Archive for October, 2013


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Start Staffing Up for the Holidays

woman-shopping-online-for-christmasIs your small business going to need more help this year to handle the holiday rush and provide great customer service? If so, you’d better get a move on: A recent survey commissioned by Snagajob reports that nearly 70 percent of hiring managers will be adding hourly workers this holiday season, up from last year—and they’ll be adding 28 percent more seasonal employees than last year.

Most managers who are adding seasonal workers started hiring last month, and will complete their seasonal staffing this month. That means competition is stiff. So if you’ve waited, here are some strategies to help in your seasonal hiring:

  • Tap your social networks. Post seasonal job openings on your business website, of course, but also promote them on your social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. Use photos or videos to give a feel for what it’s like to work at your business and make it look fun and exciting. Of course, you should also check in with your contacts on social networks such as LinkedIn to see if they have any suggestions for people seeking seasonal work.
  • Try a temporary agency. If you want to avoid the headaches of hunting for workers, as well as the hassles of handling all the paperwork and tax withholding, a temporary agency can be a good solution. Tell the temp agency what you want, and they’ll find prospective candidates for you to interview. You pay the temp agency and they pay the worker, plus handle all the documentation, payroll and tax withholding that’s needed so you don’t have to worry about it.
  • Think outside the box. Many seniors and stay-at-home moms are looking for extra money around the holidays. Depending on your seasonal hiring needs, these types of candidates could be perfect for you. Tap into local PTAs, tot lots or other organizations that attract stay-at-home moms (you can find lots of them on Facebook) to let people know you’re hiring. Contact senior centers to see if you can post job listings on their boards or otherwise spread the word.
  • Work with schools. Teens are the classic seasonal employee and the recession has left many teens looking for work as adults are filling jobs that typically went to them. Contact high school career centers or counselors, or college career or job placement centers, to find out about posting your seasonal job listings. Many will be happy to put their students in touch with you.  
  • Go virtual. If you need customer service people to handle phone calls or online inquiries, consider hiring virtual customer service reps. You can place listings with companies such as oDesk or SimplyHired.

It’s not too late to find the perfect seasonal workers—you just have to know where to look. 


Mondays with Mike: Jump 50 Tech

When it comes to new products, where should your pricing be? Author and business expert, Mike Michalowicz, explains how to determine an appropriate price point using the "Jump 50" technique.


Top 10 Small Business Trends of the Past Decade

businessDecadeThe nature of small business has changed radically over the past decade. Once an outlier of employment, small business has become a significant engine of America. In fact, the entrepreneur’s dream is the stuff movies like “The Social Network” are now made from. So what have been the most significant trends for small business in the last decade that have pushed it to the forefront of American business?

  1. The internet means geographic independent customers. For most businesses, a company and its consumers can now be anywhere in the world. While this breaks down geographic barriers to entry, it also opens up a worldwide marketplace to every small company.
  2. Working anywhere at any time.  For many businesses, the office is wherever their smartphone or computer is. Work has become place independent. This also means that small businesses can find the best and most cost effective employees anywhere in the world!
  3. Merging of work and home. Many people no longer go to work at 8:00am and leave work at 5:00pm. Home looks more like work and work like home. As a result, most small business owners work a lot more hours than they did a decade ago. This mashup also keeps productivity down.
  4. Easy to keep a broader network. Ongoing connection with customers and prospects has never been easier through Facebook and other social media. Doing business together no longer requires face to face meetings.
  5. Size no longer matters. It is typically impossible to tell the size of a company. Technology like Nextiva's cloud-based phone service enables small companies to look big and large companies want to look small and personal.
  6. Customer service is the new marketing. Online reputations are now driven by peer recommendations on Twitter, Facebook, Yelp or YouTube. Technology makes this the new age of customer service with easy customization, big data, cookies, self-service and customer chat.
  7. Less credit, more cash. Businesses are financing their own start up or growth through personal savings, family or friends. Banks have more limitations imposed by the FDIC on how they give loans. As result, small businesses are being forced to manage their cash more efficiently.
  8. Less benefits, higher deductibles. An employer paying 100% of a health care premium is a thing of the past. Employees now pay a larger share with a higher deductible supplemented with health savings accounts.
  9. A new class of employee appears. It used to be that a person was either employed or unemployed. Now, many people are underemployed. They are either working only part time or not getting paid what they had been before.
  10. Personal branding. Working for one company for a long period of time died in the 90’s. In order to find employment, people now form loose collaborations to accomplish a task for a single or multiple clients. Since these form and change frequently, the only brand that is promoted long term is “you”.

What do you think the most important small business trends of the past decade have been?


Rules for Managing Remote Employees

Remote working, or telecommuting, is rapidly gaining in popularity across the United States. While employers are warming to the idea, many lack the knowledge of how to properly manage staffers who work from home.

Here, Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, a professional job service for flexible workers, offers her top tips for managing remote employees.

Establish clear metrics

Exact deadlines, check-in times and productivity expectations are vital to operating a business with remote employees, says Sutton Fell.

“Make sure those are clear,” she says. “That way, your employee won’t be left not knowing what they should be doing at what time.”

In addition to helping steer the activities of staff members, clear metrics will also help the business owner.

“Telecommuting allows business owners the opportunity to see when things are going right and when they are going wrong. In an office where everyone sits at his or her desk all day, you may think work is getting done when it isn’t,” she says.

“But with telecommuting, you can tell if your employee misses a couple deadlines or is low on their productivity and you can touch base with them to see what is going on and how it can be fixed.”

Communicate constantly

Touch base with your employee every day (even several times a day) when they first start out. As your staffer gets more comfortable with his or her position, allow the communication to taper, but not much.

“Really try to mimic an office experience by checking in regularly,” she says. “Give instant messager a try. It can help with quick questions and keep you in the loop with your employees.”

Accessibility is important when it comes to communication, she adds. Lend a listening ear when your employee needs it, otherwise the relationships can erode over time.

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Work Your Biz Wednesday: Writing a Non Fiction Book for Promotion

The Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson, offers five things to think about if you want to publish a non-fiction book to promote your business.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 4 Ways to Communicate With Your Customers

virtual businessDo you have a “virtual assistant” like Siri on your mobile phone? The other day I read a fascinating article about the future of this technology. In the not-so-distant future, it seems, our devices, apps and GPS could be so seamlessly integrated that they will read our calendars and constantly send us reminders and notifications of events and opportunities. For instance they’ll be able to remind us we have a dentist appointment, and then when we’re there, alert us that the bakery next door has fresh-baked cookies on special.

However, there’s a fine line between customer communication that’s welcomed and customer communication that is considered intrusive. (Envisioning that future, my initial “Oooh, that would be cool” response rapidly turned into the reality of how annoying a constant barrage of dings, pings and flashes from my smartphone would be.)

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to communicate with your customers today. The key is to pick and choose which ones make the most sense for your business and for your customers. Here are some options to consider:

  1. Email: Studies continue to show that while it may not have the “hip factor” of social media, email is one of the most effective marketing methods for both B2B and B2C companies. One reason it works so well is just about everyone has email these days—from Millennials to seniors. For greatest success, be sure you use opt-in email, don’t email too frequently, and include calls to action in each email.
  2. Direct mail: Good old-fashioned direct mail (postcards, flyers and letters) works for many businesses, especially those that target a local customer base or cater to older consumers who still like to receive mail. In an era where most marketing is done digitally, sending mail can actually help your business stand out. Save on postage by using postcards or distributing fliers door-to-door.
  3. Social media: There are so many social media options out there it can quickly get overwhelming. However, one key to social media success is being consistent, so if you’re just starting out with social, start small focusing on one or two social networks. Facebook is pretty much a given for B2C companies, but Pinterest and Twitter can also work well. For B2B, focus on LinkedIn and Twitter. Post regularly, use lots of photos, keep it interesting and useful, and monitor your results. If one social channel isn’t paying off, dial it back and try another.
  4. Phone: When it comes to customer service, the ability to speak to a live person, when necessary, is pretty much essential. Plus, in these times when so much customer support is self-serve, automated or requires people to wade through thousands of posts on message boards, having live phone assistance can really set your business apart. However, the phone is also an ideal way to communicate via cold calls, follow-up calls or to build relationships with prospects if your company has a long sales cycle.

With so many options for communication, there’s no excuse not to stay in touch with your customers today. 


Mondays with Mike: Resize Your Line

When it comes to inventing or innovating, is there a way to do it more easily? Mike Michalowicz, author of The Pumpkin Plan, says yes! Learn more in this week's Mondays with Mike.


How Your Company Return Policy Keeps Customers Coming Back

returnsOne of the most visited sections of any retailer’s site is how a consumer can return a purchase. Hammacher Schlemmer’s return policy stands above all other retailers. It is one place where a consumer can bring back whatever they bought at any time for any reason. This policy is one of their value adds and why they can charge top price for most products in their catalog.

Amazon has a more limited return policy of 30 days, but most importantly, it is one with no questions asked. If the consumer doesn’t like the product, Amazon will pay to ship it back for whatever reason. Many times, if the item costs less than $10, Amazon will actually let their best customers keep the product since it will cost that much to process the return. This definitely increases customer loyalty!

What should your return policy be so customers come back?

  1. Take a return if you want the customer to return. If the product is easily restocked and it will not show wear and tear, then the company should take it back. Thirty days should be long enough for the customer to know if the product is a keeper or not. Remember, if returns are not allowed, the customer will doubt the quality of what the company is selling. Many consumers dislike returns for only “store credit” since they are locked into buying from that company. If this case, what the business is telling the customer is “I know you did not like what I just sold you, but try something else you may not like.”
  2. Reflect customer buying habits. How often do they come back to the store? How often do they buy after a visit? The more frequently they pruchase, the more flexibility there will need to be in a return policy. If the cost of goods for the product is low, take it back and accept it as a cost of sales Think about not this one purchase, but overall value of the customer.
  3. Be Flexible. There are always exceptions to every policy. Has it been 31 days since purchase? Was the product a gift and the receiver is unaware of when the product was actually purchased? Train staff to understand the life time value (LTV) of a customer and not just revolve everything around a single transaction. A flexible return policy will enhance the company’s online reputation which will be its best marketing tool.

How have you used your return policy to ensure customers come back?


Satisfying Your Customers for Life

Many small business owners think about how they can help their next customer by selling them something today. However, they never plan to satisfy that customer for the rest of their life. Too often, business owners think too small and don’t focus on the long term for their company. They are too desperate for revenue and get caught up in the customer chase. No matter how expensive it can be to acquire a new customer, it is always 7 times more expensive than keeping an existing one. What would you do to satisfy a customer if they stayed with your company for the rest of their life?

Here are three ways to accomplish this goal:

Do not oversell. Relax. The real value of the customer is their Life Time Value (LTV) – i.e. what that customer will spend with your company over a long time. For example, it costs $315 to get a new mobile customer for Sprint, but that customer can be worth over $3,000 in the next few years. When I recently called a local HVAC company to fix my heat, they suggested I wait 12 hours to get my furnace fixed so I could save $100. They were suggesting I spend less with them on this next purchase! Remember that LTV is always greater than any single purchase, so don’t try to get it all in one day!

Be patient. Think long term with every customer relationship. “One (purchase) and done” is one of the fastest way to go out of business since it will force the company to get new customers every month. Perl Mortgage’s tag line is “Your Lender for Life”. Founder Ken Perlmutter has the right idea. He doesn’t just want to do the customer’s next mortgage for a consumer, he wants all of them for the rest of their life.

Create a demanding customer. While this may be counter intuitive. Shep Hyken, a customer service speaker, suggests creating a customer that has very high expectations prevents them from leaving a company. Their demands may be so high, that any competitors will find it difficult to steal them away.

How can you justify the customer service investment to make this happen? Know these numbers:

  • What does it cost to acquire a new customer? (Reference campaign costs and the online marketing statistical results)
  • What does it cost to retain an existing customer? (Calculate internal company service costs)
  • What is the Life Time Value (LTV) of a customer? (Calculate by knowing how long the average customer buys from the company multiplied by how much the average customer spends per year with the company.)

How do you satisfy your customers for life?

LTV




 
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