Master Email Marketing With This $15 Course

Your subscribers will thank you for taking the ‘Effective Email & Newsletter Marketing’ class with Jeff Goins.

2 min read

Disclosure: Our goal is to feature products and services that we think you’ll find interesting and useful. If you purchase them, Entrepreneur may get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners.

Digital marketing has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade: pay-per-click ads, social media strategies, and online content marketing have captured consumers in ways that no one could have predicted. However, there’s still a compelling case to be made for good old-fashioned email marketing.

Email marketing is still one of the most effective ways to gain and retain customers. Consumers who purchase products through welcome or promotional emails spend an average of 138 percent more than those who don’t receive email offers, and email subscribers are three times more likely to share your email content on social media.

Despite these favorable statistics, many entrepreneurs don’t focus on email marketing when they create digital marketing roadmaps for their new company. Newer channels like social media and video ads are tempting, but email is a low-cost, effective option that needs to be part of your plan. The Effective Email & Newsletter Marketing Course With Jeff Goins teaches you how to master this classic route to your customers.

Writer and digital marketing guru Jeff Goins teaches this course about mastering customer-facing emails and creating intriguing newsletters. His 22 HD video lessons will show you how to build a successful campaign from the ground up. You’ll learn how to pique the interest of potential customers and get their emails for your mailing list. Goins then demonstrates how to choose topics that will attract paying customers, and how to write fascinating newsletter content that your list members will love to read.

Mastering email marketing services and tools will be a snap after these lessons. You’ll also create a universal onboarding system to effortlessly add new customers to your network, and you’ll discover how to cater to your readers’ needs with email analytics.

Usually, it costs $49 to take the Effective Email & Newsletter Marketing Class with Jeff Goins, but right now you can create a great marketing foundation for your new endeavor for just $14.99 (69 percent off).


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5 Customer Service Rules to Boost Your Profit by 18 Percent

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

By 2020 customer service and experience will overtake price as the essential brand differentiator. Eighty-six percent of buyers are willing to pay more for excellent customer experience. Customers will spend 13 to 18 percent more for excellent customer service. Here are five rules to set yourself to take full advantage of this trend.

1. Never make your problems the customer’s problems.

Recently, at a large grocery chain, I had a very frustrating experience. I attempted to use the self check-out express lanes to purchase three products. I was not able to do this because I did not have a store card. After finally being able to buy my items, I emailed the corporate store. I got a response the next day that said that cards were now required and this was a new policy due to a large amount of theft. This did little to ease my annoyance.

Excellent customer service means you fix your problems without the customer knowing the problem. Years ago, when a Red Lobster got behind and had a long wait, they gave out free fried ravioli in the lobby. At Target, store cards are not required, but they have cameras at every self-checkout register. Giant Eagle requires cards at the self-check registers, but the cashier keeps a generic one for customers without a card. There is no reason for customers ever to see the back of the house problems. Never put that burden on a customer. As in the Red Lobster example, sometimes problems can even be turned into positives. Customers may have to wait an hour for a table, but they are happy to eat free food and drink at the bar (which allows the business to make more money!)

Related: 3 Lessons From a Customer Service Failure

2. Seek reviews and encourage open dialogue.

In my grocery store experience, none of the store or corporate workers ever asked me if I wanted a card or why I did not want to use one. The issue is, I have about 20 cards from random stores that I rarely visit inside my purse that are hard to find. If the store had sought feedback, perhaps they would realize that having that information stored on an app on a smartphone might be a better idea. For example, Macy’s has never been a store where I was a frequent customer. However, in recent months, I have found their app so convenient that I have started shopping there again.

An app that improves customer service can differentiate the experience. Macy’s redesigned their stores and added a new desk at the door. This desk is exclusively used for online order pick up and returns, with no questions asked. If the grocery store asked how to make the customer service better, they would likely hear the same thing from many people, that a convenient app might make shopping and check-out more convenient. Plus, apps allow for better customer tracking, which also may help with the theft problem.

Also, solicit information as online reviews. Ninety-one percent of 18-34-year-old consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Have all representatives at all touchpoints continually “survey” the customer. Cashiers can ask questions like, “Is there anything we could have done to make your experience better?” Most customers will say no. However, a few customers will provide valuable information.

3. Respond promptly with empathy to customer comments.

Fifty-three percent of customers expect a response to a complaint within one hour. An HBR study found that customers are seven times more likely to buy a product when their calls are returned within one hour. Typically, companies use a third-party firm to respond to online comments, if they respond at all. You should respond to both positive and negative comments quickly with tailored responses. Our dog trainer, Alpha & Omega, asked us to leave a positive comment on Google. They took the time to personally respond with a thank you and a personal observation that showed they remembered our dogs’ names and unique personalities.

Related: How You Can Build Long Lasting Customer Relationships

In addition to speed and customization, you must handle comments with empathy. “I’m sorry,” is a powerful phrase that can repair a bad experience. Everyone wants to be heard, appreciated and respected. Empathy is free and should be a minimum requirement for any employee that interfaces with a customer. Disney employees will go out of their way to show compassion. It is part of their cast member training. They have procedures to get disabled guests on rides quickly. When a guest has a food allergy, the head chef comes to the table to talk to the guest, no matter how busy the restaurant is. The Cleveland Clinic prioritizes empathy as a core value in the organization. Healthcare providers will personally apologize to patients and families. This differentiates them from other healthcare providers who do not share this focus as part of their corporate DNA. These kinds of experiences stand out in customers’ minds and make them loyal.

4. Map the customer service journey and establish a voice-of-the-customer program.

Customer journey maps include every touchpoint and examine frustration points and areas that create satisfaction. Using internal and external market data, you can look for gaps between what the customer expects at each step and what the customer experiences.

Establish a voice-of-the-customer program, which is a formal process and procedure to solicit feedback and share it across the entire organization to all relevant employees. From the top down, your organizational culture should encourage all employees to appreciate and respond to customer feedback. Through sharing and by using reputation management software, you can analyze data and can implement actionable goals. Continually look for ways for your organization to improve and continue to become more customer-focused.

Related: 30 Ways to Show Your Customers They’re Always Right

5. Reward customers for staying loyal.

By increasing your customer retention rate by just five percent, you can improve your profits by 25-95 percent. Use email lists or apps to provide discounts or exclusive deals to loyal customers. Disney offers individual character meet-and-greet sessions only to their Visa cardholders. These events have short lines and are typically in air-conditioned places. Macy’s progressively gives greater discounts based on the total money spent over time. Geisinger Health System offers a refund for customers not happy with their care. Give customers a reason to stay loyal. The longer they stay, the more likely they will be to give good reviews and referrals. These tips will lead to excellent service, greater loyalty, and higher profits.


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10 Instagram Marketing Tools to Help Grow Your Brand on Instagram in 2019

Instagram marketing can help you scale your brand quickly, and these tools can help you do that.

7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

One thing that has remained consistent over the past few years is Instagram‘s potential to put your brand — both personal and company — directly in front of your specific target market. It’s the social media platform experiencing the most rapid growth in the Millennial demographic, and its monthly active users are predicted to exceed 111 million this year.

My company develops and brings ecommerce brands to the market, and one of the first questions asked during the research and development phase is whether or not the product can easily be marketed on Instagram. If not, the idea is scrapped.

Instagram marketing can help you scale your brand quickly, and there are multiple tools available to help you along the way, each with their own strong points, depending on your specific needs and strategy on Instagram. Here are ten Instagram tools to take a look at — and test drive — to help you fully leverage the social media network that is currently home to the most consumer attention.

1. SocialCaptain

To attract followers on Instagram, you often need to give before you receive. However, manually liking and commenting on content can be extremely time consuming. That’s where an automation tool like SocialCaptain comes in. It interacts with other Instagram profiles so you don’t have to do everything manually.

Through the use of artificial intelligence, SocialCaptain is able to find and target real users that match your target audience. You can configure it to likes content, follow users and comment on similar content.

I suggest using something like this in addition to doing manual interaction. If you rely 100 percent on automation your approach can be viewed as spammy and not authentic. Leverage automation, but don’t rely on it 100 percent.

Related: 5 Social Media Rules Every Entrepreneur Should Know

2. Hootsuite

Hootsuite is the go-to scheduling tool for many — it’s one of the original social media scheduling and management tools and it’s compatible with most social networks. You can manage your Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest accounts all through a single dashboard.

Hootsuite now allows you to publish content directly to Instagram, which is something that it was lacking in the past. While Instagram offers a huge opportunity, you also can’t put all of your eggs in one basket. This tool allows you to schedule content on all social media channels in advance, ensuring you have content set to drip across every network your audience resides on.

3. Grum

Grum is a scheduling tool as well, similar to Hootsuite. However, it’s specifically geared toward Instagram. If the majority of your marketing is on Instagram, some of its little features make this something worth checking out. For example, it can be set to post content at a future date without needing you to confirm it later — which is something required with Hootsuite.

Another useful feature is the ability to automatically add the first comment to any of your posts. If you use hashtags, including them in the caption can sometimes dilute your message. Adding them as the first comment can make your content look a bit cleaner.

Related: 10 Laws of Social Media Marketing

4. Tailwind

Tailwind is a multipurpose tool for Instagram, as well as Pinterest. It is a scheduler, analytics tool, user-generated content manager, social listening tool, hashtag monitor and audience manager.

Additionally, it’s built for team-based collaboration and has the ability to manage multiple Instagram accounts at once.

Tailwind is used by major brands such as eBay, Walmart, General Mills and Viacom. It’s also an official Instagram partner, leaving no doubt to whether or not it’s safe to use.

5. Hashtracking

To succeed on Instagram, you need to pay close attention to analytical data, and Hashtracking is an easy to use tool that helps track your progress, analyze your performance, refine your content, expand your following and develop more effective campaigns.

Have you ever noticed some of the most successful brands on Instagram stick to a very limited color scheme? It’s a trend that is becoming more effective because it works. Hashtracking has a feature built in, which it calls ColorTracking. It allows you to organize results based on the colors found in your content and discover the color schemes responsible for driving the most engagement.

Related: 12 Social Media Mistakes That Entrepreneurs Make

6. Minter

Minter is another Instagram analytics tool, but in addition to receiving detailed insights about your own account, you can also keep tabs on competitors in your niche, which is the main reason I find this tool helpful. By monitoring some of the more popular accounts in your niche, it allows you to stay on top of what’s popular and trending, allowing you to map out a content strategy that is more likely to attract and engage your target audience.

For agencies reading this looking for tool to help run client campaigns, Minter allows you to export your data as a PDF, CSV, an Excel file or a PowerPoint presentation. You can also include your logo to create branded reports, which can be scheduled to be sent out to clients on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

7. Boost

While Instagram is an amazing social network in terms of brand exposure, it doesn’t make for a particularly good marketplace. Why? Well, Instagram doesn’t allow links in captions — the only place you can include a URL is in your bio. This can make driving users to your website to convert a struggle.

Boost is a tool that changes the way purchases are initiated on Instagram. Once you have Boost set up, all your customers need to do is use your custom hashtag — they can comment or text your #hashtags to make a purchase.

They are prompted via SMS to approve and finalize the purchase. It’s simple, fast and doesn’t require any downloads. It’s a great option for brands that want to get away from the exhausted “Link in bio” call-to-action.

Related: This Instagrammer With More Than 2 Million Followers Literally Cooks Her Content

8. Crowdfire

Crowdfire is a social media management app that features several different tools in one. It is a post scheduler, content curator, follower manager, analytical insight and mention tracker. While it’s a great addition to any Instagram marketing effort, it’s a couple other features that make it something I often recommend.

First, it works with a lot of platforms that don’t have many options, in terms of available tools. Crowdfire works with Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, WordPress, Etsy, Shopify, Medium, 500px, Vimeo and more. Second, it has a Chrome extension that allows you to share any page on the internet to all of your social media accounts in two clicks.

9. Repost

Reposting content is a common activity on Instagram. Many brands repost in order to share user-generated content made by their customer, fans and followers. However, it can be a major inconvenience, since Instagram has yet to introduce any features to do it instantly. You still need to download the image and then reupload it yourself.

Repost is an app that streamlines that process, allowing you to repost any photo or video, giving credit to the original poster too, which is always suggested when sharing other people’s content.

Reposting user-generated content featuring your products is one way to really get your customers excited to share on social media. Something as simple as reposting their content featuring your brand is as easy way to build long-term relationships.

10. Over

Over gives you access to a full creative suite in the palm of your hand. You can use it to edit images, add text and enhance your content with a variety of filters. Over also has a large library of stock images and professionally designed visual templates to choose from.

Over was developed with Instagram Stories in mind. Stories allow you to really command the viewer’s attention and if you have access to the “swipe up” feature it’s a great way to drive sales using creative content. If you have limited image and video editing experience, an app like this makes it easy for anyone to create compelling content.

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You Have a Product, Now You Need a Strategy

Without a clear strategy, companies often get sidetracked.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Startups pushing to enter the market at just the right moment have no time to rest on their laurels after coming up with a great idea. But many still make the mistake of moving forward without a detailed strategy for turning that burst of inspiration into reality. A study featured in Entrepreneur cites a “lack of persistence” as the third most common reason why startups fail. Without a clear strategy, companies often get sidetracked. Constant changes in direction can result in wasted money, time and energy.

Once your company’s mission, or North Star, is solidly in focus, it’s time to start plotting a course that will ensure the company reaches its goals. Taking a systematic approach, in which big ideas are broken down into measurable objectives, can help teams stay organized and accountable as they plot a roadmap toward eventual exit.

Related: 5 Early Signs Your Startup Will Succeed

Examining all factors that can affect the success of your business, both internal and external, is a fundamental step toward building a viable strategy. The next step is to establish missions that align with the company’s North Star. Finally, companies need to determine early on when the work will get done, who will do it and how progress will be measured.

Identify headwinds and tailwinds.

To get started, companies should take the time to do a SWOT analysis — a strategic planning assessment that helps companies analyze strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This allows founders to pinpoint advantages that will help the business move forward, as well as the hurdles that might slow it down.

Think about how each factor complements or negates other factors — how your company’s internal strengths allow you to take advantage of opportunities and avoid external threats and how internal weaknesses may prevent you from doing those things. For example, your company might have a highly skilled engineering team that develops innovative solutions but fails to meet its deadlines, so the company misses opportunities to beat competitors to market. A company’s core strategy should include steps to make improvements in these areas and to prevent problems from snowballing later on.

SWOT can also be used to evaluate a product’s viability. One of my clients developed a secure mobile app that allows transit customers to purchase train, bus and ferry fares on the go without having to stop at a ticket booth or machine. The payment system could be replicated for other transit systems without having to rewrite the software each time. The product’s biggest strength was that it hadn’t been done before, but its weakness was that transit systems did not have the infrastructure in place. To address this issue, the company built readers that could scan mobile devices as well as ticket machines that dispensed cards with chips to serve customers who don’t use the app.

The startup exploited the opportunity of creating a brand new market, and it avoided the threat of another company releasing a similar app by developing the infrastructure required to make the payment system work. In this case, doing a thoughtful SWOT analysis of the product before it launched helped guide the company toward success.

Related: Uncover Market Opportunities With This Roadmapping Strategy

Divide and conquer.

The next step, what I call MOKM (Mission, Objective, Key Results and Measures), is about turning ideas into concrete actions. A mission is a brief, clear statement of what you want to achieve. Objectives articulate what is expected and when the work should be complete. Key results are the tasks that must be completed in order to achieve the objective. Measures are quantifiable indicators of progress toward a given result.

Each of the company’s functional areas are given at least one mission, and those missions should encompass three to five objectives. The objectives are defined by key results, each with specific measures. Establishing this workflow hierarchy helps employees stay on task, align their daily tasks with the company’s missions and North Star, and establish cohesive company-wide operations.

Let’s say, for example, that a marketing and sales department’s mission is to increase its conversion rate by 25 percent by the end of the quarter. One of the marketing team’s objectives would be to develop campaigns that produce a certain number of viable leads, while sales would be tasked with closing deals with a certain percentage of those leads. Once both teams complete the key results tied to all of their objectives, then the mission is complete.

According to Gallup, employee engagement and performance is much higher when people fully understand their organization’s purpose and feel their job is important in achieving specific objectives. Having a clear mission and a transparent game plan for how to achieve it can go a long way toward keeping employees motivated at work.

Define how the work will get done.

Departments often get caught up in trying to accomplish as many tasks as possible, even tasks that might not have a significant impact on the bottom line. Prioritize work by examining the level of each mission’s impact, whether it is urgent or important and the amount of effort it will require to complete. Ideally, tasks defined as high impact and low effort — the “low-hanging fruits” — would be completed first.

Related: 4 Lessons That Most Successful Entrepreneurs Had to Learn the Hard Way

The final step is to delegate tasks and establish accountability with the RACI process. RACI stands for Responsible (who will be charged with doing the work), Accountable (who ensures the work gets done), Consulted (who else needs to be involved with the project) and Informed (who is debriefed after the project is complete).

According to Atlassian, 59 percent of U.S. workers say communication is their team’s biggest obstacle to success, followed by accountability at 29 percent. Having a clear strategy that defines who is responsible for certain tasks and in what order they need to be carried out eliminates ambiguity and makes teams more effective.

Misaligned objectives often cause confusion across a company’s functional areas. This confusion can lead to inefficient processes, employee turnover and reduced profits. Companies benefit immensely from strategies that ensure each department is working toward a central goal. Strategies are most effective when they can clearly illustrate how much progress has been made, yet are agile enough to adjust the finer points as priorities shift and the company grows.

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5 Tips for Creating Your First (Successful) Online Course

Think you have nothing to teach? Think again. Your website analytics will pinpoint exactly what you should turn into a course.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The internet has provided us with a lot of benefits over the years, and one of them is the ability for anyone, anywhere, to learn a new skill. No longer do you have to enroll in an expensive university course to learn a new subject or grow your skills; today, there’s a ton of online courses available. You can even create your own.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Should Get Serious About Online Education

Creating an online course is a great way to level-up your blog or website. With an online course, you can not only present yourself as a leader in your industry but make passive income from your website. In fact, according to Statista, the elearning market worldwide is forecast to surpass $243 billion by 2022. But, how exactly do you build a course that others will rush to sign up for?

Here are five tips for doing just that:

Pick the right subject.

Choosing a subject for your online course isn’t as simple as picking your favorite topic and diving in head-first. What you really need to do to choose your course topic is to determine what problem your target audience members face on a regular basis — then help them solve it.

Related: Why There Has Never Been a Better Time to Be an Education Entrepreneur

For instance, if you’re really interested in budgeting but your blog or website is all about social media marketing, will a budgeting course be successful for you? Probably not. But, if your audience is coming to you for tips on social media marketing, a social media marketing course is one they’ll want to take.

Not sure what the most pressing problem is for your audience? Have a look at your website analytics to find out what your most popular content should be. Your most popular posts will indicate what your audience wants to learn.

Don’t start “from scratch.”

After you’ve chosen your winning course topic, it’s time to get started on creating the content. But don’t start from scratch! If you’ve chosen the right topic, you should already have relevant content on your blog; so repurpose it.

Obviously, your course shouldn’t duplicate the content your audience gets on your blog for free; otherwise, you’ll have a ton of dissatisfied customers wanting their money back. The point is to take the successful content you’ve already written and expand upon it. Repurposing and deepening existing content will save you time by presenting your course’s blueprint. 

Take your most popular content and expand upon it to create an in-depth, engaging learning experience.

Add visual and interactive content.

While plain text with a few images sprinkled in works for your blog posts, it won’t work for an online course. Your online course needs to be engaging; and if you’re asking people to pay for it, it needs to offer more than your typical blog posts. That’s why extra visual and interactive content is called for.

Consider adding interactive quizzes, worksheets, templates, video tutorials or slideshows to liven up your online course. Not only will your students be impressed by what they’re learning, they’ll have fun doing it and be wowed by the extra elements you took the time to add.

Keep it simple.

Now you might be wondering how to deliver your online course and how users will access it. The answer is that there’s no need to create a complicated online portal. Especially if this is your first time creating an online course, you’re better off keeping it simple. And the good news is that there are easy ways to deliver your course that won’t require restructuring or redesigning your entire website.

For instance, you could provide your course entirely through email. You could structure your email course to automatically send one email per day, “Lesson No. 1” on the first day and so on. You could also create a file bundle that people download right from your site that has everything they need to follow along at their own pace.

Market your course.

Once you’ve pulled together your online course, don’t just put it on your website and expect it to sell. You’ve got to promote it to get people signing up like crazy. After all, the more people that know about your course, the more revenue you can generate.

Create a blog post announcing your online course and send out emails to your subscribers. Plus, market your course across social media, not just to your website visitors.

As soon as you get enrollments, ask your students for testimonials. Using social proof from satisfied customers is one of the most effective ways to generate more sales. According to studies reported on in Psychology Today, to learn what is correct, people look at what other people are doing. So, if users see that others are loving your online course, that information will help them make the decision to sign up too.

Related: 6 Companies That Are Teaching Educators What Good ‘Disruption’ Means

Over to you.

Don’t underestimate yourself: You have more than enough knowledge and skills to teach others something valuable. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start creating yours! With these tips for creating a successful online course, you’ll be able to share your expertise and make awesome passive income while you’re at it.

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The Secret to Getting #DirectMail Prospects to Reply Immediately

Follow these tips, and you’ll soon see replies flooding your mail box.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The following excerpt is from Robert W. Bly’s book The Direct Mail Revolution: How to Create Profitable Direct Mail Campaigns in a Digital World. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | IndieBound

An effective direct-mail package doesn’t just ask for a response; it makes readers feel they’d be making a mistake by not responding. It also creates a sense of urgency, or gives a compelling reason why a response is required today, not tomorrow or next week.

It boldly asks for the order or some other response, such as a request for information. The focal point at that stage becomes the reply element: the part of the package the reader mails back to the advertiser to place an order or request more information. This is usually a reply card in the case of lead generation or an order form and reply envelope in the case of one-step marketing.

In the digital age, many marketers wonder whether they even need a paper reply element. After all, why not just provide a URL to a form the prospects can fill out online or a QR code they can scan with their smartphones?

Here’s why: Having a paper response element, even if it isn’t used, is a visual indicator that the mailer has an offer for the recipient and a response is required to get it. The response form can be a traditional reply card or just a 4-by-9-inch slip with the response URL and toll-free phone number printed in large, bold type. The separate reply element in effect says, “This is direct response mail, and we would appreciate a reply from you.” This increases overall response, both from people who use the reply element and from those who prefer to respond by phone or online.

Related: Why You Don’t Want to Fail This Direct-Mail Test

Given that I strongly advise you to include a reply element in your DM package, let’s explore some basic rules that apply to all types of reply elements.

1. Easy to fill out

The reply form should be clear, never confusing. Tell the reader what to do in simple 1-2-3 language. The form should be designed so that anyone can follow your directions without assistance. If the form is complicated, unclear, or difficult to complete, people will throw it away.

For a one-step promotion, make it crystal clear how much should be added for sales tax, shipping, and postage. If the recipient isn’t sure, they’ll throw out the form rather than ask for help. Complex order forms can lose orders for you!

2. A clean design

The design should be simple, clean, and uncluttered. Don’t try to cram too much into a limited space. If you have a lot of information, use a larger form. A cluttered design turns readers off. And you don’t want an order form that repels potential customers.

3. Enough room to fill out the form

This rule seems obvious, but I see it ignored in hundreds of mailings every year. I’m sure you’ve been frustrated by forms that ask for your full name and then give you a quarter-inch of space to write it or that force you to cram your address, apartment number, city, state, zip code, and phone number on a single line.

When designing your order form, give the reader plenty of room to write. A good test is to fill out your reply card or order blank yourself. Do you find yourself writing in tiny, cramped letters to make it all fit? If so, rework it to give your prospects more breathing room.

Related: The 5-Step Plan for Turning Prospects Into Customers

4. Fewer steps

The less work the reader has to do to complete your order form and get it in the mail to you, the better. Remember, the more time it takes to fill out a form, the less likely people are to bother.

There are a number of things you can do to make it easier for them. A self-addressed, postage-paid business reply envelope saves readers the trouble of addressing and stamping their own envelopes. A toll-free phone number and URL printed on the order blank gives people the option of phoning in their order or going online rather than mailing in the form.

If you’re mailing to businesspeople, tell them they can attach their business card to the reply form, eliminating the need to fill in their name, company, address, and phone number. Better still, if you use an envelope with a transparent window, the mailing label can be affixed to the reply form (which shows through the window) rather than the outer envelope. Then readers won’t need to fill in their name and address on the reply card because you’ve already done it for them.

5. Headline your offer

The first sentence of the reply form should be a headline that restates the offer and rekindles the reader’s desire to take advantage of it. Here are some examples:

Thomas Securities

YES, I would like to receive a complimentary information kit about the Thomas Securities Investment Trust.

American Museum of Natural History

YES, I accept your invitation to become an Associate Member of the American Museum of Natural History at the low introductory rate of . . .

GBC Binding Machines

YES, show me how SureBind will make my Plastic Binding System even better . . .

Related: Looking for Leads? These 4 Direct Mail Offers Are Your Answer

6. Short sales pitch

In the most concise language possible, your reply form should restate the nature and terms of the offer and highlight the key benefits stressed in the letter and brochure. You want to summarize your whole sales pitch in a few sentences so the reader can get the essence of your story just by reading the reply form.

Although it’s important to be concise, it’s even more important to be complete. Don’t leave out information the reader must have to make a proper response. For example, if your minimum order is $100, the form should specify that: “Minimum order — $100.” Otherwise, you’ll have a lot of explaining to do to people who send you checks for $25 or $50 or $75.

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How the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Will Affect Your Small Business

tax tips for new tax cuts and jobs act

It’s no secret that operating a small business is hard work. You devote tons of time and energy to making smart decisions, driving profits, and doing your best to keep your taxes low.

Now that tax season is just around the corner you’re probably wondering (or outright worrying!) about how the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which took effect in 2018, will affect your tax picture this year and beyond.

If you’ve been dreading tax time because of this uncertainty, it’s time to breathe a sigh of relief: most of the changes associated with the recent tax reform will actually benefit you this tax season—and it’s good to be informed of the not-so-great changes as well so you can plan wisely for the future.

Corporate tax reform in the United States was long overdue. For too many years, corporations in the United States faced a much higher corporate income tax rate than did companies based in most overseas economies. As a result, increasing numbers of U.S. companies chose to expand more overseas rather than in the United States and to be headquartered outside the United States, which wasn’t good for the long-term health of the U.S. economy and labor market. When Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in late 2017, it was the most significant tax reform passage since the Tax Reform Act of 1986.

Keep reading to learn the facts about how the 2017 tax reform bill will affect you and your small business this year.

Free profit and loss template download

Expect a reduction in your individual income tax rates

Following the 2017 tax reform bill, the corporate income tax rate was lowered from 35 to 21 percent, a 40 percent reduction. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act also reduced individual income tax rates by several percentage points inside most tax brackets. This comes as great news for most small business owners in the U.S who operate their businesses as pass-through entities (including sole proprietorships, LLCs, partnerships, and S-corps).

If you’re a pass-through entity, you can take a 20 percent reduction

When Congress was reworking the tax code, it recognized that many small businesses operating as pass-through entities would be subjected to higher federal income tax rates compared with the new 21 percent corporate income tax rate.

To account for this, Congress provided a 20 percent deduction for pass-through entities. Here’s an example: assume that your sole proprietorship netted you $60,000 in 2018 as a single taxpayer. That would push you into the 22 percent federal income tax bracket. But, because the pass-through deduction allows you to deduct 20 percent of that $60,000 of income (or $12,000), you would only owe federal income tax on the remaining $48,000. This major change has encouraged small business owners to feel optimistic about being able to grow their businesses.

But keep in mind that this deduction gets phased out for service business owners (such as lawyers, doctors, real estate agents, consultants, etc.) at single taxpayer incomes above $157,500 (up to $207,500) and for married couples filing jointly with incomes more than $315,000 (up to $415,000). This deduction may be limited for other types of businesses above these income thresholds, so be sure to consult with your tax advisor if you have questions.

Now you can enjoy better equipment expensing rules

The so-called Section 179 rules have historically permitted small businesses to be able to immediately deduct the cost of equipment, subject to annual limits, they purchase for use and place into service in their business. But the 2017 tax bill expanded these rules. Now, more businesses can immediately deduct up to $1 million in such equipment expense annually (up to the limit of their annual business income).

Further, this deduction can also now be used for purchases on used equipment. These provisions, which don’t apply to real estate businesses, remain in effect through 2022 and then gradually phase out until 2027 when the prior depreciation schedules are supposed to kick back in.

The maximum depreciation deduction for automobiles has been increased

The 2017 tax bill included a major increase in the maximum amount of auto depreciation that can be claimed. Under this reform, the annual amounts of auto depreciation have more than tripled.

Effective with the tax year 2018, here are the maximum amounts that can be claimed:

Year 1: $10,000 up from the prior limit of $3,160

Year 2: $16,000 up from the prior limit of $5,100

Year 3: $9,600 up from the prior limit of $3,050

Year 4 and beyond: $5,760 up from the prior limit of $1,875, until costs are fully recovered.

After 2018, these annual limits will increase with inflation for cars placed into service.

Your interest deductions have been capped

Starting in 2018, companies with annual gross receipts of at least $25 million on average over the prior three years are limited in their deduction of interest from business debt.

Net interest costs are capped at 30 percent of the business’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA). Farmers and most real estate companies are exempt from this. Then, effective in 2022, this provision becomes more restrictive and would thus affect even more businesses. At that point, the 30 percent limit will apply to earnings before interest and taxes.

You will lose some of your meal and entertainment reductions

The tax reform bill of 2017 eliminated the entertainment expense deduction for businesses. Under previous tax law, you were allowed to deduct 50 percent of those expenses (for example, when a business entertained customers and even employees at restaurants, sporting events, and fitness clubs).

There are exceptions under the new rules: For example, on-site cafeterias at a company’s offices and meals provided to employees as well as business meals associated with travel are 50 percent deductible. Meals provided to prospective customers as part of a seminar presentation are still fully deductible. And as long as they are inclusive of everyone, holiday parties and company picnics are also fully deductible.

The health insurance mandate has been eliminated

After the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) was passed by Congress in 2010, some Republicans in Congress vowed to repeal it. Following Republican Donald Trump’s election in 2016, it seemed that the pieces were in place for Obamacare’s successful repeal. But, when the late Arizona Senator John McCain gave the repeal measure his infamous thumbs-down vote, Republicans fell one vote short in the Senate.

So, the 2017 tax bill included a little-known or -discussed measure that eliminated Obamacare’s mandate effective in 2019. This mandate required people to have or buy health insurance coverage, and if they didn’t, they’d face a tax penalty. So, the penalty tax also disappears in 2019.

Under the new tax reform, net operating losses (NOLs) can no longer be carried back for two years. However, NOLs may now be carried forward indefinitely until they are used up. The carry-forward limit was previously 20 years. NOLs are limited each year to 80 percent of taxable income.

Now that you know about the most significant provisions that will affect your small business this year, you can approach tax season with confidence. And best of all, you can make informed decisions as you continue to grow and shape your small business into the vibrant enterprise you have always envisioned.

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Eric Tyson
Eric Tyson

Eric Tyson, MBA, is the author of Small Business Taxes For Dummies, Second Edition (Wiley, March 2019, ISBN: 978-1-119-51784-9, $26.99). Eric is an internationally-acclaimed and best-selling personal finance author, counselor, and writer. He is the author of five national best-selling financial books including Investing For Dummies, Personal Finance For Dummies, and Home Buying Kit For Dummies. He has appeared on NBC’s Today show, ABC, CNBC, FOX News, PBS, and CNN, and has been interviewed on hundreds of radio shows and print publications.

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Advertising is Changing — Know How to Lean into the Change

Opportunities are emerging as brands shift strategy for creating content, advertising and reaching consumers.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It’s more important than ever that organizations harness the power of creativity. This isn’t solely about artistry. Creativity spans every profession and job from a data scientist to a marketer to the CEO. According to LinkedIn, organizations need people who can innovate, problem-solve and develop new solutions — all of which makes creativity the number one skill in the world.

Visionary innovation and invention require the right tools to create content that inspires creativity.

Ironically, creativity is more dependent than ever on the right tools, data and systems. Adventures in creativity also depend upon a relaxed mindset that cannot occur within a toolless environment. Most creatives, designers and producers are familiar with Adobe’s Creative Cloud. It’s the undisputed standard when it comes to helping companies design, deliver and manage great customer experiences.

As content continually becomes a marriage between data and the creative presentation of it — the company is making an aggressive play toward owning more of the marketing space.

Adobe is also creating an atmosphere that allows greater scope and freedom to attain satisfying work. Old Navy illustrates this brand opportunity quite well in a recent blog post. “Our creative team lives in Adobe Creative Cloud and doesn’t want to switch around between tools because continual shifts require too many clicks and a diversion of pure thought and attention. Course deviations take-up too much time,” wrote Jason Wynne, manager of Global Digital Assets at Old Navy.

“By bringing Adobe Asset Link into the picture, each team member can seamlessly manage the content workflow between Creative Cloud and Adobe Experience Manager from the tools they’re familiar with. The efficiencies in Adobe Asset Link can save our creative team a lot of time.”

Countless decisions must ultimately come down to time. As an entrepreneur, there are two important concepts to recognize within this decision paradigm shift.

Related: 9 Ways to Rewire Your Brain for Creativity

Make sure you find the right solution(s) that can easily transfer data freely.

Microsoft, SAP and Adobe all have a data sharing agreement called the Open Data Initiative which allows you to share data across with platforms with no barriers. Which, funny enough, until late last year was a major problem in creating content. Even the average small business has multiple platforms for creative CRM and analytics.

“We wanted to create a single source of truth. Our goal was to create a one-stop shop where you can find any asset you need,” says Ben Snyder, IT Product Owner at Under Armour. In an article about creating faster content, Snyder says “Automatic tagging through Adobe Experience Manager Assets saves a lot of time for creative teams as they upload files. It surfaces many assets that might have gotten lost previously.”

Salesforce has started to invest in content management as well. They have built a legacy on CRM and it will be interesting to see how they navigate their shift away from CRM. Much like a Blackberry, CRM has had its era.

Related: 5 Science-Backed Ways to Boost Your Creativity

Actionable intelligence

Actionable intelligence and effective automation in real time are becoming the standard. Less relevant is remembering to call someone.

What you need to able to do is manage the end-to-end content lifecycle from creation and collaboration to delivery and optimization. This content supports a personalized and connected customer experience across any screen, wherever people are — from the web and mobile sites to online communities and physical signage.

Salesforce has partnered with Sitecore and is working toward getting away from manual management where they are now. With Sitecore, Salesforce is continuing to be is closer to Adobe’s model of what makes content tick. Without data, content is merely pretty. Without content, data are mere numbers.

Related: Balancing Creativity and SEO in Content Writing

Figure out how to capitalize on the industry shift.

Anytime there is a major shift in how brands create content, how they advertise, how they target, how they reach consumers — it creates opportunities. You won’t be able to create a full enterprise solution overnight that has taken these large tech companies decades of fine-tuning.

However, just like when SEO emerged 25 years ago, there will be an opportunity to optimize the experiences that get created. As we move away from advertising and jump head first into more personalized content — this shift will require ways to make that system better.

The real opportunity won’t be swimming upstream against the competition like Adobe or Salesforce but in finding ways to make solutions work better for your company.

Similarly, creating valuable equivalent solutions on a smaller-scale for startups will provide favorable circumstances. The biggest thing to keep in mind right now is studying how content has shifted and where it’s going.

If you can predict contents next maneuver and step up your game ahead of the action you will be garnering a large piece of the content pie. Any activity ahead of the actions of large companies and you’ll be staking a claim ahead of your competition.

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5 Ways Marketers Can Gain an Edge With Machine Learning

Interpret and act on large amounts of information in a scalable way.

7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It’s hard to escape the buzz around machine learning. Practically every industry is talking about it.

So, what is machine learning? According to Hewlett Packard, “Machine learning refers to the process by which computers develop pattern recognition, or the ability to continuously learn from and make predictions based on data, then make adjustments without being specifically programmed to do so.” In other words, it’s a way for machines to analyze and act on large volumes of information and continue to learn and improve over time.

Related: The Learning Landscape for 2019

For an example of machine learning algorithms in action, let’s consider facial recognition — an area we’re seeing improve by the day. Today, iPhone users unlock their phones with their faces. Law enforcement uses facial recognition to spot fraud activity and catch criminals. Google Photos allows users to sort photos by the people within them. These algorithms may not have been incredibly accurate in the past, but they have been trained over time with machine learning.

This isn’t human intelligence, it’s programmed learning, and its applications extend beyond facial recognition and across industries. Take marketing, for instance. Today’s marketers are striving to deliver a relevant message to their customers. And while humans can’t communicate with large volumes of customers individually at scale, machines can. Not sure what that looks like in practice? In this article, I’ll explain five of the key uses of machine learning for marketing.  

1. Recommend the most relevant products or content.

Product and content recommendations have been used by digital marketers for many years. In the past — and occasionally today — these recommendations were manually curated by a human. For the past 10 years, they have often been driven by simple algorithms that display recommendations based on what other visitors have viewed or purchased.

Machine learning can deliver substantial improvements over these simple algorithms. Machine learning can synthesize all the information you have available about a person, such as his past purchases, current web behavior, email interactions, location, industry, demographics, etc., to determine his interests and pick the best products or the most relevant content. Machine learning-driven recommendations learn which items or item attributes, styles, categories, price points, etc., are most relevant to each particular person based on his engagement with the recommendations — so the algorithms keep improving over time.

And machine learning-driven recommendations are not limited to products and content. You can recommend anything — categories, brands, topics, authors, reviews vs. tech specs etc. Using machine learning in this way allows you to create a relevant site or email experience that shows visitors that you truly understand them and helps them find the things they like.

Related: How Machine Learning Is Changing the World — and Your Everyday Life

2. Automatically spot important customer segments.

Even though machine learning allows you to deliver more individually tailored experiences, segmentation remains a valuable tool for marketers. With segmentation, you create groups of prospects or customers based on meaningful differences to better understand those groups. Humans can spot the obvious differences that they may already know to look for — such as the differences between high lifetime value vs. low lifetime value customers or new customers vs. loyal returning customers. But with so much customer data available to sift through, there are many other patterns that aren’t obvious to humans.

A machine can help you identify segments you didn’t realize you had, and you can use that information to speak to those segments in a more meaningful way.

For example, a machine-learning algorithm may be able to identify that millennials looking to refinance their home tend to exhibit certain types of behaviors. With that knowledge, you can come up with better-targeted messaging for that segment, speak differently to that segment while they’re on your site or speaking with an agent on the phone, and identify other prospective customers that may fall into that segment when they exhibit similar behaviors.

3. Identify and act on potential problems.

Your marketing campaigns generate a lot of data. Think of all the emails your company sends each day, or the number of people who visit your website, use your mobile app or interact with your call center. All of those interactions generate immense volumes of data — so much data that a human can’t look at it all in a timely manner. It may not always be immediately obvious to you when something is wrong — when a link is broken or a promotional code doesn’t work. Algorithms can sift through all of that data, predict what should happen, and notify you if something doesn’t seem right.

For example, suppose it’s Black Friday and one of your emails contains an incorrect link. Machine learning algorithms can predict the click through rates and/or conversion rates that should be expected from that offer and alert you right away if the reality is much lower than it should be. With that knowledge, you can take corrective action before too much damage has been done on such an important day of the year.

Related: 5 Innovative Uses for Machine Learning

4. Move from A/B testing to delivering individually relevant experiences and offers.

Testing is another area that can be improved with machine learning. Traditional A/B testing allows you to run a test between two or more digital experiences, find the option that produces the best result, and use that experience going forward. This is valuable, but it’s one-size-fits-all, and it doesn’t account for any differences in groups or individuals. Instead, it requires you to pick one experience to show everyone, which means many people will not see the experience that is best for them. Machine learning changes this game.

For example, rather than manually setting up a test between two homepage experiences, waiting until the test is complete and picking a winner, you can give those same experiences to a machine learning algorithm. The algorithm will pick the experience in the moment that it thinks will deliver the best results for each individual based on all the information it has available. It will learn from each of those interactions to inform the next decision it makes.

The same approach can be taken with promotions and offers. Instead of giving the same 20 percent discount or static promotion to all of your customers, machine learning can enable you to show the discount only to those who need the extra incentive to purchase. For those that don’t need the extra incentive, machine learning can select another relevant experience, such as promoting new arrivals in their favorite categories.

5. Decide how to communicate with each person.

How do you decide where and when to communicate with a prospect or customer? Does she prefer email? Push notifications? Texts? How often should you reach out to her, if at all? These are all questions that machine learning algorithms can answer for you.

For example, instead of a batch and blast approach to email where you simply send everyone the same email every day, you can use a predictive score generated by machine learning to determine if sending this next email to this particular person will cause them to open, ignore, click or unsubscribe. If so, you don’t send it. Instead, you can wait until you have something more relevant to him or her.

Related: Netflix Has Adopted Machine Learning to Personalize Its Marketing Game as Scale

Wrap up.

Machine learning offers the potential for marketers to interpret and act on large amounts of information in a scalable way. In a world where we constantly accumulate more data than we know what to do with — and where we desire to build individual relationships with our customers at scale — this is an exciting development. Take the time to learn more about how your organization could benefit from machine learning in the near future. Start dipping your toes in the water with one of these five areas, and go from there.

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How Two-Way Conversations Can Fix the Influencer Marketing Backlash

Collaborating will improve transparency and effectiveness.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Thanks in part to the recently released Fyre Festival documentary on Netflix, influencer marketing is now under a microscope. More than ever before, companies, regulators and consumers are all bringing up concerns about the use of influencers to build awareness for brands. Many people believe that the influencers involved with Fyre should be held accountable for helping market what ultimately became a failed event.

It’s not just the ill-fated festival that’s stoking the backlash. At last year’s Cannes Lions Festival, some prominent industry leaders were already raising red flags about influencers. Unilever CMO Keith Weed called for more transparency, saying that his company will do its best to avoid working with influencers who buy followers. Another senior marketer, HP’s Dan Salzman, said the backlash was “a natural shaking out.”

Related: Be Careful How ‘Fyre’d’ Up You Get About Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing may be experiencing a bumpy ride, but it’s wrong to think this space is dying. If anything, the overwhelming demand that the Fyre Festival got speaks to the power and effectiveness of influencers. One 2018 report from the social analytics company Shareablee found that one in three consumers trust an influencer’s words over what a brand says. Another study from our sister company, Reach3 Insights, found that Gen Z consumers think online personalities are just as influential as mainstream actors and music stars.

Collaborating to improve transparency and effectiveness.

Given the huge potential of influencer marketing to help companies reach the right audience, marketers and consumers must work together to fix the reputation of this practice. For influencers, embracing transparency is key. It should be clear from the audience’s perspective if a piece of content is a product of paid partnerships. This should be a no-brainer.

But the bigger opportunity for influencers at this time is to have two-way conversations with their own followers. The reality is that most influencers don’t have a clear understanding yet of their own audience. For example, many influencers don’t really know why people are following them. On one end of the spectrum are people who are simply hunting for likes and follow-backs. On the other hand, most followers are genuinely interested in seeking wisdom, entertainment and inspiration from influencers. While social media platforms provide follower and engagement metrics, this data doesn’t really reveal anything about an audience’s real interests, motivations and wants.

Getting insights about their own followers can help online celebrities in a couple of ways. For one, these insights can inform an influencer’s content. It’s easy to see which posts get the most likes, but it’s not always clear why some content does better than others. Influencers already have a captive audience — they should leverage this community to understand what resonates with people and why.

Related: 4 Influencer Marketing Secrets Entrepreneurs Need to Know

Deeper audience insights can also help build trust with brands. Imagine having real data on the interests, demographics and attitudes of your followers. This is valuable insight that marketers can use when planning influencer partnerships.

Similarly, companies can boost the value out of influencer marketing if their strategy is truly customer-centric. For instance, rather than blindly choosing influencers to work with or using follower count as the basis for partnerships, marketers should go to their customers first and find out which online personalities actually have the cachet and expertise that the company needs to achieve its business goals.

Re-imagining influencer marketing.

The current backlash on influencer marketing provides an opportunity to be more creative. Influencers are here to stay, so companies might as well figure out how to best partner with them.

One under-explored area in this space is leveraging the network of influencers to uncover insights. Some of our clients at Rival Technologies, for instance, have worked with influencers to reach demographics that are typically hard to reach via email surveys. This is an interesting approach as it is not marketing in the traditional sense — rather, it’s a strategy that allows companies to get data and insights that drive better decision making. This approach creates a win-win-win situation: Brands get valuable insights, the influencer is able to monetize his or her audience, and the influencer’s followers get rewarded for their time while having the opportunity to influence important business decisions.

Related: Influencer Marketing Is About Relationships, Not Buying Media

My prediction is that smart marketers will demand even more transparency from influencers. (In the past few years, marketers have demanded the same from advertising platforms such as Facebook and Google.) But ultimately there’s a real opportunity here to re-imagine the brand-influencer relationship. It will require collaboration between marketers and influencers, but the payoff is potentially big for both parties.

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