Archive for June, 2013


When to Leave Business Tradition Behind

“The definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”-  A. Einstein

Many small business owners embrace this type of insanity every single day. They take this approach to their work and constantly do the same things hoping it will all somehow get better. Unfortunately, Einstein was right and it never does change.

Business tradition can be comfortable and easy. In fact for many big brands, it is their competitive advantage. However for many small business owners, it can also be what kills their company.

Here are four times tradition needs to be left behind:

  1. TraditionRevenue is shrinking quickly quarter to quarter. For whatever reason, sales are going straight down. No need to panic, but clearly the way things have been in the past do not work now. Try this instead: Find out which products no longer are selling and specifically why this is happening from customers that typically bought them in the past. This is the beginning of crude marketing research that needs to be done.
  2. Current customers are leaving at an increasing rate. Existing customers have quit the company and have gone to a competitor. The once high barrier to exit the business has been breached. Try this instead: Poll exiting customers why they are leaving and formulate a profitable “save” strategy based on added value (not lower prices).
  3. There is a new competitor in the market. Someone has decided to directly compete with the company. Try this instead: Find out what is attractive to the potential customer about their new solution or market approach. Are there changes that can be made to your company’s offerings as a response? Can they be copied?
  4. The market has been disrupted. This can happen with a competitor, a new technology or a changed government regulation. Regardless, the traditional way of doing business no longer applies. Try this instead: Focus on the pain and those prospects that have the money to solve it. Given this market disruption, what has to change about your company’s products and go to market strategy?

Remember the wrong action is better than no action at all. With any action, things can always be learned about what may yield success next time. Test as many things as possible in the shortest period of time with the least amount of resources. As you move away from tradition, making a lot small bets will help you securely move to whatever comes next.

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Barry Moltz gets small businesses unstuck. He is a small business speaker, author and consultant. He can be found at www.barrymoltz.com


What Does Your Company Stand For?

Does your company take a Bold Stand in the world? In order to be heard in the loud crowded market place we all operate in, you must have a Bold Stand – a bold statement that is yours and yours alone. A statement that will attract exactly the right people to your business and stake your claim in your industry.

If you can already articulate your Bold Stand in a short, powerful way, then you can stop reading now. We’re done here. :-)

If you don’t have one, carve out some time to look at the brands who do. Nike, Apple, Harley-Davidson are good places to start. And look at your competition. Do they take bold stands? Is there a statement they’ve claimed that distinguishes them?

I just got back from speaking at a conference and while I was there, I had a great conversation with a company that is preparing to roll out publicly in less than a year. I asked them what their bold statement was. When they told me, I said “Lots of companies in your market segment take that stand and use a very similar statement. How will a customer know the difference between them and you?”

Ultimately that is the question you have to ask yourself. Can the customer pick you out from the crowd of competition because your stand, your statement is so bold, so clear and so true?

If you need help finding a place to start, here are three ideas for you:

  1. Ask your current customers and clients why they choose to do business with you. In their minds, what distinguishes you?
  2. Ask your team what it is they believe distinguishes you from the competition. What do they say to customers and clients to help them choose you?
  3. Ask yourself what it is you want to be known for. How do you want customers and clients think about you when they are thinking of all the companies in your market?

The answers to these questions will give you a great place to start on crafting your bold statement. Once you have a solid idea of what it is, then you can polish it into something that has zing.

And one last thing, your bold stand has to be real. Your company must be able to deliver on it. There’s nothing worse than having a customer or client discover you aren’t who you say you are. So make sure that the bold statement you choose is reflected in everything your company does.

Spend some time with that this week. And I’d love to hear what you come up with.

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Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Ways to Help Your New Employees Hit the Ground Running

The way you bring a new employee on board can be the deciding factor in whether they enjoy the job and become a loyal member of your team, or whether they never live up to their potential. Here are some tips for bringing your new hires up to speed from the get-go.

Be prepared. Make sure you have a workstation, uniform, computer or whatever other equipment the new employee needs to start working right away. Employees can’t be productive if they don’t have access to the tools they need. 

Orient them. You should have an employee handbook that you keep up-to-date and provide it to new employees—either printed or online. Have your employees read it and sign a document stating they understand your policies. Be sure they get a chance to ask questions, and explain anything that needs to be clarified. (Don’t forget the basics, like where the restrooms are and what time lunch hour and breaks are.)

Partner up. The first days at a new job can be intimidating. If possible, match new employees with a buddy—not necessarily their supervisors (though it can be) but someone who will train them in their job duties, teach them the informal aspects of your company culture and generally make them feel welcome. Make sure this is a positive, friendly person to get your new employee off on the right food.

Train and test. You or the direct supervisor should check in with the new employee daily for the first couple weeks to go over his or her duties and make sure the person is handling things correctly. You can correct any mistakes and make suggestions so the new hire doesn’t fall into bad habits. Once the person has the hang of his or her job, continue following up on a regular basis (every few weeks or so) until you’re satisfied.

Get feedback. Whether you use systems to track the employee’s performance (such as tallying units produced or shipped or monitoring customer service calls), you want to get feedback, both objective and subjective, on how well the person is meeting the goals of the job. Check in with the employee’s supervisors and/or coworkers to see if there are any issues with performance.

By bringing your new employees on board in a systematic way, you’ll ensure they are productive as soon as possible. 

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Mondays with Mike: Don’t Fear… Fear

Mike Michalowicz, author of "The Pumpkin Plan" and "The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur", discusses how to overcome common fears that small business owners frequently face as their business grows.


How to Survey Your Customers Without Annoying Them

Surveys can be tremendously helpful to small business owners when testing out a new product or getting a general read on service effectiveness. But on the flipside, they can also make customers feel a little badgered.

Here are a few tips for how business owners can send out surveys in a non-annoying fashion.

Do it quickly

Don’t wait to send out a survey to your customers; every day lost increases memory lost of their experience.

“You don’t want to wait a month after they did business with you before you contact them,” says Barbara Burke, a customer service expert, author and speaker based in Minnesota.

It is best to capture the temperature of the customer’s experience immediately—even as it is happening. This can be easy for boutique shop owners, for example, where they may have the opportunity to speak face-to-face with their client base. For online businesses or those that serve too many customers to capture one-on-one, try sending out a survey within 48 hours of a transaction.

Make it easy

There are several ways to make the act of filling out a survey easy on your customer. One is to use a program like Survey Monkey, advises Burke.

“Survey Monkey allows you to use one of many templates and just enter in your customized questions,” she says. “I recommend sending your customer a thank you email for their business and then including a link to the survey in that email. It will make it much easier for them to comply if they aren’t opening multiple messages.”

Also, make it short—no more than five questions. 

Space them out

Be careful not to send surveys too often. Customers should feel like the survey is important; overkill can lessen that concept. Burke recommends sending them out only on occasion.

“Do an annual survey or maybe a six month survey,” she suggests. “If you have a big client, there is nothing wrong with the owner of a company calling up that client to ask them a few questions more often, but just don’t inundate them on a weekly basis.” 

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Are You Ready for That Second Location?

UWNoffice109_1Bigger is a mantra many small business owners repeat. For retail based businesses, this means adding more locations. However, this is not always the best expansion strategy. In fact, if done incorrectly, it can kill a business. This happens because when a company starts a second location, the owner moves their attention to growing that new entity. Because they are no longer totally focused on the original location, that part of the business can falter. As the most profitable part of the enterprise, this can endanger the entire company.

For many owners, a single location is a perfectly profitable business. They can either work to expand the size of that location or make it more profitable. 

Only add a second location when:

•   The company has been profitable at one location for several years. Positive cash flow to finance company expansion is critical. There needs to be enough profit from the first location to support the second location until that unit reaches profitability. This typically takes at least one year.

•   Demand does not support growing the single location bigger.  Getting larger at one location is always the first way to increase profits. Alternately, the small business owner can focus on increasing gross margin or reducing expenses there.

•   Processes have been carefully documented so they are repeatable  at other locations. A winning operating formula is required to train employees in the same procedures at other locations. This is the key behind some of the most successful location businesses like McDonalds and Starbucks.

•   Managers that can be trusted when the owner isn't there. Remember, even entrepreneurs have not perfected being in two places at once! The founder can no longer personally oversee all locations simultaneously. As the business gets larger, they also can't be the "in person" face of the business.

•   It's about scale, not ego. Expand because economies of scale will lead to higher profitability, not to feed an ego. Running two or three locations are exponentially more difficult. The second location is always the most difficult to add.

•   Implement a unified communication solution. Customers see all locations ultimately as one so employees must be able to easily communication across all business units.

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Barry Moltz gets small businesses unstuck. He is a speaker, author and small business consultant. He can be found at www.barrymoltz.com


How and When to Fire a Customer

firedAs a small business owner, you spend countless hours strategizing how to attract customers, not how to get rid of them. But as Shep Hyken, international customer service speaker and author of The Amazement Revolution: Seven Customer Service Strategies to Create an Amazing Customer (and Employee), explains, voluntarily saying goodbye to a customer can sometimes be the best thing for your business.

“Most people are afraid to fire a customer; they are worried about the loss of revenue,” he says. “But in reality, keeping some customers can lead to much bigger losses for your company in the form of extra time and decreased employee morale.”

When to do it

Customers who are blatantly disrespectful to your employees are worth pink slipping. “I once had a customer that was so mean to my assistant that he made her cry,” he says. “That was it for me.”

Extreme price pushing is another reason to fire a customer. Yes, you may be willing to offer breaks now and then, but if one of your customers consistently asks for bottom barrel prices—to the extent that you are no longer making a profit—it might be time to let that person go.

Customers who continuously make trouble for your company are also worth looking at. “Ya know how enthusiasm can be contagious? Well, so can depression and unhappiness,” Hyken says. “Customers who are difficult to deal with can have personalities that spread like a cancer through your office and bring your employees down. Remember that one bad apple can spoil the bunch.”

How to do it

Calm yourself before confronting your customer. Then, approach them with respect. “The customer may not always be right, but they are still always your customer,” Hyken says. “Especially if they are giving you a hard time, don’t ever go down to their level.”  

In the situation where Hyken’s assistant was brought to tears, he used this script, “I simply said, ‘I want to apologize for anything we did wrong to get you upset. The way you treated my assistant is unacceptable and I’m afraid we can no longer work together.’”

In some cases, when you call them on it, the customer will apologize right away and rectify his or her behavior. In cases when they don’t, it is best to simply cut the chord.

“Be pleasant and firm when ending the relationship; you never know, they could return someday as a better customer,” he advises. “If they don’t, send them to your competition and move on.” 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Turn Customer Complaints Around

A recent study by Accenture found about 50 percent of customers stopped doing business with a company because of poor customer service. Yet in many instances, keeping those customers would have been simple. Almost 70 percent say they wouldn’t have stopped buying from the company if their complaints had been handled with one phone call, as opposed to several interactions.

How can you ensure customer complaints not only get resolved, but also get turned into opportunities to build your brand? Try these tips.

Respond quickly. Customers who are slightly annoyed will quickly grow enraged if their emails or tweets go ignored or they spend 20 minutes on hold. You may not be able to solve the issue right away, but you can (and should) respond to and acknowledge it immediately.  

Know the world is watching. One unhappy customer can turn into hundreds or even thousands if the complaint gets aired on social media. Watch for complaints in public forums and quickly respond to them in a positive, solution-oriented fashion. Even if you take the discussion offline, make sure other online users know that you’re responding to the person. A post or tweet such as “I’m sorry you’re having a problem. Please call me at (direct line of customer service rep) or email me at (direct email of rep) so I can help resolve this right away! – Joe Customerservice” will send a postivie message about your business.

Get personal. As in the example above, getting an individual’s direct email or phone number goes a lot further toward soothing ruffled feathers than having to call a generic 800 number or send your email into the black hole of customerservice@yourbusiness.com.

Eliminate repetition. Customers hate having to input their account numbers into the phone system, then have to repeat them again to the representative. They also don’t want to explain their problems multiple times as they get transferred from person to person. Create an internal database or use CRM tools that enable your customer service people to document interactions with customers so new reps can quickly get up to speed.

Empower employees. Give your employees guidelines for resolving issues, but within those guidelines, empower them to do what it takes to make the customer happy—whether that’s waiving a shipping fee, offering a refund or providing a free replacement product. If you’re concerned about costs, institute a dollar limit, such as any action costing less than $25 can be taken without approval. Just make sure it’s enough to offer a range of meaningful options. 

Happy-customer


A Summer List of Business Resources

One of the questions I get asked all the time is “What resources do you recommend to business owners?” I LOVE this question because I am a resource junky. I love to learn, so I’m always combing the web and the bookshelves for great stuff that can teach me something new.

summer-readingSo, with the help of my trusted community, I’ve built a Summer Business Resource List for you. In an effort to combat the biggest enemy of all business owners and entrepreneuers – overwhelm – I’ve intentionally kept this list short and clean.  You’ll find books, blogs, websites, podcasts – each offering up some valuable content to help you along in your business.

No doubt I’ve left out some great resources, so please add your favorites in the comments so I can update the list.

Books:

Podcasts/Radio Shows:

Websites and Blogs:

As I said, this list is by no means comprehensive. But hopefully it’s interesting enough and manageable enough that you will check out some of the resources before you bookmark it to read late. (I know from experience that later rarely comes.)

If you got resources to add, put them in the comments below so we can all check them out!




 
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