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Monthly Archives: April 2014

Top Five Productivity Apps and Their Specific Purpose

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Evernote, productivity app!

Evernote, productivity app!

Evernote, although not my top pick is very useful for helping with productivity. It has very useful purposes, and keeping track of your to-do list is not one of them. I am not an Evernote expert by any means, so I’m sure the app has use beyond what I even know, but below is what I find most useful about the app.

1. Using it is a mind dump. If I think of something I need to do, a bill I have to pay, a phone call I need to make, or even a project idea, I will quickly open up Evernote and jot a quick note. I will later come back and reference it when I’m actually ready to put it into my more robust system for managing work. It’s very important to have a place you can mind dump, so ideas and work related things don’t continue to float around in your head.

2. Storing important information. I keep a note that contains important information such as my UPS shipping account, my insurance policy number and customer support numbers. Anything I may need to access on a regular basis I put in here for easy access. This is a valuable time saver and has probably saved me countless hours since I have created the “Important Stuff” note inside my Evernote.

3. It’s great for logging ongoing data; such as mileage for tax write offs, as well as taking photos of receipts to go paperless, pretty much anything you want to store long-term.

4. The app is very helpful for brainstorming, researching, jotting down random business ideas, and keeping that information in the cloud for you, so that you can come back to it later. The nicest thing about Evernote is you can have several different “notebooks”, and several different “pages” within that notebook.

Reminders/Siri (iPhone)

Okay, don’t laugh… Lets say I have something super urgent unexpectedly come up that I have to take care of later this afternoon. Rather than go through the long process of adding it to my calendar I will simply put my phone up to my ear and tell Siri to remind me to do that important thing at 4 p.m. and then I’m done. I can forget about it until I get the reminder, and I saved myself about a minute of having to manually add something else to my calendar. Reminders can be scheduled as well, but really you should be doing this in your calendar.

Calendar, the digital version with notifications

Don’t underestimate the calendar. Nobody can keep track of all their appointments in their head. I don’t care who you are, you have too much going on and that is just not possible. If you have ANY appointment at all that is scheduled at a specific time, it needs to go in your calendar app. I also highly suggest setting two notifications. One an hour before, and the second five to ten minutes before. I recommend the first one because you never know where you will be or what you will be doing an hour before your appointment, and you may need extra time to get situated, or prepare for the meeting. You should also use your calendar to mark important project deadlines and other action items that have to be completed by a certain date.

KanBan, LeanKit

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 5.49.38 AMI have talked about the KanBan system for organization and productivity in previous posts, but I can’t stop telling you about how amazing and life changing this system has been for me. Even if you don’t use KanBan, at least establish some sort of system, other than the standard “task list” that will help you visualize your entire work flow. The specific App I use is called Lean Kit, although there are several KanBan programs on the web.

KanBan is essentially a visual representation in column format of your workflow. My columns are: Choices (To-Do), Next, Today, In Progress/Waiting On, and Done. This allows me to see my entire to-do list, but not get overwhelmed with all that is going on. This visual way of viewing your work will relieve so much stress and will give you a peace of mind you didn’t know was possible.

I encourage you to move beyond the standard task list. I used to use Evernote to keep track of my to-do’s, but spent so much time just reading my list, of which half the projects were in progress or were awaiting information/action from other people. Plus, I’m not having to spend the start of every day re-organizing and re-prioritizing things.

Pen and Paper

Moleskin Journal

Moleskin Journal

Lastly, but definitely not least is the pen and paper method of taking notes and making reminders. I carry a Moleskin journal around with my everywhere. I use it for brainstorming, strategic planning, taking notes in meetings, crunching numbers, and just random doodles here and there!

There is something to be said for the tactile. I find I am able to focus a lot more during brainstorming sessions when I am using pen and paper, and there is an ease to note taking that a computer just doesn’t provide.

I’m also still a huge fan of the Post-It Note, even though I primarily utilize Evernote and KanBan for any mind dumping I need to do. I still occasionally will write something on a Post-It-Note, usually messages for other team members, or a simple action item I need to take on something.

Bearded Brothers was planned in Moleskin journals, so don’t forgo paper for a 100% digital life. If you are afraid of losing your notes, just make sure you take pictures of those pages and store them in Evernote. It does a great job at taking photos of documents, and making your hand written notes searchable.

These are just my favorite apps though. I’m sure there are loads of other useful productivity and business apps out there. What are some of your favorite apps, and why?

What color is your toothbrush?

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Every day we are faced with decisions. From the moment we wake up and walk into our closet to decide what to wear for the day, we are making decisions that will affect our day, and our life.

When we get to work this morning we have to decide how we will structure our day, what phone calls to return, and what emails to respond to. Nearly ever minute of our day we are using valuable brain power to move projects forward, serve customers, relate with people, and make extremely important decisions, like, what color toothbrush should I buy.

The other day it dawned on me that we probably waste loads of valuable brainpower on decisions like what color toothbrush to pick. I was in the grocery store the other day browsing the shelves to replace my wife and my ratty old toothbrushes, and was overwhelmed with the number of colors, types, and brands to choose from. Ultimately I grabbed two brushes that most closely resembled the ones we had before in the colors green and blue. I would later let my wife decide who gets what color.

A few days later I found myself in the store again, tasked with getting a birthday card for my mother. I eventually became so overwhelmed with the amount of cards and messages and just walked away. Thankfully we had a nice blank card at home that we wrote our own message in.

It made me think, of ways I could cut down on the use of brain power to save that energy for more important tasks, like making important business decisions, and having enough mental energy left in the tank at the end of a long day to connect with our spouse and family.

I had once heard that Thomas Edison wore the same outfit every single day, in order to eliminate the decision making process of what cloths to wear every day. I have a friend in my hometown, Denton, that was known for always wearing blue jeans and a denim shirt. He could ALWAYS be seen wearing the same outfit. Whether or not Glen was trying to conserve brainpower is a question I can’t answer, but I’m sure it freed up some iota of creative juices to contribute to his musical endeavors.

This led me to think of ways to conserve precious brainpower so that our mental energy can be directed at things that truly matter.

1. Eat the same breakfast, and possibly lunch, every day. I have a smoothie every day for breakfast, so this one is already pretty easy for me. About the only time I ever change that up is if I am meeting somebody for breakfast. If you eat at work, pack a salad every day, or eat the same sandwich. It may sound boring, but if you pick a healthy lunch you will probably also benefit from the nutrients you are getting on a regular basis.

2. Simplify your wardrobe. Maybe wearing the same outfit every day is not for you, it’s definitely not for me. But, make it easier on yourself by removing shirts you don’t wear so that you don’t have to peruse by them in your selection process. Maybe become a t-shirt and jeans guy (or gal), like myself. Anything you can do to simplify your wardrobe will help.

3. Have a mind dump. We always have little things that pop into our heads, like an errand we have to run, or phone call we have to make. Stop trying to remember those things, because you probably can’t and will likely waste mental energy trying. Carry around a small note book, or app on your smart phone that will allow you to quickly record, and forget, any random idea that pops into your head, just make sure you go back and review this list later.

4. Develop an organizational system that will let you visually see your workflow. I am a huge fan of the Kan-Ban method, which I have mentioned before. And, I use LeanKit to manage my projects, and other important tasks. The better your organizational system, the less stressed you will be, and the more brain power you will have to put towards actually completing the projects, rather than stressing over what to do next.

5. Don’t fret over simple decisions like birthday cards, and tooth brushes. It can be easy to allow the marketplace to over complicate your decision making process, but for something simple as a greeting card, keep a stack of blank cards at home that can be used for any occasion. When it comes to a toothbrush, just pick the same one every month, or join a Toothbrush Subscription and never have to think about it again. The same can be said for razors if you shave, just join the Dollar Shave Club.

6. Don’t spend even one second looking for a pointless photo of a toothbrush to put into your blog post.

Some of these things might require a bit of extra brain power to get going, especially setting up an efficient organizational system, but the end result will be an overall more relaxed you, with the mental capacity to make smarter decisions and love your family. I can speak from personal experience. Before implementing the Kan-Ban into my work-life I couldn’t keep track of anything and I was always super stressed, and could never rest easy when I was away from work, but now that I have a good system in place I can breath a sigh of relief when I’m away from work because I have an amazing handle on exactly what is going on. My brain is at rest!

Tips for building brand recognition without spending much money – Part 4 of 4

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Momentum builds

When you first start your business the small things you do will seem frivolous, it will seem like you aren’t getting any traction, but brand awareness takes time. A person might not necessarily try your product the first time they see it, but if they see it repeatedly, they will become more likely to try your product.

We are now at the point where we a lot of people say, “Oh I have seen these before, I have been wanting to try them.” We hear it at demos, and we see it in conversations on Twitter. Repeated brand exposure is the key to building momentum, and you don’t need millions of dollars to spend on TV commercials to accomplish that.

Good ol’ grass roots marketing is far more powerful than you think. It just takes a bit longer to achieve national exposure, than blasting a commercial over multiple television networks, but even in today’s age with Tivo, commercials are getting overlooked. Plus, word of mouth, personal recommendations are going to have far more value than a print ad or television spot.

Build and army (Social Media, continued)

Over time we have built relationships with individuals through social media; many of them athletes, some health nuts, and a few musicians. In exchange for them getting free product from us, they shout from the rooftops how much they love our stuff. Through that messaging we have gained lots of loyal supporters that not only purchase our product from us, but also help us spread the word of how much they love Bearded Brothers bars.

Bearded Brothers has an army of sorts, defending and touting our name on social networks like Twitter and Instagram. It’s one of many ways people discover our products: various health and fitness related blogs is another. We achieve this in two ways. The pro-active way of achieving this is recruiting brand “ambassadors” that we send free product to in exchange for mentions on social medial, and in personal life. These are not paid sponsorships, they are real people that love our product, and would likely still be doing the same thing, even if we didn’t send them free stuff.

The second way to build an army is passively…let the recruits come to you. Just being present on social media networks gives people the opportunity to toot their praises to the masses about your product or service, especially if you are active and engaging on those networks. It’s also important that every single person that sends you a praise gets replied to (same is true with criticisms). This lets them know you are listening and that you care.

Once the train starts picking up steam, it’s hard to stop. There have been days recently I actually worry about how much momentum we are picking up. Just yesterday I opened up Instagram to see Bearded Brothers tagged in an image taken out of a page of Details magazine that featured our tasty Mighty Maca Chocolate bar. It just goes to show that consistent hard work will pay of exponentially.

Speaking of Twitter and Instagram, you can follow myself, and Bearded Brothers on the following accounts:
Twitter: @calebsimpson
Instagram: @calebsimpson
Twitter: @BeardedBros
Instagram: @BeardedBros

Part 1 of 4 (Social Media, Facebook)
Part 2 of 4 (Tell your story)
Part 3 of 4 (Think like a drug dealer)

Tips for building brand recognition without spending much money – Part 3 of 4

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Think like a drug dealer

First of all, I can’t take full credit for this analogy. I first heard it from the book Rework, by the founders of 37 Signals. The idea is to think like a drug dealer and give out small samples of your product. If you have an amazing product the consumers will come back with money in hand.

Mini Bars - Sample sized energy bars.

Mini Bars – Sample sized energy bars.

Ever since the start of Bearded Brothers we have given out tiny samples of our bars. This saves us the cost of handing out full sized bars, and we still get people to sample our products. Sampling is the best way to gain new customers. This is evident by the spike in sales we get when we do a product demo. While in some cases a store might only sell four cases of energy bars in a month, but during a demo they will sell 4 cases in a three-hour period. Those same customers are likely to come back and buy the product again, and increase the monthly sales to 6 cases per month. It may not seem like much on a small scale, but multiply that by hundred of locations and you have quite the impact.

Sponsoring events is another great way to get people to try your product. For Bearded Brothers our primary target market are athletes. So providing samples for race packets, and handing out samples on race day is a great way for us to get our product in front of our target audience.

We are selective about where we give out samples though. We are not likely to give samples to an event in Wyoming where we don’t have any locations to purchase the product. It’s important that the consumer be able to buy your product in the store. Sure, we live in the day of online sales, but when you have a small business you have to be selective about how much free stuff you give out, thus the reason why it’s important to tie in your donated product to an area you have an established retail presence.

I have also found that sponsoring events in an area where we did not have a presence did not generate any online sales for us, even though we included an awesome coupon code. Most people are impulse buyers when it comes to trying new products. They are more likely to use that coupon code if a friend forwarded them an email, or if they saw a Facebook or Twitter post. People are not likely to take a coupon code home and use it. It’s just the facts.

Event sponsorships are great for brand awareness. Going on four years now we have been sponsoring 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell in Arkansas. This brings in climbers from all over the country. We provide coupon codes in all the participant packets (but will not do so again this year) but have not had a single one redeemed. Yet we have people coming up to our booth each year and telling us how much they love our product, and that they eat our bars all the time. This tells us we have built brand awareness with them, and that they are buying the product locally, rather than online.

This concept works with any type of business, even if you don’t have a tangible product. People providing services such as consulting or career coaching can provide free advice in the form of high quality blog posts with truly valuable content, free e-books, or podcasts. The most important thing is, to get people to try your product or service, it helps you earn their trust and makes them feel better about spending their hard earned money on YOU.

My final installment will be on, “Building and army.” How you can leverage Twitter to help spread the word about your brand.

Part 1 of 4 (Social Media)
Part 2 of 4 (Tell your story)

Part 4 of 4 (Building an army, social media continued)

Tips for building brand recognition without spending much money – part 2 of 4

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In part one of this four part series we talked about using social media as free, or low cost marketing. It’s a great way to get your message out there, but in order for it to work, it has to be the right message.

Tell your story

Bearded Brothers, Chris and Caleb.

Bearded Brothers, Chris and Caleb.

At Bearded Brothers we are constantly hearing, you have such a great story. That story is, “We’re just two brothers who are passionate about the outdoors, staying fit, and especially about healthy organic foods. We love that last one so much, we started an awesome snackfood company. Our bars are, raw, vegan, gluten and soy free, made with organic ingredients, and crafted in hot and sunny Austin, Texas. Oh, and everything else we make is pretty dang delicious, too.”

Make your story the focal point of your message to customers. People like to feel connected with the brands they support. That is largely why we went with the name, Bearded Brothers. Our wives were the geniuses that came up with the idea. I actually didn’t like it at first. But the more I thought about it the more I LOVED it. I realized it conveyed the family aspect of the business. It was a name that people could connect with, bearded or not.

This is the story we tell people all the time when they ask us how we got started. We tell it to media, we tell it to friends, and to buyers of grocery stores. We are literally just two average guys that were not satisfied with the current energy bars on the market, so we decided to solve that problem.

We also seek to make our social media content very relatable. We occasionally post photos of our family, and share about what we are doing on the weekend. We aren’t just a business; we are people and seek to connect with others. So, think small, and tell your story – keep it authentic.

Own your brand

I don’t mean own it in the sense of register a DBA or LLC. I mean don’t be ashamed of your brand and what you stand for. We are constantly getting grief about our “small” bars and the high price point, yet we have changed our price very little since we have started because we know the bars we are providing are superior to anything else on the market. When you buy our bars you are paying for 99-100% organic ingredients. Very few bars on the market can make that claim.

Bearded Brothers could easily make compromises and source half of our ingredients from non-organic sources that would still be non-GMO. But we have decided we want to support organic farming, see the industry grow, and eat organic foods ourselves. Thus, we don’t compromise; it’s part of who we are.

In some ways, you ARE your brand. Chris and I are both healthy minded individuals, so we practice what we preach. The Bearded Brothers brand embraces an active lifestyle and healthy eating, and we encourage others to do the same through our social media messages. Being real and genuine is part of who we are, and the brand is merely an extension of our real selves.

Regardless of what product or service you are offering it’s important to be genuine, to tell your story, and to be true to the reasons you started the business. People love authenticity, so let it show in how you engage with your customers. For part 3 of 4 I will talk about why you should think like a drug dealer when it comes to letting people try your product.

Part 1 of 4 (Social Media)
Part 3 of 4 (Think like a drug dealer)
Part 4 of 4 (Momentum builds, using Twitter to build a brand army)