Entrepreneurs in the Making: Ideation with Canon-McMillan Students

The holidays are over! This is leaving some of us relieved and a few of us a little disappointed that it’s time to get back to the grind. Regardless, this past month has been a busy time for everyone. Before we cocooned ourselves for the remainder of whatever PTO days we had remaining, ABG Capital took some time to do what they do best; invest in the future.

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How so? One month ago today, we welcomed the students of the Canon-McMillan School District’s Entrepreneurship Program! Twice a year, as part of our community outreach initiatives, we welcome the class and their teachers to our office for an educational field trip.

ABG Capital finds it important to invest in educating students for “real-world” office life expectations. On this particular visit, the students gathered together to listen to ABG Capital’s CEO Jeff Tapolci, VoIP Innovations’ President Dan Ravenstahl, Director of IT Adam Scott, Director of Human Resources Sharon Kolesar, and Director of Development Jerry Eddy.

After a brief introduction of our company’s history, structure, and people-focused culture, Jeff spoke about some of the useful business tools he uses to ensure the alignment and health of our companies. The students learned about the importance of Strategic Thinking and the 7 Strata, along with Execution Planning and the use of a One Page Plan. The main topic of discussion, however, was the topic of ideation.

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What is ideation? The thought process of ideation comes from Stanford University. The goal of performing ideation is to produce “innovation at work” whether it be the overall mindset of your employees or an actual team-building session completed throughout each department. Ideation occurs at every point of the project planning process, but these ideas are often brought together with others generated during specific exercises aimed at uncovering new methods, approaches, practices, and, perhaps most importantly, new ways of improving something such as a new user interface experience. So much information is uncovered over the course of most projects that there must be a point where it is combined, analyzed, and converted into practical solutions and means of making innovation at work more tangible.

After hearing the detailed overview of ideation, students formed small groups to perform their own ideation sessions. Following the layout and steps of this ideation/brainstorming template, the Canon-Mac students chose struggles that involve other people, can be solved with a physical thing or experience, and that could be tackled within a week.

The students dove deep into these brainstorming sessions and came up with some really insightful and thought-provoking ways to develop analogous situations, break through any constraints, and framework for the problems they decided to tackle.

Shortly after their ideation run-through, the students were able to wrap up their day with the chance to meet with members of our staff that work in departments like Development, Marketing, IT, and Accounting. Our team members shared with them how our roles in the company, along with other companies they have worked for, have helped shape their careers and led to new opportunities.

After the meet and greet, the day ended with pizza for lunch and a Q&A session from the students.

The day was busy, fun was had, but most importantly the students were able to take away a better knowledge and understanding of what may lie behind the door of graduation. The students were able to witness first-hand the power of what a small family run business has the potential to turn into with hard work, cultivation of those around you, and respect. Success is the aim of the game. ABG only hopes that we could instill that goal in the minds of these young adults and inspire the next generation.

For more information on ideation and how you can implement this philosophy and strategy into your workplace, click here.

To get a copy of the Innovation at work Ideation worksheet, click here.

Beware the Office Time Wasters!

Look out! This Friday is the first of two Friday the Thirteenth’s the year. The second is in October (because that’s not ominous or anything). Many people get wrapped up in the superstitions on days like these and are throwing salt over their shoulders left and right. However, there is something we should beware of more than Friday the Thirteenth; office time wasters! You know, those little things that derail your concentration throughout the day–stay away from them! Here are a few superstitions you should be mindful of on Friday and every day so you steer clear of bad luck and office time wasters.

img_0027Don’t let a black cat cross your path: I love animals, especially if they are fuzzy, but superstitions say that if a black cat crosses your path on Friday the 13th that’s bad juju. I think black cats get a bad rap (Thackeray Binx was a pretty sweet and helpful black cat); but watching cute kitty videos that are ubiquitous online can be a major time waster. Resist the urge to get sucked deep into the void that can be YouTube videos while at work. Don’t open that silly text, or email titled “I haz hamburger.” Save that for weekends when it is below zero outside and you can snuggle under blankets and binge all you want.

Don’t break any mirrors: Ever break a mirror? It’s a chore to clean up; those shards can go everywhere. So, this is more a PSA than a superstition I think. But, people think its unlucky nonetheless. To avoid any bad luck try and avoid the bathroom (and the bathroom mirror) at work. Now, I’m not saying not to go when nature calls, but maybe you should avoid that greasy burrito you know will give you bubble gut the rest of the day. By planning healthy lunches you can avoid you running to the bathroom multiple times a day. You also will save time by not running out for said food and have more time to enjoy your lunch break.

Don’t walk under any ladders: I think this is just a common sense rule right? Apparently, this particular fear is linked to an antiquated belief that walking under a ladder is blasphemous; as it is an insult to the Holy Trinity, and means you are in league with devil. Though we don’t believe this these days, it’s just not safe to walk under ladders. In the office try to avoid walking under metaphorical ladders by getting involved in water cooler gossip (the devil of the office). Not only does this distract you from your work, we all know how damaging gossip can be. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be friendly with those you work with, but we all know that one person who always has some “juicy” news about someone in the company. Don’t engage this person; simply smile, exchange pleasantries, and move on. And by no means should you repeat their stories!

Don’t start any new trips: It’s also bad luck to start any new trips on this superstitious day. Though I don’t think traveling on Friday is a bad idea, it can cut into your productivity. Be it wasting time in traffic or in airports, if you can lessen your travel time and concentrate on work more you can get more accomplished. Instead of flying back and forth for meetings try to have them virtually if possible. This will save time, frustration, and money.

There certainly can be many things that distract us during the day and pull us away from our work. What are some the time wasters that trouble your work environment? How do you avoid the temptation? Do you have any superstitions around the work place? What are they and why do you have them? If you are looking for some good ways to avoid distractions in the office check out our previous post “No Interruptions Day” for more tips.

4 Social Media Trends for 2017

One of my favorite end of year trends is the Google Year. In my opinion, this is a great way to summarize the year in technology, social media, and the public. You can check out the 2016 video here.

Now that you’ve looked at the year in review, let’s discuss social media trends for 2017!

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Virtual Reality

2016 has been the year of VR. Many major companies are releasing VR devices, including Sony, for use with their Playstation game console and Samsung for use with their Galaxy phones. Although these were released with gaming in mind, the rise of social VR is coming. It is beginning with 360-degree photos on social media platforms and will only keep getting more involved. Be prepared to feel like you are at all of the hottest events in 2017!

Live Video

Live Video is catching on with companies much faster than individuals. Recently, I’ve seen quite a few television commercials demonstrating how to go live on Facebook. This doesn’t seem to be going away in 2017. Live videos are a great way to interface with customers and have customers connect with each other in real time.

Social Fundraising

Kickstarter, Go Fund Me, and Crowdrise have gotten a lot of attention in 2016. Social fundraising has become a great way to get ideas funded by individuals who can get behind those ideas. Individuals, start-ups, and nonprofits have all found great success in social fundraising campaigns. Look for this trend to keep getting more popular in 2017!

Filters and Photos

In 2016, we saw a lot of pictures of our friends with dog faces, reindeer, funny voices, explosions, and glitter thanks to Snapchat’s filter feature. 2017 will bring filters to Facebook and Instagram due to the public interest in expiring media. Look for Snapchat to be the trendiest social media platform of 2017.

 

As we look forward to what will happen in 2017 one thing is for sure, social media is here to stay. What are you most looking forward to happening?

It’s No Interruptions Day!

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The last days of the year are ticking down, soon it will be time to ring in 2017. I bet you’re thinking, “But I still have so much to do in 2016!” and are rushing around to finish up those last few projects. We all have so much on our plates that time just tends to get away from us. Some days we get so distracted we can’t remember what the original project we started on was. If this sounds like you join us in celebrating No Interruptions Day!

No Interruptions Day celebrates the last work day of the year and aims to help us all concentrate and round out the year feeling accomplished, as well as allow us to walk into the office in the new year with a clean slate. This year, No Interruptions Day is Friday, December 30 (unless you work weekends too, by all means, celebrate on the 31st). So let’s take some time to get centered and finish this year out right!

Here are some ways you can celebrate in the office this year:

  • Make it an office-wide event–Get the word out and let the office know about No Interruptions Day. Broadcast it through your company intranet and encourage clients and/or family to take part as well. By making it a group effort you’ll be able to accomplish more. This also lowers the likelihood being distracted by co-workers, family, or others (unless it’s an emergency) as you’ll all be focusing on year-end projects.
  • Turn off your cell phone–Our cell phones go everywhere with us, even to bed. On the 30th (or whatever day you decide to celebrate), leave your phone at home, or shut it off and keep it out of sight. This way you won’t be tempted to check any of your social media accounts or personal texts that tend to derail your focus.
  • Shut your door–If you are lucky enough to have an office door, shut it and place an educational note about No Interruptions Day and how you are celebrating on it. This way others will be less likely to intrude on your “work holiday” and you’ll be able to concentrate better by having the noise of normal office commotion deadened by the door.
  • Noise canceling headphones/Music–Not lucky enough to have an office door? If you are distracted by background noises consider bringing in some noise canceling headphones to help you focus. Are you motivated by music rather than silence? Bring in your headphones and shuffle your favorite playlist. If you are looking for playlists that will help you concentrate check out this list for some inspiration.
  • Make a plan–Much of our day in the office is taken up by replying back and forth to emails or returning phone calls. Try and make a plan to best manage your time and optimize it. Set aside a specific time period when you will check your messages, address them, and then move on to your next project.

We wish you all productive last days of 2016 and hope you have a successful and prosperous 2017. If you are planning on celebrating No Interruptions Day let us know! If you have suggestions on ways to participate share them with us!

A Festivus (at work) for the Rest of Us!

Festivus! A holiday celebration created by Seinfeld writer Daniel O’Keefe, which became a popular culture phenomenon when it was written into a 1997 episode of Seinfeld. Seinfeld fans, as well as, those who have never seen the show celebrate the unofficial holiday annually. Typically celebrated on December 23rd, Festivus is celebrated as an alternative to commercialism and the pressure of the traditional holiday season.

Keep reading to learn about traditional Festivus activities, and how to make them safe for your workplace this year!

festivusFestivus Pole

In contrast to your fully decorated office Christmas tree, a Festivus pole is a plain, unadorned aluminum pole. This is the ultimate symbol of Festivus, with no glitz or glamour. You can buy an official Festivus pole for the office from FestivusPoles.com, or go to your local hardware store and pick up a plain aluminum pole. However, in the anti-commercialism spirit of Festivus try to find an aluminum pole in an office closet or storage room.

Festivus Dinner

The official dish of Festivus is meatloaf! Although meatloaf might not be practical for your office Festivus celebration, why not turn it into a potluck. Ask everyone to contribute by bringing a dish. After all the importance of the meal is to prep for the Feats of Strength!

Airing of Grievances

Now this part of the celebration, although it created many comical TV moments, may not be work friendly for some. A few tips for including this in your work celebration are to remember to keep your grievances light-hearted, try to focus your grievances on celebrities and politicians and most importantly, remember that you need to keep your job!

Feats of Strength

Lastly, the Feats of Strength should follow your meal and Airing of Grievances. Although the traditional Feats of Strength wrestling match isn’t work appropriate, you can choose from some of these suggestions; arm wrestling, thumb wrestling, staring contest or board games.

 

The most important thing to remember when celebrating Festivus in the office is to be safe! We hope that you enjoy your Festivus celebration and have your share of Festivus miracles.

 

 

New Year, New Office: 5 Resolutions for the Workplace

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Looking out my window, the snow has finally begun to fly. In a few weeks, Christmas will be upon us and after that New Years. With the ringing in of 2017, we all want to start fresh. New year, new you, right? What about new year, new office? Here are five office New Year’s resolutions to help get you started with your list.

1. Get and stay organized–If you are anything like me and your desk looks like a tornado hit it, this might be a good idea. I am always digging through piles hoping the document I need hasn’t been thrown away. I can’t imagine how much time I’ve wasted just looking for a Post-it with a phone number I wrote down days ago. By taking the time to organize your desk each evening before you leave and developing a better filing system, you can help save your sanity and save time.

2. Stay Positive–We all have days that try our patience, and sometimes all we want to do is complain. Though venting serves a purpose, it can spiral out of control and create a culture of negativity. This hurts productivity and quality of work. By trying to look at challenges in a different, more positive way it can change your mood and your work. When presented with a challenge instead of outwardly expressing your irritation, take a second to breathe and reform your thoughts.

3. Get Healthy–Many people include a health goal as part of their resolutions so bringing that to the office is only logical. If you have snacks in your desk take inventory and try to remove any bad temptations. Take it a step further and organize a workout challenge group in the office and cheer each other on towards your goal.

4. Give More–There’s something about giving a present to someone or contributing (time or money) to a good cause that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Taking time to give more in the workplace can help build better relationships with your co-workers and create a culture of caring. This can be a two-part resolution, internal and external. Part one: Start by giving more within the office and making small gestures among co-workers. If you know a co-worker is having a bad day, buy him or her a snack to help cheer them up. Part two: Take things outside of the office and volunteer as a group for a non-profit of your choice. For help and ideas on how to do this visit the Tapolci Foundation.

5. Focus on the Mission–The new year is always a great time to evaluate and re-focus your mission, be it organization-wide or just departmental. Getting everyone on board and moving in the right direction will help you conquer the year ahead effectively.

Making New Year’s Resolutions is a tradition. We’d love to know what you have done in the past and what you are planning for in the future. What office resolutions did we miss? Do you have any suggestions on how to successfully keep them?

Looking Back on INBOUND16

Cold calling is dead.

It’s just that simple. We now live in a time where marketing no longer reaches out by annoyance but by content filled with rich stories, SEO, automation, analytics, and so many other intuitive methods. Generally anything besides making those awkward phone calls in hopes of securing a customer.

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That’s the beauty of Inbound Marketing. The barriers have been taken down. The opportunity for creativity and passion to be instilled in the way we choose to represent our brand is endless. Inbound brings forth a new frontier where captivating attention–and day trading it–becomes the holy grail of our marketing efforts.20161108_175314

INBOUND16 brought together over 18,000 attendees who live and breathe in the world of marketing, sales, and CEO-land, as well as HubSpot customers and agencies who understand the mentality and passion behind inbound and organic reach. All of us scurrying from session to session, taking notes and absorbing as many thoughts and tactical tips as possible to bring back to our organizations.

A few INBOUNDers from our marketing department flew to Boston to be a part of the gathering and came back full of insight. Upon landing, these three scattered throughout the convention center to gain the best marketing knowledge in the industry.

In the three and a half days of attendance Cherie, Cody, and Mark witnessed powerful keynote presentations from marketing gurus such as Gary Vaynerchuck, the “eloquently” spoken founder of VaynerMedia and host of #AskGaryVee, as well as Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, Founders of HubSpot. Celebrities filled the halls of INBOUND as well. Stories of the rise and grind were told by Anna Kendrick, Michael Strahan, and Serena Williams. Even Alec Baldwin graced INBOUND16 with his presence one morning! The passionate life-tales and insight didn’t end there. Hundreds of breakout sessions filled all 80 rooms of the Boston Convention center as well as both of their grand ballrooms.20161110_141831_001

To summarize INBOUND completely is almost impossible. To experience this wealth of powerful knowledge and standout mentors, as well as those sharing the field of inbound from around the globe together in one location is something you truly have to be there for.

To squeeze just a little bit of this experience out of the conference we asked our three in-house-INBOUND-incumbents what moments of enlightenment, insight, actionable tips, and fun they experienced individually.

Cherie – PR & Social Media Specialist, ABG Capital: “INBOUND16 was such an incredible experience that it’s difficult for me to pick just one takeaway as my favorite. The initial thought I have anytime I reflect on INBOUND(16) is how amazing it was to be among other people in my field who just “get it.” The fellow attendees understand how crucial it is for us marketers to do what we do for a business. They also understand that while we have the “fun” jobs of the company, what we do takes hard work, strategic planning, analyzation, concentration, and creativity.

I’m downright giddy at INBOUND listening to others in my field “talk shop.”  And while my focus at work is on PR and Social Media, I have the opportunity to attend sessions on design, video, content creation, and storytelling, which aids in rounding out my expertise. If you want to be at the top of the sales and marketing field, a trip to INBOUND is a must for getting there!”

 

Mark – Product Manager, InspiraFS:  The Session titled: ‘The Science of Selling: How to Sell the Way our Brains are Wired to be Influenced and Form Buying Decisions’ really stood out for me.

David Hoffeld, The Hoffeld Group stated “63% of the behaviors salespeople deploy decrease the likelihood of a sale.” SAD! As marketers, we should care deeply about how prospects’ brains react to sales strategies. At the end of the day we are trying to drive sales, just in a different environment. There’s no reason we shouldn’t incorporate the science of selling into our content.

 

 

Cody – Inbound Marketing Specialist, ABG Capital: INBOUND showed me that your story matters. Something that outbound, or “interruption marketing,” doesn’t necessarily embrace. Interruption marketing is simply the interruption of someone’s activity to grasp his attention…it’s an annoyance. We’ve all seen in it with spam, pop-ups, ugly banner ads, cold calling, and even TV.

In Gary Vaynerchuck’s keynote he explained that the television networks we know and love are becoming extinct. What’s replacing them? Intuitive social media platforms that tell stories. Our iPhones have become the basis of our entertainment. They’re our new television sets. They’re filled with the networks we know and love–Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram.

We follow brands and celebrities by choice. Not by interruption. We “tune-in” to their stories, latch onto their content, and implement their output into our daily lives. Not because we were caged into watching a 30 second spot in the middle of the Walking Dead because our On-Demand isn’t working–but because we as a society, we as a human race, place emotional ties into what we view and love–the quality of story-telling.

 

Tactical Advice You Can Use Today20161109_144812

As I said earlier, summing up the lessons learned from INBOUND in their entirety is nearly impossible. However, we can give you few actionable tips that can improve your website and your conversions today!

 

 

Here are some tips you can incorporate right now:

  • Remove your slider/carousel hero banner. These diminish CTR (Click Through Rate) and take away from your value proposition.
  • A value proposition–you should have one! Peep Laja with ConversionXL has one of the best articles on how to create a great value proposition. Read it and test yours starting today. If you find this hard, just pretend someone asked you what you do and how you’re different. Once you’ve compiled that, organize it into a value prop and get it up on your site.
  • Define your conversion funnel assumptions. When someone lands on your homepage, where would he or she logically go next? Make that next step easier. That’s conversion optimization in a nutshell, and you can try that for each page. Use any data you have, or start with assumptions and test, test, and test some more.
  • Optimize your blog. Aside from your homepage, your blog is probably the second highest visited part of your website. You’d be surprised how your blog is leaking opportunities to convert.
  • Testing…Testing…Testing! So how can you do that? Add Hotjar to your site today. This will show you heatmaps, user recordings, and more.

Start using these tips today! We’ll be sure to enlighten you with more after INBOUND17. Grab your tickets for next years INBOUND with your company; you never know, we might just happen to see you there!

 

National Letter Writing Day

Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you actually wrote a letter? Not an e-mail, or a text message, a paper and pen, envelope, and stamp, letter? For most of us the answer is “I don’t remember” or “third grade?” Well it’s time to get that pen and paper out, buy some stamps, and sit down to write because December 7th is National Letter Writing Day!

lettersLetter writing has a very long history; it can be traced back to ancient times in Egypt, India, Rome, and China. Only recently has society begun to correspond in 140 characters or less. Although you might not feel a need to write a letter to your family and friends (because they follow you on Twitter), let’s discuss who would still appreciate receiving a letter…Potential employers!

Writing a thank you letter after an interview is still an important use of the letter. Whether you actually mail the letter or attach it to e-mail in letter format is still hotly debated. The point is that potential employers love to hear words of gratitude from those they’ve interviewed.

Here are some tips when writing thank you letters.

Address the letter to your interviewer

Addressing your interviewer by name will reinforce to the potential employer that you are detail oriented. The best way to make sure you get the name and contact of an interviewer correct is to ask for a business card before leaving the interview.

Reaffirm your interest in the position and company

Let them know that you are still interested after the interview. Include a few highlights from the interview that reaffirm why you’re interested in the position. Make sure to be enthusiastic, but genuine.

Highlight your strengths

Was there something during the interview that made you think, “I would be really good at that?” Make sure the interviewer knows what it is! Tell him again what you would bring to his team, and why you’re a better fit than the other candidates.

In conclusion, don’t “write” sending letters off as an ancient art form, but use them to your advantage to wrap up a great job interview and land your dream job!

5 Ways to Prioritize Your Time During the Holidays

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Thanksgiving is behind us. We all returned to work this week with full stomachs and a growing to-do list. This time of the year always seems like a whirlwind, in the office and at home. If you are like me, you make a list of all the things you need to accomplish before the holidays and the end of the year, all the events you have coming up, and what you still need to run to the store to pick up. As I make this list, I grow anxious, and at times overwhelmed. We’re busy all throughout the year, but there’s something about the holidays and the coming new year that makes it seem even more urgent. How can we make the most of the last month of 2016? Here are five ways you can prioritize your time, fit in all your holiday activities, and make strides in the office as well.

1. Make a List – “He’s making a list and checking it twice…” we all know how the rest of the song goes. Hey, if it works for Santa it should work for us too, right? We all have multiple to-do lists; one for work, another for home, shopping lists, and more. Keeping lists is a great way to organize your thoughts and get a game plan together. I know it’s a simple suggestion but that’s the beauty of it.

2. Keep a Routine – This time of year is all about traditions; try to keep to your routine as much as possible during the day. This will help you stay focused, especially in the work place. Not deviating much from your normal routine will help you be less stressed and able to work more effectively.

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3. Delegate – During this time of the year there is usually family around; or maybe you have/know some kids who are looking to score a few extra brownie points before the big guy in red comes down the chimney. They may not be able to help you with office work, but you can definitely use those around you at home as a resource. One less thing on your mind and your to-do list will help you concentrate on bigger more pressing tasks.

4. Categorize – When you made your list I bet you noticed that some overlap. When working through your list, complete tasks that are related rather than jumping all over the place, it’ll save you time, energy, and even some sanity.

5. Reflect – Another big part of the holiday season is reflecting on the year that was. As you rush to finish all your work, take a moment, step back, and reflect. Take time to evaluate what truly needs to be completed and what can wait until the next year. Some things you will not be able to complete in this short period of time. Recognizing this will help you be less stressed and more successful in completing the projects that are time sensitive.

It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of the season. We all feel pressure from many directions–from work, from our family, and from ourselves. We want everything to be perfect. By taking time to step back and prioritize our work, hopefully the holidays will be less stressful and we will be able to enjoy the season and each other.

Do you have any other suggestions for prioritizing during the holidays? What type of tasks do you have on your to do list in December and how are you conquering them? Let’s help each other create a strategy for the best way to accomplish our goals in this last month!

#ShopSmall: Small Business Saturday is Coming!

“Behind every small business, there’s a story worth knowing. All the corner shops in our towns and cities, the restaurants, cleaners, gyms, hair salons, hardware stores – these didn’t come out of nowhere.” – Paul Ryan

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Many of us will look forward to Black Friday Shopping after we eat our turkey this week. With so many deals and steals, who can resist? However, you should make sure to save some of your Christmas budget for November 26th and help celebrate Small Business Saturday.

Small Business Saturday encourages consumers to shop small and shop local. The event was first observed on November 27, 2010, and was sponsored by American Express. To this day, it is still a registered trademark of American Express and has been celebrated Saturday after Thanksgiving every year since 2010. In 2011, the United States Senate passed a resolution in support of Small Business Saturday.

The event has taken on its own life on social media through Facebook advertisements and “likes”, various hashtags such as, #SmallBizSat and #ShopSmall, and American Express sponsored ads for small business owners. According to American Express, in 2015, 95 million people went out to shop at small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Supporting local small businesses is both good for your community and good for the business owners. Small businesses are the backbones of many communities across the country. Are you planning to celebrate Small Business Saturday this year? American Express has provided us with this handy tool that allows you to easily locate your local small businesses, just click here! Although the point of Small Business Saturday is to visit brick and mortar shops, if you are an online shopper you can still find local business on their webpages and online shops like Etsy.

 

Have you shopped Small Business Saturday in the past? Share your favorite small businesses and products in the comments section!