Books We’d Read Again & Again

It’s no secret, Spark Marketer is made up of a bunch of nerds — so, naturally, we love reading. But life-changing, enjoyable books aren’t limited to the business section.

Here are some of our all-time favorite books and top book recommendations (fiction and non-fiction). Check ‘em out! (Get it? Because at the library, you can check out books…)thumbs-up-book-shelf-filled-with-books

The Benefits Of Offering Health Care Benefits

Determining whether not to it makes sense for your business to offer health care to your employees is a big decision, and by no means a one-size-fits-all decision. Obviously no blog post can make the choice for you, but here are some of the perks of offering health care benefits in the workplace:hands-holding-tablet-with-word-healthcare

  • It’s attractive to those looking for a career. When people are looking for a job, pay is often the most important factor. But the best workers — the ones who are looking for a career — want a place that offers them more. Health care is expensive, and when you’re thinking about where you want to stay and build your career, you want to make sure you’ll have what you need to provide for yourself and your family. Yes, pay rate is still important, but without our health, what good is that extra money? When it comes down to it, if another company is offering a similar pay, health insurance can be the difference between you getting that great employee or someone else getting him or her.
  • You can lessen the financial worries and stresses of your employees. Even if you can’t cover all costs, providing some help with health costs can really make a difference in the lives of your employees. Things happen — we get sick, we add on to our families, our kids break limbs — and because we have nothing if we don’t have our health, we can’t just save up or wait to take care of ourselves. We won’t get into how broken our health care system is here in the U.S. or how absurd costs are, but it’s important to remember that our health is not a luxury. By providing health insurance to your employees (and their families), you can lessen their financial worries so that, should they ever need to go to the hospital or have emergency surgery, their only concern is getting healthy, not whether or not it can wait or how they’re going to pay for it.
  • Healthy workers are more productive. When your health is poor, it’s all-consuming. You can’t think about how to streamline a process or how to do your job better if your head is pounding or you have chronic bronchitis or a serious back injury. But when your health is good, you don’t even think about it. You feel good and you’re freed up to focus on getting work done. By providing health insurance to your employees, you can help them maintain better health and get the treatment and medication they need so they can focus on daily life. And healthier, more content workers have less sick days and are always going to be more productive, period.
  • You may be eligible for tax advantages and credits. While the government doesn’t do a lot to benefit small business owners, it does offer some tax advantages and credits to businesses offering health insurance to employees. For example, you can deduct your employees’ health insurance costs (as well as your own insurance costs), and if you have fewer than 25 employees, you may be eligible for an additional tax credit. Head here to learn more.

So should you offer health care to your team? That’s a decision only you can make, but we hope we’ve given you something to think about during the consideration phase.

Great Apps For Small Business Owners

As a small business owner, any tools that can make your life easier, streamline communication, or save you time are pure gold. Thankfully, developers are always working on new apps to address some of your biggest challenges. Here are some of the apps we recommend to business owners and what they can do for you:hand-holding-a-phone-with-app-icons

Google My Business — With the Google My Business app, you can manage your GMB information, respond to customer reviews, share photos, and get insights into how you’re performing online, all from your phone or tablet.

Evernote — You don’t always have a notebook in hand when brilliance strikes, but you probably have your phone nearby. With the Evernote app, you can easily jot down ideas; organize notes; create to-do lists; save business cards; and scan, store, and organize important contracts and documents. And since it’s all right there on your phone, you can reference it anytime.

Google Drive — Like Evernote, the Google Drive app allows you to create documents, store them, and share with others for collaboration. Want team feedback on a new direct mail flyer? Want your team to be able to easily pull up contracts, Google sheets, or other important documents? Google Drive makes it possible.

Slack — Slack is a great tool for real-time communication with your team, no matter where you are. Within Slack, you can easily direct message anyone on your team, but you also have the ability to create channels, like a general channel where you can post important information that’s relevant to the whole team, or project/topic specific channels. You can also pin documents within channels (Google Drive integrates with Slack, as does Asana, Salesforce, Dropbox, and others), and the search function makes it easy to look up previous conversations using a keyword. Another great thing about Slack is that you can select when you want to be notified: when conversation happens in any channel, when someone messages you directly, or only when you’re mentioned in conversation with an @.

Voxer Walkie Talkie Messenger— Voxer is a messaging app that allows you to have real-time private and group chats in a walk talkie style. Unlike walkie talkies, with Voxer, you can choose to listen and respond immediately or wait until a better time. You can also have your voice messages transcribed to text so you can read them, and easily share your location, photos, videos, and dropbox files with others.

Messenger/Facebook/Instagram/Twitter — Your customers want to be able to reach you through their preferred method and at their preferred time, and many are now using social media to do so. Customers also want quick responses, which is why we recommend getting Messenger app, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the apps of any other social media platforms you have a business profile on. With the apps, you can make sure no messages, comments, or tweets that need to be responded to go unanswered.

Yelp for Business Owners— Whether you love or hate Yelp, many customers and potential customers still use the app to learn more about you, review your business, and get in touch with you. With the Yelp app, you can easily manage your profile, track activity, add photos, respond to reviews, and answer customer messages and questions quickly, right from your phone.

Facebook Ads Manager — Running ads on Facebook? The Facebook Ads Manager app allows you to easily check in on ad performance, create new campaigns, and stay up-to-date on important info and updates. With Facebook ads, time is money, so being able to check performance and learn about potential problems or concerns quickly and easily is important.

AdWords Express — Running ads through Google AdWords express? With the AdWords Express app, you can quickly create and edit ads, set ad goals, and track ad performance right from your phone.

Square Point of Sale (POS) — The Square app makes it easy for you to accept payment for a job, regardless of whether your customer is paying with a debit card, a credit card, Apple Pay, or a chip card. All major credit cards are accepted (2.75% per swipe) and money is deposited fast. Within the app, you can set up products, services, photos, and prices, and at the POS, your customer simply signs directly on your phone or tablet. All you need is the Square reader and the app and you can kiss checks goodbye.

QuickBooks Accounting — Let’s face it, as a business owner, you have to know your numbers. Looking for an app that allows you to create and send invoices, capture photos of receipts, manage cash flow and expenses, and quickly view your P&Ls? The QuickBooks app is it.

Your Business Banking App — Most banks these days have apps that allow you to transfer money from one account to another, view past transactions, track direct debits and direct deposits, and view bank account totals quickly and easily. Many also allow you to quickly deposit money without ever stepping foot in the bank. Simply snap a photo of the check and hold onto it until it clears. Whichever bank you use for business, get the app on your phone or tablet so you can keep your eye on your money and say in the know.

Closing Commander For business owners, time is money. But have you thought about all the money you’re losing out on because you don’t have the time to follow up on every open estimate? It may take up to 7 touches for a customer to move forward after receiving an estimate, and that’s a lot of work for an already busy business owner or service team. Enter Closing Commander. This app makes following up and closing sales easy. It’s automated, personalized, and affordable. Some users are seeing more than 34% success rate in closing more of these open estimates. Check it out!

What are some must-have apps you rely on? Let us know in the comments below!

3 Questions To Ask Yourself When You Have An Overwhelmed Employee

So you thought you were hiring someone with the grit and confidence to tackle it all head on, but now the hire that seemed so promising is caving under the stress. Here are three questions to ask yourself so you know what changes you need to make to prevent a repeat:


#1 Do you know the personality types of each person you hire?

You may not give much weight to personality assessments and tests, but they’re oftentimes spot on and can provide some value to you as the leader in your business. The DiSC behavior assessment tool is a very popular option and it essentially breaks people down into four personality types using a number system. With the DiSC assessment, you’re left with a snapshot that shows where your employees score high and where they score low, which can help you identify what they like and don’t like in regards to, not just the tasks they’re performing, but the environment in which they’re performing those tasks and the way they’re being told to carry those tasks out.

The four personality styles that make up the DiSC assessment are Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness. Why would knowing which traits are highest in your employees help you prevent overwhelm and burnout? Because when you know which personality types you’re leading, you’ll know how to adapt your management and communication style to better fit each employee. You’ll be able to craft your interactions to each individual in a way that speaks to and supports their needs and preferences.

For example, an employee with a high C score likes to have all of the details before getting started and has a fear of being wrong. Knowing this, you could ask that employee if they have all the details they need or if there’s anything else they need from you before they can confidently move forward with the job or project they’re working on. Someone with a high D, on the other hand, may become bored by all the details and just want to jump right in. How you present a job to each would and should differ so you can be a more effective leader of each individual.

#2 What expectations have you created?

No one wants to screw up, but for some personality types (like high C’s, for example), the fear of failure can be paralyzing and prevent them from taking any steps or actions. On top of considering the innate traits and levels of pressure that are self-induced by each personality type, you need to consider the type and level of pressure that you’re consciously and subconsciously placing on your employees. Ask yourself what your attitude towards failure is and what you’ve expressed to your team regarding failure. Have you presented failure as something that’s undesirable at all costs and apocalyptic in nature or as something you can learn from? Failure often leads to innovation and improvement and teaches us more than our successes, but no one wants to be the one to fail or take risks that could lead to failure if management portrays failure as something to be avoided if you want to keep your job. Yes, put systems in place to prevent mishaps, but don’t make mistakes the unforgivable sin in your business. How you approach failure will largely determine how your employees do, and without that big lurking F hanging over their heads, they’ll be freed up to focus on the task at hand.

#3 Do you encourage open communication?

When an employee is overwhelmed, you have to consider whether or not it could have been avoided if you had a culture in place that encouraged open and honest communication and mutual support. If your employees can come to you when they first start to feel overwhelmed, the escalation that leads to breakdown and burnout can likely be avoided and you can get your employees the support they need to do the job with confidence.

Is transparency a word or a practice in your business? Do you encourage teamwork and support? Can your employees come to you or another person in management when they’re feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, or in need of more support? Even if it’s not you, make sure your employees have someone they can go to to talk it out and get the support they need.

Better Leadership Is Within Your Control

Look, HR stuff can be frustrating and time-consuming, but knowing your employees and creating a culture that encourages transparency can help you better lead your team, provide a better work environment, get more value and productivity from every employee you manage, and prevent burnout, overwhelm, and other common workplace problems. Take the time to understand your employees and adapt your leadership style and culture, and you’ll find it saves you a lot of time and a lot of frustration in the end, which is what we all want, isn’t it?

How To Dominate Your Market

Everyone wants to beat out the competition, but how do you totally dominate your market, and make your company the “go to” company for the services you offer? It all starts with brand awareness efforts.

When you think of pop, do you immediately think of whatever off-brand your grocery store sells? No, you think of Coca-Cola, Pepsi, or their products, like Sprite. That’s market domination, and it didn’t happen overnight. It happened as a result of consistent efforts to get the Pepsi and Coca-Cola brands out in front of people and into their homes.

You may think that a product is very different from a service business, but in this respect, it’s not. You need to become the Coca-Cola or Pepsi of your industry for your local market, and it starts with simple brand awareness. So what can you do?Dirty-Hand-Holding-Gold-Medal-In-Victory

Local Radio & TV

While more and more people are getting their news and music from places other than TV and the radio (like Facebook and Spotify), TV and radio aren’t dead and they can be great places for you to meet your potential customers. These media outlets have demographics of their listeners and viewers and you can use that information to figure out which stations, channels, and even times, your target customers favor.

Maybe the majority of your target audience watches the local news segment in the evening or the weather first thing in the morning. Maybe they listen to a morning show or traffic report on their way into work. Use that knowledge and get radio ad and TV commercial slots around the same times and on those same channels and stations.

But it goes beyond advertising. Keep your eyes and ears opened for opportunities to provide value and establish yourself as a local, trusted expert through these mediums. Journalists are always looking for a story, so tie your business in. Are chimney fires happening a lot in your community? As a chimney sweep, that’s a great opportunity for you to educate your community on how to prevent fires, what to look for in a chimney sweep, and the importance of chimney inspections and sweepings. Offer to share your expertise on air and get your local community familiar with your company.

Magazines & Forums

Magazines and forums are also great outlets for establishing your authority, educating your community, and building brand awareness. With trade magazines, local magazines, consumer focused magazines, and forums like Quora, the opportunity to answer the questions your customers and potential customers have, find out what they want to know and what’s important to them, and get your name out in front of consumers has never been easier. Spend a little time each week writing and looking for opportunities to answer questions, educate, and inform. Once you identify which publications you can add value to, reach out to the editor-in-chief or a particular journalist who seems to cover related topics, and pitch a story or article.

Blog Posts

Like magazines, forums, local radio, and TV, blog posts are a great way to get your name out there and provide value to customers and potential customers. The more you blog and the more value you provide with your blog, the more opportunities you have to show up in search results when customers and potential customers are looking for expertise and answers to questions related to your industry. Think of questions you’re commonly asked on the job and use your blog to answer those questions. Talk about industry trends and products. If it’s something you think your customers would find interesting and helpful, blog about it!

Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube offer more avenues for expanding brand reach and establishing trust and expertise. Within Facebook, you can join local neighborhood groups and keep an eye out for anyone who is in need of your services or dealing with a problem that you can solve. Don’t get pushy or sales-y or you could be removed from the group, but look for opportunities to help those in your community and build familiarity.

Instagram and YouTube are great for sharing quick videos that educate consumers and show what you do. How-To videos are sought out by everyone from Baby Boomers to Millennials, so if you can provide instructional videos that solve problems for your customers or educate them, do it! Explain problems, when and why they require professional resolution, and when and why they’re an easy fix. You may think that these types of videos will cause you to lose business, but they actually establish you as an authority and give your customers a glimpse into the knowledge and expertise that goes into troubleshooting and solving the issues you solve for them.

A lot of people leave Pinterest out of the conversation, but it’s still a powerful and popular social platform, so if your work is very visual (if you’re a house painter or a fireplace installer, for example), Pinterest is worth spending some time in. Post before/after pictures of your work, share trends, and make sure you use the right tagging and description info so your images have a chance of showing up in search results. 

Print Ads & Traditional Advertising

We can’t discount the effectiveness of print ads and other traditional advertising, but some traditional print advertising opportunities will provide more value than others. Circulars aren’t always the best route when you’re still building brand awareness because they primarily engage price shoppers, and price shoppers, in our humble opinion, aren’t all that loyal. They usually go where the best price is and they’ll only use your services when you’re running a special.

Another reason circulars are probably not the best route when you’re working on brand awareness and getting your business name out there is that we’re all used to getting so much junk mail that many of us don’t even look at circulars anymore — they immediately go into the recycle bin. So spend some time thinking about the types of customers you want, what they’re reading and paying attention to, and which types of traditional advertising might provide you the most value and get you out there in front of your potential customers. And don’t discredit traditional advertising that isn’t direct mail related! Is there a great local diner that’s slammed with business every weekend? Consider paying for a spot on their laminated placemats or coffee cups. When people are sitting there sipping their coffee and waiting for their breakfast, they’ll see your business name, and the more frequently they’re exposed to your business name and logo, the better. Local event and sports team sponsorships can be great advertising options as well. Be creative and think about what type of print and traditional advertising makes sense for your business!

Networking & Local Chambers & Associations

Even with the Internet, networking and involvement with local chambers of commerce and associations are still among the most lucrative forms of advertising, in terms of building brand awareness and dominating the market. So join your local chambers and community groups, introduce yourself to others in related service verticals, and pass out your business cards. The more you introduce yourself to those in your community, the more opportunity there is for others to share your business card or recommend and refer you to others in the community.

When you take the time to network and establish yourself as a trusted expert with others who are plugged into your community and out and about meeting your potential customers, you create a network of people who act as an extension of you, and do a lot of your brand awareness marketing for you. 

Get Started!

There are countless ways to spread brand awareness and dominate your market, but you have to implement them to really see the benefit. So choose a few of the suggestions here and get out there and be the Pepsi or Coca-Cola of your industry and market!