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Image Curation: How Compelling Pictures Can Help Your Brand

Ever wondered what draws you to certain brands?

For example, you’re exploring Instagram and you come across a great image. So you go through to that user’s account. Thirty minutes later, you realize you’ve looked through every single photo, nearly all the way back to their first post.

What is that powerful force that held your attention for so long?

Well, that’s image curation.

So now that what we know what it is, let’s talk about how you can start curating to have that same effect on others–and build up your brand’s following.

Be Selective

One of the main facets of curation is the simple fact that you can’t post anything and everything you want to. You have to be selective and choose images and themes that align with the persona you want people to associate with your brand.

Let’s take the clothing store Madewell as an example.

madewell

A look at their recent Instagram content shows a theme: A mixture of lookbook and product images, all with a consistent overall feel. Do you see any random cat pictures or blurry selfies? Nope. Each image has been carefully selected to build a general feeling of casual comfort with a touch of class.

Maintain Uniformity

Image curation also means that all of your content is identifiable as uniquely yours, due to a certain level of uniformity that creates a style and sound users can pick out of the crowd.

Curating means your images have one consistent filter applied and your design style stays the same across all platforms. The food blog Love and Lemons uses uniformity and produces blog images that, without seeing any context, you could point to and say, “Oh, that must be from Love and Lemons.”

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The other thing to note here is that curators find the best piece of content–and then use it. They’d never just snap one photo and go with it. They work hard to produce their best possible work.

Build a Lifestyle

The best image curators are ones whose photos work together to create an overall lifestyle feeling around their personal brand. It’s a way of targeting their ideal followers, too. By presenting images that speak to a target demographic, they can further connect with those who are most likely to benefit from what they have to offer.

That objective varies from brand to brand. For some bloggers, they’re building up an audience for advertisers and affiliate marketing. For others, they’re selling a product. Designer Benny Goldreinforces his lifestyle brand by curating images on Twitter.

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Even when he’s promoting a sale, the fonts and imagery line up with his company’s overall look and feel.

A Touch of Mystery

Image curators present their worlds through rose-colored glasses. Every image is ideal, and therefore, people begin to place those curators on invisible pedestals.

Are their lives and brands all champagne and vacations in reality? Probably not. But through the power of curation, they add a touch of mystery to their brand–and that keeps an audience coming back for more, hoping they’ll get an insider peek into their daily lives.

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Musician William Fitzsimmons primarily uses image curation on Facebook to promote upcoming shows and events, but from time to time, you get a glimpse into his life at home.

Image Curation: Your Secret Power

Is it hard to surrender your ability to showcase the “real” you and put a strict focus on curation? Yes, of course. And it’s not for everyone. But for entrepreneurs who are looking to build their brand and establish a strong online presence, it’s a must-have feature.

Who are some of your favorite image curation experts?

Getting Sucked into the Black Hole of Social Media? Here’s How to Find Balance

It happens to all of us.

You get sucked in by click-baity tweets, read articles vaguely related to work, and ogle over competitors’ profiles.

Yes, social media is a killer part of any good marketing plan. But the same tools that amplify businesses can pull the plug on productivity. As an entrepreneur, managing your social media accounts can easily bleed into the more important work of running a business.

With 89% of businesses using social media, you’re not the only one staring down a world of digital distraction. Here are some ground rules for maximizing your time spent on social media without letting it dominate your work life.

Pick Your Platforms

Social media marketing is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Just like every other part of your business, your product and consumers will dictate a different plan for you than for your neighbor.

Some of your social media options include: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google +, FourSquare, Reddit, and Quora. Check out Emma Siemasko’s small business guide to the best platforms for a thorough run-down of each option. And remember that it’s better to commit yourself to one or two platforms rather than flake out on all of them.

When you’re focusing your energy, go for maximum impact. Kate Bowler,entrepreneur and manager of marketing at Ellie Kae, noticed that her followers commented on and liked posts on her Instagram account with the greatest frequency.

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Kate decided to “serve her audience where they were engaging,” spending a larger proportion of her time on her highest yielding platform. Changing gears, Kate played to her strengths, optimizing her time and meeting her community’s needs.

Identify Your Community

The same way that you do not have to be on every platform, you do not need to reach every consumer. By trying to appeal to the masses, you run the risk of diluting your brand. Instead, hone in on your niche market: the people who love your company or will love your company once they read your content.

The Ideal Online Community:

  • Current customers
  • Potential customers
  • Supportive peers
  • Mentors and influencers

These people are the building blocks of your social media networks. Figure out who they are and talk to them. For example, I know that my followers are fellow writers, content marketers and other people who love Star Wars.

If you don’t know where to start, browse your current followers and mull over your client base. Write down some common denominators that you can easily identify from your work as a business owner. Figuring out the key features of your community is the first step in capitalizing on social media marketing.

Get Personal

Human 2 Human (H2H) marketing is the hot term right now. It’s a simple principle with a catchy name: be human. The best way to attract a sustainable web community is to reach out in personal ways. When you meet people out in the world, capitalize on those relationships. Follow-up with a quick, personalized hello through your social network of choice.

These old-fashioned connections can go a long way in peer-to-peer promotions. In a recent experiment, Grasshopper found that personal outreach worked more effectively than paid advertisements.

Social media maven Dovev Goldstein told Inc. magazine that in order for small businesses to develop this kind of loyalty, you should “invest consistently small amounts of time over a longer period.” That’s right. This is going to take time.

Automate It

Here’s the challenge — how do you develop these authentic relationships without getting caught in the sticky swamps of 24/7 online activity? Popular tools likeBuffer and Hootsuite allow you to schedule content in advance. You can plan it out like you would any other part of your business, sharing content on multiple social accounts while tracking engagement. Check ’em out!

Wondering how often to post? Here are some starting points for small businesses with limited time:

Tools like followerwonk are an added bonus. They will help you to identify the best times to share with your community based on their online activity.

Create a Routine

Think of the last time you pulled up Facebook. Were you bored? Turning toward social media as a distraction isn’t a positive move, even if you’re utilizing it as a marketing tool.

Instead of fidgeting with your platforms throughout the day, set aside a time every week to develop your content plan. Build your social media account around product releases, events and holidays. Follain, a small retail business based in Boston is a great example of this kind of consistency. They promote events and develop weekly posts like #MantraMondays that create natural rhythm and organically attract followers.

In addition to scheduling content ahead of time, you also need specific opportunities to listen and respond to your community. Pick productive moments in the day to check into your social media accounts — maybe as rewards for kicking butt at harder tasks.

Things You Should Do Every Day:

  • Tweet in-the-moment posts related to your field
  • Say “thank you” to followers sharing your content
  • Amplify the work of peers to build reciprocal relationships
  • Respond to negative criticism

Clock Out

Being an awesome social media marketer is just like being a great friend. You’re always there (for the good and the bad), but you have boundaries. You definitely need alone time, especially when you’re working.

So, what do you do? Show up and offer kind words every day. Listen and respond. And then drop that social account like a hot potato and get back to work

7 Inspiring Podcasts for Solopreneurss

If you’re an avid multi-tasker like me, you probably see a real value in podcasts.

You can digest valuable information for your business while walking the dog, commuting to a client meeting, or even while working at your desk.

And yes, there are lots of excellent podcasts for entrepreneurs out there, but today, I wanted to put together a list of some up and comers in the world of podcasting aimed at the one-person shows of the world: The solopreneur.

With a variety of different run times and subject matter covered, these podcasts for solopreneurs are the perfect way for you to expand your business mind on the go.

1. Working Without Pants

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Jake Jorgovan’s podcast (formerly known as the Creative Freelancer Show) is dedicated to interviewing past and present solopreneurs who are all about living a non-traditional lifestyle. Jake asks questions about how his guests found their path and discusses his own interesting story (which includes one about his year spent traveling working remotely from 13 different countries.)

A Few Past Guests: Paul Jarvis, Danny Margulies, Ilese Benun

Run time: 30-60 minutes

2. Finely Crafted

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This podcast by Matt Cheuvront and Blake Stratton is built around creative entrepreneurs and solorpreneurs who have a story to share. Specifically, the “why” and the “what” that drives their on-going stories full speed ahead. Covering topics like “Building Your Nation” and “Discovering Your Secret Sauce,” guests share the lessons they’ve learned from putting theory into practice.

A Few Past Guests: Sarah Bray, Dane Maxwell, Jonathan Baker

Run time: 20-25 minutes

3. The Side Hustle Show

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This podcast is aimed at the solopreneur who hasn’t yet made the leap into full-time entrepreneurship, but wants to…and wants to do it soon. Guests share their personal experiences on making the transition from a side gig into a full-time operation and offer their unique insights that can help turn a small idea into a thriving business. Host Nick Loper gets straight to the core of why and how his guests were able quit their jobs and transform their side businesses into their sole source of income.

A Few Past Guests: Dan Faggella, Nate Dallas, Jessica Lawlor

Run time: 30-60 minutes

4. Breaking Down Your Business

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Jill Salzman and Brad Farris come together for a high-energy podcast that helps solopreneurs tackle tough questions. In each episode, they speak with a small business owner who needs advice on everything from hiring to pricing. They ask the question, “What’s your problem?”and then provide actionable tips and suggestions that will help solve it. Much more informal in nature, this podcast for solopreneurs is a nice way to break up your day–and break down your business.

A Few Past Guests: Lisa Katona, Brent Williams, Stacia Pierce

Run time: 20-30 minutes

5. Entrepreneurs and Coffee

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Yes, this one has entrepreneurs in the title–but it’s a great fit for those in the solopreneur category, too. Host Brendan Hufford speaks with interesting guests about deliberate action that pushes a business forward and plucks the most valuable tips from their business brains. Grab a cup of coffee and soak up the information.

A Few Past Guests: Re Perez, Hal Elrod, Michael Hyatt

Run time: 5-50 minutes

6. Rise of the Entrepreneur with Zac Johnson

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Zac Johnson was a teenage solopreneur in the 90s who figured out how to make money online. Today, he teaches fellow business owners how to do the same thing. With his vast network of connections built over the years, he brings guests from all different industries and experience levels together to talk about how finding your niche can results in a successful business.

A Few Past Guests: Gary Vaynerchuk, Brian Dean, John Lee Dumas

Run time: 25-50 minutes

7. The WOW Small Business Show

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Bryan Orr is a no-nonsense kind of host. He skips the warm and fuzzy moments of solopreneurship and gets straight to the tips, tricks, and resources that make being an entrepreneur more effective and efficient. Topics range from time hacking to to leadership skills with finite takeaways that can help small business owners grow into experts of their craft.

A Few Past Guests: Jeremy Miller, Bryan Orr, Ruth King

Run time: 20-45 minutes

Podcasts for Solopreneurs: Maxmizing Your Time

The beautiful thing about all of these selections is that you can glean some of the most insightful tips and tricks from experienced professionals in less than an hour–and while you’re doing something else. No need to drop everything and focus on reading for watching a video–it’s information right in your ear.

What would you add to this list of podcasts for solopreneurs?

How to Get More Customers in Less Time with Buyer Personas

You’ve devoted your heart, soul, time and money into your product, and now every last working minute is going towards marketing and actually finding your customers. You can pour hours into social media updates, ads and reviews, but is all that time actually bringing home the bacon?

Don’t get stuck wondering why all this time and attention to marketing isn’t bringing in the traction your business was hoping for…

Here’s your problem (and I’ll show you how to fix it):

You’re not appealing to the right people.

The internet offers you a smorgasbord of eyes to flaunt your product at: A lot of ‘em are gonna think “Huh, that’s kinda neat-o” but a very specific group will be like, “Gotta have that in my life right now!”

Paint a bullseye on those “Gotta Have It’s” – your new marketing strategy is all about them.

You may find an image or quote that you think really captures the wit and sophistication of your brand, but hold your horses on the Instagramming before you consider this:

“Just because you like what you make, do NOT assume that you are your target marketJust because you like what you make, do NOT assume that you are your target market,” says Caitlin Becher of Little Farm Media.

So just because you find an image or message appealing doesn’t mean you’re going to hook a community of interested buyers by sharing it.

To really aim your marketing dead-center, let’s target these “Gotta Have It” customers in a way that they can’t say no.
Defining Your Target Market – What You’re Doing Wrong That’s Affecting Sales

Now, I know this isn’t a brand-spanking new step – so you’ve probably already taken a moment to define your target customer. You already know a little about them, for example their age group, gender, etc.

You’re on the right track, and that’s great! But let’s make sure you’re not wasting your oh-so-important time on these common misconceptions:
Marketing Mistake #1: You Define Your Target Market with Basic Demographics

Identifying the demographics you aim your product at helps segment the market into targeted groups, but it does not make up the complete picture. A person’s age and gender isn’t why they buy from you.

To truly define your target market, you need to consider other puzzle pieces like their lifestyle, location, their habits and behavior…

Once you know them on a more personal level you can understand what it is about your product that appeals to your customers – and market the heck out of that.
Marketing Mistake #2: You Assume Less-Specific Marketing will Appeal to More People

When you send out mass-appealing content you may get a larger number of people seeing your stuff. The thing is, a lot of those people will just give you the “Huh, neat-o” response and then, well… forget about you.

The average American is exposed to up to 5,000 marketing messages a day – so yeah, a weakly aimed effort is just going to drown in the clutter.

But when you really zero in on the needs and values of an individual, they’ll feel like your product was made just for them and they’re way more likely to remember your brand and make a purchase!

So, how do you laser-target your marketing to these people who are bursting to buy?
Convert More Sales From Your Marketing With Individual Buyer Personas

Have you ever had to get a gift for someone you don’t really know that well? Would they like a nice sweater or are they more of a jacket-wearing person? Would they prefer a nice bottle of Zin or a 6-pack of hoppy craft ales?

It’s a game of guesswork and generalizing.

Now think about buying a gift for your best friend – you already know she’s wild about cooking, or his favorite color is red, and so on.

Creating a buyer persona (or a few) helps you zero in on your customers’ tastes, appeal to them, and totally nail a sale.
What’s a Buyer Persona?

A buyer persona is a detailed description of a single individual who fits into your target market.

Let me explain in an example:

Perhaps you sell… organic and healthy granola bars. Then you might have a couple personas who look like:

Jack: A 30-year-old rock climber living in Northern California, into adventure travel and promoting environmental issues.
Sarah: A 23-year-old yoga instructor from Denver, CO, always on-the-go, following trends and into health and fitness.

So now you can see two specific people who buy your granola bars – sharing content that Jack or Sarah will be interested in is way easier than sharing something for a faceless mass of ‘young, active adults.’

Plus, aiming your content toward their specific tastes will turn Jack and Sarah into loyal customers and gain traction within the community they roll with.

That means converting more sales!
Get To Know Your Own Customers with Individual Buyer Personas

Here’s your step-by-step breakdown to find the buyer personas unique to your products.
Step 1: Create a buyer persona template to fill out for each persona.

Step 2: Imagine one of your customers as an individual (either create a character or pull specifics from a customer that exists in real life). Give ‘em a name! If you have customers you can interview, even better! Your persona will be based on a real person who really bought your product.

Step 3: Fill out the details of your persona, really getting into their head. The specifics of what they value, what challenges they put up with and how your product alleviates those challenges or appeals to their lifestyle are key.

Follow the guided questions on the worksheet to really get your brain thinking about specifics.

You may want to create a few more personas, since not everyone in your target audience is exactly the same. Pick 1-3 personas that represent the 1-3 types of people that would buy your product.
Use Your More Detailed Buyer Personas For Knock-out Marketing that Boosts Sales

Now that you’ve redefined your target market and gotten into the heads of individual buyers, keep this new knowledge front and center.

Print those personas out and pin them up where you work – from now on, everything you produce, market, brand, blog and sell relates back to them.

Taking the time to aim everything back to the people in your bullseye will add the value and appeal that earns their loyalty – and in turn you’ll get more sales from a product you’re truly passionate about!

Who’s one of your buyer personas? Tell me about what content you post that he/she loooves in the comments!

6 Tips for Building a Community When You Work from Home

Do you ever have those days when you work from your couch in sweatpants and don’t speak to a single soul? You send emails while blasting music and eating popcorn, just because you can.

Working from home has obvious perks: no dress code, no commute and a flexible schedule. But for a lot of entrepreneurs and small business owners, independence comes at the cost of isolation.

It’s not as easy as water cooler talk with co-workers or company wide outings, but with a bit of creativity, you can develop a community while you build your business at home.

Here are six tips to help you to feel more connected:

1. Join Professional Organizations

Joining professional organizations and trade associations allows you to tap into networks as big as Fortune 500 companies. With a web of peers that big supporting you, what can’t you do?

Here are a few to get you started:

Attend organizational conferences and check out the local chapters of these groups. Utilizing powerful networks is a great way to start developing peer and mentor relationships. If you prefer a more casual approach, start by searching Meetup for a group of like-minded professionals in your area — you can connect with people over a drink after work.

Keep in mind that a feeling of belonging is essential to communities. As you seek out organizations to join, make an effort to focus on groups that mirror your values and goals.

The Business of Bad Credit: 14 Dos and Don’ts for Small Business Owners

If you own a small business, you’re eager to bring in more cash flow. But business requires working capital– hiring new employees, buying new inventory, equipment and supplies, and paying for a new marketing campaign to get more customers.

If you’re struggling with funds, a small business loan might be a good option. But how to get a loan if you have bad credit – or no credit at all?

Even if your personal or business credit is bad or nonexistent, you can still get a loan. In fact, if you apply these dos and don’ts from our business loan experts, you’ll take the steps to improve your credit, and find alternative ways to obtain a business loan with a less-than-favorable credit score.

Do start paying on bad debt you have

Last year’s changes to the FICO credit score calculations rewards those who make good on delinquent debts. In even a few months, the upgrade to your credit score can qualify you for a bigger loan on better terms.

Don’t forget you have other financial history

Utilities, mortgage or rent, relationships with vendors, and payroll made are all examples of bills you’ve been paying (mostly) on time and in full. You can use all of these to help negotiate with potential lenders, putting them up against the adverse events. This one is especially helpful if most of your credit mistakes are older than the newer action.

Do take out a credit card

Or get strategic with the one you have. Establishing a history of making purchases and paying off the balance will begin to counteract the bad marks on your record. Like paying off the bad debt, this will incrementally improve your credit score to help you with pretty much every kind of credit you could find. And if you do pay off a card, don’t close the account – leave it open with a zero balance. The more credit you have, and available credit, the better.

Don’t put plans on hold

Bad credit is no reason to miss an opportunity. Instead of saying “I’ll wait until my credit is good enough,” ask “What can I do to get it done anyway?” This is not only good advice for finding business loan resources, but a powerful change of mindset for all business tasks.

Do work hard on your business plan

You should have one anyway – trying to run a business without one is like trying to drive to a new location without a map or GPS. This is doubly important when looking for ways to finance your business growth, since lenders look at both the strength and feasibility of a company’s business plan when deciding whether or not to approve a loan.

Don’t discount family and friends

Most people who have a little extra money like being able to help the people they care about. A cash loan, investment and partnership, or even some free help from an expert you know can help you make forward-looking changes despite any problems from bruised credit.

Do carefully research anybody who calls you with an offer of credit

Not every business that cold calls companies with offers of easy credit is predatory, but enough are that you should never take their offers at face value. Use resources likeRipOffReport and the Better Business Bureau to carefully vet any kind of incoming credit offer.

Don’t overlook grants

Few grants look at your credit rating, and none ask you to pay the money back. Free money is a great deal for any business, especially businesses with rough spots on their credit report. Good sources of grants include local government commerce departments, colleges and universities in your area with local business programs, and empowerment groups for any demographic group you might be a part of. Some industry and trade associations also offer grants, gifts, and contests that can provide growth money for your business.

Do run quickly from tax refund loans and car title loans

All of these are predatory lending scams that hide literally illegal levels of interest behind fees and charges that would add up to over 1000% APR if you worked the math that way. They are not worth it. Ever.

Do look into “alternative lending”

The power of the internet has given rise to online alternative lenders – like Kabbage – that offer business owners online loans on terms that differ from those of traditional lenders. Since the “credit crunch” of the middle 2000s, traditional lending has aimed more and more toward safe loans from large institutions, a trend which leaves small businesses out in the cold. However, alternative lenders make it easier for small businesses to get a loan using business data like your PayPal, Square and checking account vs. just a FICO score. If you have bad credit and can’t receive a loan from a traditional bank, consider taking a look at an alternative lender.

Don’t forget your business has value

A secured loan (one with collateral behind it that the lender can seize if you default on payment) is easier to get, can be larger, and will carry less interest than an unsecured loan. Most businesses have assets you can use as collateral. Some examples include inventory on hand, specialized equipment, buildings or vehicles the company owns, or fixtures and furniture. Depending on your cash flow situation, you could use the business itself.

Do hit up good credit references

Your credit report gives more “time on stage” to the bad parts of your credit record, so it’s up to you to solicit some letters of reference from lenders you did right by over the years. Bring these when meeting to discuss credit. Although more and more traditional lenders are taking human judgment out of their processes, this can make a big difference with any potential lender that hasn’t made the shift.

Don’t even think about payday loan places

Remember what we said about tax refund and car title loans? Payday loans were the original version of this model, and remain the worst. Most actually build trapping the “client” into a cycle of increasing debt where they lend a little more money a little earlier each month. This is not hyperbole, but a documented part of their written business plans. Avoid them at all costs. Seriously.

Don’t get a loan to continue bad habits

If you need a loan to make a significant and positive change to your business, that’s a great reason to get a loan regardless of your credit situation. But if you’re looking for credit to simply maintain an unsustainable business model or bad financial habits…you might want to reconsider. Look first to how you’ve been spending your money and how you’ll use the cash influx, and only after that look into how you’ll get that small business loan.

4 Amazing Sources for Customer Swag

Everybody loves free stuff. Therefore, any time you can tap into that positive association (and reinforce your branding at the same time), it’s good news.

It’s not a new concept, either. Swag has deep roots in history–dating back to the election of George Washington in the late 1700s when promotional buttons were handed out to voters. Over time, swag evolved into yard sticks, pens, t-shirts, and more.

Today, swag still holds and important place in many entrepreneurs’ budget. The question is, where do you go to find these products? And what should you invest in?

In this post, we’ll look at a few different places entrepreneurs suggested that you can turn to for top-quality (and low cost) swag. Plus, we’ll share some products that will actually be worthwhile to those who receive them.

1. 4imprint

4imprint

At 4imprint, you’ll find swag ranging from apparel to to technology that’s completely customizable. One of the features 4imprint prides itself on is free samples, which they ship out to customers who are uncertain about placing a large order without seeing the product first. In most instances, they include a free return label that makes the process even more painless. Their customization services range from screen printing to embroidery.

Entrepreneur Nicole Speca of Kennebug said, “4imprint is one of the best places I have found for giveaways for customers.The prices are the best and the selection is HUGE.”

Benefit: Coupon codes and free samples

2. Printfection

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For those who want their promotional items handled externally, Printfection offers a solution that handles the whole process–from ordering to fulfillment. Their service incorporates swag into three main arenas: Lead generation strategy, customer rewards system, and events. With lots of different types of swag to choose from in a variety of price ranges, this option works for small and large businesses.

Copywriter Rick Slaboda from Webcopyplus said, “The best place to get swag is definitely Printfection. They have cool products, but what blows the competition away is their system, which makes it so easy to order, distribute and manage the goods. They make you look look a rock star with little effort and time.”

Benefit: Fulfillment can be completely outsourced

3. Swag Expert

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With so many different promotional products out there, Swag Expert takes the approach of cherry picking only the best items and then working alongside their clients to make sure the swag helps accomplish their marketing goals. Much more hands-on than other swag dealers, they put the focus on customer service and planning.

Swag Expert Founder Eric Granata said, “‘Where’ is the easy question when it comes to swag. ‘What’ and ‘Why’ are trickier.”

Benefit: Guidance and strategy helps you more wisely spend your swag budget

4. Scoutbooks

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Scoutbooks has carved out the recycled, stylish notebook niche of the promotional products market. With tons of options for design and color customization (you can even get colored stapes!), these statement pocket-sized notebooks are useful swag that everyone can appreciate. Bonus: They’re made 100% in the USA.

Steven Lewis, a designer at Chartio, said, ”Our customers really like them, and I know I’ve been using them daily. They’re an awesome compliment to our other promotional items, like mugs and shirts.”

Benefit: USA made and made from 100% recycled materials

Honorable Mention: Vistaprint

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We can’t talk about swag without mentioning Vistaprint. While they have do have many  low-cost items, you might be sacrificing the customer service and product quality in working with a large supplier focused on volume.

Benefit: Low cost

What have you done for customer swag?