Archive for November, 2013


Mondays with Mike: Become An Investor

Overcome the entrepreneurial mindset and start thinking like an investor to help grow your business. Learn how in this week's Mondays with Mike featuring Mike Michalowicz.


How to Get to the Top of the Search Rankings

Every small business owner wants to be number one. This remains the same when it comes to being listed in organic search engine rankings. They not only want to be on the first page, but they want to be listed in the #1 position. Most search engine experts believe that being listed first is important. Studies from online ad network Chitika show that the top listing in Google's organic search results receives 33% of the traffic. Number 2 gets 18%. The top 5 spots get 75% of all the traffic. In fact, according to this study, 91% of Google’s traffic is on page one of the search results.

For every business, search rankings are all about relevant content and strong authority on a given subject area for targeted visitors. Here is how to come out on top when it comes to organic search results:

  1. Use lists. People and search engines love lists. For example, “7 Ways To…” should list relevant content that ties to the company’s brand and has many links to relevant sources. Sharing the “link love” to highly respected sites will give the company’s web site a boost.
  2. Interview industry experts. This will get their well searched name in a ranked result from the company’s site. As a result, this will make the site more findable.
  3. Make it easy to share. Include a share widget on each page of the website. It’s an ideal way to increase traffic and relevant links. Share content from the company’s website through all active social media platforms.
  4. Check web analytics. Through Google Analytics, find out how unique visitors find the company’s site and where they come from. Test new content and recheck.
  5. Ask for links. Email reputable industry sources and ask to exchange links. Focus on the company’s competition. This can easily be found by searching for link: http://theirwebsite.com within the search box.
  6. Write a guest post. Select sites that have relevant content and similar visitors to what the company needs. Alltop.com is an excellent resource to get started. Write an expert piece and link back to the company’s site.
  7. Tag the content.  Use standard tags such a meta description, title, and header. Grant Simmons, Director of SEO & Social Product at The Search Agency also recommends adding “new and necessary tags, OG for Facebook, Twitter Cards, and schema.org microdata formats…” 

How did your company get to the top?

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15 Social Media Mistakes You Are Making

Every small business knows that they need to utilize social media as part of their marketing plan. But in the process, they are making a lot of mistakes. Here are the most common ones and what to do about them:

  1. You are only selling your “stuff”. You communicate only your product offers on social media. You are constantly asking people to buy instead of establishing a relationship with them first.
  2. You are talking at people, not with them. You are not having two way conversations with people, but only broadcasting your message. A good indication that this is happening is no one ever responds to what you post.
  3. You are talking to the wrong people. You have no strategy for your social media. You talk to anyone that will talk to you. This is because you may have outsourced it to any GenY-er you can find instead of someone with specific experience.
  4. You ask others to retweet or share your content, but never talk to them any other times. The only time you communicate with potential partners is to ask them to share your stuff. You should always ask how you can help them before asking for favor.
  5. You broadcast the same message across all the channels. You need to tailor your message for each specific social media channel. For example, the form of any marketing message needs to be different on Facebook vs. Twitter.
  6. You focus on numbers not quality. You are obsessed with the number of followers instead of the quality of their interaction with your company.
  7. Posting infrequently or irregularly. No one knows when you will show up on social media. You need to have a regular schedule to show dependability and consistency of your message.
  8. Not posting the same things multiple times during the day or week. Most social media posts have a short shelf life (Twitter -15 minutes, Facebook- 60 minutes). Everyone is not always on social media so things need to be posted multiple times.
  9. Not monitoring what people are saying about your company. Reputation is your biggest marketing weapon. Customers now place more trust in online reviews than advertisements. You need to know what everyone is saying about you!
  10. You have no company social media policy.  Can employees check their social media accounts at work? Can they post on behalf of the company? There is no right or wrong answer, but there should be a specific policy.
  11. A photo that does not reflect your brand. Many companies just use there logo, but what could be a better representation of your brand?
  12. You delete negative comments. On social media, this is a big mistake. Instead, respond with empathy and provide a solution.
  13. You send automated direct messages to followers. Another big mistake since most social media users consider this spam. Only send direct messages that are customized for the person you are connecting with.
  14. Using too many hashtags. This is a good tool to become part of a conversation, but not every tweet or Facebook post needs to have a #newhashtag on it! #OMGsocialmediamistakes
  15. Not leaving enough space for other people to retweet you. Make it easy for people to retweet you by leaving room for their Twitter handle and the letters RT. Don’t use the full 140 characters in your original tweet since this will force them to delete some of your message.

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Business Owners: 5 Questions You Should Never Ask in an Interview

crop380w_istock_000003401233xsmall-question-marksHiring can be one of the most difficult parts of being a business owner. You look for the best people for your company and you ultimately end up making your decision based on one event: the interview.

So, how can you conduct an interview that will reveal your next employee of the month? According to Kathleen Lapekas, founder of Lapekas HR Consulting in Evansville, Ind., it all comes down to how you phrase your questions.

“The best types of questions are directly job related and behavior-based,” she says. “Ask someone to explain a time when they had a co-worker that drove them nuts and how they handled it. Keep them talking about real scenarios to learn more about your candidate.”

Lapekas recommends staying away from the following questions:

Question #1: When did you graduate from high school?

While this question may seem benign, it can be perceived as trying to find out a candidate’s age, which is discriminatory.

“You can ask someone when they graduated from college because people graduate from college at different ages, but you can’t say anything about high school because it is assumed that most people graduated when they were around 18 years old,” says Lapekas. 

Question #2: What do you do for fun?

Be careful with this one. Unless your candidate offers, keep the conversation focused on the role at hand. Why?

“By asking someone what they do for fun, they may tell you that they are an active member in the National Rifle Association or that they just marched in the local Gay Pride parade,” she says. “You don’t want find out anything in the interview that later—especially if you don’t hire the person—can be perceived as ammo for discrimination.”

Questions #3: When are you due?

It is never acceptable to ask a female candidate if she is pregnant. If, though, she mentions that she is expecting, leave it at that. Do not ask her when she is due. As Lapekas explains, pregnancy is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits any employer discrimination.

Question #4: Are there any medical issues or medications that we need to know about?

“This is hard because obviously you want to know if you are buying a future heart attack,” she says. “But employers can no longer do pre-employment physicals (note: pre-employment drug screenings are allowed by law). In some states you can’t even ask if someone is a smoker.”

Question #5: Where do you go to church?

Race, sex, age, gender, ethnicity and religion are all protected under law and cannot be mentioned in an interview.

“Even if you live in a small town where everyone goes to the same church, keep it out of the interview,” advises Lapekas. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Do You Know Your Independent Contractors From Your Employees?

independent_contractor_or_employeeStates are cracking down on companies that misclassify their employees as independent contractors, Bloomberg reports. Labeling someone an independent contractor means companies don’t have to withhold or pay income taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes, or unemployment taxes. But revenue-hungry states are looking more closely into worker classification in an effort to get tax payments from employers.

Of course, many misclassifications happen due to honest error, because the line dividing employee from independent contractor is often hazy. Here are the guidelines you need to know.

In general, the IRS considers someone an independent contractor if your business has the right to control or direct only the result of the work you hire them to do, but not what will be done and how it will be done. The IRS bases the determination on three criteria:

  1. Behavioral. Is the work actually done on your premises? Do you provide the equipment or tools needed to do the work? Do you instruct the person on a daily basis? If so, they are more likely an employee. On the other hand, if the person works at his or her office, using his or her equipment and deciding how the work will be done, they’re more likely an independent contractor.
  2. Financial. Does the person buy the equipment or tools to do the work? Does he or she handle the expenses involved (such as buying supplies or paying a phone bill), or do you reimburse the person? Do you pay the person a salary or do you pay per project? Are you the person’s sole source of income or does he or she do the same type of work for other clients?
  3. Relationship. Do you have a contract with the person? If so, does it specify a beginning and ending date for the relationship, or focus on a specific project to be delivered? If so, the person is more likely to be an independent contractor. Do you provide benefits to the person, such as life or health insurance or paid time off? If so, the person is more likely to be an employee.

Clearly, there are lots of gray areas here. If you have doubts about how to classify someone, talk to your accountant and if you are still uncertain, file Form SS-8, Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding, with the IRS. They’ll determine the worker’s status, which can take up to six months, but will put your mind at ease. 


Nextiva Customer Success Story: Rocky Mountain Vein Institute

Colorado-based Nextiva customer Rocky Mountain Vein Institute offers quality care and disease diagnoses for patients in need of vein treatment and monitoring. With two board certified phlebologists, a certified staff, and an accredited facility, RMVI's ultimate mission is "to compassionately and comprehensively treat and care for each and every patient."

We invite you to meet John Sanchez, COO of RMVI. When their small clinic opened four years ago in Pueblo, Colorado, they quickly realized the growing need for their services. By 2012, RMVI had opened four new clinics within Colorado that served patients from around the globe. John's team suddenly needed the ability to transfer calls between multiple offices and present a professional appearance to their growing base of potential patients that called, which led them to switch from an analog-based system to Nextiva's cloud communications.

John's offices are now able to utilize their Nextiva phone system to incorporate interpreters into calls for non-English speaking customers, easily swap their on-hold music to fit different seasons, and hold conference meetings with other offices. Hear John's story here:





Mondays with Mike: Beware the Green Monster

How can you use The Green Monster to help boost your business? Find out from author and consultant Mike Michalowicz.


6 Surefire Signs Your Brand Needs an Overhaul

The process of rebranding can be exciting and beneficial to a small business. “It can be equated to coming out at a debutante ball, energizing the market and even reenergizing your employees,” says Maria Ross, owner of Red Slice, a branding consultancy in the San Francisco Bay Area.

But when should you rebrand? Every few months? Every few years? Never? According to Ross, it really depends on the strength your brand has already.

“The Nike Swoosh has no reason to change because there is so much meaning behind it,” she says. “I only recommend rebranding if one of six criteria are met.”

 #1: Your colors are from the '80s

Your neon-green-mixed-with-Halloween-orange color motif was hot in 1986; now it looks old and tired. Time for a change.

#2: Your target is a new customer

If you launched your clothing boutique with female-only fashions, but have since added items for men and children, it might be time to change your flowery signage and messaging.

#3: Your prices have changed

“Let's say you are a tech company that started out offering a cheap tool,” poses Ross. “But now you have expanded to offer a strategic solution suite. Your prices have definitely gone up and your brand, including your messaging, should reflect that change.”

#4: Your brand is turning off your target customer

Take a look at your client base. Are you attracting the right kind of customer? If not, it might be time to rebrand.

“If you are getting inquiries from people who can’t afford your product, it is a sign that you are attracting the wrong audience and you may need to tweak that,” Ross says.

One big culprit: Your website. “If you are trying to be a luxury brand and attract a high-end customer, but you hired a cheap designer to do your site, it will never work,” she says. “You need to hire someone excellent to make your brand look luxe for you to bring in that right client.”

#5: Your competition has changed

When you launched, you were the hottest company on the block. But that was 20 years ago. Now that there are 10 other businesses that look just like you, and it’s time to rebrand and define your differentiation in the marketplace.

#6: You merged with another business

“Try to create a new brand identity that is representative of your two companies,” recommends Ross. “Rethink your look and feel.” 

Developing a Brand


How to Protect Your Business When Trust is a Must

Building-TrustWhen you own a business, working with other people is an absolute necessity, whether you are working with employees, outsourcing specific tasks, or hiring legal or other advisors and more. And working with other people means that you have to put your trust into other people, which can leave business owners very vulnerable to all kinds of violations of that trust- including fraud, theft, and even incompetence. So, with that in mind, here are 4 tips to help protect yourself and your business when working with other people:

1.  Get Everything in Writing

Many people are very trusting and want to take others at their word. But in the business world, verbal agreements can wreak havoc not only on your business, but also on the very partnerships that those agreements were formed between. So, I always advise getting everything that you can in writing. First off, a lot of people don’t listen very well. Secondly, individuals can interpret the same exact conversation in very different ways. And lastly, while most people have good intentions, let’s face it, there are a lot of scammers and delusional folks out there, too. So, having your conversation written down (especially in a legal contract of some kind if anything major is on the line) will clearly identify the parameters and expectations of that agreement and help prevent misunderstandings.  A lot of times, and especially in small businesses, agreements are entered into at the beginning of a partnership or work relationship when everything is going great, but eventually, an employee will quit or a service provider will flake. Having that written agreement will help keep everyone accountable at a minimum, and give you some avenue for recourse if someone isn’t holding up their end of the deal.

2. Know Everything That Goes on

Business owners often decide to work with those that they trust the most, from family members or lifelong friends to a close legal advisor or mentor. But the only person that is entirely vested in your own success is you, so it is of the utmost importance that you not only are aware of, but fully understand every aspect of your business. Make sure that you know what every employee is doing, what every contract is about and where every single cent is being spent.  Delegation is important, but as the business owner, you are ultimately the only one responsible for knowing everything that goes on. If you don’t, it leaves you very vulnerable to theft, legal action or even the unintended ramifications of incompetence from an employee or partner. We all want to think the best of others, especially if they are a trusted friend or family member, but unfortunately, there are all kinds of situations that can put your business (or even personal) assets in jeopardy. So, make sure that you understand every aspect of your business!

3. Have a Process for Accountability

Another great way to cover your bases, particularly when it comes to the financial aspects of your business, is to have two unassociated individuals sign-off on every major decision.  This includes anything from writing and cashing checks to signing off on contracts and purchase orders. And this also means that you should have a separate lawyer, a separate accountant, a separate agent, etc. all from different companies and that don’t know each other in any way. This process will help provide accountability to keep your best interests in mind, identify any problem areas or issues more quickly and prevent any conflicts of interest.

4. Know Who You are Really Dealing With

During interviews and first meetings, people do their best to impress and this can make it extra difficult for you to know who you are truly hiring or doing business with.  With the internet, doing thorough reference and background checks is easier than ever, so make sure to follow through. And you can learn a lot about who a company or individual truly is from their social media sites like FaceBook or Twitter. You can even run credit checks to make sure that before you enter into a business endeavor with someone, they aren’t in big financial trouble. This will help ease your mind about putting your business and trust into someone new.

Do you have another tip for trusting others in your business?  Please share it below.




 
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