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When I started my business, I worked around the clock. I thought that meant I was doing a good job. I was on my phone as I walked to meetings, I answered emails at 1 a.m.; I was up anyway so why not! I never let a call go without answering it.

I would look at other small business owners and wonder how they maintained this pace because I was running out of steam. I started to resent my business and anyone who wanted a piece of me, including my family. That was my wake-up call. I needed to find a work-life balance.

This is a challenge so many other business owners face. Where do you draw the line between work and life when you’re working to support your (and your family’s!) life?

How so many of us have been experiencing work and life over the last year. 

In this post, I’m going to share how I started to carve out work-life balance for myself and how you can, too. We’ll talk through:

What work-life balance really is

Why work-life balance is so important

Actionable ways to create work-life balance (it’s not as hard as it seems!)

What is work-life balance?

With people working remotely and us small business owners scrambling to keep things going during the pandemic, you may think it’s not possible for you to have a work-life balance. I hear you. So I want to clarify what work-life balance means. It is not pressure to have fun or a dictate of what you should be doing with your time or even a requirement to have a financially robust business.

Creating a culture in support of a work-life balance is an opportunity to figure out your priorities and then decide what would make you feel good. It’s a path to evolving your business to be more fun, meaningful, and lucrative while keeping you from investing all your time and energy into your business. Sounds enticing, doesn’t it?

Get work-life balance quotes (with Instagram post templates!) to get inspired!

Why is work-life balance important?

I mean really, people have been working for thousands of years without work-life balance, right? Why do we need this fancy stuff? The short answer: Because there are benefits to you, your staff, and your business.

We small business owners have a lot to juggle. We may have chosen this path or inherited it, but it’s on us to keep the business going and care for our customers and staff. According to a poll of readers of the New York Enterprise Report, 33% of small-business owners work more than 50 hours a week, 25% work more than 60 hours per week, and 70% work at least one weekend. The 2024 Annual Bank of West Small Business Growth Survey showed that the top three challenges for business owners are uncertainty, lack of time off, and burnout. Does this resonate? It does for me.

Even before the pandemic, there were plenty of times I’d snuggle my kid to sleep and then go back to my computer. But after 15 years of running my own business, I’ve figured out a way to live a balanced life of work and fun, and the only way I made this happen was to define what’s important to me (don’t worry, we’ll get into how to do this!).

Since I know my priorities, I can make decisions quickly and without question, and I stand by them in thought and action. My child trusts that I will follow through on a promise I make because I’m able to be consistent. My clients know the same. Having clear priorities helps us create a positive domino-effect experience for ourselves and everyone around us.

When you define what’s important to you and run the business accordingly, it becomes clear to your staff that they either align with your priorities or don’t.

And here’s the deliciousness of a unified team:

Increased productivity and creativity from the entire team.

A positive perception of you as an employer.

Referrals to value-aligned candidates for open roles from current employees who know exactly what’s needed.

Peer coverage for when someone needs to be out or come in late–you’re not managing this, they are!

Flexible support for seasonal peaks and valleys.

Low absenteeism and sick calls; they’ll want to come to work.

Employee loyalty resulting in reduced staff turnover (a 50-75% savings per salary).

Fun and laughter at work.

Accurate and trustworthy feedback from employees about streamlining process and protocol; they’ll feel ownership about running the business most efficiently.

Reliable coverage for when you need a day or week or month off.

All of these bullet points lead to increased revenue with less stress. This is good stuff. This is the goal for any business. And it all stems from you connecting with what’s important to you and creating work-life balance.

How to achieve work-life balance

Achieving work-life balance is easier said than done. It took me some time to find the right balance, but here’s the formula that worked for me (and I think it will work for you, too!).

Define your priorities

Remember when I told you I could only create work-life balance after I defined my priorities? It took me a while to get clear on my top five must-haves in my life. Everything else is fun, but not necessary.

Here are my priorities in life:

My family (spending time with my loved ones).

Meaningful work (serving people who want to learn about compassionate leadership).

Connecting with good people (networking, meeting friends).

Taking care of my body (sleep, walks in nature, healthy eating, going for checkups).

Earning a robust income (Spend, save, and donate).

These priorities are absolutely necessary for me to enjoy my life. Yes, I said life. Because for me, work is a crucial and meaningful part of my whole. It is not my whole.

Do your priorities align with mine? Maybe, maybe not. There is no right answer. It’s not possible to do this wrong; you just need to do it. This can take five minutes or five weeks. You know what’s important to you, but sometimes it takes a few steps. I’ve found that writing your priorities down, then experiencing the world with these priorities in the back of your mind to be quite helpful.

Here’s a step by step of what I recommend you do to define your priorities:

Make a list of all the things that are important to you.

Ignore the thoughts of, “I don’t have enough time,” or “There’s no one else who can do what I do.” These may be valid, but they’re not helpful right now. We’re simply defining what’s important to you, not what you’re going to do with this information. Keep adding things until you feel ready to stop.

Think about this list of priorities as you work, see what feels true and what doesn’t.

For example, you may write that you value being a good leader, but in reality, you may yell when something goes awry. Pause, notice, be kind to yourself–you’re doing hard work here. Now think about how badly you want to be a good leader and then think of what you need to be that good leader. Write that down, such as: enough sleep, healthy meals, better sales–just write it down.

Remember there’s no right or wrong. It just is what you value. No one can say you’re good or bad for valuing it.

Sleep on it.

Now go through that list and prioritize it. What pulls at your heart? That’s a keeper. Throw out what doesn’t feel authentic. Go deep here. Is that my insecurity talking about what people will think, or is that what I genuinely want?

Narrow it down to the top 5.

No order of priority among them, just clarity that these are must-haves in your life.

Review your top five.

How do you feel? Physically and emotionally? Do you feel expansive in your chest and heart? I hope so because that means you defined what’s most important to you.

That’s the path to clarity. Feel free to run it by your spouse or best friend or therapist. It never hurts to discuss with someone you trust to support what’s best for you.

Hire the right team and delegate, delegate, delegate

Here’s where it gets tricky. Why, because we small business owners are reluctant to hand off important responsibilities. Let me throw a few more statistics at you. These are what small business owners say according to a survey by The Alternative Board:

32% say there are some tasks only they can handle

30% say they’re “the most capable option”

20% say the employees “do not have the right skills”

20% say they can do it faster so they might as well just do it

Source

Yikes. This sounds exhausting and uncomfortably familiar to me. And now you can see why it’s crucial to define your priorities, shift your company culture, and create an environment of loyalty–so the good people stay and you can trust them. So you can take your kids to Disneyland. Or your spouse out to dinner. Or yourself to get a massage.

It takes a village to raise a family and to run a business. This doesn’t mean you need to hire 40 people tomorrow. It means we need to seriously consider who is doing what and when for our company. But you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?

Imagine you’re a pizza restaurant owner and your priorities are:

Family

Being the neighborhood go-to for fast and easy food

Being the nominated vendor for schools and businesses nearby

Taking care of my body by getting to the gym regularly

Earning a robust income

Now, look at your employees. Do you have only one type of employee such as high schoolers who can only work after school and before homework? Do you have a mix of employees such as college students part-time during the summer and two full-time people who live in the apartment above with their family at low cost because they’re so reliable?

Consider what kind of support you need to be able to sit down to a family dinner every Sunday night without worrying about the restaurant. And who can cover reliably so you can go to the gym for the 2 p.m. bodybuilding class? And what about the time it takes you to schmooze the school liaisons and corporate clients? Not to mention Little League teams?

Invest in yourself

You may not think of going to the gym as an investment in your business, but anything that helps reduce your stress is a smart investment of time, energy, and funds. It’s also an opportunity to empower a staff member to be the go-to in your absence. This creates ownership and builds loyalty and trust.

Maybe you decide to go to your mom’s Sunday night dinner once a month during the summer because it’s peak season or maybe it’s so important to you that you hire an extra part-timer just for Sunday nights. You’re a role model for your employees, your customers, and the young people in your life–whether they’re related to you or not. You’re modeling how to live a balanced life and investing in yourself, which will pay dividends for your business.

Make work-life balance achievable

So let’s recap how to achieve work-life balance for business owners:

Define what matters to you in this life, your priorities

Determine what support you need in order to do what matters most to you

Hire accordingly

Train the heck out of your team

Teach them your priorities

Ask them to share their priorities with you

Support each other

Experience a work-life balance

You’re the boss, the top banana, the one who makes all decisions. Use this power to nurture loyalty and trust from your employees, to model a balanced life for the young people around you, and to live your life wholly and completely.

Rena DeLevie

Rena DeLevie combines over 20 years with Fortune 500 companies, 14 years as a solopreneur, and 16 years as a practitioner of mindfulness/meditation to show us the path to eliminate the fear-based culture so prevalent in corporate America. Her book and TEDxTalk on Compassionate Management have been used in businesses around the country as a model to radically change the culture around management and how we treat one another.

Other posts by Rena DeLevie

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What Business Owners Need To Know About Payroll Taxes

You’ve taken the time to write a business plan, streamline day-to-day operations, and staff your business with the right people. However, one of the tasks that can make or break a successful employer is payroll. It’s critical to understand how payroll taxes work and comply with regulations.

Whether you choose to file payroll taxes yourself or use one of the best payroll companies, we’ve got you covered. This quick reference guide provides a thorough overview of how to complete payroll taxes accurately and on time.

What are payroll taxes?

Payroll taxes are the taxes paid on the hourly wages and salaries of your employees. Additionally, these taxes fund Social Security and Medicare. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, individual income taxes – federal, state and local – made up over 40% of the U.S. total tax revenue in 2023, with social insurance taxes at 23%. 

Editor’s note: Looking for the right payroll software for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

As a significant source of government revenue, half of payroll taxes are paid by employers (7.65%), and the other 7.65% is directly debited from employee paychecks. While the employer and employee share payroll taxes, most of the cost is passed on to the employee.

What you need to know about payroll taxes

You are liable for these mandatory and tax responsibilities for your company:

Income tax withholding

Quarterly declarations of income tax withholding and federal payroll tax

Annual reporting of Social Security and employees’ tax payments

Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA)

State-level reporting

Here are some of the voluntary tax responsibilities you can opt for: 

401(k) employer-sponsored plans or other retirement funding

Flexible spending accounts (FSA)

Wage garnishments, such as child support

What are the types of payroll taxes?

These are the four main payroll tax categories:

Federal income tax

Federal payroll tax

Self-employment tax

FUTA

How to calculate employer payroll taxes

Consider these aspects of your business when calculating payroll taxes:

Taxable workers: These employees are subject to employer payroll taxes, while independent contractors pay their own taxes.

Taxable wages: Taxable wages include salary, bonuses and gifts.

Quantify withholding amounts: You’ll do this for federal, state and local taxes.

We describe the main payroll tax types in more detail below.

Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax

FICA is the combined federal payroll tax that includes Social Security and Medicare. You will pay the same combined rate as your workers: 7.65%. The following is a breakdown of the FICA taxes for Social Security and Medicare.

You pay a 6.2% tax rate for each employee for your company toward Social Security, while each staff member also pays 6.2% for Social Security. The 6.2% rate is based on the employee’s gross taxable wages. Once your associate reaches $142,800 in gross taxable wages, you no longer have to withhold Social Security taxes or contribute Social Security taxes for that employee. However, the $142,800 wage base is for 2023, and may change in the future.

Tip

It can be difficult to calculate taxes correctly. Instead, consider excellent payroll software options to help you comply with local, state and federal tax laws. For more information, read our QuickBooks Payroll review, our review of Paychex and our Gusto review.

You are obligated to pay a 1.45% tax rate for each employee for Medicare, while your worker also pays 1.45%. This rate is based on the employee’s gross taxable wages. 

There is no wage base for Medicare tax. Consequently, once an employee reaches a certain wage threshold, they are required to pay an additional 0.9% in Medicare taxes based on their filing status. The 2023 thresholds are $200,000 (single), $250,000 (married filing jointly) and $125,000 (married filing separately).

FYI

Regardless of the employee’s gross taxable wages, you are not required to pay an additional Medicare tax – just the base 1.45%.

Self-employment tax

When you are self-employed, you’re considered both an employer and an employee. Consequently, you are required to pay both parts of FICA – 15.3% – toward Social Security and Medicare. This combined tax is also known as the Self-Employment Contributions Act (SECA) tax.

Of the total 15.3% in SECA taxes, 12.4% goes to Social Security and 2.9% is paid to Medicare. Filing as self-employed, you will need to pay Social Security tax until you earn $142,800 annually. After meeting that threshold, you no longer owe money in Social Security taxes.

You are also subject to the same rules as FICA regarding Medicare taxes. Once you reach the wage threshold of $200,000 (single), $250,000 (married filing jointly) and $125,000 (married filing separately), you are required to pay an additional 0.9% in Medicare taxes.

Filing Schedule SE (Form 1040) can help you estimate self-employment taxes. 

Federal Employment Tax Act (FUTA) tax 

While the FUTA tax is the same for all employers at 6%, the SUTA (State Unemployment Tax Act) tax varies from state to state. States can charge fees for administrative costs and job training. You’ll receive a percentage range based on your employment history, and how often your workers collect unemployment.

Tip

You can pay FUTA taxes electronically using EFTPS (Form 940). While most employers pay FUTA taxes quarterly, if you owe less than $100, you can wait until you owe at least $100 to make a payment.

What forms do you need for reporting payroll taxes?

You are responsible for reporting and depositing income tax and FICA for your company. However, you can choose between two deposit schedules: monthly and semiweekly. All new businesses begin as monthly depositors, but it is important to check every year to see if your status has changed.

Monthly deposits: Monthly deposits are made by the 15th day of the following month. For example, all employment taxes for April need to be paid by May 15.

Semiweekly deposits: Semiweekly payments made on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday are deposited by the following Wednesday. Payments made on Saturday, Sunday, Monday or Tuesday should be completed by the following Friday.

Before each calendar year, you must review IRS Publication 15 (Form 941, 944 and 945) or Publication 51 (Form 943) to determine which deposit schedule your business requires. Late deposits can result in a penalty of up to 15%. FUTA tax (Form 940) deposits are required quarterly for tax amounts over $500. You must deposit the FUTA tax by the end of the month directly after the quarter ends.

FYI

It’s important to familiarize yourself with the funds transfer system – the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) – for all federal tax deposits.

Federal income tax and FICA

Here are the forms you need to file for federal income tax and FICA:

Form 941: As the Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, Form 941 is filed each quarter with information on sick pay withholding and supplemental unemployment benefits. The reporting due dates are April 30, July 31, Oct. 31 and Jan. 31.

Form 943: The Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return for Agricultural Employees is used to report agricultural wages. The reporting due date is Jan. 31.

Form 944: The Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return is for employers whose annual tax liability is $1,000 or less. The reporting due date is Jan. 31.

Form 945: TheAnnual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax is filed to report backup withholding. The reporting due date is Jan. 31.

You will need to file these forms regarding wages and W-2 forms:

Form W-2: The Wage and Tax Statement reports wages, tips, and other employee compensation. The reporting due date is Jan. 31.

Form W-3: The Transmittal of Wage and Tax Statements sends W-2 information to the Social Security Administration. The reporting due date is Jan. 31.

Self-employment

Self-employed individuals who own a business file taxes as a sole proprietor or independent contractor. You may also fall under the self-employed umbrella if you are a member of a partnership that owns a trade or company, or if you’re in business for yourself – part time or full time.

Self-employed individuals pay an income tax and a self-employment tax (SE tax) that covers their Social Security and Medicare tax contributions. You can determine if you are subject to self-employment and income taxes whether your business made a profit or loss. To calculate your business profit or net loss, subtract your business expenses from your business income. Then, report your findings on Form 1040 or 1040-SR.

Here are the forms you’ll need if you’re self-employed:

Form 1040-ES: The Estimated Tax for Individuals form helps you estimate your income taxes and FICA, since you have both the employer and employee tax responsibilities.

Schedule C: The Profit or Loss From Business form is for annual tax returns, as it calculates your business profit or loss.

Schedule SE: The Self-Employment Tax form is for the calculation of FICA. It includes Form 1040 or 1040-SR.

Tip

There are specific self-employed tax considerations. If your self-employment net earnings are $400 or more, you will need to file an income tax return. If your earnings were less than $400, you still might have to file because of additional filing requirements listed on Form 1040 and 1040-SR.

FUTA

When you file your FUTA return, you’ll need Form 940.

Form 940: FUTA is only paid by the employer. The reporting due date is Jan. 31.

What if you don’t have employees?

If your small business is incorporated but doesn’t have any employees, you are required to pay federal, state, local, and FICA taxes because you are the sole employee of your company.

However, you are considered self-employed if you do not have any staff and are not incorporated, and thus are required to report and pay taxes on your income quarterly.

How often are payroll taxes paid?

January is the busiest month for payroll taxes. Consider scheduling some time before the end of the year to gather and complete all of the required forms. Even if you use an accountant to complete payroll taxes, you must ensure they have all the necessary information to meet the required deadlines.

Here are the payroll tax deadlines for the calendar year:

Jan. 31 or Feb. 1: If Jan. 31 falls on a Sunday, then all quarterly filings for Q4 and year-end filings are due on Feb. 1.

April 30: This is when Q1 quarterly filings are due.

Aug. 2: This is when Q2 quarterly filings are due.

Nov. 1: This is when Q3 quarterly filings are due.

15th of every month: If the 15th day of the month falls on a weekend, payroll tax payments for the previous month are due on the following Monday. For example, you should submit your payroll tax payments for March on April 15.

How Gamification Methods Can Help Your Online Business

The longer a person stays on your site, the more likely they are to take action. And many website owners are always looking for ways to make sure that happens.

They space out the content in a way to keep people scrolling or add video at just the right section of the content.

There are so many ways to go about this, but a very effective and often overlooked way is to gamify the site. This is a process in which a user engages with the content as if they were playing a video game. With the right user on your site, it can convert like crazy.

In this article, I will go over several ways that you can implement gamification on your site and see how it goes.

What is gamification?

In its simplest form, gamification is just the interactivity of a website. It is a system in which visitors can perform a function on a website.

Whether it is to do something in which points are won or a code is unlocked to get additional content.

The whole idea is to create something that the user can interact with for fun and then see some kind of reward for having done so. The idea is not only to keep the user on the site longer but also to excite them so they are more likely to convert.

As a bonus, the longer a user stays on the site, the better it does in the search engine rankings.

Also read: Best CRM software for 2023

Types of gamification

There are so many different types of gamification that can be used that there is no way to list them all here. However, there are several popular ones that you may want to start with.

Mystery Wheel –

Everybody loves coupons so they can get a discount. And people also love to win things. You can make giving away a discount to your product a fun experience by offering a mystery wheel game that people can play to get points that give them a certain coupon code to use at check out. They spin the wheel and rack up the points.

Daily Bonus Points –

Getting return customers is a challenge for many website owners. One of the most effective ways is to give points that can be redeemed once a certain amount is scored.

Also read: Best Video Editing Tips for Beginners in 2023

Advantages of gamification

You’ll also see how people do engage with your site to be able to optimize the site even better for conversions.

And the more people interact with the site and keep coming back, brand loyalty is developed. And this is how you can grow your site to something really special.

Salvatore Presti

Salvatore Presti is an American writer living in Italy who enjoys the fine art of living well. His interests include anything wine, food or nature related especially when enjoyed with friends and family.

How To Plan, Measure And Achieve Your Marketing Goals

Without setting clear marketing objectives, you’re basically directionless – and working to achieve vanity metrics that don’t necessarily help you achieve your overall business goals

Digital marketing objectives underpin all marketing strategies. After all, how do you know what you’re working towards without clear, actionable, and achievable metrics? Setting marketing goals should always be the priority as they will be the basis of your entire strategy.

By achieving your digital marketing objectives, you’re also helping reach your overall business goals, whether that’s boosting your overall sales or improving awareness of your brand.

Setting marketing objectives is, on one hand, a great way to motivate yourself and your team and work towards achieving better results for your business.

On the other hand, objectives and KPI-setting is about much more than just saying “I want to achieve that and that” – it’s how you can develop a plan or strategy that will help support your vision and help you reach them.

But how do you set goals the right way?

In this blog post, discover how to set better marketing goals, in order to maximize your results and grow your business.

Why you need set marketing goals

Without clear goals, you’re basically directionless – and working to achieve vanity metrics that don’t necessarily help you achieve your overall business objectives.

For example, without social media objectives, you’re basically working to get more likes and engagement – but does that necessarily translate to success?

Accelerate your ROI from digital marketing. We have dedicated digital marketing strategies to help you to set and achieve your digital marketing objectives.

Our RACE Growth System gives marketers and business owners, like you, everything you need to plan for success. It follows a three-step process of setting objectives via Opportunity, Strategy, and Action to drive the results you need. Download your free copy to get started today.

Create your 90-day plan with the RACE Growth System

Download your free RACE Growth System guide today and unlock our three-step plan of Opportunity, Strategy and Action to grow your business.

Download guide

The basics of setting digital marketing objectives: how to set SMART goals

When it comes to setting objectives, there are various criteria you can use. We recommend strategic marketing planning through SMART goals work best because they cover every important aspect of a successful marketing goal:

Specific: There are two ways to interpret this and both are very useful. For one thing, you need to be specific with your goals and ensure that it’s a very clear objective; and for another, you also need to be very specific about what this goal means and what it encompasses.

Measurable: In other words, what KPIs will help you understand whether you’ve reached your goals or not. This is very important as you want to be able to understand whether your efforts actually paid off and how they translate to revenue. Also, it’s worth noting that with some digital marketing strategies, it can be difficult to quantify your results and understand how they translate into revenue (particularly with social media marketing).

Achievable: When setting goals, it’s a great idea to aim high – but not so high that they’re unrealistic. When you’re setting your digital marketing objectives, ask yourself whether they can actually be achieved or whether you’re simply setting yourself up for failure.

Relevant: Or, how do your digital marketing goals help you reach your business goals? As I mentioned earlier, this is very important because, at the end of the day, you’re developing all of these marketing strategies to help grow your business. In fact, you should start with your business objectives first and think of what digital marketing objectives will help you reach for the former.

Time-bound: Giving your objectives a clear deadline tells you when you need to measure your results and benchmark these results against past (and future) campaigns. This is another highly important practice as it helps you understand how to optimize your future strategies – and objectives – in order to achieve better results with each new campaign.

In short:

The reasons why SMART goals work so well with digital marketing objectives are that:

They give you a clear direction

They ensure that your goals are relevant to your vision

They put great importance on measuring your results, which is very important in digital marketing

Every time you set new marketing goals, make sure you also go through this list of goal-setting criteria – it will ultimately help you set better, more achievable goals.

Improve your digital marketing objectives with The Ten Measures Design Tests

You can add to your tests of choosing the right marketing objectives using these 10-measure design tests developed by performance management specialist Professor Andy Neely.

Ask these questions for your KPIs as you develop them:

These tests show there are additional filters on top of SMART that are useful to choose the best measure. I particularly like the “So-what test, another way of explaining relevance and Gaming – a common issue with target setting that isn’t considered by SMART!

Plus, check out our top 18 digital marketing techniques to ensure you are covering the key areas of digital marketing that are relevant today.

What kinds of digital marketing goals can you set?

Now that we’ve gone over the theoretical side of setting goals, what do digital marketing goals actually look like in practice?

There is a plethora of goals you can set up, but here are some of the most popular:

Improve your conversion rate: Another popular digital marketing objective is to convert more readers/viewers/followers into customers.

Increase your sales: Which is, after all, the ultimate goal for many different businesses.

Increase traffic: For example, organic traffic, traffic from social media, and so on.

Moreover, in the age of digital disruption don’t forget about brand-building and full-funnel techniques.

When you set your marketing goals, though, it’s not just about saying “I want more sales” – you have to be a lot more specific than that: how much do you want your sales to increase? Which channels will help you? What is your deadline?

That’s why we’ve created our strategic marketing goal setting training for marketers and managers to plan, manage and achieve their goals. Our popular RACE Practical Digital Strategy Learning Path includes modules like ‘set digital marketing goals and objectives’, to help you translate your vision into goals, objectives and KPIs.

When setting your marketing goals, it’s crucial to define each stage of the customer journey. For example, your objectives for new website visitors will be different from email subscribers. The RACE Practical Digital Strategy Learning Path will take you through setting marketing goals at each stage of reach, act, convert and engage.

Use our RACE Growth System to develop your marketing strategy. Within RACE you’ll find a plethora of solutions for large and small businesses, including marketing strategy and planning, digital channel specialist resources, and industry trends and innovations.

Marketing tactics

Whenever you put together a new marketing strategy or even when you use a digital marketing tactic, your overall strategic goals should always be at the back of your mind.

In fact, your strategies should essentially be action plans for your objectives – the tactics and strategies you need to leverage in order to ultimately achieve each goal.

When you create a digital marketing strategy, always start with your goals.

And once you have clear, specific goals, think of what tactics you can use to help you achieve your goals.

For example, let’s say you wanted to increase your organic traffic by 15% in 60 days.

In that case, you’d use tactics like:

Research keywords and create content for keywords you want to rank

Update and optimize your content to help boost your rankings

Start a link-building campaign to generate more backlinks

And any other tactics that can actually help you achieve your goal.

Conclusion

As you can see, setting marketing goals is imperative to the success of your business. Without goals, you’re essentially throwing stuff at the wall and hoping that something will stick – but in such a competitive landscape, using this method is not likely to get you far.

On the other hand, when you have clear goals for yourself, you’re motivating yourself and giving yourself and the entire marketing team a clear direction that they need to follow and an action plan – or strategy – that fully supports that.

We’ve got marketing training to support you in taking those next steps to a planned approach to marketing.

Create your 90-day plan with the RACE Growth System

Download your free RACE Growth System guide today and unlock our three-step plan of Opportunity, Strategy and Action to grow your business.

Download guide

Fast, Good, Or Cheap: How To Achieve All Three

There’s an old saying in software development that goes something like, “Fast, good, or cheap – pick two.” Known as the Iron Triangle, Project Management Triangle, or Triple Constraint, this concept will be familiar to anyone who has ever felt the pressure of weighing the opposing forces of quality, speed and cost against each other.

The general concept is that you have three choices when making a product: Make it quickly, make it cheaply, or make it well. While it has long been believed that accomplishing all three isn’t possible, some are now thinking that it is. Focusing on values and eliminating assumptions are key to the development of a valuable product.

The Iron Triangle

The concept of the Iron Triangle has emerged over time out of these general assumptions:

You can develop something quickly and of high quality, but it will be very costly to do.

You can develop something quickly and cheaply, but it will not be of high quality.

You can develop something of high quality and low cost, but it will take a long time.

Let’s look at each of these statements and what they mean for product development.

Cheap and fast

If you develop something cheap and fast, you’ll sacrifice features or the quality of the product to get it done this quickly. You create an acceptable prototype and can start receiving feedback on it immediately.

This allows you to start receiving feedback and improving your product, but the sacrifice may not be worth it. You could hurt your company’s credibility and create more problems for yourself down the road.

Good and cheap

Another option is to create a high-quality product but spend as little money on it as possible. You’ll deliver a better product to your customers, but it could take you a long time to finish it while staying under budget.

If you have the time to do a lot of research and product development in the beginning, this could have better results for your company. But in today’s market, businesses need to be flexible and able to act quickly, which isn’t likely with this method.

Ultimately, since you never received feedback from your customers during development, you may end up creating a high-quality product that they don’t really want.

Good and fast

Finally, you can create a high-quality product in as little time as possible. Out of the three options, most businesses would probably prefer this one. You can create a good product in short time, but it’s going to cost you.

You’ll likely have to invest in a team to help you meet the demands of your timeline – and the extra money spent could be wasted if you have to redo the product.

Issues with the Iron Triangle

As you can see, a few problems emerge pretty quickly with these statements. The first issue with the Iron Triangle is the definition of “good,” or the concept of quality.

The triangle assumes that fast and cheap is an option, but in truth, delivering a low-quality product is seldom an actual option. Whether you’re releasing a product to market, completing a project for a client, or delivering on an internal company project, quality is a universal expectation.

The second issue is known as the Mythical Man-Month or Brooks’ law, which states, “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.” While Brooks’ law refers specifically to software development, its concept applies to many types of projects.

This is often simplified by the metaphor “too many cooks in the kitchen.” The basic concept is that when you add more people to a problem, the additional communication overhead and complexity of team dynamics often have a negative effect on the timeline as a whole.

That pretty much eliminates the combination of good and fast as a real option. That leaves us with good and cheap, but that means the project is going to take a long time. Thanks to the lean concept, though, that doesn’t have to be the case.

What is an example of the Iron Triangle?

The constraints are thought to be iron because you are unable to change one constraint without impacting the others.

Let’s use the Iron Triangle to look at the constraints in project management for a software development team as an example. These are some of the constraints they’d face:

The scope of the work (i.e., the functions and features necessary to deliver a working product)

The necessary resources (i.e., the team members and budget for delivering and executing the product)

The time it takes for the team to go to market and release the product

The goal of the Iron Triangle is to give a product team the necessary information to make trade-offs that ultimately help the business. For instance, if the team has a fixed scope, they may be halfway through the project and realize they are unable to meet the release date.

At that point, these are their options:

Accept a later release date (time)

Add more people to the project, ultimately raising the overall costs (resources)

Did You Know?

According to a Harvard Business School professor, 95% of the consumer products launched each year fail.

The lean startup method

The lean startup method is a process for delivering products and businesses developed by Eric Ries in 2008. Chronicled in his 2011 book The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, it is based on concepts borrowed from lean manufacturing as developed by Japanese automakers in the 1980s.

The lean startup method extols the concept that anything which does not deliver value to the end user is waste. This waste is combated by creating testable and measurable hypotheses, then measuring them against honest and meaningful key performance indicators (KPIs).

The first step is to build a minimum viable product (MVP), which is the simplest version of a product that can test your hypothesis and deliver the maximum amount of validated learning.

After creating your initial MVP, the next step is to iterate over and over, using tools like split testing and the predetermined KPIs. These tools will help you make adjustments to that product with one of two outcomes: Refine it to excellence, or determine failure and pivot.

Bottom Line

Under the lean method, anything that isn’t of value to the customer is considered waste. You utilize this method by creating hypotheses that you can test with a simple prototype of your product, allowing you to make improvements with minimal waste.

Applying the lean process

Armed with what we’ve learned about the shortcomings of the Iron Triangle, it is possible to deliver a project that is fast, cheap, and good by applying the concepts of the lean process. With this process, you keep teams small, because you know that too many cooks are just going to make communication more difficult and limit your flexibility to deal with changing market demands.

Since you are just building an MVP at first, a big upfront investment isn’t necessary. You are testing your hypothesis, so spending a lot of money or investing in other resources would be a waste if you’re wrong.

Keeping teams small and limiting the investment in the MVP lets you keep the project cheap. You’re also building the MVP to gain validated learning as soon as possible and deliver something of value to the end user.

By focusing on those values – and preventing a bloated scope full of assumptions and untested hypotheses – you can build fast. When limiting the work to the MVP, you get to market quickly with something of value.

Once you’ve released the initial MVP, you can continue to follow the lean principles, using validated learning and KPIs to decide what’s working and what’s not, and iterate quickly. The reiterations and meaningful measurements will guide you toward the end goal of delivering a good product.

And there you have it: fast, good, and cheap, all in one project.

Dell Vostro 460: Business Pc Is All Work And No Play

The Dell Vostro 460 is a speedy business desktop equipped with Intel’s recently launched Sandy Bridge processor. It starts at $529 (as of March 10, 2011), but our review configuration–which came with a 21.5-inch widescreen monitor–is priced at $1393 ($1163 sans monitor). The system we reviewed packs a decent feature set, including an Intel Core i7-2600 processor, 4GB of RAM (upgradable to 16GB), and Windows 7 Professional 64-bit.

The rear of the machine offers an additional five USB ports (four USB and one USB 3.0), an eSATA port, an S/PDIF-out, gigabit ethernet, 7.1 surround sound, a VGA connector, and an HDMI connector. That’s right: This desktop has no discrete graphics card, and Dell is relying on the Sandy Bridge processor’s improved integrated graphics to hold the fort.

The keyboard and mouse are simple and match the chassis; both peripherals are, unfortunately, wired (USB). The flat keyboard features matte-black keys that offer good feedback. Since the keys are smooth, typing quickly is a little difficult if you’re unaccustomed to the shape; the keys are widely spaced, however, making typing errors a little less likely. The two-button mouse is smooth, rounded, and comfortable to use, though it did feel somewhat small to me (and I have small hands).

Our test model came with a 21.5-inch widescreen monitor. As displays go it’s fairly matte, with a 1920-by-1080-pixel resolution and good contrast. Its off-axis angles are not very good for a matte screen, but at least it doesn’t throw reflections back at you. The display is a little too wide for my taste (note that this monitor is nearly twice as long as it is high), but that’s a matter of personal preference. The monitor has a black, squared-off bezel with sharp corners, and lacks a Webcam. Five small buttons–a power button plus four context-sensitive soft keys to adjust the monitor’s settings–sit along the lower-right side.

As for performance, the Vostro 460 does well for its category. It earned a WorldBench 6 score of 156, which puts it just above our second-best performer, the Maingear F131 (with a mark of 152). It’s still pretty far behind our top performer in the mainstream-PC category, the MicroFlex 25B, which received a WorldBench 6 score of 188.

Although the Vostro 460’s Intel i7-2600 CPU does its job in terms of general performance, graphics performance is another story. The Vostro 460 doesn’t come with a discrete graphics card, relying instead on the Core i7-2600’s integrated graphics. In our Unreal Tournament 3 graphics performance tests, the Vostro 460 managed to eke out only an unplayable 14.8 frames per second at a resolution of 2560 by 1600 pixels with high quality settings. It wasn’t until we scaled the resolution down to 1024 by 768 that we got a reasonably playable frame rate of 37 fps (on high quality settings).

Gaming isn’t likely to be high on a small business’s list of priorities anyway, so feel free to ignore those results if you’re just looking for a number-cruncher. If you’d like to toss your own discrete graphics card into the Vostro 460, however, you can: Just unscrew the left side of the chassis, and you’re in. The interior of the Vostro 460 is a tad messy, but workable. Though wires are held together with twist ties and haphazardly scattered about, the case has enough room for upgrading. The chassis sports two 5.25-inch bays (one free), two 3.5-inch bays (one free), three PCIe x1 slots (two free), and one PCI slot. So although you won’t be able to transform this PC into a dual-graphics-card gaming rig, you have sufficient space to install an extra card, and perhaps another hard drive if you’re up for it.

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