How to Use Pinterest to Grow Your Business

By Scott Vollero

One of the classic maxims about persuasion is to show, not tell. Pinterest, the picture-sharing social media site, is one of the best platforms to do that. Pinterest is a site where people share images on virtual pinboards and write little descriptions about them. Unlike later picture-based social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, Pinterest is about the curation of photo content.

Pinterest has 100 million active users, but it also has several demographic features that make it very attractive to certain niches. Most notably, as of 2014, 85% of the user base is female. This is extremely unusual for social media platforms.

Unlike a Facebook post, a Pinterest pin’s focus is on the image, not on the text. Pinterest users want pictures that are useful, beautiful, and inspirational. You may need to change how you approach social media to use Pinterest successfully, but as their many success stories have shown there are ways of leveraging this type of content to expand your business.

  • Show off your product

If you offer a product, take photos of it and show it off. Even better than an attractive product photo is pictures of people enjoying the product. Show off the end result someone will get from using your product. If you think about it, Pinterest is at its core a visual advertising platform. But unlike other platforms, the images are part of the user experience, not an interruption.

You can also use Pinterest’s new Buyable Pins offering to let someone purchase your products directly from your pin.

  • Show a sneak peek

Behind-the-scenes shots of businesses are quite popular. Show off a part of your production process or your warehouse. Pinterest users enjoy peeking behind the curtain of their favorite companies. Don’t be shy!

  • Inspire your niche

Every product offering has a place in a buyer’s life. Show how your product can fit into the overall idea that a buyer has about their life. For instance, if you’re a paint company or a furniture company, you could show off home interiors on your board to inspire people to buy your products. If you sell food, offer recipes like Maggi, the popular sauce company, did on their Pinterest board.

  • Services have their place, too

Bank of America, of all companies, is a success story on Pinterest. How did an old stodgy bank hit a homerun with Pinterest? They showed pictures of young people reaching their financial goals, like buying a house or going on a trip, and linked the pins to an educational campaign targeted to Millennials on financial literacy. Successful use of Pinterest requires out of the box thinking like this.

  • Learn the platform well

If you haven’t been to Pinterest in a while, you may be surprised at all the options they have for businesses. Between promoted pins, buyable pins, and other features, there are many ways to monetize your Pinterest board and turn it into a growth engine. Contests and giveaways are also popular on Pinterest, and have far fewer rules than doing the same on Facebook.

  • Crosslink your platforms

A standard rule for any social media is to make sure there is lots of cross-linking between your channels. Make sure your website allows people to pin photos on their own boards and encourage people to repin your material. If your Pinterest account sits in a bubble, it won’t work nearly as well.

If you have a business that is highly visual or targets women, Pinterest is something you must take a look at. Take a couple hours and look through their success stories page and you’ll discover there are lots of different ways to use Pinterest for your business needs.

5 Curious Qualities that Make a Great Business Location

By Scott Vollero

Location, Location, Location.”

Thus goes the old mantra. And if it’s true online, it’s 10 times more in that old-fashioned world of brick-and-mortar stores. Good locations can give you passive exposure to thousands of passers-by and give you an edge up on your competition, while poor location can leave your otherwise-impressive business to wither and die.

But what’s the difference? Well, it’s not simple — it’s complex and involves a lot of research and legwork. It’s hard to get around that. That said, these five qualities to look for when considering a location will at least get you started.

  1. Make Your Location Consistent With Your Style

Match your location with your offering’s quality. For instance, put your ritzy restaurant in a ritzy part of town. This serves the double purpose of promoting your image as a classy place to go and of maximizing the number of pedestrians whose wallets can stand up to your prices. In terms of style of vending, consider your product — is it best sold out of its own store, or would it do better from a mall kiosk?

  1. Foot Traffic

Your store is a standing advertisement for itself, which (if you lump all the upkeep costs together with those of doing business more generally) is basically free for you. So maximize the number of people who see it by putting yourself in an area with plenty of foot traffic. This way, people can drop on in. And be sure to take into account the time of day — if you open at noon, it’s not going to do you much good to set up in a place with amazing foot traffic from 9am to 11am.

  1. Competition

This can be good or bad. If another business is going to overwhelm yours and drown you out, you probably want to avoid them. However, in many cases, this can actually work to your benefit! If you are in a business where comparison shopping is popular, or if you’re in a position to catch overflow customers, camping out near the competition could be a very good move.

  1. Ordinances

A little bland, but very important — don’t overlook local ordinances! This can get you in trouble both business-wise and legally. Plus, it could be bad for your image. Setting up a wine and spirits store next to an elementary school, for instance, would be a big no-no.

  1. Utilities!

Because apparently, just buying the building isn’t enough. No, The Man wants you to pay for things like water, electricity, natural gas, etc. These things can be a serious drain on your financial resources, so check things like the local climate, how well-insulated the house is, how much water bills will run, and anything else that might affect your overhead costs.

Choosing a new location for your business is as exciting as it is complicated. If you follow these five simple steps, however, you can at least get off to a good start in getting set up in your new home.

You Won’t Believe These 4 Bizarre Facts About China

China, China, China. Seems like you can’t flip on the news or open your web browser without hearing or seeing something new about the Middle Kingdom (as China is sometimes called). There’s a reason for this: China is the world’s most populous country and will soon — if current trends hold — have its largest economy. Many of the world’s consumer goods are manufactured in China, and the country is increasingly a consumer powerhouse of its own. Plus, its semi-authoritarian government appears to have big designs on regional influence.

Big things are happening in China. Unfortunately, most Americans know precious little about the world’s second-largest economy. Check out these four crazy facts about China — and, as there are plenty more where these came from, feel free to share your own.

  1. It’s Arguably the World’s Oldest Extant Civilization

Modern China is a big place: larger than the continental United States, in fact. It’s important to note that, in spite of outsiders’ perceptions, it’s not ethnically homogeneous. Much of China’s western reaches, including Xinjiang Province and the vast Tibetan Plateau, house ethnocultural groups that have historically been marginalized by the Han, China’s dominant ethnic group.

For better or worse, the Han are more or less synonymous with “China,” and they form the core of what’s arguably the world’s oldest continuously operating civilization. In fact, China has existed in recognizable form since before 3,000 B.C. — putting it on par with the long-vanished Sumerian and Egyptian civilizations.

  1. China Actually Won’t Be the World’s Most Populous Nation for Much Longer

China remains the world’s most populous nation, but it won’t be for too much longer. Despite a long-predicted slowdown in its fertility rate, India is projected to overtake China as the world’s largest country by 2030. By then, the two countries will house nearly 1 in 3 of Earth’s inhabitants.

  1. China Has a Dynamic Precious Metals Market

China is one of the world’s largest single markets for precious metals. In particular, it’s a top destination for salvaged metals from old catalytic converters — accounting for the lion’s share of the market for rhodium and palladium on any given day.

  1. China Has Thousands of Miles of Bullet Trains

Love trains? You’ll love China. China has about 12,000 miles of dedicated high speed rail as of late 2015, according to this fascinating article, and nearly double that amount in planning or under construction. China’s bullet train network includes the world’s only pressurized rail line, a Tibet-bound service that reaches more than 15,000 feet above sea level.

Go East

Here’s a bit of friendly advice: If you’ve never been to China, go. You don’t need to drop everything you’re doing and board the next flight to Beijing, but there’s no reason not to make the Middle Kingdom a priority destination.

In fact, why not swap out your next trip to New York or San Francisco for a week in China’s hinterland? You’ll make back the extra airfare costs thanks to China’s low, low living costs, and you’re sure to see things you never even knew existed in the process. Your favorite American attractions will still be there when you get back — and just think of the stories you’ll be able to tell.

Here’s Why Your Business Needs Lean Six Sigma

Modern business is more results-driven than ever. If you want your company to be successful in an increasingly competitive global marketplace, you need to give it every single advantage you can muster. Moreover, you need to maximize said advantages — squeezing every ounce of value and productivity out of yourself, your equipment, your team and your customers.

It’s not exactly news that modern businesses live and die by the efficiency sword, but that doesn’t mean the path to efficiency is neatly laid out for business owners of different stripes. There’s a particular approach to efficiency, in fact, that has just recently gained favor as a critical component of business best practices. It’s known as Lean Six Sigma, and it could mean the difference between success and failure for your enterprise.

Here’s what you need to know about Lean Six Sigma — and how your business can benefit.

What Is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma is a hybrid of two popular process efficiency and waste reduction initiatives: Lean and Six Sigma. The hybrid uses qualitative and quantitative metrics to reduce waste, improve quality and enhance efficiency for cost- and reputation-conscious businesses in various verticals (including technology and manufacturing). Key areas of waste-reduction focus include:

  • Time
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Waiting
  • Over production
  • Over processing
  • Defects
  • Skills

Within each area, LSS professionals seek to reduce or eliminate deficiencies, such as by reducing production and transport times.

Certification Levels

Professionals trained in Lean Six Sigma practices attain progressively higher certification levels, known as belts. LSS belts correspond with levels of mastery of LSS principles:

 

  • Yellow Belt: Yellow belts are considered “Lean Six Sigma aware.” They’re familiar with the basic tenets of LSS and devote some valued time per week to LSS-related initiatives or learning modules.
  • Green Belt: Green belts devote significant amounts of valued time to LSS tools usage, as well as implementing DMAIC and Lean principles. They usually work under or with LSS Black belts, and may or may not consider LSS-related activities to be primary job functions.
  • Black Belt: Black belts are full-time LSS project leaders. They direct multi-person teams working on specific LSS initiatives or work as at-large consultants on general process improvements. LSS-related work constitutes the bulk of their valued time and is considered a primary job function.
  • Master Black Belt: Master black belts have at least two years of LSS experience and are certified to teach LSS principles to subordinates and clients.

Not every business requires (or can afford) multiple Lean Six Sigma black belts in key organizational roles. Nevertheless, companies committed to process improvement often provide opportunities for employees to obtain LSS training and certification, or hire LSS-certified consultants to help with specific projects or initiatives. If you haven’t already done so, assess your process improvement needs and incorporate manageable LSS-related initiatives — including hiring certified professionals as consultants or dedicated employees, or implementing a Lean Six Sigma training program for existing employees.

What Else Does Your Business Need to Succeed?

Businesses that implement lean practices tend to outperform their old-fashioned peers. But Lean Six Sigma isn’t the only ticket to corporate success. It’s just one of many newfangled differentiators that companies looking to compete in the 21st century need to implement in order to stay one step ahead of the curve. There are plenty of others that fit this bill, too.

Bottom line: Make sure your focus on Lean Six Sigma certification doesn’t crowd out other worthy initiatives. The future of your business could depend on it.

Invest in Success: Creating and Maintaining a Healthy Corporate Culture from the Get-Go

For many like Scott Vollero, the mere mention of “corporate culture” elicits an eye-roll. It’s hard to imagine a more banal workplace cliché, to be sure.

But “corporate culture” — and, really, we don’t need to put something so self-evident in quotes — is a tangible attribute that can absolutely make or break a emergent company. During the early stages of growth, when it’s critical to keep the funding tap turned on and ease key employees into their roles, few things are worse than the unchecked growth of a cancerous corporate culture that infects progressively more mission-critical areas of the organization.

Putting a healthy corporate culture in place from the get-go, then, is nothing short of an essential investment in the future of your young company. Here’s how to do it the right way.

Don’t Tolerate Illegal Activity

This bit of advice should be obvious, but you’d be shocked how often it’s ignored. If you discover evidence of potentially illegal activity, or activity that could be construed as intentional sabotage, investigate quickly, terminate those involved, and go to the authorities if there’s any chance you could be held liable.

Lead By Example

As your company’s founder, you’re its employee number one. Actually, you’re employee zero — the first person you hire is number one. When you’re at the office or plant, you’re the face of the company. Everything you do is fair game for scrutiny, so make you’re not doing anything you wouldn’t want your employees to do. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when they follow your lead.

Engage in Team-Building

At the end of the workday, your employees go home and do whatever they do. But while they’re at work, they need to be in sync. That’s the whole point of a healthy corporate culture: When every member of the team is on the same ethical and process-oriented page, the team as a whole is more likely to succeed.

One of the easiest (and most clichéd, sure) ways to ensure that everyone remains on the same page is through regular team-building exercises. Pick one day a month, either in the afternoon on a weekday (you can make up the time later) or anytime on a Saturday, to accomplish something together: volunteering at a local food bank, tending a plot at a community garden, going for a hike, whatever.

Lay out the Ground Rules

Two words: employee handbook. Culture helps set the parameters, but your employees also need to hear what’s expected of them — and what they are and aren’t expected to do — in plain English. A handbook is a good way to cover yourself legally, as well.

Values Can Be Subjective

It’s important to remember that, just like the people who make them what they are, no two companies are exactly the same. Your firm’s identity is determined by the industry in which it operates, the people who lead it, and numerous other factors that you know best.

In turn, your firm’s identity determines — to some extent — its values. What passes muster at a competing firm, or a totally unrelated business for that matter, might not fly at yours. The reverse could be true, too. As a leader, it’s up to you to set and enforce the parameters of your corporate culture and work to ensure that your team remains on track.

Scrap to Gold: Scott Vollero’s Autocats Story

Not everyone gets the opportunity to build a business from (literally) nothing into a multimillion dollar operation with a foothold on four continents. Actually, most people don’t.

Scott Vollero did. He was fortunate enough to build his firm, Autocats, into a top-tier international supplier of recycled auto parts and precious metals within the space of a decade. By the time he was done, Autocats was among the top offshore secondary market precious metals recyclers in the world.

Vollero learned a lot along the way. It helped that he’d had substantial entrepreneurial experience before starting Autocats, and that he had plenty of connections that helped him through the tough early going.

But much of Vollero’s finely honed management and process efficiency philosophies — competencies he continues to put to use in his ongoing consulting work — exist thanks to his work with Autocats. Here’s how he turned a good idea into a great company. Budding entrepreneurs, take heed.

Identifying a Compelling Value Proposition

Like many other successful businesses, Autocats began with a great idea.

The elevator pitch goes like this. Catalytic converters, the automotive components that scrub exhaust of harmful emissions, have substantial amounts of precious metals in them. Depending on the make and origin of the converter, that metal could be worth hundreds of dollars or more. Anyone with the technical know-how to extract the valuable material from the not-so-valuable husk, scale the process to the point that it’s cost effective, and find willing downstream buyers stands to make out well.

Long story short, Scott Vollero figured out all three components of the equation. And so Autocats came into being.

Venturing Into a Capital Intensive Business

Vollero knew from the get-go that his chosen business would be capital-intensive. Used catalytic converters are abundant, but they’re not always available in the quantities that make for an efficient, profitable extraction and offloading process. Moreover, storing precious metals is a risky business.

Although Autocats was profitable, the nature of its revenue and expenses was lumpy: It might have to make a large outlay to fund the purchase of a new batch of converters, then wait weeks to receive payment for the metals it extracted.

Scott Vollero quickly developed relationships with downstream buyers willing to extend Autocats ample credit to fund its ongoing operations. While the availability of credit didn’t totally solve the lumpiness issue, it certainly made the business easier to run.

Building a Best-in-Class Team

Vollero founded Autocats with decentralized and flexible business model that allowed Autocats to “get close to the customer” and still achieve “low cost – economies of scale”  that underpinned the company’s business. Around this core-concept, he added a layer of competent, experienced team members who knew various aspects of the automotive and/or recycling businesses well.

Vollero also took the time to learn about — and forge partnerships in — the emerging markets that provided the bulk of Autocats’ raw materials. Even though they weren’t directly employed, his “team” extended to the on-the-ground partners who made doing business in places like India, Dubai, Australia and China possible.

Fostering a Strong, Honest Corporate Culture

Scott Vollero has always been one to lead by example, and that’s just what he did at Autocats. His team always knew where they stood, always knew what was expected of them, and always knew how to treat their peers. There’s a reason Autocats was regarded as one of the best automotive recyclers to work for during Vollero’s tenure.

Identifying Key Strategic Partners

Early on, Vollero realized that Autocats wouldn’t thrive if it were held hostage to the volatile commodities markets or forced to engage in myriad retail-type transactions to stay afloat.

Accordingly, he tapped his on-the-ground partners to help create a network of collection facilities that dramatically simplified the task of collecting used converters. Even more importantly, he built strategic partnerships with downstream buyers — namely, auto parts manufacturers and multinational automakers’ regional subsidiaries — to boost the model’s predictability and ensure that a sudden price drop wouldn’t prove fatal for Autocats.

Heading for the Exits on One’s Own Terms

Scott Vollero didn’t found Autocats with the intention of selling it, but he also didn’t wait very long to start thinking about how that would look. In fact, Vollero’s strategic partnerships proved to be key to the company’s eventual sale — both in terms of demonstrating that Autocats was a viable concern and helping to identify partners interested in becoming something more.

What Comes Next?

Scott Vollero’s story didn’t begin with Autocats, and it’s not going to end with Autocats. While he’s still in the process of figuring out what comes next, he’s able to reflect on what he’s learned — and achieved — along the way.

Vollero’s key takeaways from his Autocats experience, and his entrepreneurial endeavors in general:

  • Keep your network strong. Autocats wouldn’t have been the same, and probably wouldn’t have gotten very far at all, had Vollero not kept in touch and cultivated a network of capable and motivated people.
  • Be slow to hire and slower to fire. It’s a brutal cliché that also happens to be true. The golden rule of the hiring process: Avoid making a decision you’ll regret later.  Once you have made the decision to hire someone – you have an obligation to expend your efforts to make them successful at your company. And when you have done everything you could to help them succeed and they still can’t – you need to aid them in their transition to another job.
  • Trust your business partners. Vollero worked with many upstanding business partners during his time at Autocats. He also encountered a few not-so-stellar people and firms. Choose your associates wisely.
  • Take some risks. Autocats thrived thanks in large part to Vollero’s willingness to get off the beaten path and explore the underbelly of the booming and emerging overseas markets such as India, South America and China. Don’t be afraid to take equivalent risks with your own business.
  • Start with your exit in mind. Don’t think of your eventual exit as a cut-and-run — think of it as your reward for years of hard work. Before you get very far into the nitty-gritty of running your firm, game out your exit options and start steering toward the one that makes the most sense.  Like a marketing plan, or production plan, your exit strategy should be stated in your overall business plan.

Do you think you have what it takes to scale your own business?