mission statement, a way you can test if it really answers these questions is to have someone who knows nothing about your business read it, and then ask them. If they can't answer the questions, you need to rework your statement.

Go into writing knowing that it's going to take time. Even though your mission statement should be short (Inc recommends trying to keep it to one or two sentences), it will still probably take hours of work to produce. Set aside time to really dedicate to brainstorming, writing and hearing feedback, and allow yourself to rewrite if the first try doesn't quite get the job done. Your mission statement is how your company greets the world: It's worth putting in the time to make sure that first impression is strong.

Holiday parties are one way you can encourage employees to participate in the company culture.

5 Ways to Establish Your Company’s Culture

One of the most common challenges facing small businesses is building a company culture. Everything from hierarchy to how you design your business cards affects how your company is perceived both internally and externally. This doesn't always seem like a huge concern at the beginning of a company's life. When there are only a few people working together, their personalities are usually strong enough that culture happens organically. As your business grows, it can get muddier. Eventually, an effort has to be made to establish clear standards of interaction within the business. Here are five ways you can build a culture that promotes growth and sets the right standard:

1. Determine Your Company's Values
Before you can build a culture, you need to know what that culture will be working toward. Work with other trusted members of your company to come up with values and goals for the future.They will be the foundation from which you move forward and should set the tone. If your company values sustainability, use that as a jumping off point. You can use that by having recycling available in offices, or having company wide waste reduction goals. Whatever your values are, make sure they're reflected in the culture.

2. Figure Out Structure
If your company doesn't already have a clear structure that defines the various roles within the business, set them now. Forbes recommends you use this structure to highlight the parts of the business you find most important. Have the teams that are doing the work you care most about report directly to you. If that doesn't make sense, have them report as high up as you can. This not only lets those employees know you value the work they're doing, but it also gives you insight into vital aspects of your business.

3. Climb a Wall
Or ride a roller coaster, or play a game: Corporate events are a fun way to encourage your employees to connect with one another and build company loyalty. It doesn't have to be extravagant, either – even in-office events like company wide challenges or holiday parties build a sense of culture. You can set aside a relatively small event budget and still offer employees opportunities to cut loose. 

4. Talk to People
As you're rolling out new efforts to establish a company culture, encourage employees to let you know what they think. Although you have the best sense of the company as a whole, insight from the people who work for you is invaluable. There is always something to learn from seeing something through another person's point of view. In addition to gaining perspective, open communication is, in and of itself, an important aspect of a positive company culture. You always want your employees to feel like they can reach out to you or their managers. Setting a precedent of encouraging input will make employees know they are heard.

5. Reward Good Examples
When you see someone exemplifying your company culture, make sure people take notice. In meetings, acknowledge people who follow the standards you're trying to set. Simple acts can draw people's attention, and when they see what actions other people are being recognized for, they'll want to take those actions, too. 

You have one elevator ride worth of time to impress someone. Go. ,When you've only got a minute to impress someone, you have to choose your words wisely.

Writing an Elevator Pitch That Leaves an Impression

When you've only got one minute to impress someone, every word you say matters. That's the idea behind the elevator pitch, a short, to-the-point speech any business owner should be able to recite when the time comes. At the end of your pitch, the listener should want to know more and be dying to take your business card. These are the characteristics of a stellar elevator pitch:

Easy to Understand
Your elevator pitch should be a speech for anyone. Entrepreneur points out that opportunities to give your pitch could come at any time. You have to remove all jargon: If your mom won't understand it, make it simpler. It's worth giving your pitch to a few people outside of your field to pick up on terms you might not realize aren't common knowledge. In fact, your mom is a great person to run your pitch by, unless she happens to be an expert in your field.

Has a Hook
First impressions matter. If your opening line doesn't catch your listener's attention, you're going to have trouble bringing them in at all. Avoid opening lines that simply introduce you and your business. Instead, start with a strong statement that lets the listener know why you're here and why your company matters. When you're testing your pitch on friends and family, you can test whether your opener does this by stopping after the first line and asking if that sentence made them want to know more. 

Addresses a Problem
Your company is providing a solution to some sort of problem: Address this problem in your pitch. If you're solving multiple problems, figure out which one is most compelling. For example, imagine a company that makes toe socks for cats. Yes, it's true that there's an element of fashion to them, but the really important thing about Bean Toes is that they reduce damage caused by scratching. If your pitch has room for secondary concerns feel free to include them, but make sure you're saying what really matters.

Confident and Natural
There's a fine line between prepared and practiced, and you always want to fall on the former end. Your pitch should come so naturally to you that it rolls off your tongue, but don't fall into the trap of sounding like you're reading off a script. One way you can do this is to have variations of different phrases in your pitch. One version of your pitch might say, "Bean Toes protect your apartment's deposit and keep your cat looking cool," and another might go, "The great thing about Bean Toes is that they prevent damage from scratching in a fun, fashionable way." Having multiple speeches stops you from saying exactly the same thing every time, and will help you avoid sounding like you rehearsed too much.

Calls the Listener to Action
The end of your elevator pitch should encourage the listener to do something. This can be anything from offering more information or telling people how to invest: Just make sure you end on an action-oriented note.