How to Determine If Your Business Needs a DBA

What’s a DBA anyway? Is it like a trademark or something completely different? Do I really need to file for one now or can I wait? These are some of the questions that fledging entrepreneurs face when trying to determine if their small business needs a DBA and what the process entails. Let’s clarify what a DBA is, the types of businesses that should file for one, and the advantages that registering for a DBA presents for your small business.

What is a DBA?

A DBA, often referred to as a “Doing Business As” name, is the name under which you do business. Pretty self-explanatory! This name is different from your personal name and is also known as a fictitious name. Because it is a fictitious name, most states require that you register it with a local government agency. By conducting a name search and filing for a DBA, you’re able to claim the name for yourself and reduce potential chances of fraud. There are also plenty of additional benefits outlined below…

Are there any advantages to filing for a DBA?

Definitely! A few of our favorites can be found in these bullets:

·       Open a bank account. Most banks generally require a certified copy of your DBA before you a business bank account. Once you have a DBA, you can also collect checks and payments under your business name.

·       Start marketing and advertising your business publicly to increase visibility of your business.

·       Discourage anyone else from registering your name by officially using your DBA.

·       Create a business identity for your customers and vendors that presents your business in a professional light.

Who should register for a DBA?

The rule of thumb here is that if your business conducts any business (including transactions, marketing, advertising, and even printing out business cards) under a name that isn’t your own name, you should register for a DBA in the state or county you’re doing business in. For Sole Proprietors or Partnerships, be sure to register a DBA if you plan on starting a business under a name that is not your real name. If you have an existing LLC or Corporation and want to do business under a name that isn’t affiliated with the existing names, register a DBA.

So, to recap, a DBA isn’t the same thing as a trademark right?

Correct. While both offer protection for the name of the business, a DBA is a name that identifies the business. Unlike a trademark, which gives you the exclusive rights to use the name and makes it your property, a DBA doesn’t grant exclusivity for the use of a name.

You sold me — I’m ready to register! Where can I file for a DBA?

Great! First, depending on where your business is located, check to see if you do need to register your fictitious name there or not. Some states don’t require a formal registration which is why it’s worth looking into before you start the filing process.

If your start does require registering a DBA, file early with your state government or county clerk’s office! We recommend filing before using the name since DBAs are often required within the time frame that you do start using the fictitious name. The amount of time it takes to file for a DBA will vary depending on your jurisdiction, but you can expect the process to usually take anywhere from one to four weeks. When filing, be prepared to pay a processing fee and identify your business with either your EIN (Employer Identification Number) or Social Security Number.

When it comes to establishing a small business, it’s always a good thing to protect it as much as possible from the start to keep any future issues at bay. Don’t put off filing for your DBA, even if it doesn’t seem like much of a priority right now. The sooner you file for one, the more peace of mind your small business, and its name, will have while conducting business.

 

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Google+ and on Twitter @mycorporation.

 

 

8 Holiday Gift Giving Etiquettes You Need to Know

By Martin, Davinci Virtual

Tis the season to be jolly—and generous. The holidays are a strategic time to show appreciation to your best customers. Of course, there are a few things you need to know before you make moves to express your goodwill. Yes, there is gift giving etiquette—even for holiday cards—in an age that celebrates diversity. Consider these guidelines:

1. Make it personal

Personalizing a gift, if possible, may speak louder than the gift itself. That’s because it demonstrates you have taken the time to really get to know them. If all else fails, seek advice from your client’s secretary or look on their Facebook page if you’re connected. If you can’t personalize gifts for all your clients, at least write a personal note in the card.  

2. Don’t overspend

You should have a budget for client gift-giving, but don’t be so extravagant it puts the receiver in an awkward position. Some of your clients may not be able to receive a gift value over a specific amount. Do your homework. Find out what is acceptable before you send the gift.

3. Consider faiths 

Not everybody believes the same as you do. You may celebrate Hanukkah, but your clients may celebrate Christmas, Ramadan, Kwanzaa or some other holiday in December. You don’t want to be offensive when you’re trying to be kind. Find out what your client celebrates if you can, or just send the generic “Season’s Greetings.”

4. Deliver on time

Just as you would deliver a product or service on time, be sure your holiday gift is delivered on time. Typically, a December 20th deadline is ideal because it falls in the sweet spot of the holiday season for people of various faiths.

5. Don’t rely on food and wine 

There’s nothing wrong with falling back on food, wine and liquor if you know your client has a special affinity for a good wine or chocolate, but generally speaking it’s generic and forgettable. Remember, make it personal.

6. Avoid gift cards

If you are dealing with employees, gift cards may work fine. But when sending client gifts, don’t opt for this route. The gift card option basically says, “I couldn’t think what to give you, so I’m giving you cash.” It’s impersonal.

7. Don’t send company T-shirts

Gifts with your logo scribbled all over them are not gifts, they are promotional tools and will be viewed that way. Likely, they will go in the circular file. Instead of classy, you may be seen as cheap and self-serving.

8. Re-gift carefully

Thirty-two percent of all Americans re-gift, which means they give a gift away to someone because they didn’t need or like it, according to an American Express survey. You can easily hurt the feelings of the gift-giver if they find out.

 

Budgeting for client gifts is easy when you save money with a Virtual Office and Live Receptionist Services from Davinci Virtual Office Solutions.  Click here to learn more.

 

Martin has been enjoying the creation and successful execution of many technology and service related ventures over the past 25 years. He is very passionate about building businesses from the ground up by leveraging cutting edge technologies, innovation and smart, driven people. Martin currently leads all business operations at Davinci Virtual Office Solutions. He credits his international upbringing and Swiss approach for many of his successes. Stress relievers include skiing, tennis, mountain biking and blue oceans.

Netflix and Startup: The Three Most Inspiring Shows for Entrepreneurs to Binge Watch

Netflix for Entrepreneurs

Ask any small business owner and they’ll tell you they don’t have the time to ease into a routine of nightly TV before bed. The entrepreneurs I know typically don’t have time for television at all, but, when they do, it’s usually all in one sitting. For some of us, binge watching is the new spa day. If you’re looking for a new show to inspire your business life while vegging out on your couch and eating ice cream, give one of these a try on your next day off:  

Shark Tank

You can’t have a list of shows for entrepreneurs without Shark Tank. For those who don’t know, Shark Tank is a reality television show that started in 2009 on ABC. It involves new entrepreneurs or inventors pitching their business ideas to a panel of “shark” investors.

Just as the show presents some really good ideas that do indeed turn into successful products sold at a large scale, it also shows plenty of duds. Entrepreneurs, whether veteran or novice, can learn from watching both good and bad ideas get pitched. Take notes on the good pitches: how did they present their idea? What was their prep work like? In what manner did they speak to the investors? You can really tell when someone’s prepared and confident in his/her product. The next time you have to pitch your business, or even just a new idea at a meeting with partners, mimic the successful entrepreneurs you see on Shark Tank. In a different way, you can also learn a thing or two from the unsuccessful pitches you see. Exactly why was their pitch or product bad? Why wouldn’t you have invested your money if given the chance?       

Parks and Recreation

This next one isn’t quite so in your face in terms of made-for-entrepreneurs TV, but it does provide plenty of good lessons about getting stuff done and sticking to your guns while making you laugh along the way. Parks and Recreation also started in 2009 (a good year for shows for small business owners), and stars Amy Poehler as the main character, Leslie Knope, a mid-level bureaucrat working in the Parks Department of Pawnee, Indiana. Throughout the series, Knope faces a myriad of challenges to overcome to better the lives of those in the fictional Pawnee, Indiana. In every episode the viewer learns about hard work, determination, and how to make the world a better place by doing something you’re good at.

StartUp

Startup is a new American television series that just debuted on Crackle in September. On IMDB, It’s described as a “crime/thriller” about “a desperate banker who needs to conceal some stolen money. A Haitian-American gang lord who wants to “go legit.” And a Cuban-American hacker who has an idea that will revolutionize the very future of money itself. Forced to work together, they unwittingly create their version of the American dream.” A good lesson in working together and overcoming differences to fight for one common goal: the success of a business. 

 

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Google+ and on Twitter @mycorporation.

Why Content Curation Should Never be the Star of a Marketing Strategy

content curation marketing

By Austin Miller, Content Marketing Manager

Content curation is powerful. It increases visibility and user interaction, two things many businesses will never get tired of. Unfortunately, it can never form the heart of a successful marketing strategy. Here are a few reasons you should only use it as a supplement:

1. It Changes How You're Perceived

Reddit is a big site, it's a famous site, and it gets billions of hits daily, but it is not an authority. It's crowd-sourced and crowd-managed content curation. You can find a lot of interesting things there, but the authority is lacking. The value of content curation is in sifting through the Internet to find the most interesting and relevant items, and that's the value people will see in you. You become an aggregate feed, not an authority.

2. You Lose Your Voice

Content curation is great for your content creators, as it gives them time off or lightens the load. Unfortunately, content curation also dilutes the strength and clarity of your message and voice. You may agree with what you just shared, but that's not your voice, and the rest of their work may contain messages that do not align with your branding.

Think about the kind of messages you see from friends on Facebook. If they share enough messages from a specific political party, you might start thinking that they're in that party, even if they aren't. You can curb this by adding your own commentary, but it's like the tide, and you can't stop it from eventually coloring your brand.

3. Everyone's Doing It

Reddit, LinkedIn, Upworthy -- everyone's in the content curation game in one form or another. Curating content doesn't make you special. At best, it can get you some extra attention. While every little bit helps, it won't be enough to get you a real market advantage.

4. You Build Other People's Authority More Than Yours

One of the best practices in content curation is creating a pool of reliable content creators that you can regularly pull from. Pull from that pool often enough and you start building their authority, not yours. Think about why you're sharing their posts instead of making your own. More often than not, it's because what they did is better or more insightful than what you believe you would've come up with. Ultimately, what gets shared is what gets the attention, not who does the sharing. 

Content curation isn't inherently bad. In fact, it's one of the best tools you can have in your marketing kit, but that's all it is, a tool. By no means, should it consist of the majority of your campaign. It can supplement and enhance the content you create, but it shouldn't be the star. Keep content curation as part of an ensemble marketing cast and you'll do well.

Sweet Peach Kids—How one Entrepreneur Turned her Expensive Shopping Habit Into a Business

Sweet Peach Kids got its start earlier this year by 'mommypreneuer' Laura Miller. Although a fairly new shop, it's already been featured by several prominent bloggers and has continuously sold out of its marquee pieces. 

What is Sweet Peach and how'd you come up with the idea for it?

Sweet Peach Kids is an online boutique where you can find clothes as sweet as your little one at an affordable price. I came up with the idea when my obsession for shopping for my own little girl was getting out of hand. I was having a hard time finding quality pieces without the high end price tags.

How do you manage being a full time mom and business owner?

I am definitely still trying to figure this one out, ha!  For me it's been A LOT of very late nights and early mornings. Also, having an extremely supportive husband definitely helps.

Your photos look great, and as we all know kids can be a bit crazy when it comes to taking directions. How do you go about your photoshoots? Is it hard to make the kids pose?

Thank you!  I have learned that there are three things to making a successful photo shoot:

  •  ALWAYS hire a professional photographer who is great with kids
  •  Come super prepared with more than what you think is needed. For example: extra hair pins, backup clothes, props, shoes etc.
  • 3 bring bribes! (I find candy works the best.)

Photographing little ones is a challenge but always so worth it in the end.  

What's been your biggest challenge in running a children's clothing line so far?

The biggest challenge for me is the business side of things. The creative comes to me pretty naturally, but there are far more things that go into running your own business than I had ever imagined. 

What advice could you give to other stay-at home moms and dads who would like to run a business and grow a business?

Just go for it!  Realize that there will be some sleepless nights, and some days that the dishes just won't get done, but I promise it's so worth it. There's definitely a certain amount of pride that comes with being able to say "I did that." 

What are some of your favorite apps you use to manage your business?

I couldn't live without Shipstation, it has made organizing my business and my orders so easy.  Obviously Instagram has been huge for my business (it is by far my biggest marketing platform). And when it comes to editing photos for my feed, I really love Pic-Tap-Go. 

Where can we find you?

You can find me at sweetpeachkids.com or on Instagram @sweetpeachkids.   

Ten Proven Ways to Increase Your Email Open Rates

ways to increase email open rates

By Austin Miller, Content Marketing Manager

Most marketers know the importance of building an email list, but many still struggle to boost response rates. Fortunately, with email marketing, you're in control. By using a few simple strategies, you can dramatically increase your email open rates.

Email marketing still has one of the highest engagement rates. For ecommerce and marketing emails, open rates tend to be around 20 percent. If your open rates are below this average, here are some smart ways to get more people opening and reading your emails.

1. Be Upfront from the Outset

Let people know from the outset what they can expect from your emails. Tell people they'll be receiving valuable information as well as promotional emails. This means that your readers won't be scared off if you start promoting a product or service. You've been honest from the beginning, and that counts for something when it comes to consumer trust.

2. Refine the Sign-Up Process

Part of being upfront is to attract the right people in the first place. When you're getting people to sign up to your list, offer incentives that are only relevant to your ideal customer. Being more selective in the initial stages will help to boost future open rates. This can be strengthened by using a double opt-in to ensure you get higher quality subscribers.

3. Spend More Time Crafting Subject Lines

You've probably heard this before, but you can't underestimate the power of enticing subject lines. Too many companies use weak subject lines, which can ruin engagement rates. Subject lines are the first thing people see in their crowded inboxes, so you need to stand out. Avoid boring and spammy-sounding headlines. Instead, use words that tap into people's emotions. A few tips:

.   Be honest. Don't promise what you can't deliver.

.   Using numbers in subject lines has been shown to boost open rates.

.   Keep the important words at the beginning, or they might get cut off.

.   Increase curiosity by hinting at the benefits of reading the content.

4. Write Strong First Sentences

Some email programs show the first sentence in the inbox, so make sure it's engaging. Readers will not only look at the subject line but will also judge the first few words of your email to decide whether it's worth opening or not. Getting people to read and engage with your content will increase your open rate going forward.

5. Send from a Person, Not a Company

The "from' section of your email can make a big difference to open rates. Many people automatically ignore company emails, thinking it's just advertising. Using the name of an individual at your firm instantly humanizes your email, making it more likely to be opened.

6. Address the Individual Person

Subject lines containing the subscriber's first name perform better than those without. A study by the Aberdeen Group showed that personalized emails improve click-through rates by 14 percent, and conversion rates by 10 percent. Also, write the email message as if you were addressing one person, not an anonymous group. It instantly becomes more engaging and strengthens the bond between you and your reader.

7. Focus on Quality, Not Quantity

It sounds obvious, but many companies send out too many emails, focusing on quantity rather than quality. It's better to deliver one great email every two weeks, rather than four average ones. In every email, try to offer something of value. Make people look forward to each email by offering practical, actionable tips, or exclusive deals for subscribers.

8. Be Consistent

Email campaigns with a consistent design and feel help put people at ease. Use the same colors and fonts, and write with a consistent voice. The time of delivery is also important. People will begin to look forward to your emails if you deliver them at the same time of the week or month. However...

9. Test Delivery Times

Emailing at the wrong time of day or week can harm open rates. Research industry-appropriate statistics and check your email analytics to discover when your audience responds more positively to emails. Then test different delivery times. Which emails have higher open rates: those sent on Tuesday afternoon, or those sent on Saturday morning?

10. Keep It Mobile-Friendly

Today, most people check emails on their mobile phone. According to HubSpot, around 80 percent of mobile users read emails on their mobile, so make sure your messages are easy to read and scan on mobile devices. One badly formatted message could turn a potential client off from opening your emails down the line. Want to increase email open rates? Be mobile friendly.

Email Marketing Takeaways

Email marketing can be difficult to get right, but it's still one of the most effective ways to engage potential customers and build your brand. Use some of these techniques in your future email campaigns, and you can stand out from the competition, increase your email open rates, and build a more loyal list of subscribers. Just remember to always keep testing and monitoring the results.

 

6 Great Email Marketing Strategies Guaranteed to Put Your Brand on the Map

Great Email Marketing

By Austin Miller, Content Marketing Manager

Email marketing provides businesses with a direct avenue to communicate with their fans and followers. Email is a part of people's everyday lives. This makes it one of the easiest ways to reach your fans. It thrives because of its universal and familiar nature. With that said, here are six great email marketing strategies that are guaranteed to help grow your brand.

1.Harness the power of transactional emails

Via Giphy

Via Giphy

Never underestimate the power of transactional emails. Transactional emails are often plain text files that are sent after a visitor performs an action on your website, like making a purchase or signing up for a newsletter. The thing is, transactional emails don't have to be so plain. You can customize a transactional email as much as you want. Link them back to your site or link them on social media, show them special offers, or just give them a simple, personal thank you. Make your transactional emails stand out as much as your regular emails.

2.Personalize emails without using your followers' names

Email marketing 101 dictates that your messages should not read like bank statements. They should be personal and sincere. You want your followers to open your emails because they recognize you as a human being, and not as a corporation. But at the same time, don't make your emails too personal by using the recipient's name in the heading. Coming off as too personal can actually turn people off from opening your email. Email headings that use people's real names can also look like spam. Instead, personalize the emails you send based on a customer's preferences or search and purchase history.

3.Create emails that are triggered by events

ontraport

You don't only have to email your subscribers when you have something new to promote. Give yourself more reasons to reach out to your subscribers. Emails that are triggered by things like birthdays or sign-up anniversaries are one way to go. Use these emails to thank or congratulate your subscribers. Emails like these can help you build rapport with your customers and is one way of showing them that you care about their support. Make sure stay appraised of the abundant suite of marketing automation tools available on the market.

4.Send emails at around 8:00 pm to midnight

best way to email market

Email allows you to worm your way into people's daily schedules. But the best email marketing campaigns aren't sent in the early morning. They're sent at night. Emails sent at 8:00 pm to midnight have the best chance of being opened. This may have something to do with the fact that your readers are winding down in the evening and are much more likely to make purchases or interact with your brand at around that time. It is still however a good idea to perform tests, to really find out the best times to send emails based on your brand and niche.

Keep it simple and neat

Image via popramennews.com

The cleaner your email looks, the more likely it will leave an impression on your readers. Emails should be neat to look at and your readers should have no problem finding what they need at a glance. Include a brief initial description to hook them in. Then add a clear call to action that is easy to perform. And lastly include links to your website and social media. Keep your design and formatting consistent across multiple emails.

Avoid long subject lines

Creating great email marketing subject lines is a tricky thing. You don't want them to be too long, but if they're too short you may not be able to capture your reader's attention. Finding the right length for your subject lines can be tricky. The general rule however is that subject lines above 70 characters provide the best click-through rates, while shorter ones have higher open rates. Now it's a question on whether you want to boost interaction through an improved click-through rate, or if you simply want to improve brand awareness by increasing open rates.

Email marketing is a highly competitive landscape, but that is mainly because of how effective it is. Practice these strategies and your email marketing campaign should have no problem generating interest in your brand.

How to Hire for a Startup Company

Hiring for a Startup

By Austin Miller, Content Marketing Manager

If you’re wondering how to hire for a startup company, you’re not alone. Every month, thousands of entrepreneurs Hit the Search ENgines to Ask the Same Thing. In this article we’ll breakdown how you can hire startup employees with little to no capital.

Bootstrapping a new company, getting it off the ground and producing income is a challenging process. By definition, bootstrapping is a "means of advancing oneself or accomplishing something, relying entirely on one's efforts and resources." When you're trying to hire a new sales person or operations person but don't yet have sales revenue to back up the payroll, it's time to get creative. That's what bootstrapping is all about!

Startup Hiring Tip** Know the Difference Between Employees and Contractors

As it happens, there are three proven ways to hire new employees who will work for your company when you have no cash. In most cases those people you hire will not be your employees—they'll be contractors. Now there's nothing wrong with hiring contractors, but you'll need to know the pros and cons (such as the tax implications) if you decide to pursue this route. The Internal Revenue Service has a strict set of rules that determine whether a person is an employee or a contractor. For example, the IRS considers a person an employee if you control what will be done and how it will be done. 

If you spell out the time the person needs to be at work; if you require the person to follow a certain procedure in completing the work; if you specify how the work needs to be completedyou are treating that person as an employee. You are required by law to withhold payroll taxes from that person's paycheck.

However, if you allow a person to use his or her own methods in completing the work, allow them to work on their own schedule and otherwise treat that person as an independent business person performing a task for you, it's likely that the IRS will classify that person as a contractor. Contractors are responsible for paying their own payroll taxes.

For example...

Imagine that a large oak tree has been weakened by a storm and threatens to fall upon your business office. You hire a tree removal company to cut the tree down and haul it away. That removal company is a contractor. You would certainly not presume to tell them how to do their work, require them to be on site at a specific time nor dictate what tools they should use. They are contractors. Similarly, your contractors must be allowed to work for you using their own methods, tools and techniques.

Special allowances are made for sales people you might hire. It seems the IRS understands the bootstrapping process by acknowledging that sales must occur if a company is to survive. Therefore, the tax code automatically places most sales people into an independent contractor role by default.

The IRS rules are important. If a company hires a person as a contractor, but lays down policies and procedures that must be followed—such as what time to report to the job each day, or how to complete the work—the IRS is likely to find that person is an employee. The tax courts are filled with cases where companies were obligated to pay back payroll taxes for improperly classified workers, often over many years with costs and penalties running into tens of thousands of dollars.

how to hire for a startup company

How to Hire for a Startup Company When Strapped for Cash: 3 Different Approaches

Now that you’ve got a general review of the IRS rules, let's look at three ways you can find and hire qualified candidates for your bootstrapped startup.

1.  Interns

Most every college and university has an intern program that aims to give students real world experience in their major field of study. For example, a student studying accounting might seek out an internship position with a cloud-based bookkeeping company, working without pay, but accumulating college credits for his or her efforts. Multimedia art students might be able to help a company grow by designing the company's web site and advertising material. An accounting major might keep the books. Computer and IT students might develop software. Marketing students might contribute to the business plan.

Interns can be found by contacting the local college or university and asking for the person who handles the internship program. In most cases each speciality will have its own contact person. That is, the school of marketing will have a person who oversees the internship program, while the computer programming school will have a different person. A few calls will get you in touch with qualified, motivated students who can help bootstrap your company—even though you have no cash.

2. Commission Deals

Most new companies face the issue of building awareness in the marketplace—letting prospective customers know that the company exists and that its products and services deserve their attention. The people who specialize in that area are in the business development, marketing and sales specialties. It’s entirely possible to hire people who have extensive backgrounds and substantial expertise on a commission basis. As the person closes or contributes to sales, the company pays him or her a portion of the sales revenue as commission.

Finding these people is not difficult. Job openings can be posted at both Craigslist and Indeed. It's important to post an opening that is written professionally. Too many postings scream, "Make $3000 per Month, No Experience Necessary." Honesty, professionalism and integrity are the best policies when writing job postings. Be sure to explain that the company is a start-up and that the job is commission-only. Give the respondent a way to reach you with his or her resume, then do the courtesy of replying to each applicant.  

3. Manufacturer Rep Firms

If you sell a product, rather than a service, manufacturer rep firms may help you build your business. These firms are in business to represent and sell products from a variety of similar manufacturers. Some manufacturers use these firms as their sales division, rather than hiring in-house sales people. A given rep firm usually has a focus. Perhaps they handle industrial chemicals, machine tools or technology products. They work on a commission basis, so it is rarely necessary to pay them up front. Your only financial exposure would be providing demonstration models of your product which the rep firm would use in their sales process.

Again, finding a rep firm is not difficult. Do a web search for "manufacturer rep [product type]" where you insert the kind of product you want to sell. These firms have an established team of professional sales people and a base of customers who may well begin buying your company's products in short order.

Conclusion

Bootstrapping a company is challenging. However, finding people who will work for a company with no cash on hand is easier today than ever before, thanks to the resources available via the Internet. Begin your search today using the startup hiring tips we’ve discussed and you’re likely to find your startup being one step closer to become a profitable business.

 

Dream Leaf—Turning Dreams into Business (Literally)

Dream Leaf

By Austin Miller, Content Marketing Manager

Dream Leaf is a fascinating company based out of Utah that uses herbal supplements to purportedly facilitate a variety of cognitive functions such as "Lucid Dreaming, Dream Recall, Balanced Sleep, and Longer Dreams." They have a passionate fanbase with over 40,000 followers on Facebook and a recent invite to appear on the TV show "Doctor's."

Dream Leaf's flagship product claims to promote restful and lucid sleep sounds like something out of the Matrix. You start by taking a blue pill before bed, and wake up 4 hours later to take a red one. We sat down with cofounder Alex Southworth to see what inspired this unique product and how they've reached such success.

Co-Founder Alex Southworth

Co-Founder Alex Southworth

1. How’d you get into lucid dreaming and what inspired you to build a business around it?

I’ve always had a fascination with dreaming in general.   And Intuitively, I guess I always sensed that there was more going on in dreams than people realized.  So when I first learned about lucid dreaming, the idea really intrigued me because it seemed like an opportunity to explore that mysterious world a little more deeply.  I was a little skeptical of the concept at first but after I started having some success with it, I realized how incredible these experiences could be.  It really does give you a unique glimpse into the power of the mind and I think that’s something everyone needs to witness. I guess that’s really the reason I decided to start Dream Leaf.  I was sick of being that weird kid that was into lucid dreaming and wanted to help the world realize that this is not just some mystical practice but is a scientifically sound practice with real life applications.  Dream Leaf was my attempt to help give the skeptic a chance to verify the reality of conscious dreaming. It’s a thing, and I think it’s important for the world to realize that.

2. How long was the R and D process, and what was involved?

Surprisingly there is quite a bit of scientific literature that either deals with the concept of lucid dreaming supplements, which is really where our research started. The general formula took about 2 years to put together.  Since a few academics had jumped into the topic and studied the effects of certain dietary aids for conscious dream induction, this helped us get our foot in the door initially. But we built upon that kind of research until we were able to come up with the Dream Leaf formula.

3. How would you explain lucid dreaming to someone who’s never heard of it?

I would explain lucid dreaming as any dream in which the dreamer is able to realize they are dreaming. The aim of a lucid dream is typically to control the dream to your liking, which is an ability that you develop with practice.  Some lucid dreams are highly controllable, where you can literally change just about anything in the dream, not just your behavior but the environment of the dreamscape too.  In these dreams, you can choose to do things like fly, visit a past memory, or even have a conversation with a role model if you wanted to.  The cool thing about lucid dreaming is that it taps into your subconscious mind so you can literally smell, feel, hear, taste, and see in your dreams just like you do in waking life.  Your lucid dreams can often cause you to wake up feeling deeply moved, as if the experience were real.

If you’re interested, here’s a little article I wrote that explains my first lucid dreaming experience in full detail.

4. You don’t just have a successful product, you’ve got a vibrant and active community (40,000+ on FB)…was this something you’ve built, or just tapped into?

Thanks!  I mean, we’ve worked hard to get our product in front of the right people and we definitely have to work in order to get our content in front of the right people within this community but our progress has developed pretty organically.  People seem to really enjoy our product and what we are about.  We’ve been really impressed with how cohesive of a community that we engage with.  For the most part, the people we interact with on a regular basis are very intelligent and open-minded individuals who are willing to try anything that makes logical sense.  We get a lot of shares and people bring us up in conversation a lot, which is really why I think we’ve been able to see so much progress.

5. Lucid dreaming is a lesser known and very specific niche, how do you find people that are likely interested in your product? Do you find it arduous to educate people on the benefits?

We don’t focus so much on trying to convince people to try lucid dreaming or educate them on the reasons why.  There are enough people who are trying to lucid dream that we simply help them enhance what they are already doing. 

6. Were there a lot of hoops to jump through in regards to FDA/creating a consumer product?

We work with a great manufacturing company that is FDA compliant and they do most of the heavy lifting.  It was hard work to get things rolling but once you know the right people, and have a trustworthy source for your ingredients, it’s not all that difficult to keep moving.

7. You recently appeared on the TV show Doctor’s, what was that like and how’d they find you?

It was interesting.  Still not sure how they found us.  The exposure was not all that exciting to be honest.  It was dealt with by someone who was not very informed about our product and it was blurred out anyway so it really wasn’t anything worthwhile.

8. What are some of the ways in which dreams have impacted your life?

At this point I look to my dreams to track my sleep health, but also to look deeper into my emotional and spiritual state.  I find that my dreams are very intuitive and as I’ve become more familiar with the metaphor of dreams, it’s helped me understand what’s going on inside in ways that are really quite unique. 

9. From a layman’s perspective, it seems that lucid dreaming would affect your mental focus throughout the day. Does lucid dreaming take away from the mind’s “down time” and how are your energy levels throughout the day?

Actually, I haven’t observed lucid dreaming reducing my focus through out the day.  In fact, there have been a few studies that have shown that lucid dreaming actually correlates with a larger prefrontal cortex and many presume it actually increases cognitive function.  Here’s a little article on that from one of our partners

10. What’s been your strongest marketing vehicle and why?

Strongest marketing vehicle has been our blog and just sharing our content on social media.  There are a lot of people who want to know more about this topic and we really do a good job at helping people see results so I think that has just helped us develop some credibility with our product.  

How to Turn 1-time Buyers Into Lifelong Customers

CLV Office

“You want to go where everybody knows your name… da da da… and they’re always glad you came… da da da.” Familiar? Even if you weren’t in the Cheers generation you have probably heard this theme song somewhere along the line. People like to feel valued whether in personal relationships, the bar/restaurant they decide to frequent, or in the service providers they choose to call when they need something. Either way, you will win the loyalty game if you learn a few key principles to turn 1-time customers into lifelong loyal business, and the secret is they are a lot cheaper (it’s 6-7x more costly to market to a brand new customer than a returning one) and way more valuable (10x the profit over a lifetime) for your business growth.

Via Giphy

Via Giphy

1. Be honest!

I recently worked on a project to help a carpet cleaner in a small town build their visibility online to help drive new business and loyalty. The first thing I noticed when I went to their Facebook page was 3 reviews that started with “This company does not represent themselves accurately online with who they are in person. Don’t hire them to clean your carpets.” Another one said “Stop making up fake reviews from customers! You don’t even do the things you talk about in the reviews you are making up!” Unfortunately the list of bad reviews went on and on. We are living in the day and age of abundant online reviews - you can’t afford bad publicity especially when you are just getting started!

In addition to representing yourself honestly online be honest about your pricing up front and if there is a possibility of an increase (or decrease) in an estimate, be upfront with that too. Try to live a policy of “no surprises” when it comes to what you are offering. When you are transparent you may lose customers before you get started, but in the long run you will gain trust and loyal customers tenfold. Loyal customers are also 10x more likely to refer you to their friends so they can multiply your customer base without you spending a dime! So be like Abe, and be honest.

2. First impressions are everything

Business Insider suggest that you have 7 seconds to make a strong positive impression. So before you ever pick up your first phone call or visit a new or returning customer, think first about how you would like to be treated or the experience you would like to have if they were in your shoes. Dress nicely, have good hygiene, and if you are rushing over from another dirty job, then be genuine, smile and say “today has been so busy I haven’t had time to clean up but I didn’t want to leave you hanging another minute!” If you enter a customer’s home or property leave it cleaner and better than you found it. If an accident does happen don’t pretend it didn’t. The scary truth is that 59% of customers that are left with a negative impression then leave a poor review online. Get ahead of the game and put your best foot forward before it comes back to bite you.

When you leave an appointment your first impression of an exit is just as important as when you first meet a customer. Jay Bean, CEO of FreshLime always says, “Handing over a paper invoice to a customer after a service is like sending them to the loyalty graveyard - you will never hear from them again.” Offer to send their invoice via text or e-mail to save on paper. This not only makes you look environmentally-friendly and tech-savvy, but it will also give you the opportunity to re-engage with your customer after your first service. You can send a thank you - a follow-up to see how everything is working several days afterward and you can let them know about specials and other offers you have going on. If you are active on Facebook let them know about it and send a follow-up e-mail asking them to like your page so they can know the latest and greatest. Be friendly and leave a reason for them to want to engage again. An extra 5 minutes will make 5x the difference in your bottom line growth.

3. Pleasant persistence

The key to good follow-up isn’t always fancy graphically-designed e-mails or intricately-automated marketing campaigns. Sometimes it’s just simple, good old-fashioned timing. Whatever industry you are in, start a document outlining your ideal customer. Include how often they would call your business to come back, and what issues they would likely call for. In a separate column outline your busy season, and any seasonal or holiday trends your business encounters. Then match up the two. Try to communicate at those ideal times and for ideal reasons and don’t communicate without a strategy in mind.

Make sure you inform your customer about your intentions to communicate. If you start sending out e-mails every few days and they didn’t expect to get them, it will annoy them more than endear you to their over-eager strategy. If you don’t hear back right away after texting a customer with a deal that you think is killer, don’t reach out right away and wonder why. They might not always reply to every message, but it takes 6-8 touches with a customer to get them to hire you. Just make sure those 6-8 touches aren’t a cumulation of texts and e-mails all in a few days:).

4. Highest quality every time

Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in how to market and communicate with our customers that we forget that the most important thing we need to do is make sure our service is the highest quality, each and every time. Your product and craft will speak for itself and drive online reviews and referrals more than anything else. You can get the best marketing strategy in place but you have to back it up, otherwise it will be considered “false advertising” and you will be looking at the kind of reviews I mentioned above.

The Economist recently published an article about the cost savings associated with outsourcing areas of your business that aren’t core to your offering. Not only does hiring someone else to do your marketing or your financials make you 60% more productive, but it also saves you time and resources that you could be spending on deals that actually bring in the bacon. Consider this - the 2 hours it takes you every week to design a newsletter might bring in a new client or two, but it’s also 2 hours of time you could be out on a job that is 4 to 6 times more profitable. Hire a service to help you out and it’s their core business. You pay a fraction of what your time costs, it’s usually more effective, and everyone wins. Breaking down the not-so-obvious helps you avoid unnecessary decisions and business cost.

5. VIP Insider Club

If you have left a good impression, are communicating at a good pace, and are genuine and honest in your customer dealings, you are setting a great foundation for long-term business growth. So the next step is more of a principle on how to treat each customer, especially those that have come to you more than once. Make them feel like a VIP. Every time you talk to them listen intently and try to provide the best and most cost-effective solution. Care about them and show them the kind of service you would always want to receive. Make them feel like any offer you extend is only for the VIP Club - and they are part of it.

One of the reasons Facebook grew so rapidly when MySpace was already in the game of social networking is that it started out exclusive. You could only join if you were enrolled in certain universities. You had to be part of the elite. It was considered superior just for that reason and people felt special to be part of it. Those on the outside wanted in. This led to a tipping point and once it was open to anyone it originally still felt unique. Provide this same kind of allure and experience and your customers will rave about how well they are treated and how much they love coming back every time. It works like a charm.

The service businesses we surveyed last year reported that they thought 80% of their customers had come back more than once if not a lot more frequent than a one-time deal. When we really looked at their data, however, we found that in reality, only 20% of their customers were coming back. It’s been our mission to change that number, and implementing these principles has made all the difference.

Erin Schurtz is the VP of Marketing for FreshLime. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, and subscribe to her blog posts.