Archive for June, 2014


Mondays with Mike: Keep ‘Em Coming Back – Rich, Relevant Content

???????????????????Even if you don’t have a product that you sell online, nearly every business benefits from having a website.  It’s how you build your brand, reach new consumers, and share the important details about your business.  Whether you build it yourself or hire a web designer, though, getting the site up and running is only the first step. 

If you want repeat visits to your website, you have to give folks a reason to come back.  Especially if you’re not using the site for online sales, you’ll find that providing articles or blog posts with fresh and interesting content is one of the best ways to get consumers in the habit of coming back.  If your customers look forward to the new content you post, you have a much better shot at creating a lasting impression of your brand.

The key is to make your content fresh and relevant, though, and that’s no easy task.  Entrepreneurs with new websites often worry that they’ll have trouble continually coming up with a new story to tell.  Here’s the secret:  you don’t have to tell a new story with every post; you simply have to tell the same story in a fresh way. 

Technology is your friend.

Let’s say that your family owns a farm – you have orchards, a bakery, a produce stand, and wagon rides so that customers can pick their own fresh fruit.  You want your website to tell your story and to encourage folks to support your small local business.  But what will you write about in your blog?

You start out with blog posts about what’s in season, but it doesn’t have to end there.  You can include recipes that feature your fresh produce, and move on to other topics.  Take your website visitors on a virtual tour of your bakery, or of the farm, using Skype.  Interview your visitors and get their permission to include their favorite parts of their visit in a video collection.  Show off the new water recycling system you’ve installed and take the opportunity to talk about sustainable farming and how important it is.  Invite a local chef to feature your produce in their restaurant and post the menus on your website.  Create an infographic that talks about the nutritional value of fresh fruit, or that shows a breakdown of all the crops you raise and where you have them planted on the farm.

You’re telling the same story about a hardworking, family-owned business, but you’re using technology to share that story in fresh and interesting ways.  Your website analytics can give you valuable information about which pages get the most views and are shared with others, and you can use that feedback to tailor future content.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an important tool – so important that lots of websites simply hire someone to spin (rewrite) articles to fool Google into thinking that the site is materially different from the last time it was crawled.  The benefit of creating genuine rich content is that you don’t have to fool a search engine – your site actually has new, relevant, and engaging content.  There’s so much more to building a vibrant, successful website than simply securing a web address and slapping up some graphics.  If you’re not using the incredibly power of your site to tell your unique story, then you’re missing the boat.


Nextiva Customer Success Story: Five Star Tours

The leading tour bus company in San Diego, Five Star Tours and Charter Bus Company is a family-operated business that specializes in international group transportation and tour services along the Californian and Mexican coasts.

We recently met with Alfonso Hernandez, General Manager of Five Star Tours, to chat with him about how his company uses their phone system to conduct their business operations.

Located in a bustling train station, the Five Star Tours team used to have a phone system that was connected to the station’s PA. This proved to be a headache throughout their day-to-day activities, as the system consistently dropped calls, didn’t support caller ID, and wouldn’t accurately transfer calls. On top of that, they would receive conductor messages over their phone calls. It was time for a change.

We were happy to hear Alfonso report that Nextiva’s phone service gave them a 100% turnaround. They can now hear their clients clearly, and they have programmed their call forwarding functions and hunt groups to give the team more freedom of mobility.

Best of all, Nextiva gave Five Star Tours a competitive advantage. That’s the goal of Nextiva’s products and services – to make your day easier and give you a leg up on your competition. We’re glad that we were able to make that happen for Alfonso and his team.

Hear his full story here:


Be Like Google: How to Build a Valuable Brand

Your company’s brand is what people say when you are not around. Customers buy from brands that they know, like and trust. If built right, your brand can be one of the most valuable assets your company owns.

Google-LogoThis past year, Google finally topped Apple for the title of the world’s most valuable brand. According to Millward Brown’s BrandZ study, Apple’s brand value diminished 20 percent to an estimated $148 billion while Google’s brand value increased 40 percent since last year to reach $159 billion. Rounding out the top five on the list of the most valuable brands are two more technology firms: IBM at $170 billion and Microsoft at $90 billion. The fifth spot is claimed by fast food giant, McDonald’s. Where is Coca-Cola? Number 6.

Including the top four most valuable brands, a total of 18 technology companies made the list accounting for $827 billion in brand value. Facebook’s brand value increased 68% to reach number 21, while Twitter and LinkedIn make their debut to the list coming in at 71 and 78 respectively.

According to financeonline.com, there are several explanations for Apple’s fall. Here is what happened and what small business owners can learn from the world’s top brands:

  1. Perfectionism can slow your company down. Apple and Google could not be more different with how they choose to roll out their products. Apple exemplifies perfection and secrecy, while Google is known for releasing beta versions of their products and embracing feedback from the crowd. Overall, Google seems to take more risk (like Google Glass and a self-driving car) and is less afraid of failure. Lesson: You will make mistakes, so fail faster. Done is better than perfect.
  2. Build your brand image carefully. Even today, the Apple brand is impossible to separate from its cofounder, Steve Jobs. Can the company keep its winning brand without its visionary leader? Pundits continue to ask questions like how much of Apple’s breakthrough products was the result of one man’s genius? Alternately, Google is seen as a team of incredibly talented people on a mission to develop the world’s most innovative ideas. Lesson: A brand image can grow more easily and sustainably if it is not be tied to one person.
  3. If you’re going to set the bar high, make sure you can reach it. For a decade, Apple redefined product categories with iTunes, the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. This is what consumers have come to expect with every new product. Its failure to launch an innovative new product to match the genius of the past has contributed to its fall. Lesson: Don’t get caught in the Innovator’s Dilemma. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Innovator%27s_Dilemma

Set the bar high for others, but be able to consistently reach it yourself.

How have you made your brand valuable?


Think Like a Doctor to Cure Your Customers’ Problems

????????????????????????????????????????????Greg House, M.D. was a brilliant (if fictitious) diagnostician who based his success on the premise that “everybody lies.”  I can imagine a number of reasons why patients may lie outright to their doctors — even if those lies send them to the brink of death until the last few minutes of the episode.  But your business customers seldom try to misdirect you.  They just don’t know how to accurately tell you about the issues that they want to resolve with your goods or services. 

If you find yourself constantly tweaking and re-tweaking your business solutions, or if customers seem to return your products too frequently, you may be a victim of the dreaded customer-service disease known as problem solving by deduction.  However, by playing doctor and recognizing certain symptoms, you can find effective cures your customers’ needs.

Symptom 1: Requesting a Cure without Describing the Ailment

How many patients stroll into their doctors’ offices just to ask for an antibiotic?  Did they conduct their own testing before the visit to verify that they have a bacterial infection that antibiotics actually cure?  Unless your clients have your level of expertise, their requested solutions may not guarantee a cure for their ills, and it can even create a new disease.

When a first-time customer came to my friend’s flower shop looking for a bouquet of lilies to bring as a hostess gift, my friend initiated a conversation about the gift-giving occasion.  Once she learned that the flowers were intended for a dinner party being held by a first-generation German family, she quickly suggested alternative flowers because in Germany, lilies are used at funerals.  A few minutes of conversation saved the customer from embarrassment — and it earned my friend many future flower orders for the customer’s frequent business events.

Symptom 2: Providing Vague Explanations of the Ailment

You probably wouldn’t spend money on a doctor visit to report that you just don’t feel right.  Just as you might bring a list of specific complaints like loss of appetite or exhaustion, your clients need to describe their issues as specifically as possible. 

Think of the months of wasted effort you would put in if you were to build a Model A Ford from original parts, only to learn later than the customer wanted a ’65 Mustang when he asked you to “build a classic car.”  Business people can fall into this trap, often because they don’t want to appear ignorant.  But, if you don’t ask questions to get to the specifics, you will not find the right solutions to your customers’ business needs.

Symptom 3: Defining Issues by Elimination

When your doctor asks you where it hurts, you wouldn’t respond with, “I’ll tell you where it doesn’t hurt.”  Yet, some consulting customers expect you to come up with solutions based solely on what they do not want.  This is an extreme example of customer service by deduction, and you have to carefully nip it in the bud.

One report designer quickly learned this lesson when she was called in to modify a series of reports used to analyze product sales within a company.  The client provided her with a printout of each report and then, proceeded to point out what was wrong with each one.

Recognizing that this type of information would lead to a trial-and-error approach that would never solve the problem, the designer refused to end the meeting.  She kept digging until she got the client to clearly explain the intended use for each report and identify the missing information that prevented the report from meeting its goals.  With clear answers, she could solve the real issues.  Her clients were delighted when she returned with new reports that met or exceeded their expectations.

Recognize the Symptoms to Heal Your Customers’ Ailments

Your customers come to you because you have knowledge that they do not have.  But just as patients do not clearly express their medical concerns, your clients can easily lead you down the wrong path.  Of course, you probably want to act more like Marcus Welby than Greg House, but you need to keep asking questions until you can hone in on the issues and apply the healing touch that they really need.


The Dos and Don’ts of Trade Show Marketing

It's no secret that trade show events are quite costly. In fact, they can quickly command 20-30% of your marketing budget with just a few events each year. So, it pays to do it right.

DO capture leads in volume. Time is money. The number of hours the tradeshow floor is open is limited and attendees have a full agenda of sessions, networking, pre-arranged meetings PLUS the list of exhibitors they have already prioritized as “must visit” during the event. You’re already fighting time (not something many people win). So, you might as well gather as many new contacts as possible during the short time period that attendees have in the exhibit hall. Sort them out and prioritize them later for sales follow-up.

  • You have no idea if the next person that walks by your booth could justify your investment in it. Make an introduction without judgment.
  • Even contacts that aren’t ready to purchase or partner now could be opportunities to nurture for when they are ready.
  • You have spent too much money to be there to treat each conversation as an hour meeting. You’ll miss out on hundreds of new leads. Gather some initial information and set a time to follow-up after the show.

DO follow up promptly and nurture new leads over time. This is where the rubber meets the road. If you are going to spend the time and money planning, promoting and presenting your brand at an event, the only way to quantify the return on that investment is to contact, qualify and nurture the leads that you generated. While that seems obvious, according to industry research published by Exhibitor Online, only 47% of companies track event leads by their source throughout the sales cycle and a mere 28% measure and report the number of event leads that ultimately convert to sales. That’s just sad.

  • Lead capture systems have come a long way. Rent the number needed for your booth size and staff and jot a few notes. It makes follow-up more effective.
  • Even if some people don’t buy from you (and many won’t), they are more likely to share your brand, message, etc. with others if you follow-up effectively and educate them.
  • Bottom line? The whole thing is a waste of money if you don’t have a plan to score, nurture and stay in touch with the event leads you generate.

Stocksy_txp3d2d0418cB7000_Small_164728There are also some things to avoid in the event marketing world. These are my favorites. I encourage you to share yours and keep the sharing going.

DON’T stand around your booth chatting with your own team. It makes attendees perceive that you’re not in a conversation with them.

DON’T eat in the booth. Would you want to have a conversation with someone talking while eating? If you wouldn’t do it in your storefront (that’s what your booth is, after all), don’t do it in the booth.

DON’T talk on your cell phone, or text, or check email, etc. while staffing the booth. Step away from the booth to take a call so that when you’re in the booth, you are focused on the attendees.

Treat your booth as if it is the single, most important presentation of your brand to a new audience. Because in many cases, that’s exactly what it is. So, keep it professional, engaging and fun! Oh, and don’t forget to smile.


6 Best Apps to Manage Your Business Finances

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????These days, the idea of spending 40 hours a week in the office is foreign for most small business owners. We’re more likely to be traveling to business meetings and conferences, or out in the field with clients. And with the technology we have currently available, it’s easier than ever to manage our businesses, no matter where we are, especially by leveraging mobile apps.

Keeping on top of your finances is imperative for your small business. Take advantage of apps provide to manage your money from any mobile device. Here are my suggestions of the 6 best apps to manage your business finances.

1. Freshbooks

If you’re a Freshbooks user, you’ll appreciate the features of its mobile app. In addition to providing access to your accounts, you can also snap photos of paper receipts and log them as expenses, send invoices on the go, and use the time tracking tool to account for hours spent on a given project.

The details: The Freshbooks app is free for users, and is available for both Apple and Android devices.

2. Expensify

If you keep track of your business expenses and hate paper receipts, you’ll love Expensify. This mobile app helps you take photos of receipts, categorize the expenses, and send expense reports right from your phone or tablet.

The details: The app is free and available for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows phones.

3. Square

For retailers and restaurants, credit and debit card payments usually make up a large part of their revenue. In fact, by 2017, it is predicted that only 23% of transactions will be cash-based.

But sometimes those bulky merchant card processing machines are overkill, and many charge more than you want to pay. And what if you want to sell products at a farmer’s market or community fair? Try the right tool for the job: Square is a card reader you can affix to your phone to swipe cards for payments. It’s handy on the go and in your physical location.

The details: The app and card reader are free, and credit card processing fees are either 2.75% per swipe (based on the transaction cost) or 3.5% + $.15 per transaction, depending on the plan you choose.

4. inDinero

If you’re looking for a mobile app that offers multiple financial functions, try inDinero. Both its website and mobile version offer services related to accounting, taxes, payroll, 1099s, bill payment, and compliance. Users even get access to accountants for difficult questions.

The details: The tool is “invite only.” The company looks for businesses with high-growth potential.

5. SurePayroll

If you have employees, use mobile app SurePayroll to pay your staff and contractors, manage employee information, and view payroll reports. This frees you up from having to physically be at your desktop to take care of employee needs.

The details: The app is available for iPhone and Android, and is free for SurePayroll users.

6. FreeAgent

For freelancers and independent contractors, it’s essential to stay on top of proposals, invoices, and time tracking. The FreeAgent app provides all these features, as well as expense tracking and reports.

The details: The services is $24 a month and available for iPhone, Android, and Windows phones.

There are many other financial mobile apps in the marketplace, so find the ones that fulfill the needs your small business has.


How to Define & Refine Your Elevator Pitch

Stocksy_txpb08fd375357000_Small_170332First impressions really do matter. Think back to the last time you attended a networking mixer. Did you have a quick and smooth response to the question, “What do you do?” Or did you stutter and stumble over your words, finding it difficult to explain your business? If it was the latter, it’s time to define or refine your elevator pitch.

First, What Is an Elevator Pitch?

Consider it your verbal commercial; it’s how you explain what your business does and how it can benefit the person you’re talking to. Typically you can get it all out in 30 to 60 seconds. Any longer, and you will bore your audience.

What’s Wrong With Your Current Pitch

Think about the response you get with your current elevator pitch. Do people look confounded when you try to explain what your business does? Do they look around the room, bored and ready to escape? These are clues that can help you understand what needs to be fixed with your current spiel.

Your audience doesn’t care what you think is great about your company. They care about how it can help them. So if your current pitch is focused on the features of your business and not the benefits to your audience, you’re not succeeding in connecting with your audience the way you need to.

Perfecting Your Pitch

Now that you know what’s wrong with your old pitch, toss it aside and start brainstorming on your new one. Essentially, your elevator pitch should have these three components;

  1. The problem you solve for people
  2. How you solve it
  3. What makes you unique

Now, that doesn’t mean you have to be boring in addressing each point. Some of the most successful elevator pitches begin with a thought-provoking question, like:

Could you stand to make more money?

Tip: make the question an automatic yes to get your audience in a receptive frame of mind. Make it an obvious question to answer; who would answer no to the question above?

Next, look at where your audience is coming from. If you’re at a small business networking meeting, probably every small business owner is there to find potential customers.  Knowing this, you can move on to that pain point:

I’m Melinda Emerson, the “SmallBizLady,” and I help small businesses like yours bring in more money.

Now you’ve really got their attention. You’ve latched on to a problem they have, and now you’ve told them you can fix it. Now they want to know how.

I do that by looking at what’s not working in your business, helping you fix it, and guiding you to find new customers.

Now, I could have said that I offer marketing consultation services, product development, and marketing analysis, but I didn’t want my audience’s eyes to glaze over. They want the big picture: I can help them make money. How I do it is a conversation we can have one-on-one if they’re interested.

If you’re speaking to a crowd, you can also tell people how to find you. Typically mentioning your website is sufficient.

Don’t be afraid to have several versions of your elevator speech, especially if you meet with different groups. Tailor it to fit your audience.

How to Find Out if It’s Working

The best way to measure the success of your elevator speech is to gauge reactions. If people are engaged when you speak, you’re doing a good job. If they come up afterward to ask questions, even better. You want your elevator speech to be a teaser that makes people want to exchange business cards and learn more about what you do.

Armed with your new elevator speech, you’ll be ready to knock ‘em dead at your next networking event!


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Stop Wasting Time With Meetings

Are you and your employees spending too much time in meetings? In-person meetings can be the best way to get everyone on the same page, brainstorm new ideas or inspire teamwork. But meetings can easily spiral out of control and start devouring your workday, preventing you and your team from actually accomplishing all the stuff you’ve been meeting about.

Here are five ways to keep your team meetings manageable and productive.

  1. Stop the status meetings. Many businesses set up a weekly “status meeting” for everyone to check in and let the rest of the team know how their projects are going. Typically, this information could be just as easily conveyed by sending a status report everyone can read in 10 minutes.
  2. Keep it short. You’ve heard the saying “Work expands to fill the time available,” and the same is true of meetings. Always have a firm start and end time for your meetings—ideally, no longer than half an hour. This keeps everyone focused. Start wrapping up five minutes before closing time.
  3. Meet on the move. Try holding meetings with everyone standing up or meetings walking outside (obviously, the latter works better with a small team). Attendees will feel more energized, which makes standing meetings a great way to announce companywide changes or other news you want everyone to be excited about.
  4. Ban device use. Smartphones can make meetings take longer as people distracted by their devices miss key information and have to be brought up to speed. If your meetings are half an hour or shorter, it shouldn’t be a problem for everyone to put their phones face down on the table and focus. For longer meetings, set hourly breaks when people can grab refreshments, use the restroom and check phones and tablets.
  5. Be tough. Whoever’s in charge of the meeting needs to be tactful, but strict about keeping conversations on topic, managing “meeting hogs,” ensuring the meeting ends on time and clarifying next steps. If you can’t do this, appoint someone who can. 

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Mondays with Mike: Great Meetings In 4 Simple Steps

We’ve all had to sit through them – big old snoozefests of meetings full of buzzwords and BS.  Hell, I think I even conducted a few of those before I figured out how to get the most out of the times when I bring my staff together.  Meetings shouldn’t be a chore; they are an opportunity to share ideas, devise solutions, and inspire better performance from your whole staff – but only if you run those meetings right.  Here’s how it’s done:

  • Outline objective as a group.  My meetings start with a blank whiteboard.  I kick things off by establishing the reason for the meeting, and then every member of the group contributes an objective they want to accomplish in that meeting.  I write the objective down or designate another staff member to record our objectives, and the amazing benefit is that every single person is immediately engaged.  They have a stake in the meeting, and they know their priorities matter.  Don’t worry if you have more objectives than time … you’re about to refine and focus your list.
  • Consolidate your objectives.  Combine and condense your list of objectives into a manageable number – three to five is a perfect number for a brief meeting – and list those goals for everyone to see.  Tackle each objective – collect information, collaborate to find a solution, and move on through your list.
  • Confirm that you’ve achieved each objective.  Not only does this step ensure that you’ve accomplished the meeting’s goals, but you’re also modeling a thoughtful, efficient approach to problem solving.  Focusing on measurable progress sets a good example.

Not every problem needs a major meeting, and my next and final step lets you address smaller issues by holding a meeting with an appropriate scope.  These micro meetings can be held on short notice and should only involve the essential staff. 

  • ???????????????????????????????????Hold a stand-up meeting.  When you sit folks down for a meeting, they tend to settle in.  There’s no hurry, and there’s little excitement in a room full of people looking at their watches.  I like the stand-up meeting, and I keep ‘em brief.  We use raised tables for standing note-taking, and I always appoint a timekeeper, with instructions to cut the meeting off at fifteen minutes.  Giving yourself a brief window means that you have to prioritize your objectives, and you’re eliminating unnecessary fluff.  You have to be prepared, and you must be efficient.  Training yourself and your staff to stay on topic in these quickie meetings will pay dividends when you discover how much you can accomplish in a relatively short period of time.

A meeting should always, always be the means to an end.  The point of holding a meeting is to accomplish an objective, not to appear to be busy and engaged.  If you’re meeting just to have a meeting, you’re doing it wrong.  If you see your staff propping up their eyelids to stay awake in your meeting, then you need to examine and improve your meeting protocol.   Your objective should be efficient, effective, goal-oriented gatherings.  




 
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