Archive for August, 2013


Work Your Biz Wednesday: How to Hire an Accountant

Melinda Emerson, the Small Biz Lady, offers recommendations for hiring an accountant for your small business.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Should Your Next Hire Be a Temp?

Are you itching to hire new employees to handle the growing workload at your small business, but nervous about bringing on full-time, permanent workers you might have to lay off if business slows down again? Consider hiring temporary workers. Newly popular in the recovering economy, temporary employees can be a good solution if:

  • You need specialized workers who are hard to find in your area. These days, temporary workers aren’t just for filing and answering phones. You can get temporary employees who specialize in everything from accounting to manufacturing to IT and healthcare. You can even hire temporary CFOs, CMOs and CEOs.
  • You’re in a hurry. Sometimes new business develops unexpectedly and you don’t have time to go through the usual search for a job candidate. Temporary agencies can save the day, enabling you to fill that last-minute order or meet a rush deadline. Keep in mind, however, that the time to look for a temporary agency is before you need one. Start now to research agencies and find one that provides access to the types of workers you’re likely to need. That way, when you’re in a rush, you’ll be able to contact them and get the jobs filled fast.
  • You want to “test drive” possible employees. Many temporary workers are actually seeking full-time work. If you’re looking to hire a permanent employee, contact agencies that offer temporary-to-permanent placements. They can connect you with temps who are open to permanent jobs. You can hire the temps, see how they fit in with your company culture, and then offer to hire the one/s that are the right fit.
  • You don’t want to deal with paperwork and benefits. The temporary agency employs the temporary workers, which means it, not you, provides their benefits and handles their payroll and other paperwork. This saves you both time and money.

To get the most from the temporary employee relationship:

  • Look for a temporary agency that will be responsive to your needs. How fast can the agency find a replacement if a temp doesn’t work out (or doesn’t show up)?
  • Understand the contract. Review your agreement with the agency carefully. What costs are you responsible for, and what costs does the agency handle?
  • Get recommendations. Ask other business owners for referrals, and read online reviews to get a sense of how well the agency works with small businesses like yours. 

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Best Practices: Buying a Business Phone System

Your company is looking to buy a new phone system and you aren’t sure where to start. I recently wrote about how to choose an online vendor for The Huffington Post, and will incorporate those tips (and add more) in this piece to help business executives looking to switch to a modern business phone service.

First, embrace the cloudguy-on-desk-phone

Gone are the days of traditional landline phone systems. Cloud-based solutions allow companies the flexibility to seamlessly forward calls to cell phones, integrate offices (without having to cross physical phone lines) and apply fixes instantaneously (no more waiting until a storm passes to get your phone service back up and running).

Establish your goals

What do you love and hate about your current phone system? What do you wish it included? Phone systems are critically important to business operations and, although it may seem like an internal problem to solve, your phone service is something that impacts all of your customers so it pays to dedicate time to choosing the right vendor for your business.

Sit down with your management team and draw up a wish list for your next phone service provider.

Research providers

There are many cloud-based phone service providers out there, so it is important to talk with your network and research the best service for your company. Try narrowing your search to two or three providers and then calling them individually. Discuss offerings with customer service agents and ask every question that comes into your head. Good customer service employees will not rush you through the call, even if you don’t intend on making a purchase.

Check references

When talking with a customer service agent, ask for the names and phone numbers of three or four clients with comparable businesses to your own. Prepare questions and ring each one. Ask technical and non-technical questions such as:

  • How long was your set up process with this vendor?
  • How is the customer service?
  • How reliable is the phone service? Could you give examples?
  • When you run into problems, how are they handled?
  • What service/package did your company purchase?

Go with your gut

After speaking with several vendors and hearing testimonials of like-minded small business owners, you will likely know which service to choose. Strongly weigh a company’s customer service practices, then go with your gut and move forward. 


Mondays with Mike: The Right Time to Start a Business

When is the best time of your life to start a new business venture? Today's Mondays with Mike offers entrepreneurial advice from author and consultant, Mike Michalowicz.


Two-Step Guide to Successful Crisis Communication

Author Charles R. Swindoll famously once said, “Life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.” This quote is especially powerful when applied to a business in crisis. As Steven B. Fink, president and CEO of Lexicon Communications Corp. and author of Crisis Communications: The Definitive Guide to Managing the Message, explains, every entrepreneur should expect to experience a crisis at some point.

“Crisis is inevitable; it’s a question of when not if,” he says.

Here, Fink offers steps to successfully handle any crisis that comes your way.

Step 1: Identify potential problems & build a crisis management team

Business owners are smart to spend time trying to identify the roots of potential problems before they arise. Fink recommends doing this by creating a dedicated crisis management team of four to five people in the company. The team should be based on position, not specific employee (for example, the director of public relations and COO will always sit on the team).

Once a team is established, task them in talking with employees about problems they’ve come across. Maybe a few staffers have received complaints about customer service, or a product has been returned more than once. Instruct your crisis management team to meet at least once a month to discuss these problems and how to solve them before they escalate into something larger, suggests Fink.

In addition, this team should be tasked with developing a plan when/if a full-blown crisis happens and communicate those steps to employees on a regular basis.

Step 2: Break the story honestly & first

“Be honest, candid and forthcoming with all of your constituents—your customers, stakeholders and your investors,” Fink recommends. “The worst thing a company can do is stonewall or not offer a comment or lie.”

It can be hard to admit the truth at times, especially when the problem is embarrassing or potentially damaging to your business. But, as Fink points out, customers will be much more forgiving if a company owns up to its mistakes than if it hides under a rug.

Importantly, Fink suggests business owners should immediately make public (via channels most used by customers—TV, email, Twitter, newspapers, Facebook, LinkedIn) the crisis, even before the media gets wind of it, if possible. This is critically important because as the breaker of the news you will be in control of the discussion, not put on the defensive.

“If you don’t come forth right away, the vacuum you create by a lack of informed response will allow your opposition to spread what tales they want to about you,” he says.

When announcing/breaking the news of your crisis, state the facts of the situation and the measures you and your company are taking to solve the problem. Circle back with an update when the issue has been resolved.

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5 Customer Service Trends to Watch in 2014

The death of amazing service is greatly exaggerated. For most small business, amazing service now can be the brand differentiator.

Here are 5 trends to watch for on the coming year that will impact your business:

  1. Technology everywhere. The Internet now allows any product to be shipped to any customer anywhere in the world at anytime. This makes customer service the only sustainable competitive advantage for every small business. The powerful combination of mobility, the cloud, social media and big data now makes it easy to give customers personalized service. Consumerization from companies such as Amazon, Netflix and Zappos set the expectation bar very high for every small business. Customers can even customize their own product solution. Technology now enables them to receive their product the same day (instead of the standard two day free shipping.). Customers can even “try their clothes on” by uploading their image to the Internet instead of having to shop in person.
  2. Self Service. Technology has come along way since the automat and the ATM. Now customers are more likely to communicate with your company via an automated tool like the web, social media and kiosks. In fact, according to Zendesk, 91% of customers would rather use a computer knowledgebase to solve their needs than talk to a live person! http://www.zendesk.com/resources/searching-for-self-service This allows the educated customer to get the solutions to their queries much more quickly. They increasingly demand to have full visibility inside of your company.
  3. Customers talk more. The explosion of communication alternatives makes it easier to talk to your customers, but also makes it more difficult for your staff to keep up with this multichannel communication strategy. Customers are always more likely to complain than to give a compliment. However, satisfied customers can become an unstoppable marketing machine for your company and give the feedback necessary to make even more successful products and services.
  4. Proactive support. Companies are no longer waiting for customers to reach out to them to solve problems. They now proactively communicate with customers on an ongoing basis to see how they can help before problems occur. For example, the team at Sage North America http://na.sage.com/  routinely calls its customers and business partners before the busy tax season to see how they can help.
  5. 24/7. Forget 9 to 5. Most customers now expect to get answers to their questions 24 hours a day. This can be done through an automated computer interface or a staff taking care of customers that are employed remotely in different time zones around the world.

Requirements for offering amazing service have never been higher, but the opportunity to differentiate your brand by doing outstanding work in this area has never been greater.

What trends are you seeing in your business for next year?

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2013 Hiring Outlook

A recent study by Sage America shows that the majority of SMBs are not seeing enough demand to justify hiring this year. Staffing needs are fluctuating based on the demand (or lack thereof) for goods and services throughout a variety of industries in the U.S.

Is your company planning to hire between now and the end of the year?

Hiring-Infographic-2013-06-05


Work Your Biz Wednesday: How to Hire a Lawyer

Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson, advises what to do when you need legal advice for your small business.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Keep Your Team on the Same Page With an In-House Communication Plan

It’s pretty ironic. These days, we’ve got dozens of ways to communicate with our employees, but so often, we’re still not getting through. Key information doesn’t get shared, so we miss deadlines and opportunities. Sometimes, the plethora of communication solutions seems to be the problem itself—ever had the same person IM, text and frantically call you?

How can you choose the best tools for in-office communication to ensure balls don’t get dropped? Try these tips.

  1. Assess your needs. What do you and your team need to communicate about? Do you have installers in the field who need to communicate with the home office? Do you have remote employees or independent contractors who need to be kept in the loop? Are most of your communications short and/or urgent (suited to instant messaging or texting) or do they tend to be long and complex (so conference calling or emailing would work best)?
  2. Investigate possible solutions. What tools do you already have at your disposal (smartphones, IM, VoIP solutions) and what could you add? What solutions will work best with your existing phone and computer systems? Don’t forget to consider mobile tools—if your employees use smartphones or tablet computers on the road, your solutions need to mesh with those devices, too.
  3. Match the message to the channel. Decide what types of communications are suited to what channels, and get all your employees on the same page. For instance, you might tell everyone to use instant messaging only for urgent communication (so employees know to respond right away). Making a certain channel the “default mode” for a certain communication helps prevent the situation where someone gets an IM, email and voice mail about the same issue.  
  4. CommunicationSet regular communications times and channels. Constant interruptions hurt productivity, so whenever possible, streamline communications by regularly disseminating key information at the same time and in the same way. For instance, have a 10-minute “all-hands” conference call every Monday morning where you quickly run down the week’s priorities, have your sales team email you a status update at the end of each week so you can review it over the weekend, or have your assistant text quick appointment reminders to you first thing each morning. 



 
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