How to increase your influence as thought leader in your industry

Black professional speaking, Black entrepreneur, Black woman
Being recognized as a thought leader can invite opportunities for panels, conferences, and even TV appearances.

  • To become a thought leader, founder Jennifer Spencer suggests focusing on a niche you’re already familiar with.
  • She says your thought leadership should reflect who you are, so stick to what you’re passionate about.
  • Having an influential voice will increase your credibility and boost exposure for your brand and advocacy.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As the online ecosystem for thought leadership has continued to populate, many have turned their attention away from social media numbers, worrying it’s too competitive. And while it’s true that the battle for an online footprint has never been more fierce, it’s also never been more important to claim your unique stake on the Internet and create content that proves that you’re an expert in your field.

The importance of building internet thought leadership cannot be understated. This can be done via guest-posting for credible publications, building out a watch series on video-compatible social media sites (like IGTV or YouTube) or posting regularly on Medium or LinkedIn. The following are the core reasons why building thought leadership through these means can be the boost you’ve been looking for in your career.

It denotes credibility

Nowadays, a byline for a major publication or a considerable social media following is the near-equivalent of a degree from a top-tier university. From a social perspective, it suggests that you have something to say that people want to listen to – large groups of people, specifically. Well-known publications only choose top writers and thought leaders to contribute, and while many call your social media following a vanity metric, it still says something about your credibility to onlookers.

This credibility matters for opportunities you may have your eye on. This could include speaking engagements at events or conferences, new career opportunities or even impressing key stakeholders like investors. Thought leadership entails that you stand behind a cutting-edge idea or concept in your respective industry, and that others look to you as a leader within it. Bylines and follower count prove this leadership, which means you’ll be at the top of the list for TV appearances, panels, and conferences where your opinion and research can offer value.

It creates exposure

The powerful part about a large audience is that it creates exposure for you, your brand, and what you can speak to. Every reader who finds an article you wrote for a publication is another set of eyeballs that can keep you top of mind for opportunities. Every social media follower who consistently tunes in for what you say is another set of eyeballs that can go to bat for you when their boss or a friend asks for a recommendation for a podcast guest or expert.

And they fold into one another. For every article you write that does well, more readers learn who you are and are likely to follow you on your social accounts. When you share your latest piece on your social accounts, you’ll get more readers.

Exposure also matters for marketing. Everyone who consumes the thought leadership content that you create is a potential customer, a potential investo or a potential repeat customer (and you’re proving your credibility to all of them).

Choosing your thought leadership niche

All of this sounds great; so how does one get started? Begin where you already have a significant amount of expertise. If you’ve started a business, what do you know that is critically important for other founders to know? If you’ve successfully raised money or invested, what have you learned? My top suggestion is to niche down. The best thought leaders have a clear and concise mission statement that helps them stand out amongst the noise of these admittedly competitive fields.

For example, rather than saying you’re a thought leader in “starting a business and raising your first round of funding,” perhaps you could tailor your content more specifically to address “how to find your first round of investors who share your company’s core values.” Then, add to this specific thought leadership niche with research about why a full startup team having shared values leads to explosive business growth, and how companies should create their pitch decks with this in mind. The more niche your content is, the more memorable you will be.

Don’t be in a rush to find something that sounds particularly enticing just for the sake of it. It’s important to let your genuine passion shine through. What do you genuinely want to research and talk about over the course of your career? Of course, you can pivot as your research and experience takes you down different paths, but for the most part, your thought leadership should reflect who you are, what your experience is and what you hope to continue to build.

Get started

The first step is to begin creating content. Many top publications expect to see a portfolio when you apply to be a contributor or submit a guest post, but this isn’t an “always” rule. A portfolio could consist of blog posts, articles for smaller publications, TV appearances, or a strong audience base on a platform like Instagram or Twitter where you specialize in sharing research and expertise around a niche topic.

Just ask social media thought leader Gary Vaynerchuk, who is a vocal advocate for thought leadership on social media. As he shared with CNBC, “Become a practitioner. Please don’t underestimate the social network ecosystem … it’s ccommunication. It’s not social media. Communication is fundamentally how the world turns; and I implore this audience to triple down on their efforts of being a written, audio or video communicator on the platforms.”

At the heart of it, communication is what thought leadership is really all about. The more you can take to writing, speaking, and sharing your message – backed by research, experience, and expertise – the more you can make a true difference in this world and attract compelling opportunities for your own career while doing so.

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How entrepreneurs can bolster their company and emerge from the pandemic as new market leaders

IBM women in leadership
Prepared leaders can make decisions by seeing market opportunities that are invisible to the untrained eye.

  • Tough economic times are opportunities for leaders to evaluate their company’s trajectory and reach.
  • To survive market uncertainty, leverage your unique advantages and stay competitive.
  • Start with a flexible framework, allow room for failure, and keep your leadership team in sync.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

No one ever said it was going to be all smooth sailing. We’ve all been in a boat that’s gotten a little rocky, and some of us have even experienced a full-on capsize. In my experience of weathering the storm, there are one of two things that happen to your company: You either go out of business or you stay in business. If you are leading a team, you need to figure out which of those two positions your company is headed towards. Chances are, it won’t be difficult as a lot has already happened and shaken out in the marketplace. That’s good news for entrepreneurs, and even better news for leaders. The companies that weren’t strong enough to survive have already failed. And while we mourn their loss, we also have to recognize that it’s leveled the playing field. This is also a good time to take stock of where competitors have landed and where you currently rank in the pack.

The difference between those who survive and those who thrive

The companies that will win are those who learn how to leverage market uncertainty for their unique competitive advantages and leapfrog their competition with a period of rapid growth. On the surface, this sounds like a brilliant strategy, but there are thousands of ways it can fail if not executed well. A bad bet could take a company down, just as quickly as a good bet could pull it to the front of the line. This is where we’ll see a second round of companies fail, which will set the stage for the winners to double down once again and secure their seats at the top.

Competition is about to get fierce as companies start to position themselves for market dominance. We can expect market sectors to start to shake up and shake out over the next two to three years as the full market impact of the pandemic unfolds.

At the same time, the potential gains are big. With market sectors in flux, the potential to take on the market leader spot has never been greater. This is the kind of opportunity that only comes around once in a lifetime, so I recommend paying attention to your industry competition, closely. Technology is accelerating faster than Corporate America can adopt it, creating a fertile ground for start-up and mid-sized companies to innovate their way into the top seat. However, all bets are not created equal and entrepreneurs need to understand how to weigh bets and when to push the accelerator.

Creating a framework for success

Framework is important. It should be flexible and allow for rapid failure. The best way to win is to fail faster and in smaller chunks. It should also empower winners to make their way to the top faster. Oftentimes, winners lose because they can’t even see they are there. The framework must prevent that from happening, and should allow for rapid experimentation. We never know which idea is a winner until it has a chance to win. So often our strategies are mired in complexity and complicated execution plans. That isn’t going to fly if you want to take the top seat. Instead, you’ll need a space for ideas to be planted, to grow and to reproduce. In execution, this often looks like an idea lab with a budget and a team who knows how to get stuff done at the helm.

So how can leaders understand the chessboard so they can call checkmate on their competition? They have to settle into discomfort. Prepared leaders will be able to make clear-headed decisions while seeing market opportunities that are invisible to the untrained eye. And they will be prepared to move even when it isn’t comfortable to do so.

The road to the top is rather arduous and requires massive levels of organizational flexibility that can’t be taught overnight. The leadership team must be in sync and know how to make the right decisions that are right for the business and its people, even if they are tough or risky. Employees need to feel appreciated, valued for their contributions, and celebrated every step of the way. Customers also need to feel satisfied and delighted by their entire experience. That’s a tall order for a company of any size, but especially challenging for industry behemoths. That’s why it’s a market ripe for the market leaders to fail and the market innovators to succeed.

Taking advantage of future innovation gaps

These are evolutionary times. We’ve never seen a combination of events with such a broad brush of impact. Every industry is primed for rapid transformation and realignment as the full market impact of 2020 continues to unfold. Technology is accelerating faster than it can be adopted by industry leaders, which is opening the door for innovation gaps. These gaps create an opening for new startups to come through and disrupt entire markets.

There’s no telling what innovations will pop up and be the next market leader, but this market is ready. We’ll get excited about the innovation, and before you know it, it will become the new norm. This won’t be the first time we’ve seen industry leaders fail and get overtaken by an unnamed competitor and it won’t be the last. As markets have it, there’s always a play that can win. Will it be yours?

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The pandemic could accelerate job automation – here’s how the change would impact cities, the labor force, and inequality

automation
According to the World Economic Forum, nearly 40% of US jobs are at risk for automation.

  • Hyejin Youn is an assistant professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University.
  • She says the pandemic may speed up job automation and widen gaps in wages, skills, and social capital.
  • This could lead to the downfall of many US cities, but Youn hopes it will instead spur innovation.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

For more than a year now, many of us have worked from home, pets on laps, children babbling just offscreen. The experience has been a revealing one. Some of us have learned to embrace the flexible hours, the five-step commute, and the relative dearth of pointless meetings; others have felt disengaged and burned out by the challenges of collaborating on Zoom.

But the pandemic has also exposed a more significant split in the labor market, one that has experts worried as they speculate on the long-term impacts of the crisis.

“What we now see very clearly is that some jobs can be done from home, and others simply cannot,” said Hyejin Youn, an assistant professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School. “Distinguishing between these types of work can help us track inequities in the labor market across cities.”

So far, the trends are worrisome. Those who can log on from home have been largely unaffected, whereas those whose jobs require a physical presence have either been laid off or faced with the choice of protecting their health or guaranteeing their next paycheck. And as companies look to cut costs, more and more jobs are now under threat of automation, which Youn fears may widen the gap between cities that flourished pre-pandemic and those that were already struggling.

“There’s always the hope that a crisis like this will spur innovation,” Youn said, “and nobody knows precisely what the long-term outcomes will be. But the concern is that rather than shaking things up, the pandemic might simply reinforce the system we already have.”

From “optimization” to automation

One consequence of remote work is that companies might accelerate the pace of automation, in part because they’ve had a chance to monitor more workers online and assess which tasks – or entire jobs – a machine might do more quickly.

With nearly 40% of US jobs at risk of automation, according to the World Economic Forum, the performance data from 2020 might have significant implications. When an employee’s every click, step, or delivery stop is recorded in digital form, a company can learn to optimize that work – and perhaps codify human routines into processes that are better suited to machines.

Using digital information, companies can identify and optimize certain task routines by finding better ways of arranging the tasks within the routine, micromanaging human workers, and developing machines to take on the tasks.

“This is the uncomfortable truth,” Youn said. “Recording an employee’s work is preparing for the day when you replace them with a machine. And this will lead to further gaps in wages, skills, and social capital.”

And while there will still be some tasks that are not codifiable – especially ones that require tacit knowledge or empathy and hospitality – certain jobs are sure to be streamlined and passed on to less-skilled laborers or organized into routines that can be handled by machines.

“Technology has always increased inequity,” Youn said. “Now we just have the means to make it happen even faster.”

The impact on cities

If these trends do accelerate, the effect on America’s urban landscape could be devastating. Youn has previously studied the ways in which automation affects US cities unequally, and she worries that this disparity will only worsen as businesses adapt to post-pandemic life.

“Cities might segregate further,” she said. It’s likely that wealthy, productive hubs like Silicon Valley will return to something resembling business-as-usual, given how valuable in-person collaboration can be for the kinds of breakthroughs on which tech thrives. On the other hand, the outlook for a small or medium city might be even more bleak than in 2019.

The impact of this geographic rift is hard to measure, Youn said, but it likely doesn’t bode well for the effort to solve the nation’s social and political polarization.

“It might make the echo-chamber problem worse, with certain kinds of high-skilled workers hermetically sealed from everyone else,” she said. Mountain View might come to seem even further away from Baltimore. And the prospect of remote-work patterns extending beyond 2020 is threatening to exacerbate the winner-take-all economy.

“It’s a well-known phenomenon in economics that social mobility increases after certain kinds of crisis, like war,” Youn said. “But this crisis appears to be different. It’s pushing us in the opposite direction.”

Reactive innovation

One source of hope is that the pandemic might spur new innovation. It’s certainly been a time when people and businesses have had occasion to reconsider their purpose and goals.

But Youn said we should distinguish between two kinds of innovation. The first is endogenous innovation, or change that evolves from within a business, society, or ecosystem. The second is reactive – change in response to external events.

“The pandemic is clearly a major event that will force some kind of innovation,” she said. “But this doesn’t mean we will innovate in the direction we aspire to as a nation or society. It’s less endogenous, more reactive.”

And some of this reactive innovation – including the many creative ways companies learn to digitize jobs – might have negative long-term effects. In fact, the focus on maximizing efficiency may actually limit endogenous innovation: in particular, optimizing technologies to execute processes leaves little room to come up with the kinds of breakthrough ideas that reshape industries.

For companies that have the luxury of focusing past their immediate survival on long-term innovation, Youn advised bringing employees back to the office whenever feasible. Because in her view, the early work of endogenous innovation cannot be done remotely, at least not very well.

“When it comes to arriving at ideas that are not well defined, thinking far into the future, that’s tough over Zoom.”

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What you should know about coronavirus variants, according to a virologist

covid vaccine development
(Author not pictured) Epidemiologists predict that within a year current vaccines could need to be updated to better handle new variants.

  • Dr. Paulo Verardi is an associate professor of virology and vaccinology at the University of Connecticut.
  • He says people should be aware of the currently identified five COVID-19 variants.
  • Assume these variants will continue to evolve and adapt, stay vigilant, and get vaccinated.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Spring has sprung, and there is a sense of relief in the air. After one year of lockdowns and social distancing, more than 171 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the US and about 19.4% of the population is fully vaccinated. But there is something else in the air: ominous SARS-CoV-2 variants.

I am a virologist and vaccinologist, which means that I spend my days studying viruses and designing and testing vaccine strategies against viral diseases. In the case of SARS-CoV-2, this work has taken on greater urgency. We humans are in a race to become immune against this cagey virus, whose ability to mutate and adapt seems to be a step ahead of our capacity to gain herd immunity. Because of the variants that are emerging, it could be a race to the wire.

Five variants to watch

RNA viruses like SARS-CoV-2 constantly mutate as they make more copies of themselves. Most of these mutations end up being disadvantageous to the virus and therefore disappear through natural selection.

Occasionally, though, they offer a benefit to the mutated or so-called genetic-variant virus. An example would be a mutation that improves the ability of the virus to attach more tightly to human cells, thus enhancing viral replication. Another would be a mutation that allows the virus to spread more easily from person to person, thus increasing transmissibility.

None of this is surprising for a virus that is a fresh arrival in the human population and still adapting to humans as hosts. While viruses don’t think, they are governed by the same evolutionary drive that all organisms are – their first order of business is to perpetuate themselves.

These mutations have resulted in several new SARS-CoV-2 variants, leading to outbreak clusters, and in some cases, global spread. They are broadly classified as variants of interest, concern or high consequence.

Currently there are five variants of concern circulating in the US: the B.1.1.7, which originated in the UK; the B.1.351., of South African origin; the P.1., first seen in Brazil; and the B.1.427 and B.1.429, both originating in California.

Each of these variants has a number of mutations, and some of these are key mutations in critical regions of the viral genome. Because the spike protein is required for the virus to attach to human cells, it carries a number of these key mutations. In addition, antibodies that neutralize the virus typically bind to the spike protein, thus making the spike sequence or protein a key component of COVID-19 vaccines.

India and California have recently detected “double mutant” variants that, although not yet classified, have gained international interest. They have one key mutation in the spike protein similar to one found in the Brazilian and South African variants, and another already found in the B.1.427 and B.1.429 California variants. As of today, no variant has been classified as of high consequence, although the concern is that this could change as new variants emerge and we learn more about the variants already circulating.

More transmission and worse disease

These variants are worrisome for several reasons. First, the SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern generally spread from person to person at least 20% to 50% more easily. This allows them to infect more people and to spread more quickly and widely, eventually becoming the predominant strain.

For example, the B.1.1.7 UK variant that was first detected in the US in December 2020 is now the prevalent circulating strain in the US, accounting for an estimated 27.2% of all cases by mid-March. Likewise, the P.1 variant first detected in travelers from Brazil in January is now wreaking havoc in Brazil, where it is causing a collapse of the health care system and led to at least 60,000 deaths in the month of March.

Second, SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern can also lead to more severe disease and increased hospitalizations and deaths. In other words, they may have enhanced virulence. Indeed, a recent study in England suggests that the B.1.1.7 variant causes more severe illness and mortality.

Another concern is that these new variants can escape the immunity elicited by natural infection or our current vaccination efforts. For example, antibodies from people who recovered after infection or who have received a vaccine may not be able to bind as efficiently to a new variant virus, resulting in reduced neutralization of that variant virus. This could lead to reinfections and lower the effectiveness of current monoclonal antibody treatments and vaccines.

Researchers are intensely investigating whether there will be reduced vaccine efficacy against these variants. While most vaccines seem to remain effective against the UK variant, one recent study showed that the AstraZeneca vaccine lacks efficacy in preventing mild to moderate COVID-19 due to the B.1.351 South African variant.

On the other hand, Pfizer recently announced data from a subset of volunteers in South Africa that supports high efficacy of its mRNA vaccine against the B.1.351 variant. Other encouraging news is that T-cell immune responses elicited by natural SARS-CoV-2 infection or mRNA vaccination recognize all three UK, South Africa, and Brazil variants. This suggests that even with reduced neutralizing antibody activity, T-cell responses stimulated by vaccination or natural infection will provide a degree of protection against such variants.

Stay vigilant, and get vaccinated

What does this all mean? While current vaccines may not prevent mild symptomatic COVID-19 caused by these variants, they will likely prevent moderate and severe disease, and in particular hospitalizations and deaths. That is the good news.

However, it is imperative to assume that current SARS-CoV-2 variants will likely continue to evolve and adapt. In a recent survey of 77 epidemiologists from 28 countries, the majority believed that within a year current vaccines could need to be updated to better handle new variants, and that low vaccine coverage will likely facilitate the emergence of such variants.

What do we need to do? We need to keep doing what we have been doing: using masks, avoiding poorly ventilated areas, and practicing social distancing techniques to slow transmission and avert further waves driven by these new variants. We also need to vaccinate as many people in as many places and as soon as possible to reduce the number of cases and the likelihood for the virus to generate new variants and escape mutants. And for that, it is vital that public health officials, governments, and nongovernmental organizations address vaccine hesitancy and equity both locally and globally.

Paulo Verardi, associate professor of virology and vaccinology, University of Connecticut

The Conversation
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5 ways to make your marketing and branding more memorable

marketing and advertising
Marketing should be exploratory and dynamic to capture the interest of the new generation of customers.

  • Modern customers respond better to marketing that’s more personalized and interactive.
  • Customers tend to advocate for brands they have great relationships with via positive experiences.
  • This type of marketing helps businesses build loyal and recurring customers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As a business consultant, I often have to remind small-business owners that their marketing needs to be more interactive, versus the traditional “push” model, where you broadcast your message to as many people as possible.

New generations of customers respond better to the “participative” approach, where they get to provide input via social media and the internet.

It started a few years ago with email satisfaction surveys after an online purchase, but now includes interactive internet ads, as well as custom requests for input on the design of future products and influencers on social media. It seems that everyone these days wants an experience and a relationship, and is willing to become your best advocate via word of mouth.

Some call it a move from always “hunting” for new customers in the wild to “gardening,” or nurturing loyalty and value from the ones you already have.

In any case, the new approach is important to all businesses, and embodies some new marketing rules that you need to focus on and learn:

1. Make your marketing exploratory and dynamic

The days of big-bang long-term campaigns that never change are over. You should be constantly trying new approaches via social media and online, and asking for feedback and input from influencers and customers. Scale quickly on good feedback, and move on if you get little engagement.

A step in the right direction is to take advantage of the new tools available at very low cost, including sponsored podcasts, blogs, visibility in online communities, and Twitter influencer support. Sometimes it’s as simple as updating your website format and videos.

2. Use experiments versus designing the ideal ad

Trends and customer interests change quickly, so use small experiments to find something that works today, and use innovation to push the envelope, before your competitors can copy and overrun you. The key is to be able to measure your return, adapt quickly, and learn from your efforts.

According to the Harvard Business Review, e-commerce companies that conducted ad experiments saw 2-3% better performance per experiment run. An advertiser that ran 15 experiments in a given year saw a 30% higher ad performance.

3. Motivate customers to participate and engage

Reward customers for their advocacy and engagement with discounts and coupons, keep the interaction dynamic, and encourage their return. This requires a sense of urgency on the part of your team, and a culture of accountability and focus on the customer. Marketing must be everyone’s top priority.

For example, Dunkin’ Donuts did this through a photo contest, rewarding discounts to those who submitted a photo with the brand’s handle and hashtag. Other companies highlight live experience and happy videos, submitted by customers, on their website and promotions.

4. Partner with others to create blended offerings

A very successful marketing effort created by a restaurant near me during the pandemic offered a carryout from multiple sources – to combine flowers with food and drinks, all from different establishments, packaged creatively together. Everybody wins, and it spread quickly on social media.

People remember and endorse you as the primary brand that created the blended offering, as well as the other “endorsed” brands. The hybrid approach is also effective as an experiment if you are exploring ways to expand your own brand into new segments.

5. Market solutions as an experience or an event

Advertising more features, or even a lower price, is not as memorable to customers today as a great experience or a unique event. These may be live or immersive online experiences. Use social media to build anticipation and highlight successes, to get people talking and coming back for more.

The message here is that big blockbuster campaigns and big marketing budgets are no longer the key to results in the new customer environment, where participation and relationships are key.

Now is the time to ask your customers and partners for participative ideas, do some experiments, and scale up the ones that work. Be prepared to make frequent updates as trends change.

Marketing is no longer a one-way conversation, whether you are a startup or a legacy business. How long has it been since you changed your marketing strategy? Are your costs going up and the returns going down?
Try listening and learning, more than talking and pushing.

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How NY Gov. Cuomo’s ‘apologies’ fail to recognize that power imbalances are at the root of sexual harassment

andrew cuomo
New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

  • Andrew Cuomo has issued denials, defenses, and apologies in response to misconduct accusations.
  • His “I never intended” responses miss the point – that power is at the heart of sexual harassment.
  • Ending sexual harassment will require a critical rethinking of the distribution of workplace power.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In recent weeks, multiple women have reported demeaning and sexualized workplace behavior by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In response, Cuomo has issued a combination of denials, defenses, and apologies.

Much of the public analysis of his statements has focused on the adequacy of these apologies – whether he took sufficient responsibility or expressed sufficient remorse.

Apologies deserve attention. They can help right wrongs and heal relationships.

Yet in the focus on apologies, an opportunity is missed to learn something about power. Power, after all, is at the heart of sexual harassment.

‘Unwanted imposition’

As Catharine MacKinnon, the architect of modern sexual harassment law, has argued, sexual misconduct at work can be defined as “the unwanted imposition of sexual requirements in the context of a relationship of unequal power.”

If responses like Cuomo’s are viewed through a power-informed lens, different patterns emerge. In my own study of over 200 such statements, I found many references to the accused’s own long careers, to their many professional accomplishments, and to their excellent reputations. In short, when challenged, the men in my study (and all but three were men) did what came naturally: They reached for their power.

This pattern is connected to another theme that I discovered in the statements I studied: repetition of explanations and defenses centered on the accused person’s own subjective intent and perceptions.

It’s me being funny. I’m not trying to sexually harass people,” for example, or “I come from a very different culture,” or “I remember trying to kiss [her] as part of what I thought was a consensual seduction ritual.”

However, the accused’s intentions, thoughts, or beliefs – so central in the statements I studied – are only peripheral under sexual harassment law.

Not a joke

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the main federal law that covers workplace discrimination and harassment, an employee may sue her employer when she has experienced severe or pervasive workplace harassment.

Severity and pervasiveness are judged subjectively, from the harassed person’s point of view, and objectively, in the view of a theoretical “reasonable person.” The law also requires that the conduct be unwelcomed by the harassed person.

Though different courts have interpreted these requirements differently around the edges, sexual harassment cases do not turn on whether the harasser thought his conduct was a joke, or culturally acceptable, or ritualized seduction.

Instead, the law’s subjectivity and “welcomeness” requirements ask a superior – like Cuomo – to evaluate his own conduct from his subordinate’s point of view. Superiors who want to avoid committing harassment to begin with (before anything gets to a judge, jury, or media story) need to step outside their own perspective.

This requires empathy. And the more power that a person wields in the workplace, the more difficult it may be to step outside one’s own position and consider the circumstances from another person’s perspective.

‘I never intended’

Here’s where Cuomo’s responses are revealing.

In his first official statement, released on Feb. 28, 2021, out of 18 “I” statements, over half were versions of “I never intended,” “I was being playful,” or “I do, on occasion, tease people.”

Cuomo followed suit in his press conference on March 3, repeating over and over variations on the “I never intended” or “I never knew” or “I didn’t mean it that way” theme.

These statements suggest that, over his long career, Cuomo did not pay attention to the effects of his words and actions on his subordinates, and that the power of his position may have reinforced his heedlessness.

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission warns about just this type of scenario in its list of harassment risk factors: “High value employees may perceive themselves as exempt from workplace rules or immune from consequences of their misconduct.” Workplaces with significant power imbalances, too, make the risk factor list.

If the movement sparked by #MeToo focuses only on taking down individual bad actors, it will leave intact the workplace structures that enable and protect the powerful – and that produce statements like Cuomo’s. Ending sexual harassment requires a critical rethinking of workplace power, whether it flows from ownership of a company, management of an office, supervision of a shop floor, or the office of the governor.

Charlotte Alexander, associate professor of law and analytics, Georgia State University

The Conversation
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4 ways small businesses made changes during the pandemic to help boost their bottom line

small business owner man at bar restaurant
Small business owners are “persistent, innovative, and creative” when it comes to keeping their businesses afloat during the pandemic.

  • Many small businesses were forced to make adjustments during the pandemic.
  • These changes, such as increasing online presence and working remotely, have yielded strong benefits.
  • Owners were challenged to think outside the box and adapt quickly to keep their businesses afloat.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Now that a year has passed since COVID-19 first made itself known across the US, many small business owners are taking a step back to process how the virus has impacted their business models. It’s no secret that it was a challenge to transform everyday practices into ones that met government mandates and kept people safe – but now, looking back, some entrepreneurs are recognizing that the changes they’ve implemented have helped their bottom line. Here’s how.

Small businesses have upped their digital presence

One of the toughest barriers small businesses have faced over the past year has involved brick-and-mortar operations: Specifically, businesses have had to close to the public, reduce occupancy or implement changes like frequent sanitization in order to comply with state and municipal guidelines. In response to these challenges, many businesses rapidly shifted operations to the virtual realm. Companies that were previously on the fence about refreshing their landing pages or starting social media accounts finally bit the bullet; storefronts began debating their ecommerce options; and service-based businesses found “contactless” ways to help their customers. And consumers shifted, too; now that just about anything can be done online, consumers are far more comfortable doing everything from telehealth visits to finding their next home on the web. Digital presence has always been a must-have even prior to the pandemic, but today, it’s a bigger opportunity than ever.

More teams than ever are working from home

Boutique firms, small creative agencies, rapidly-growing technology companies – you name it. If they don’t have to meet customers in person, they’ve likely found a way to let their teams work from home. Not only does this provide a slew of informal benefits for employees (like improved work-life balance, enhanced disability accommodations, and time and money saved on commuting), but it also provides major cost-cutting opportunities for the business itself. Businesses that know they’ll be working remotely for an extended period of time can avoid signing leases for pricey office space, and trendy startups can pause their snack subscriptions (for now). It’s a win-win.

A lull is a clean slate in disguise

Some entrepreneurs who have found themselves in a slow period during the pandemic have used deceleration as an opportunity to reassess and refresh. Though it’s always disappointing to see business decline, it can also be a blessing; companies that were previously in nonstop scale mode might benefit from a period of reflection on what really works and what doesn’t. While not a small business, GoDaddy notoriously took 2020 as an opportunity to reinvigorate its logo and renew its commitment to corporate responsibility. Other businesses are turning a break in brick-and-mortar operations into a chance to revamp their spaces and provide exciting updates to customers once circumstances dictate it’s safe to do so.

Many small business owners are stepping outside of their comfort zones

They say diamonds are formed under pressure, and the old adage rings true for business owners who are serious about helping their ventures thrive under unusual conditions. As contactless sales and services rose in popularity throughout 2020, many businesses found themselves capable of expanding into new markets and offering more customizable shipping options. Heightened social awareness has provided a catalyst for businesses to promote racial justice and gender equity, offset carbon emissions caused by shipping and delivery services and develop transparency in their daily practices. And because people tend to shop with both their needs and values in mind, this added level of consciousness has the ability to bring in waves of new customers and clients.

The obstacles presented by COVID-19 haven’t been easy to overcome – nor are they gone from our economy and from the world at large. But if time has proven anything, it’s that small business owners are persistent, innovative, and creative. Pandemic or no pandemic, that hasn’t changed.

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3 founders share the self-care practices that strengthen their mental health and help them stay mindful

woman writing at home
Writing in a journal is one way founders can practice mindfulness.

  • When COVID cost him business, Isaac Rudansky looked back at his career successes to think more positively.
  • Altering your mindset can give you the confidence to push forward through difficult times.
  • Founders should also try identifying their emotions, seeking support, and taking time for themselves.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After only six weeks of working in his company’s newly purchased office space, Isaac Rudansky, founder and CEO of AdVenture Media Group, sent his employees home to avoid the spread of COVID-19. He lost 35% of his clients in the first three weeks of the pandemic. “I’m actually an optimistic person, but this was a really dark period,” he said. “Oftentimes, when you’re dealing with feelings of depression and stress, it’s impossible to look at a longer horizon.”

So rather than look forward, Rudansky looked back at the past five years. Even through the peaks and valleys, he saw that his life and career had trended in a positive direction. That perspective gave him the confidence to move forward.

As Eve Lewis Prieto, the director of meditation and a mindfulness teacher at Headspace, said, “one of the best things about mindfulness is that it can be applied to every area of your life. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully engaged and present with a soft and open mind, also known as paying attention on purpose.”

As we pass the one-year anniversary of the country entering lockdown, founders shared with Inc. some of the practices that strengthen their mental health and help them stay mindful.

1. Identify what you’re feeling

When she looked at the options to confront her anxiety and burnout as a software engineer, Meha Agrawal, CEO and founder of Silk and Sonder, felt intimidated by therapy and was bored by meditation. Instead, she found that writing was the outlet she needed.

“There are a ton of benefits of bringing pen to paper,” she said. “It alleviates anxiety and stress, and it helps increase IQ and memory. It’s proven to heal trauma.” Agrawal created a journaling routine back in 2017, and soon after, she began developing her subscription-based journal company to help customers emulate her experience with journaling.

Aaron Sternlicht, a therapist and cofounder of New York City-based Family Addiction Specialist, endorses writing as a way of tracking your emotional mood throughout the day. This practice can help you understand which activities and times of day spark more anxiety, he said. Once you can identify the trigger moments, you can better prepare yourself to respond.

2. Lean on other people

Angela Ficken, a psychotherapist based in Boston, notes that maintaining personal relationships is a constant challenge in a founder’s life. The pandemic has only worsened this, she said, spurring more mental health challenges for founders. In recognizing the importance of community, Agrawal created the Sonder club, an online community where Silk and Sonder users can connect on their wellness journey.

Talking with people can be the best outlet for maintaining your mental well-being, Rudansky said: “It allows a person to express sympathy and empathy for what you’re going through.”

A couple of months ago, he said, one of his executives reached out to him to express that he felt overwhelmed at work. Rather than showing weakness, it showed strength and character, Rudansky said. The two ended up on an hourlong phone call together where they both opened up about their feelings and current struggles.

3. Make time for yourself – and start small

Last month, Tori Farley, cofounder of Better Than Belts, a unisex suspender company, joined a book club and read “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brené Brown, which teaches readers how to reorient their mindsets and explores the psychology of authentic living. Farley was hesitant about reading a “quasi-self-help book,” but “When I read it, it just clicked,” she said. “If I want to spend two hours in the morning doing watercolor painting because that is going to make me feel happy for the rest of the day, then that’s what I should do, and I don’t have to start my day by checking my email.”

Even if it’s just a short moment in time, doing something for yourself can help you get out of a workday slump, Farley said. And Ficken adds that the all-or-nothing mentality can be extremely harmful to mental health. If you can’t get in your full workout that day, she said, don’t give up on physical activity. Instead, walk around the perimeter of your house for a little while or even take a few minutes to walk to your kitchen to get some cold water.

Headspace encourages users to start with just three to five minutes a day, Prieto said. “Some days the mind is going to feel really busy and on other days much quieter, so you are not doing anything wrong if you find that it’s taking longer for the mind to settle,” she said. The goal is not to empty the mind, but to be at ease with where you are.

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5 low-cost marketing strategies to get the best value for your self-published book

woman writing
A self-published book can help enhance your personal brand and position you as an authority figure in your field.

  • Publishing a book in your field of expertise is a great way to establish yourself.
  • However, marketing a book through traditional publishing can cost a great deal, says publisher J.J. Hebert.
  • Low-cost strategies like books reviews and lead generation through email lists can help promote you book instead.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Books are roadmaps to personal growth, exercise tools for the mind, and even vessels that sail to adventure. For authors, books also yield another powerful purpose: establishment.

Writing a good book is one of the simplest ways to establish yourself as an expert on a topic. Your book can serve as the ultimate business card, both as a way to connect with people and build your reputation. As the owner of a self-publishing company, I am an adamant believer in the value of self-publishing. Not only does self-publishing give you have complete control of your book, but you’ll enjoy higher royalty rates as well.

The other major difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing boils down to marketing. Authors who traditionally publish are giving up around 80% of their royalties for established distribution and marketing channels. Of course, marketing is undeniably important. Even if you write the best book on your topic, it can quickly get buried in search results unless you actively promote it.

But instead of handing over most of your profits to a traditional publisher, you should just keep the rights and perform low-cost marketing strategies to get the most out of your self-published book. The following five strategies are the five book marketing tactics that’ll get you the biggest value for your content.

1. Use your book to support or enhance your personal brand

We all have a personal brand. Some people actively work to grow theirs, while others invest less time and effort. If you want your book to succeed and help establish your reputation, you need to be active. Moreover, entrepreneurs should write books that align with the topic in which they’re working in to establish expertise. For example, somebody whose platform is about leadership should write about – you guessed it – leadership.

By aligning topic with expertise, your book is working to fortify your position as a topical expert and enhance the offerings of your platform. This will lead to much more growth in terms of personal brand. To make sure your book effectively aligns with what you’re striving to become, take a step back, assess your online platform (if you don’t have a website, make one!), and see how well they overlap.

Of course, you’re not breaking a law if you write a book and use it to try to expand into a second area of expertise. Nobody said you can only be knowledgeable about one thing – but the first option is much more effective if you’re in the early stages of building a personal brand.

2. Encourage reviews

Reviews drive sales. It’s really that simple. But only an estimated 5% to 10% of shoppers actually leave reviews, so you’ll need to be intentional about gathering reviews for your book. Where should you start in your quest for reviews?

Remember that it’s against Amazon’s Terms and Conditions to have family and close friends review your book. While those might seem like the easiest customer reviews to gain, you can find better reviews from impartial and enthusiastic readers in other ways.

NetGalley is a perfect place to start. The site connects readers of influence to new books or soon-to-release books, and this can be a great way to build buzz or receive feedback and Amazon customer reviews for your work.

Another great approach is running a Goodreads giveaway to help garner Amazon customer reviews. To do this, you need to list your book on the site and claim your author profile. Then, simply establish how many copies you want to give away, select your dates and provide a short description. It’s a very simple, affordable process that can even be done with advanced reader copies (ARCs) to generate reviews before the release.

Also, consider looking up book bloggers who review books for free. While this will cost you a book and there’s no guarantee you’ll get a review, when they do leave reviews they’ll return dividends in exposure based on the sheer amount of followers many of them have. It’s a great return on investment.

There are also some reputable book reviewers, such as Kirkus Indie, that you can hire to write professional “editorial reviews,” but please do your due diligence before paying anyone for an editorial review. Keep in mind that you should never pay for customer reviews.

3. Build an email list

An email list can not only gather reviews, but it can also enable you to directly share news, info and happenings with people who care about what you have to say. There is a lot of value in this. The larger following you have, the more quickly you’ll be able to scale-up and share your ideas with a bigger audience.

But there is a rule: never sign people up for your list. Make sure they opt-in on their own. The numbers might not be as impressive that way, but at least all of your subscribers will be receive your updates based on their own interest.

The easiest way to encourage opt-ins is with a lead generation piece. In other words, give people something for free in exchange for their contact info. Better yet, you just so happen to have a book and control of the rights, so you don’t have to look far for a great lead-gen. Consider giving away a free chapter of the book in exchange for users signing up. If not, create some sort of related giveaway that will provide informational value.

Setting this up is very simple with services such as MailChimp, and the effort will grow your list without costing you a dime.

4. Don’t wait on opportunity – seize it

Opportunity doesn’t come knocking for most self-published writers unless they are really connected or have a great platform. Instead, most authors need to create their own opportunity.

One way to create opportunity is through the cold call. Sure, the thought of dialing a stranger to pitch an idea might dissuade a few people, but this is a must-do if you want your book to sell. Call anybody and everybody to spread the word about your new release. You can contact book stores, bloggers, podcasters and even the local news. If you write for a specific niche, call related people or organizations that would be interested. Offer to speak and offer to interview – help them help you. You can always cold email too, but calling is more personal and will typically lead to better results.

5. Generate supporting content

Your book will stand a lot taller if you create supporting content to help prop it up. The best form of content depends on the topic you’re writing about, but it could be anything from blog posts to webinars. If you create enough consistent content that’s relevant to your book, your platform will inevitably expand.

When creating supporting content, don’t forget to leverage social media. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitterwill probably be your best bets for finding followers interested in your topic, but don’t be afraid to venture outside of those three. If you’re active on your platform of choice, you won’t need to boost your posts to expedite the process of growing followers and creating engagement. Posting consistently will give your content buoyancy, and eventually the followers will trickle in.

The process might be slow at first, but your invested effort will eventually compound and you’ll reap the rewards!

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3 reasons entrepreneurs should forego traditional book deals for self-publishing

journal writing
One advantage of self-publishing is that there are no literary gatekeepers to hold your book back.

  • MindStir Media CEO J.J. Hebert says now is the time for entrepreneurs to self-publish their books.
  • With shrinking bookshelf space and more people buying online, using a traditional publisher isn’t as practical.
  • By self-publishing, the author also maintains creative and financial control of their work.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Many entrepreneurs are using newfound time at home to finally write down their unique ideas and stories to be published in book form. The Internet is rife with contradicting information about self-publishing and traditional book publishing, so which path should an entrepreneur – or writer in general – use for book publication?

As the owner and founder of MindStir Media, I’m confident in saying that self-publishing is the proper route in many cases. Here are three main reasons why:

1.You’re guaranteed to get your book published

With traditional publishing, you’ll generally need to find a literary agent to represent you and your work. But finding agent representation can be a long and arduous journey. I know writers who’ve spent upwards of a year or two sending out query letters and still haven’t been able to land an agent. Most traditional publishers will only look at a manuscript if it comes in through an agent, so literary agents are a valuable resource and contact when going the traditional publishing route.

The major problem with this approach is that nothing is guaranteed. You could be one of those people who spend years trying to find an agent, or you could land an agent, only to get rejected by the traditional publishers anyways.

With self-publishing, the ball is in your court. There are no literary gatekeepers holding you back. The consumer will be the final judge of your book.

2. You’ll keep control over your book

Writers don’t always consider the topic of rights when comparing self-publishing and traditional publishing. With a traditional publisher, it’s common for you to relinquish your publishing rights to that company, meaning that you’ll lose control over your publishing rights as well as any creative control. If you get to the point where an agent pitches your book to a publisher and said publisher accepts your manuscript for publication, the publisher will own the rights to your book and will ultimately have final say over the content of your published book.

Self-publishing is the complete opposite in every way. The self-publishing author keeps their publishing rights and all creative control, from the cover design to the editing and book production. In fact, you can research and select your own book designer, professional editor, printer, distributor, and more.

3. You’ll enjoy much higher royalty rates

It’s a bit of a dirty little secret in the publishing industry that traditional book deals only payout about 10% – 15% royalties to authors. Some traditional publishing advocates tend to argue that it’s worth giving up 85% to 90% royalties in exchange for superior support and distribution. But with physical bookshelf space dwindling and most consumers buying books through Amazon and other online retailers, that argument doesn’t hold much water in 2021.

An author can simply self-publish online and reach a large network of online retailers through a distributor such as Ingram. In turn, the self-published author can keep 70% t0 100% royalties. If your book sells 10,000 copies, for example, you could see tens of thousands of dollars in your bank account from those sales through self-publishing, whereas traditional publishing royalties might only reach $10,000 or less from those same 10,000 copies sold.

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