Archive for July, 2013


How to Craft the Perfect Business Newsletter

NewsletterRelationships are the backbones of all small businesses. Without them, it can be difficult to attract referrals, participate in industry events and build a positive reputation for your business. So, outside of hard selling (which often has a negative effect on customer interactions), what is another method of strengthening relationships?

“Create a client-facing newsletter,” says Jim Palmer, a marketing expert known as “The Newsletter Guru.”

“So many small business owners will focus time and money on client acquisition, but in reality it is important to focus on a retention strategy and a way to preserve relationships,” he says. “Newsletters are the perfect way to do that.”

Here, Palmer offers his top tips on building an effective customer-facing newsletter.

Start with a success story

Newsletters are not about the hard sell; they are meant to generate interest in and a personal connection to your business. Palmer recommends starting your newsletter with a client success story. Maybe your service helped a customer save money on health insurance premiums. Describe in detail (using the name of your client with permission) what you did from start to finish and how it helped your customer.

Tip: Focus on how the customer was helped, not on your product. Write the story like a news article, not sales flyer. Write a headline (i.e. ‘Company saves $50,000 on insurance premiums.’) and a subheadline (i.e. ‘Here’s how we did it.’).

Answer frequently asked questions

Lets say you are the owner of a CPA firm and the majority of your clients come to you for end-of-year tax help. Are they also aware that you aid in estate planning, financial planning and even teach classes on how to save money? Probably not.

“Use your newsletter to tell your customers what else you do in your business,” he suggests.

Include helpful articles

After the ‘what else’ section, include fun, interesting and entertaining stories that your clients would be interested in reading. Don’t focus on your business. Instead, if you are an accountant, write up a story on how to save money on a family vacation or how to lower your air conditioning bill in the summer.

“Be informative to your customers and write articles with tips yourself,” Palmer says. “I don’t recommend copying and pasting an article from the Internet that is copyrighted.”

End on a personal note

Conclude your newsletter with a noteworthy story about yourself (maybe your family adopted a new pet) or an employee. Just make sure the story is interesting, not just a profile on someone for no reason.

Palmer suggests, “Write about how your director of sales is the drummer in a band with a picture of him. It will add a human element to your newsletter and allow your readers to feel connected to your company on a personal level.” 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Build a Bench of Employees

imagesOne of the biggest problems small business owners run into when it comes to human resources is the lack of a “bench.” What do I mean by that? In baseball, when one player gets injured or has to step out of the game for any reason, the coach turns to the “bench” of waiting (but talented) second-stringers to fill the gap.

If one of your key employees quits unexpectedly, having a bench of qualified employees who can step in to fill the gap can enable your business to keep running smoothly. If you don’t have a bench…well, you’re in for weeks (or months) of struggle as you place want ads, pore over resumes and interview potential candidates. How can you avoid these headaches (and the risk of an accompanying sales slump) and build a bench? Try these tips.

  1. Don’t get complacent. You may think you don’t need a bench because your key employees have been with you for years and are incredibly loyal. That may be, but with the economy picking up, more workers are itching to find new jobs. Data from the Labor Department shows the average time workers spend with one company is now less than five years.
  2. Plan ahead. Always have a game plan for what you would do if a key employee left the company. Create an organization chart and regularly review it. Who could slot into what position? If you have positions for which there isn’t a potential replacement on staff, make note of them and start fixing the situation.
  3. Identify potential second-stringers. Maybe there’s no one on staff who’s ready to jump into a key position—but is there someone who could do so with a little training and development? Identify those potential replacements and the skills they need to gain to become “bench-worthy.”
  4. Start training. Use all options available to you to provide the training needed to create a bench. This can include training offered by industry organizations or associations; signing employees up for online webinars or trainings; having them take adult education courses at a local community college; or cross-training them to handle each other’s jobs. (The latter tactic not only helps you build a bench, but also makes life a lot easier when someone is on vacation or out sick.
  5. Reward achievement. As employees gain new skills, figure out ways to reward them, whether with salary increases, title changes, bonuses or additional perks, during the interim when they’re learning new things, but are still on the bench. 

Increase Productivity, Decrease Multitasking

Improve your productivity throughout the day while decreasing the amount of multitasking required. Find out how from author and consultant Barry Moltz: 


Mondays with Mike: Trade in your Trade Name

How are trade names limiting your business practices and customer base? Author and consultant Mike Michalowicz explains the importance of monitoring and managing an accurate trade name category.


How to Manage Your Virtual Employees

virtual-employeeThe nature of employment has changed. Most small businesses are no longer centralized in one location, but instead have their employees work from all over the world. To ensure that this is effective, a new style of management needs to be implemented to maximize the performance of these virtual employees. The isolation of a remote employee from a company and culture is very real and needs to be specifically addressed. It should include:

  1. Well-defined goals and objectives that can be tracked. What metrics can be implemented to define what success for that employee looks like? This is particularly important for employees that can’t be “seen” everyday or those from a different country culture. For sales people it’s easy to define, but for customer service or development employees, it is more difficult.
  2. Provide the necessary tools to work remotely. These employees may need additional solutions that centrally located employees do not. This includes a video camera, smartphone and reliable remote access to all secure office applications.
  3. Check in with the employee by phone or video chat often. Text chat or email is effective for some tasks, but it does not establish the personal connection that is required. Video will force the manager to focus on being with that employee.
  4. Set up in person meetings at least once a year. (Twice is better.) There is still nothing that replaces in person meetings for establishing the best working relationship. Once an in person relationship is started, it is much easier to work together remotely. Annual meetings where all employees see each other in one location is also critical for morale.
  5. Always over communicate. Give more feedback to a virtual employees than anyone that works in the same office. Remember that working remotely, they are isolated physcially and emotionally. This attention will ensure that they feel they have the manager’s attention and are more likely to remain on task.
  6. Make sure they feel a part of the company. The manager needs to think about how they extend their company’s culture outside a physical location. This can include monthly virtual events for all remote and centralized employees.

How have you changed your management style to work with virtual employees?

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Barry Moltz helps small business owners get unstuck. He is an author, motivational speaker and consultant. Barry can be found at www.barrymoltz.com


The Double Helix Trap

Don't let your business get caught in the Double Helix Trap! Grow your customer base steadily and consistently with these tips from author and speaker Barry Moltz. It only takes 5 minutes a day:


4 Signs Your Customer Service Needs a Reboot

happy-shopper-2Think back to the last outstanding experience you had at a shop or restaurant. What made it so great? Was it the price or was it the exceptional level of service you received?

For a customer to feel deeply satisfied with a buying experience, it usually comes down to service over price. According to a 2011 American Express survey, “78% of consumers have bailed on a transaction or not made an intended purchase because of a poor service experience.”

Exceptional customer service generates revenue. Here are a few warning signs that your service practices may need a closer look.

Retention rates are lagging

While it is important to land new clients, it is also vital to focus on retaining your current customers. Go back in your books and check retention rates over the last few months. If those numbers are at the same level or have decreased, it’s time to rethink your customer service strategy.

“It is important to track retention rates closely,” says Barbara Burke, a customer service expert, author and speaker based in Minnesota.

Direct competitors are thriving

Do some Internet research (or better yet, in-person information gathering) on your competitors. If those companies look to be raking in heaps more customers than you are, consider changing your strategy.

“If your competitor has live chat online, you may want to explore that,” says Burke. “Zappos.com, for example, has seen the number of live chats with customers grow so much that they are cutting back on incoming call agents. Live chat is an incredibly popular customer service tool these days.”

Employees look tired

Your employees are your best source of information on customer satisfaction, says Burke.

“Ask your employees for suggestions on how to make your company’s service better,” she recommends. “Inquire as to what customers are complaining about and then develop a plan for how to fix service-related problems.”

Your gut is screaming

Is there a nagging voice in your head that you’ve been trying to push away for a few weeks or months? Start paying attention; your subconscious may be telling you to change something in your business.

Burke recommends, “If you have a hunch, follow up. If you see an issue, fix it right away.” 


4 Innovative Ways to Market Your Company On LinkedIn

LinkedInAuditWhen LinkedIn launched back in 2003, some people were skeptical. After all, social networking was an entirely new concept and the idea of sharing personal information on the web wasn’t really embraced.

How times have changed. Today, social networking is an integral part of almost everyone’s lives and LinkedIn has firmly established itself as the leader in online business networking with more than 200 million users.

So how can small businesses utilize LinkedIn to build visibility and attract potential customers? Follow the four tips below for the best results.

Post one status update per day

First, create a LinkedIn page for your small business. Follow the tutorial and fill out all necessary forms. Once your page is live, notice the blank box under the “Activity” header. This box is for you, the business owner (or your social media-dedicated employee/consultant), to type status updates.

According to Josh Turner, founder of Linked University, these updates should be business related. Examples can include links to blog posts you’ve penned about your industry, links to industry-specific articles from other sources and one-sentence, discussion-starting questions.

“Keep these questions business focused on your industry or on a general topic like, ‘Where do you see technology taking us in the next couple years?’” says Turner. “I’m based in St. Louis, so it would be fine for me to write, ‘Go Cardinals!’ but don’t get too personal with your updates like you may on Facebook.”

Invest in newsfeed advertising

Have you ever noticed the sponsored ads in your Facebook feed and clicked on one of them because you found yourself interested? LinkedIn offers a similar adverting concept on its platform.

“Ads on newsfeeds are a really good thing for small businesses to try because they can target specific demographics,” says Turner.

Join non-obvious groups

If you are the head of an accounting firm, you may be inclined to join finance-related groups on LinkedIn, but Turner guards against the practice.

“Join the groups where your customers hang out—be it CEO, COO and CTO groups or the groups of your customers’ industries,” he recommends. “You aren’t going to get in front of new customers if you hang out in places where your competitors are.

“Once you are in a group, post valuable content no more than twice per week. You don’t want it to look like you are spamming your group.”

Dig through your connections

LinkedIn can help you find qualified referrals, you just have to look through your contacts for people who may be connected to the potential client you have in mind.

“It can be laborious to go through your contacts to find people who are connected to each other and then request an introduction, but it is absolutely worth the time,” he says. “Anything that gets great results takes more time than strategies on autopilot.” 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 6 Ways a Simple Follow-Up Boosts Sales

SalesMainKilling two birds with one stone is always a plus for busy small business owners. Following up with your customers after the sale not only improves your customer service, but it’s also a great way to increase sales. It’s simple, really: The more you communicate with your customers, the more you’ll be top-of-mind when they’re ready to make their next purchases. Here’s how to create a post-sale follow-up plan that keeps customers buying.

Develop a system. Systematize your follow-up program so all your salespeople and/or customer service reps are on the same page and nothing falls through the cracks. You can use CRM software to automate reminders and even some of the outreach, such as sending follow-up emails or offers.

Time it right. Determine the appropriate time frame for the initial follow-up. For a product, you want to give the customer time to receive the product (if it was shipped to them), use it and work out any initial kinks. For a service, it’s best to follow up shortly after the service was performed to make sure everything is working as expected.

Choose your methods. Depending on your business and your customer base, different follow-up methods will be appropriate. For instance, if you sell a B2B service that requires lots of hand-holding, you’ll probably want some type of personal follow-up, such as a phone call or visit to the customer. If you sell products to consumers online, an email to see if they’re satisfied with their recent purchases and asking them to submit product reviews might be all it takes. If your customers are senior citizens, who are typically less tech-savvy and enjoy getting mail, you might send a follow-up letter or postcard.

Solve problems. The first goal of follow-up is to see if the customer was satisfied with the product or service and to resolve their questions or concerns. Take note of any information that could be useful in improving your product or service. Only after you’ve made sure the customer is happy should you move on to upselling.

Upsell. Once you know the customer is happy, tactfully suggest additional products or services that could complement the purchase. Depending on the situation, this can be done at the same time as the initial follow-up, or in a letter, phone call or email later. Offering a discount, package deal or other special offer based on their recent purchase works well, too.

Lather, rinse and repeat. Plan to touch base with the customer on an ongoing basis, such as:

  • At regular service intervals (such as when the client needs a dental exam or HVAC servicing)
  • On dates when you know a product is likely to need replacement
  • On an anniversary (a year after a customer bought a birthday present for his or her child)
  • When you have a sale or special offer 



 
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