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Emotional Branding for Sustainable Product Design

This post was written by Danielle Thompson, Designer for Toptal.

 

Product design is a creative discipline that challenges designers to build an aesthetic, functional, and marketable product. As the discipline matures alongside rapid technological innovation, productbrand, and user experience designers are finding new ways to connect emotionally with their users and customers, consequently creating opportunities for more sustained engagement. What is emotional branding? How does the brand or product bring meaning to the users’ lives?

Creating emotional brand connections to your target market can translate into conversions and sales as well as online and offline interactions. Great emotional design that connects with the user on multiple levels is a huge part of this process.

There is more to effective brand design than choosing a logo or a brand color based on design trends and best practices. Successful brands use branding techniques that don’t just get attention—they sustain interest and loyalty.

logos for emotional branding techniques

How do designers create emotional branding that really sticks with users?

The Emotional Levels of Brand Design

In the business world, the term unique value proposition is a clear statement that communicates to potential customers how a product or service can fulfill a specific function more effectively than anything else in its market niche.

Instead of focusing on just the unique value proposition, designers should familiarize themselves with the concept of the emotional value proposition. The difference between the two is that the latter is based on narratives or personality while the former often focuses primarily on functionality. Emotional value comes from storytelling that drives the brand image.

Author of several seminal UX design books Donald Norman offers a simple breakdown of a concept he describes as the three fundamental levels of processing in the brain—how human beings process and react to stimuli. Understanding these three levels of human processing is integral to human-centered product design.

The Visceral

The first emotional level is visceral—usually outside of our conscious control and directly related to our physical senses. The visceral is an automatic, “prewired” level of emotion. It comes first (before the other two levels), and it’s immediate.

When experiencing visceral emotions, humans make rapid judgments that are largely biologically determined. The need to quickly categorize experiences as good or bad, safe or dangerous is dominated by our reptilian, or primal, brain.

In emotional design, UI designers consider how the user interface influences the user’s emotional response at a visceral level. Too many competing elements on a website can induce panic, whereas a clean, clutter-free interface will promote a reflexive calm in the user. Whatever visceral emotion the designer is trying to evoke should inform the “first impression” of the UI.

porsche homepage emotional branding strategy

Porsche creates a visceral feeling of calm and control with its first impression.

lings cars overwhelms the user with stimuli

Ling’s Cars overloads the user with sight and sound, bravely risking a visceral panic in order to set a playful, irreverent mood.

Compare the intended effect on one’s visceral response in emotional branding examples like the Porsche homepage to a website like Ling’s Cars above. These initial, visceral reactions shape our immediate experience of a product or brand and cue us into the designer’s intent. Successful emotional branding strategy takes this into account.

Behavioral

The behavioral emotional level mostly involves higher functioning cognitive processing within the mind. The behavioral is the interaction between your product or service and the consumer over time. This level occurs as the user moves through the cognitive process of planning, expecting, and learning within your product, similar to how the design world quantifies usability.

How seamlessly is the consumer interacting with the brand or product? How does the experience measure up to the five principle qualities of usability: learnability, efficiency, memorability, error-handling, and satisfaction? By crafting a product experience that is not only usable but culminates in the user’s satisfaction when completing their task, UX and branding designers are creating a positive behavioral response.

consider the holistic brand experience

Every aspect of the customer journey contributes to the emotional experience of users.

Look at the brand and product experience across the entire customer journey from the user perspective. Consider whether the emotional journey for a user fosters a behavioral pattern of enjoyment and repeat use. When users begin to associate a brand and its products with an emotional response of trust, conversion and retention rates are improved as brand loyalty strengthens.

Reflective

The third emotional level is reflective—it comes down to how users receive and digest the central message. The reflective level refers back to the user’s behavioral experience and visceral reaction to the user interface, and it adds meaning to the interaction. The reflective stage is when the user makes a connection between the experience and their own sense of self.

“This is the highest level of emotional design,” according to Norman’s Three Levels of Emotional Design“representing the conscious thought layer, where we consciously approach a design; weighing up its pros and cons, judging it according to our more nuanced and rational side, and extracting information to determine what it means to us as an individual.”

branding techniques to create an emotional response

How can the power of branding design elements provoke multi-faceted emotion within users?

The meaning assigned to an experience will be contingent on a range of variables, including demographic factors, the user’s culture, past experiences, and the context in which they find themselves when interacting with a given product or emotional advertisements.

The reflective state is the most conscious of the three levels of emotion, observing and judging the impact of both the visceral and behavioral levels, and assigning a dimension of value. The functionality of the product or service in question isn’t quite as important as the emotional impact it has on users.

It’s about self-image, personal satisfaction, memories, and reflecting back on the experience. Successful brand design pays special attention to this level of experience because one bad experience has a negative, long-lasting effect on the brand.

successful brands connect with their users via brand design

Successful brands create an emotional impact for their users through careful design.

Addressing Cognitive Levels in Product Design

In order to build emotional ties with a brand and its customers, the designer needs to know their market and establish empathy. Understanding the beliefs, values, and priorities of the target user demographics is vital for a brand’s emotional design strategy and durability.

Identify Your Market, and Be Specific

Target market selection is a very important decision for all product companies. Identifying the target market starts by looking at the problem the product is trying to solve and how it fits into the life and habits of the target user.

It is imperative to tailor not only the product design process but also the emotional marketing and sales efforts in order to reach the specific segment of the population that is most likely to feel a resonance with the brand.

what is emotional branding

Good emotional branding strategy relies on understanding what makes your target users unique.

An example of a highly successful mobile app carefully designed around its target audience is the stock trading app Robinhood. The brokerage app is laser-focused on attracting a specific audience of millennials who are likely to be new to investing and trading. Robinhood targets those who are at the right age to begin investing, but for whom the market may be intimidating and off-putting.

robinhood ui brand design

The Robinhood app uses emotional design to make its target users feel calmer and more confident in otherwise intimidating industry. (image via Policy Genius)

The mobile-only app attracts and retains these users by presenting simplified data and clear, intuitive functionality in a clean, friendly interface that eases users into trading in a way that fits into their daily lives. Robinhood’s product design and emotional marketing strategies are making it a remarkable success and setting it up to compete with well-known institutions.

Empathy is central to their success. By learning how their target audience looked at existing solutions, and by empathizing with users’ feelings of being intimidated when using traditional broker solutions, Robinhood geared their product design and brand positioning to fill potential customers’ specific needs.

Don’t Create User Stories; Listen to Them

After identifying your target market, listen to them. Successful brands have a clear sense of what kind of users they are attracting and engaging. While making some assumptions about a target audience is a natural starting point while developing a product, emotional design requires real data found through user research.

Qualitative user research is a method focused on understanding user behaviors and the motives behind them. User interviews, focus groups, and user testing are a great source of data for building emotional empathy with target users, and revealing where they experience frustration as well as moments of emotional satisfaction.

listening is key to emotional branding strategies

Emotional branding techniques require engaging with and listening to target users to understand their unique needs, concerns, and pain points.

Renata Tesch, a qualitative researcher, outlines three major approaches to qualitative research to apply to product or brand design.

Ethnography

The ethnographic approach, in regards to qualitative research, is largely based on the understanding of culture and its influences on a potential customer’s or user’s behavior. Earlier in the history of interactive product design, designers would assume concepts of culture around ethnicity and geographic location.

As more research deepens empathy in the design community, the concept of culture has become richer, taking into account diverse cultural groups, urban and rural lifestyles, cross-cultural communication, sexuality, and much more. This makes targeting a specific audience even more important.

emotional marketing value informed by field research

Understanding users in their specific context and how their environment affects their behavior is key to emotional strategies of design.

Design researchers will often conduct ethnographic research in the field, building data points of understanding through direct observation. Qualitative field data will then be synthesized with quantitative demographic data to inform emotional design decisions.

Phenomenology

Phenomenology is the focus on the individual and their understanding of the world. This research method focuses on the individual’s subjective experience and personal interpretation of the world as well as how technology changes common social dynamics.

One great example where better phenomenology research may have benefitted product design was with the initial release of Google Glass. While the product was intended as a consumer product for continuous, everyday use, wearers were met by others around them with suspicion and discomfort. The device ultimately failed to achieve widespread successbecause its very use caused a rift between how users felt about themselves and their interactions in the social world.

emotional marketing improving our social connections

Design to build tools that improve the way people feel about themselves and their place in the world.

Emotional branding should be designed with triggers connected to frequent scenarios in life and their associated emotions. Successful brands work to understand how their products make users feel and improve the way they interact with the world. Phenomenological research helps designers understand a collective ideology of a specific market through individuals.

Emotional Branding Strategies

Create a Personality

A brand personality can be defined as a set of human characteristics associated with a brand. To illustrate, GoPro personifies itself as an adventurous, sporty, young, and creative brand through its product design, ads, and social media.

Brands that are resonating emotionally with millennials, who are coming into huge buying power, are faring better than older brands that aren’t meeting that audience’s demand for more meaning. Consumers can easily relate to a brand if they can project their identity onto the values of the product.

create a brand personality through emotional design

Successful brands have relatable personality that connects with potential users.

People begin to build personas of brands based on the employees, the CEO, brand endorsements, and perceived shared values.

Brand personalities are further reinforced by brand name, logo, advertising and price points. A luxe brand personality like Coach is formed through a respect for its high-fashion New York origins and its higher pricing; a brand like Herschel crafts a more down-to-earth, hipper face with its choice of materials and more economical pricing. Both companies are known for their bags, but each has a very different customer and emotional branding strategy.

coach luxe brand design

Coach tells its brand history through its products and emotional marketing. (image via Coach, Inc.)

marketing strategies and brand design of herschel

Herschel’s marketing strategies give it a hipper, younger vibe, (image via Herschel co.)

There is more to emotional branding strategies than a great logo and a set of brand colors. The following are key qualities to keep in mind when developing a brand personality and emotional marketing that appeals to the right customers.

Attributes

These are distinctive features that concisely characterize the product or brand name. The feature can be intrinsic, relating to product performance, features, and the unique abilities of a product.

For example, the line of home monitoring products offered by Nest relates directly to its promise of helping users keep an eye on their homes. The name works with the basic device features to give users an emotional sense of trust and protection.

nest emotional marketing strategy is to make users feel safe

Nest’s name and product features work together to create a sense of security at home.

In contrast, the attribute can be extrinsic and relate to the personality or history of your brand or product. Converse has a brand personality that is largely attributed to its users—brand loyalists whose support has helped take a relatively cheap basketball sneaker and turn it into an icon of effortless cool and artistic culture.

converse brand emotional design popular with youth culture

The Converse brand personality evolved through its fans to embody the image it has today. (image via Spin magazine)

User Value

The benefits outline the individual value the consumer has attached to a product’s attributes. For example, the iPhone is known and loved for its easy-to-use interface, which for many users is its primary appeal. There are many less expensive smartphones on the market, but the iPhone’s loyal users find other features that provide additional value.

usability as an emotional branding strategy

The iPhone creates value for its users by being known for its ease of use, allowing a wider audience of all ages to participate.

How does its usability create value for the user and relate to their sense of self? A user who does not struggle to use their device is more confident. The device’s inherent usability means that everyone in the family is more likely to adopt its use, regardless of their technical skills. That adds value to the user because of the way they feel about their own abilities as well as helping them maintain connections with their family.

Experiences

One often-overlooked aspect of emotional branding is the experience a user has when interacting with the brand. An experience of a brand can occur at purchase, contemplation of purchase, and during consumption. These experiences shape a brand’s narrative—if the purchasing experience is difficult, your product and brand identity could be interpreted less positively.

For many years, Apple created a strong brand identity through its stores. Based on highly researched customer behavior patterns, Apple designed its stores to be carefully curated experiences in order to create a positive emotional journey for their customers.

Optimize for the Emotional Journey

Identifying a customer’s desire to buy a product or engage with a service begins with understanding what value can be provided to the customer—anticipating their needs and behaviors to provoke positive emotions. Understanding the value a product offers goes beyond a set of “features.” A feature is a default characteristic of your product or service, but it does not tell the whole story.

Establish authentic empathy with target users. Understand their unique needs and how to connect with them by creating a journey through emotional branding techniques and sustainable product design—use insights from research to connect to consumer values that translate into consumer preferences. Understanding the “why” behind your target market’s behavior will help you build a strong emotional brand.

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Michelle YoungEmotional Branding for Sustainable Product Design
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How Interactive Ads Can Boost Your Success

It’s no secret that people often find ads to be annoying—if they even notice them.

But what if the reason why people either hate or ignore ads has more to do with how advertisers design and use them rather than the fact that they are ads?

Interactive ads.

Advances in technology, such as the ability to create interactive ads, can enable companies to be far more successful in engaging their user bases than they have been in the past.

Customers.

If you can figure out where your audience members are, what they want, and how to provide that to them in an interesting way, your ads can be incredibly effective. Here’s how to use interactive ads to make your business more successful.

How Interactive Ads Foster Engagement

Businesses are seeing marked improvements from rethinking what ads are. Instead of interruptions, ads can actually be “‘a way to spend more valuable time with consumers.’”

Animate ads.

The ability to animate ads and make them interactive allows you to make ones that enhance the user experience and are more enjoyable than ads have traditionally been. For example, Timberland partnered with another company and ran a successful display ad that invited users to color it by tapping on different sections of the image. DSW created an ad that viewers could flip through simply by tilting their phones.

Interactive ads allow brands to be more personal and meet their consumers’ needs more easily. As brands pursue interactive advertising, they are seeing the time people spend on ads increase significantly, in some cases by 47 percent.

How to Create Interactive Ads.

.

If you are so inclined, you can always take a shot at creating interactive ads by writing the code yourself. This article from Webdesigner Depot gives instructions for how to do so.

Because of the importance of ads being visually appealing as well as fun, it’s a good idea to have a designer help you create the ad. If you have some understanding of coding, following the above steps makes creating an interactive ad fast and easy.

Even more simple.

But for those of us who prefer something simpler and don’t want to mess around with coding, there are alternatives. For example, you can use a tool like the one provided by Bannersnack to create animated banner ads that work with HTML5.

You don’t have to write any of the code yourself.

You don’t have to write any of the code yourself. You simply create your design, animate the ad, and then either download it for use in your campaigns or embed it on your website. It’s up to you to know your audience and how to find them, of course, but a resource such as this one can help you create an eye-catching and engaging ad.

Don’t Neglect the Why.

Yes, it’s important to know how to create interactive ads, but they won’t be effective at all if you don’t make them with a clear idea of the purpose behind them.

In this post on some of the most effective advertising and marketing campaigns that brands have run, HubSpot notes that the companies were successful because they focused on:

  • Solving a problem
  • Telling the bigger stories behind their products and making the stories interesting
  • Creating their own product categories where they could dominate
  • Being honest
  • Making their products seem cool
  • Encouraging consumers already using the products to use them more often
  • Being creative and entertaining
  • Being relatable
  • Showing just how effective their products were
  • Making their products seem critical to have
  • Engaging with their followers while keeping their branding consistent
  • Trying something new, even if what they were already doing was working

Getting Your Interactive Ads Out There.

Interactive advertising is all about getting your customers…well to buy your product, obviously. But it’s about getting them to buy your product by persuading them to interact with your brand. And social media has democratized society to the extreme, giving people direct access to each other and thereby giving brands direct access to their customers.

Social media.

Social media is a great resource for targeting purposes. You can discover who your audience members are and what they like so that you can show your ads to people who want to see them.

Plus, social media is all about people sharing information they find interesting and entertaining. If you create an ad that is interesting in and of itself, the people who do see it will want to share it with even more people.

While this sounds simple, figuring out how to get your ads in front of your audience is a fairly involved process. You’ll need to study your market and do keyword research on your audience, as well as on your competitors. There is a lot more to say on this topic, but doing so is beyond the scope of this article. To learn more, you can check out this in-depth guide on SEO & PPC keyword targeting.

Bringing Advertising Up to Speed

Don’t let your thinking be limited by how businesses have used ads in the past. It’s not necessarily an easy process, but if you recognize what people are looking for online and deliver it to them in an innovative way, your ads can be something they want to see instead of avoid.

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

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Jeremy WebbHow Interactive Ads Can Boost Your Success
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Dow Jones Becoming a Leader in Verified Business Data Worldwide

That’s right, if there’s a company that’s been betting on Barcelona for business, it is Dow Jones. They settled in the Catalan capital 20 years ago, and they’ve built an impressive team of 300 people in charge of data analysis and content creation for all their companies.

In the midst of the fake news era, Dow Jones claim to have the biggest & most comprehensive collection of business data and the tools to fight false stories being published in the press. How do they do it?

We spoke to Ingrid Verschuren, Senior Vice-President of Data Strategy, in Barcelona a few weeks ago, and she explained the whole story. Let’s find out!

They have been around for ages.

Dow Jones was created in November 1882 by three reporters: Charles Dow, Edward Jones and Charles Bergstresser, a year that sounds like startup prehistory. Since then, they’ve embarked in different businesses, mostly related to the news industry (with the nowadays famous Wall Street Journal) but also with the stocks market. Just for clarification, they sold the index in 2010 to CME Group.

Dow Jones have always had a culture of doublechecking all their findings, and have always verified facts & figures. Their department of analysis calls each company to share the real data. “Sometimes a 100-million investment isn’t really an investment. It might be a loan or a debt scripture” says Verschuren.

Their analysis department is trained to extract said data from the business owners in order to add it to the mastodontic database, and to doublecheck it with the investors and other parties involved in every operation. What’s more, when asked about why they do this, when there are other companies doing it like Startup Genome or Crunchbase, Verschuren pointed out that “… we’ve been in the industry way before them. They do a great job, but they don’t go as far back as we do, and they don’t seem to put that much emphases in verifying all the sources”. She’s right about that, and I’d like to throw in another thing: both Crunchbase and Startup Genome, just to name two of them, they only focus on startups and the hottest startup ecosystems, but have little to no data about more traditional sectors in, say, Moldova. Dow Jones do have this data.

They’ve got the right team.

When asked about how do they manage to cover the entire globe, Verschuren explained how they always hire people with very diverse origins, who are native in the languages of the countries they need to cover. A local does not only know the language, but will have more tools to know which news sources to trust.

Our team is very diverse. Mostly people who’ve spent time abroad doing Erasmus for instance”, says Verschuren. Erasmus is a study abroad program very popular in Europe, which allows students in university to spend between 6 and 12 months in a foreign country. Barcelona is one of the most popular destinations for Erasmus, and some of them decide to stay in the city. A perfect match for Dow Jones, says Verschuren, as they provide the best aptitudes to work for Dow Jones: to know languages and to have lived abroad.

Another surprising fact is that there’s a majority of women in the office, even in management positions. Verschuren gives it no relevance, “it’s been always like this. We don’t have any policy whatsoever. If you take a look, we always try to hire people with background in languages and other related degrees, which consist in a majority of women, so the pool of female talent is larger.”

They’ve got the right environment.

While talking about the male / female ratio, the subject of company culture and employee perks was brought up. “We do not only attract a lot of women. We also retain them very well”.  Turns out that Dow Jones was one of the first companies to permit remote work in Spain, which helped to allow women to extend their maternity leave and to spend more family time without having to ask for holidays. “If your family lives abroad and you want to visit them but you don’t want to use your holidays, it’s fine. Just go there and work from your parents’ place”.

Not only do they seem to have a really good working environment, with good salaries (paid internships – unprecedented in Spain!) and an outstanding office in one of the coolest spots of Barcelona, but they also work in a truly fantastic city. Barcelona provides an inspirational environment for international professionals to give the best in them, with really affordable prices and a very good life/work balance.

They’ve got the tools.

As a media company, Dow Jones invests heavily in getting out only the right data. When asked about Donald Trump and the whole fake news issue, Verschuren assures between chuckles that he actually helped to increase the WSJ subscriptions. However, the issue is bigger than what we think, as more and more people share videos, articles and whatnot without verifying its veracity. Also, deepfakes, the ultra-realistic video mashup fakes that can feature Barack Obama making racist remarks, for instance, are deeply worrying and will be a thing very soon.

Dow Jones has got some companies in them like Factiva that work in aggregating news from over 30,000 sources. Also, at the end of the interview, Verschuren assured that they’re looking at how the blockchain can help them in the battle against fake news.

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Jeremy WebbDow Jones Becoming a Leader in Verified Business Data Worldwide
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VC Corner: Niko Bonatsos, General Catalyst

Welcome to VC Corner

Every week we’ll be presenting a short feature – 10 questions with a great lineup of diverse, powerhouse VC’s – for our community of entrepreneurs to learn from.

We’d love to know what questions you’d want to ask or what VC’s you’d like to hear from – just mention @StartupGrind on twitter with hashtag #VCCorner. 

Our first guest today is Niko Bonatsos, Managing Director of General Catalyst’s $4B fund. Their investments include Airbnb, Honest Company, Snapchat, Stripe, to name a few. In their words, “We’re not just writing checks, we’re spending our working lives closely aligned with people who make a difference – and who have fun doing it.” (website). 

Niko is an experienced and respected investor, particularly interested in first-stage tech startups and partnering with first-time (rockstar) tech founders. What’s his VC approach?

“I don’t mind if you weren’t born in the U.S. or if your accent sounds funny – mine does for sure. I also don’t care whether you went to Stanford or you’re a domain expert yet. I believe that talent is universal, even if opportunity is not.” (website)

Enjoy our VC Corner Q+A with Niko. 

Your Name: Niko Bonatsos

Title: Managing Director

Company: General Catalyst

Please describe your own / or your fund’s mission/goal in one sentence:
We partner with the world’s most ridiculously ambitious founders who are building category defining companies.

What is one thing you are excited about right now?
Augmented Reality (AR) + Crypto (cryptocurrency).

Who is one founder or company you think we should watch / and can all learn from?
Patrick Collison, Co-founder & CEO, Stripe. 

What is one question you ask yourself before investing in a company? 
Why now?

What is one thing every founder should do before walking into a meeting with a potential investor? 
Know their numbers.

Do you have a favorite business book?
Poor Charlie’s Almanac.

What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not working? 
To walk with friends. 

What is one piece of advice you’d give any founder? 
I always try to remember this for myself — as well as suggest this advice to any founder: Treat every decision/meeting/interview as a learning moment. It’s always an opportunity to level up.

When did you close your current fund?
I closed my current fund in 2018.

Niko also spoke at the 2018 Startup Grind Global Conference in February. To view his talk at the event – “VC Logic: What investors really want to see and hear in a pitch” head over to our YouTube channel or click below.

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Jeremy WebbVC Corner: Niko Bonatsos, General Catalyst
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​How Blockchain Will Disrupt Real Estate

The blockchain is already revolutionizing the digital currency landscape. A few years ago, a decentralized currency was unthinkable—how volatile would it be when not backed by a government? However, with the success of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin that are supported by the blockchain, people are realizing that it could have far more uses than expected—and the next landscape blockchain has the ability to disrupt is real estate.

What blockchain can do.

Make the process faster: The process of buying a house can be a long one, and even longer with government entities adding additional restrictions meant to slow down said process thanks to high demand. The blockchain has little power over sales restrictions and legislators’ decisions, but it is a powerful tool regarding financial verification.

Techcrunch reports, “At current, most buyers and sellers make use of escrow and title companies for third-party verification—a safety net to make sure both parties keep their end of the deal, as well as to reduce the risk of fraud.” This third-party verification is important, of course, but it can cost around 1 or 2 percent of the property’s total value (and it takes extra time, of course). Blockchain, however, could replace the escrow company or other third parties by vouching for parties’ identities with its far-reaching distributed database.

Reduce the risk of fraud and offer complete transparency: The real estate industry is rife with fraud, unfortunately. It’s a prime nesting ground for scammers especially because there are so many steps during transaction processes where it’s easy to trip people up. However, thanks to some of blockchain’s key and most famous qualities—the abilities to record every transaction and protect them with cryptography—blockchain is almost impossible to hack, therefore decreasing the potential for fraud.

Fraudsters can forge all sorts of things, like IDs, deeds, and necessary documents. On the other hand, “blockchain-based digital certificates would be linked to a single real estate property in the system, which would make it impossible for an actor to sell a property they don’t own. It would also make it impossible for a fraudster to put themselves between the buyer and the title company to steal funds.” Fundamentally, putting real estate transactions on the blockchain makes them a whole lot safer.

Deedcoin: a new player on the block(chain).

Bitcoin changed banking, so now Deedcoin is set to change the future of real estate. Deedcoin is a platform that “replaces the way customers find their next real estate agent. Instead of choosing a random 6 percent commission agent, customers access [the] platform, input their property information, and link up with their local Deedcoin agent for 1 percent commission.” You don’t need to alter your entire understanding of how the market works because Deedcoin fully integrates with the real estate infrastructure you’re already familiar with.

Why does the commission rate matter? Well, according to their website, US property owners hold $15 trillion in private property but are on the verge of losing $900 billion to future commissions. That’s money you don’t have to be spending. Because they decentralize and streamline the way real estate is exchanged, Deedcoin “returns up to $750 billion to homeowners by tokenizing real estate commission and connecting customers with agents directly.”

How about an example of what it would look like for you? Well, “a family with a $300,000 home for sale can continue their lives while they get a full-service local agent and tech-based platform for ⅙ the regular cost. This family can pay a fair price of $3,000 to sell their home instead of losing $18,000 of the most valuable thing they own with a traditional agent.” All you need is 50 Deedcoin to retain 5 percent more of the equity of a property sale.

That sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? Not only is the real estate landscape easier to navigate, you still own the 6 percent of your house that would otherwise go to a future real estate agent. When it comes time to buy your new house, you’ll have more funds left over from your old one to, say, renovate your kitchen how you’d like.

It’s not just for the US

According to Deedcoin, there is over $200 trillion in privately held real estate worldwide. Fraud is certainly not unique to the US, so blockchain’s international power can provide substantial and necessary upgrades in the real estate industry for everyone.

For instance, Zricks.com agent Pankaj Agarwal says, “Land records in most Indian states date back to the colonial era, and most land holdings have uncertain ownership… Putting India’s land records on blockchain… would greatly increase efficiency and reduce fraud… Countries across the world—from Sweden to Dubai, Georgia to Britain—are beginning to embrace or test the technology in their national property records.”

How do you think blockchain will change the real estate industry?

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Jeremy Webb​How Blockchain Will Disrupt Real Estate
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Employees Can Negotiate Benefits with Small Business Employers

When applying for a job, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by questions: do you want a salary or hourly rate? Is it better to be an employee or a contractor? What is the commute time, and can you work from home?

The answers to these questions about benefits and workplace environment will shape your experience with a company. Despite that, many workers underestimate the importance of a great benefits package.

Healthcare, retirement contributions, stocks options and profit sharing, and paid time off can make the difference between a good and great workplace experience. As a new or long-term employee, is it time to analyze your benefits?

Types of Benefits

It’s hard to know what to ask for if you aren’t sure about what’s available. Here are some common benefits options you’ll want to look into.

Health Insurance

Health insurance helps pay for primary physician check-ups, specialist services, emergency room visits, prescriptions, and vaccinations. According to a study by Clutch, most employees say that this is the most important benefit of all, so make sure you know what you have access to as a current or future employee.

You should also investigate the availability of vision and dental plans, which are usually separate from your main healthcare plan.

Paid Time Off

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average full-time worker gets 10 holidays off with pay and 9.4 vacation days off with pay. Check to see how your time off package compares.

Unpaid time off is also a possibility. If you plan on starting a family, caring for a sick parent, or getting surgery, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) states that employers are required by law to give an employee 12 weeks off unpaid leave over a 12-month period.

However, some employers already do offer paid family leave benefits.

Severance Pay

If you happen to get terminated from your position, some companies offer severance pay.

An example severance package would include one week’s pay per year that you worked for the company and/or healthcare benefits for a short period of time.

Overtime/Holiday Pay

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) states that if an employee works over 40 hours in a week, the employee must be paid 1½ times their rate. (However, managerial, supervisory, or professional workers are not included in this provision.)

However, employers aren’t required to pay extra for working on a holiday, unless you have a contract that specifically addresses holiday pay.

Full-time employees who do get holidays off from work are legally entitled to an “in lieu of” holiday. This means that when a holiday falls on a non-workday, such as a Saturday or Sunday, the holiday will be acknowledged on the closest workday before or after the non-workday (either Friday or Monday).

The bottom line: receiving more than 1 ½ times your pay rate and getting holiday time off (or extra pay on holidays) are certainly perks worth discussing.

Profit Sharing and Stock Options

Some employers offer to sell their workers stock in the company at a lower price. Not only does this allow you to feel that you own part of the company, but when stock prices (hopefully) rise, you could make a considerable profit.

The Extras: Food, Fitness, and Housing Allowances

The rise of the tech industry has meant the proliferation of new work perks, which companies like Google and Facebook have made famous. Snacks, meals at meetings, fitness center memberships, childcare provisions, housing allowances, and the ability to work from home are all possibilities.

Sit down and calculate these costs to see what you spend in each category. For example, it might be worth a small pay cut to work from home if you can save money on gas, tolls, and wear and tear on your car. (Plus, you’ll avoid torturous traffic.)

Consider These Benefits for a Potential or New Job

If you’re starting a new job, pay special attention to what benefits you’re being offered and how easy it will be to actually use them.

Say you’re trying to decide if you should take a lower-paying job that offers great health insurance benefits and stock options, or another position with a higher salary, but no health or stock options.

Here are some questions that you should consider asking to determine which will pay out more in the long run:

  • Who does the health insurance cover? Just me, or my spouse and dependents as well?
  • What are the retirement savings options? How much does the company contribute?
  • What is the vacation time like, and is it paid? Does vacation time roll over to the next year, or is it use-it-or-lose-it time?
  • Will I be able to opt into any extra benefits, like life insurance/accident insurance?
  • Does the company pay for further training or education opportunities like professional development courses, workshops or online classes?
  • My spouse already has great healthcare coverage. Can I opt out and get an increase in pay?

Negotiating Benefits for Current Employees

It’s never easy to approach your boss and talk about a raise or increasing your benefits. The key here is polished negotiating skills.

For example, if you work for a company with 50 employees or less, your employer is not required to provide health insurance. However, let’s say you want to negotiate healthcare benefits into your new contract. You can present your argument by sharing that there are many benefits to a company providing health insurance.

  • First, float the idea of benefits to your supervisor. What does he/she think? Is it financially feasible for your employer to offer benefits?
  • Next, come up with a list of specific, realistic benefits you want.
  • Try wooing your HR director (or whoever is in charge of HR) with facts and statistics like:
    • Health insurance is tax deductible.
    • You’ll attract a better pool of employees who need and appreciate this necessity.
    • You’ll have a healthier group of employees through preventative care, which will result in less sick time and understaffing.
    • Current employees will develop greater company loyalty.
  • Finally, don’t be confrontational; approach this discussion as if you’re working together to build a benefits plan. After all, you still want to walk away with a healthy relationship, and you don’t want to come across as greedy or unappreciative.

Discussing benefits with your employer may seem like you’re walking a fine line between expressing your opinion and stepping on HR’s toes, so think this process through and do your homework.

When you approach it as wanting what’s best for you and the company, then you have the best shot at reaching an agreement you like.

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The Benefits of Self-Organizing Teams

Teamwork is a hot topic these days. Managers are always searching for ways to improve teamwork and function for better productivity and better cohesiveness. After all, a strong team not only gets more done but has less turnover. 

Is your team leaning Lean or adjusting to Agile? We’re not here to argue for one or the other (or explain the difference), but we do believe in the power of Agil’s self-organized teams in some work settings — including ours! The problem is, the definition of a “self-organizing team” varies depending on the company.

What is a Self-Organizing Team?

A self-organizing team has some decision-making power. They also take ownership of their work and are continuously working to improve themselves and the process. Many people get hung up on the decision-making power part, leading to the myths that:

  • A manager cannot direct or redirect the team.
  • No one can tell the team what to do.

As The Great ScrumMaster puts it, “The self-organized team is a living organism, and every team member affects how strong or weak this organism will be. Team members who take responsibility and start to be accountable for the self-organized team entity instead of themselves as individuals are one step closer to being part of a great team. The ScrumMaster’s role is to support team rather than individual behavior. He must create such a team from individuals by reminding them that the team is an entity and is more important than individuals. He must always encourage team members to help others, rather than hide behind their own tasks.”[1]

There are other terms tossed around, including self-directed teams and self-managed teams, which leads to confusion. One blogger explains it this way:

  • “A self-organizing team is a team where team members get to decide among themselves who does what; the team gets to work on problems and have some power to remove their own blockages. Clearly, there are teams who are more self-organizing than others and teams which have more authority than others.
  • In a self-managing team, there is no active day-to-day management of the team. The team are [sic] effectively left to manage their own work. To my mind, this is a stronger form of self-organizing.
  • A self-directed team is a team which sets its own goals, decides its own objectives and determines its own priorities.”

Some companies attempt to create self-organizing teams and find that the team is not held accountable, or management is still telling everyone what to do. Finding that balance is not easy, and requires the right company culture and employees who are ready to take ownership.

Self-organizing teams are a different working approach than most people are used to. In most environments, transitioning to a self-organized team takes effort and time — and hits a few bumps along the way. However, this move is worth the investment.

The Benefits of Self-Organizing Teams

  1. Speed. Self-organized teams decide how to meet deadlines in a way that works for everyone and can turn around a product much faster.
  2. Agility. Priorities can change. Self-organized teams can quickly shift gears. Values that suddenly take higher priority can be moved up in the queue without interrupting people in the middle of other tasks or leaving questions about what must be done and when.
  3. Quality/customer focus. Self-organized teams are built to focus on what the customer wants or needs, and uses such feedback to improve the product and process. Instead of just “doing what the manager says,” the team is working to make the end goal better for the sake of the buyer/user. 
  4. Less time on team management. Assigning work, checking statuses, verifying that everything is done — all this management takes time. A self-organized team tracks and reports its own progress.
  5. A true team. Many teams have a “main person” or the “go-to guy.” What if that guy quits tomorrow? Self-organized teams understand each other’s roles and tasks far more and rely less on one particular person as “owner” of something. That means it’s easier to handle losing employees, and it takes less time to train new ones. (However, it is a misconception that Agile teams can handle frequent turnover without problems.)
  6. Employee satisfaction. Employees each have a purpose and know what it is. Instead of blindly following orders, team members are invested, choosing how best to accomplish a goal and then moving the project forward together.

What do you think about Agile teams? Contact us so we can put our self-organizing skills to work on your project.

[1] The Great ScrumMaster: #ScrumMasterWay. Addison-Wesley Signature Series (Cohn). Jan 9, 2017 by Zuzana Sochova.

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7 Ways Laws Can Avoid Killing Startups

The great Sir William Blackstone was an English jurist and professor who produced the historical treatise on the common law called Commentaries on the Laws of England. He once said that, “the law, which restrains a man from doing mischief to his fellow citizens, though it diminishes the natural, increases the civil liberty of mankind.”

What this means is that the purpose of the law is to help a society remain fair and just. For a city to become great and startup-friendly, it must maintain a legal environment that facilitates innovation and disruption.

1. Signaled Stability from Legislators

Having elected officials who signal a stable environment that is conducive to business is paramount to a successful startup city. An example of this would be when Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona made public and written statements that Uber and Lyft could safely operate in Phoenix without being hassled by burdensome rules and regulations.

For innovation to happen, innovators need to know that their products or services will be respected by the law and not hindered.

Elected officials can have “business freedom tours”, meet with CEOS of high job, revenue, and growth companies. Not only that, meeting with Venture Capitalists, Angel Investors, and Incubators can help encourage growth and innovation within the city. 

2. A Consistent Government

Having a government and legislature that is consistent, is also crucial to creating a city that is startup-friendly.

If a government fluctuates between massive regulation and open freedom, it’s hard for the startup to determine if it will be hammered or helped by the government.

In other words, minor deviations are fine and the expected norm of society, but there needs to be a general consensus in the government if it will support startups or not. If a city really wants to create the startup culture, then it needs to recognize the role of government, which is to maintain fairness in the marketplace and enforce contracts, not pick winners or losers among companies.

3. Rethink Non-compete Agreements

Perhaps one of the most limiting factors in startups and innovation are non-compete agreements, non-disclosure agreements, and non-circumvention agreements.

Yes, these all can be viewed as good, from the perspective of the employer. Taken from the perspective of the consumer and marketplace, these are bad.

And yes, every big company has these, and that’s a problem. Many entrepreneurs have fantastic industry experience that they can leverage to create new companies, but are restricted because of these agreements. Remember, the point of these agreements it not to serve the public, it is to protect the company.

Barriers put up by these agreements can be reduced by making changes to existing laws and employment agreements. A better way to increase innovation and reduce competition is to create a company and workplace that fosters these two things, while creating the proper incentives that motivate people to stay, instead of go off and build their own companies.

4. Reduce Professional and Occupational Licensing

Before you cry out, “what about public safety?!”, consider the following. The purpose of licensing is to protect the profession by limiting the number of folks within the profession. This translates to higher wages for those within.

Sure, licensing and registration can be great if you’re already within the profession. But for those starting out, entrepreneurs, and low-income people, these arbitrary licensing agreements are disastrous, preventing good people from getting into the marketplace.

This isn’t a Republican or Democrat thing. This is back to the idea that if a city wants to cosmic growth and an environment that creates startups and innovation, it has to make the hard choices that actually facilitate this.

If you want innovation in the areas most precious to people’s lives such as healthcare, education, government, and energy, then the barriers to entry must be reduced.

5. Create a Regulatory Hiatus

Lastly, moving, operating, and growing companies is difficult in itself. If a city wants to market itself as the place to be for startups, it needs to create a 12-month regulatory hiatus so that transplants can adjust and build a foundation. 

Even better, lower the amount of rules, regulations, and taxes enough that a hiatus isn’t necessary, so that regulations don’t hinder small businesses.

6. Streamlined Approvals and Guidelines

Rules are tough to follow and laws are difficult to ascertain. If you don’t believe me, spend 10 minutes trying to understand your state statutes.

First, make the guidelines, rules, and processes as simple as possible. This means eliminate paperwork. Make everything able to be done online, quickly, and cheaply. 

Don’t put people on hold, don’t force entrepreneurs to go in-person, and don’t make it take forever to get something approved.

Second, things like land-use and zoning regulations are often reported as big concerns for entrepreneurs. Part of this is because many entrepreneurs start their businesses from their homes (to save money). A starting point would be to have zoning be as local as possible with clear and transparent guidelines as to what it takes for approval, with a quick-decision at the end of it.

Think about it this way, difficult and long waiting times are in many ways a de facto rejection and denial to do business, because entrepreneurs are forced to float cash, postpone ideas, and delay customers.

7. Smart Traffic Laws

In 2013 traffic congestion cost Americans $124 billion in direct and indirect losses, this number will rise to $186 billion in 2030. Evaluating both direct and indirect costs, the study found that in 2013, $78 billion resulted from time and fuel wasted in traffic (direct costs) and $45 billion was the sum of indirect costs businesses passed onto American consumers.

This is bad. Real bad.

The purpose of roadways is to create a conducive way to travel. This means that commuting is efficient, safe, and common-sense. Laws increase speed limits, enforcing “stay right to pass“, and penalizing bad drivers should be enforced.

One of the worst things a city can do, politics aside, is remove 1 lane from traffic during peak hours of house (morning & evening). Basic economics would tell you that if you take away one lane during the busiest time of day, you’ll have worse traffic. We’ve all been on the freeway, bumper to bumper, while the HOV or carpool lane is wide open. This is crazy.

Cities should be concerned with how to most quickly get people to and from work safely and efficiently. The metric should be commute-time.

Your Next Steps

Be involved, get to know your elected officials. Spend the time reading and understanding what is behind somebody’s politics and what political decisions actually help startups. 

When a city decides to be a home to startups or not, there are laws associated with this. Be smart, be aware, and be an advocate for your startup community.

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Coming up With Ideas for Your New Startup

Many people these days are keen to start their own business, and this provides them with a great way to take control over their future in terms of career and finances. However, before starting a new business venture you have to come up with an idea for the business, which is one of the more difficult aspects of going it alone.

In order to come up with the best idea for your startup, there are various steps you need to take including research and looking at finances. For instance, you may need to look at taking out small business loans in order to fund the business depending on the amount you need. The type business idea that you come up with will determine what sort of funding you will need to get started.

Tips to help you with ideas

Some people want to go into business for themselves but have no idea what sort of business they want to start. This is where doing your research can help. You need to take a variety of different things into consideration when you are coming up with ideas. Some of these include:

  • Look at current trends: One of the things that you need to do is look at current trends in order to get an idea for your new business. For instance, technology continues to play a big part in our lives so thinking of an idea that involves tech could be a good start. If you are looking at selling products online as part of your business, look at the types of products that are trending at the moment. However, be careful that you do not come up with an idea where the market is already saturated.
  • Consider the finances: Another thing you need to take into consideration is the amount that it will cost to get your business up and running. The idea that you come up with will have an impact on how much you need, so you have to consider the costs and whether this is something that will be viable. If not, you may have to go back to the drawing board and come up with something different.
  • Use your personal experience: It is always advisable to take your personal experiences into consideration when coming up with a business idea. For instance, if there is something that really annoys you then the chances are that it also annoys many other people too. So, perhaps your idea could be related to the problem and finding a suitable solution for it.
  • Look for gaps in the market: You should also look for gaps in the market, as this will give you more of a unique business idea with less competition to deal with. Look at the big companies and try to work out what they are missing in terms of their products. This is something that you can then work with.

Make sure you also do some market research into your business idea to see what others think. You can start off simply by going on your social media sites and getting opinions from friends and family.

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Building Relationship And Making Sales: Balance Everything

Gone are the days when outdated selling methods and traditional marketing were popular. Now, new tools are generated to do niche-based advertising and building strong PR.

But, sales is something I see a debated everywhere. Something is working for someone, and everyone just follows suit. Nobody stops to think about the technique or method. And, as a result, the deal either collapses, or you lose a potential client.

Sales is demanding.

So, what can you do to make the process even? The sale itself is a very demanding job, and building relationship is even harder.

I’ve been able to draft some useful tips after going through some serious negotiations with my PR agency. And, here are some insights to balance both: your sales process and a relationship with your customer.

Once Upon A Time: The Story Of A Seller

Every big brand, company or small-medium business face drop-down in sales once or twice in their long-running. But, what they all do to get back on track is quite different than your understanding.

They stop selling and start talking with their customers. This in return, gets them a lifelong loyal customer.   

Ronnie Teja, CEO of  www.softwarekeep.com Softwarekeep is one of my most trusted computer software gurus, and he was able to share his insights on building a relationship while making a seemingly impossible sale.

It’s not how you sell, but what you talk about that makes the closing easy.

“Dealing with thousands of customers daily has taught me something. It’s not how you sell, but what you talk about that makes the closing easy. Nowadays, customers want you to talk with them. Discuss their concerns, and then sell them something they really need,” says Teja.

This insight from a CEO is something all sellers need to jump on. Always sell something that your customers need, not want.

I’ll come to need-based buying to want-based buying later in this article.

Your Chit-Chat Will Save Your Deal.

We all face those times in sales when even after being assertive we fail to save the deal. Things turn out ugly within just minutes of making the wrong move at the right time.

And, at the end of the day, closing also bounces back. So, my next tip is based on being personalized in sales, instead of just selling.

Effective selling will only give you one or two clients, but the 98-percent will be lost because of the assertive pitch you’re head-over-heels about.

So, go slow and steady. Stop your sales pitch in order to build a relationship. That doesn’t mean that you’ve to be slow in closing the deal. I’m just suggesting to hear out your customers first, and then sell. You’ll make a deal that is a ten-time better with this attitude.

Try this technique and see how word of mouth spreads out.  

Make Them Feel Special.

Undeniably, your attitude towards your customers defines it all. You can influence your personal relationships and human touch to make your customers feel special.

If you succeed to put customer services at the core of your approach and show that your company actually cares, you will build a genuine and a long-lasting relationship with your customers.

It is only the positive customer experience that sets you apart from the virtually identical outlets down the road, and it’s vital for small businesses.

If you do it right, it can provide your business with a competitive superiority and benefit you to survive in the strong economic competition that we all live in.

Customer Services Is For Sales.

In order to keep millennial customers content and loyal, your business needs to cross the generational division and focus on providing customer services that meet their requirements.

Your product and marketing approach should fulfill the needs of today’s clients while maintaining your old customers on the go. I assemble my business around my customers. And, this allows me to turn every product into an opportunity. This suggestion is something that you and your marketing team need to study, build and bring into action as well.

Here, I’m also talking about small businesses that don’t have the huge marketing analysis department. They too need to keep a tab on their performances.  To improve your customer services it’s not mandatory to have a team within small businesses.

Approaching and understanding your customers directly will maintain the key towards success. You have to know your customers’ needs in order to furnish them with their requirements.

Determine If Your Client Is The Right Fit

You need to understand the global mindset of marketing towards closing deals with your customers. I always draw a shape and recognize their approach towards staying fixated on my brand.

Customers are more likely going to stay with the brands they trust, hence I press on Building Trust with your customers to keep them engaged.

Sound customer services are exceptionally important for growing a sustainable business, but before we look at some strategies to use it, let’s put an effort to understand the fundamental concept of what a customer is in terms of sales.

For Loyalty defined customer activity, your company is obliged to prevent customers from deflecting alternative transactions.

Your competitors are all over, no matter how big or how small. Customer loyalty begins with the first interaction and continues throughout the duration of the association.

Research Is Here To Support My Quote.

As per current researchers on business bulletins, retaining loyal customers can increase profits by up to 95 percent. Focusing on customer retention pays off in every phase of a business. Let it be a new sale, after-sale, or a brand new deal.

Some of these may even surprise us.

Having a customer services strategy in place is very important, but there may be more benefits to employing these strategies than many business owners know.

Thus, customer retention should become a part of the strategic marketing and sales planning process.

Harvard Business School.

According to a report from Harvard Business School, on average, 25% to 95% of profit increases, even if you just add 5% effort in customer retention. This demonstrates the standing of finding new consumers but keeping the old ones too.

And, turning those new customers into loyal buyers is even more important from a sales perspective.

Remember, your satisfied customers become your loyal customers. This builds the sale opportunity for almost every client. I’ve personally tried and tested this research. And, my results were great.

Don’t Deliver The Negative Sales Stereotype Pitch.

We all face the pressure of sales. Sometimes, it’s a huge deal success and sometimes it’s plain-flat rejection. But, have you ever traced your communication with the clients that rejected you?

I did.

And, what I found was even more troubling than the sales pressure itself. The usual cat-and-mouse chasing line is the cause of rejection. Trust is something that lets your client believe in your product, service, and brand.

Once I moved away from that pitching style, I saw an increase in sales and potentially happy clients. Moving your mindset away from “want to buy something that your competitors seek?” to “Tell me more about the issue that your business is facing and let us together see what we can do to stop it.”

Do you see the difference in both of these selling pitches?

The first one is only building rejection as you were so clear in making a deal. Whereas, the second one is showing that you “care”. Simply making grand sales or above millions in monthly revenue is not based on awesome sales tactics. It is solely based on how you interact with your customer.

Pitch your brand in a way that your client feels the need to trust your company or expertise. Let them see that you’re here to help not sell. This will ultimately lead to a successful deal closing package.

Let Your Client Choose You.

This is the bottom line of my article. The obvious response to the question, “Why should we choose you?” is what kills the deal. Because, all of us start to defend what we and our brand, product or service can do.

This is a big NO-NO for making a positive sale. My research and client rejections have taught me to do the opposite instead. I start exploring their issues with what I can do to improve the situation. I don’t stress on “hire me”, instead I show them “what my expertise can do for their concern.”

This, allows my clients to choose me and my brand and explore possibilities. The trust lets them have the freedom of not being “sold.”

Thus, if you divert away from the traditional selling approach and build more around closing the deal with trust – you’ll see an increase in your sales. Being an entrepreneur has taught me to value my time and efforts. This is what I show to my clients too.

Do try my suggestion in your sales lineup, and tell me more about your experience with it. If something is not working, we’ll sit together to determine the cause.

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