Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


Work Your Biz Wednesday: Best Practices for Text Marketing Campaigns

Have you thought about using text marketing for your small business? Here are some tips for a successful campaign from The Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: The Truth About Negative Online Reviews

?????????????????????????????Are you in denial about negative online reviews of your business? I know plenty of small business owners who don’t list their companies on review sites like Yelp! Others are listed, but never bother to check their listing to see what kinds of reviews their businesses are getting.

While I can understand the impulse to hide your head in the sand when it comes to online reviews, here are four reasons why playing ostrich isn’t a good thing.

  1. Your potential customers are reading online reviews, so you should be, too. A whopping 79 percent of U.S. adult Internet users check online reviews sometimes or always before they buy something, a survey by YouGov reports. Just 7 percent never do. Online reviews have become essential to both online and offline shoppers, so if you aren’t checking them, you’re in the dark about how customers view your business.
  2. The reality probably isn’t as bad as you fear it is. Yes, we’ve all heard horror stories about bad reviews going viral. However, the YouGov survey says Internet users are far more likely to post good or mixed reviews than negative ones. Just 21 percent say they’ve ever left a bad review, compared to 54 percent who have left a good one and 59 percent who have left a mixed one.
  3. Even the negative reviewers aren’t out to get you. Tales of vengeful competitors posting bad reviews of small businesses get a lot of attention in the media. In reality, though, 88 percent of reviewers who write bad reviews do so to prevent other customers from having a bad experience, not out of vengeance. About one-fourth leave bad reviews to help get over their anger, while 21 percent do so hoping the business will take steps to remedy the problem they’re complaining about.
  4. Which leads to the fourth and most important reason not to ignore negative reviews: Bad reviews are a valuable tool for growing your business. Negative reviews show you what you’re doing wrong (or what the customer perceives as wrong, which is pretty much the same thing). They offer a chance to make it right and then share what you’ve done with the world. If you can convince an unsatisfied customer you care about their experience and you’ve got their best interests at heart, you just might earn a customer for life—one who will evangelize your business to their friends, family and online connections.

Did you ever think so many positive things could come out of one negative online review?


Mondays with Mike: Secret Weapons – Contractors You Can’t Live Without

Mad_Men_season_5_cast_photoThe traditional office, staffed with full-time employees with full-time benefits is a relic from Mad Men days.  Most of us have to move quickly and operate on razor-thin margins that make it impossible to afford a complement of workers waiting for something to do.  It’s become far more feasible and profitable to assemble a team of contractors – specialists in their niches – who are on call, command high rates for their expertise, and appreciate the flexibility of working when they want to. 

What’s essential is that you assemble your contractors ahead of time – locate, vet, and create a relationship before you need them for big projects so you don’t have to scramble last minute.  Here are the people you should look for:

  1. Web Designer – There’s really no good excuse for a lousy website.  Most people will encounter your company on the web, and you want to put your best foot forward.  Finding a web designer who designs your site and stays on call to give you the ability to adapt your website to particular client needs or conditions is key. 
  2. Web Administrator – As more of us move our businesses online, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of web security and web reliability.  This position is perhaps the most important contractor you’ll hire, because they’ll literally have the keys to your online kingdom.  When there’s a problem with your system, you want immediate availability from your administrator.
  3. Core Competency – Find extra local talent in your field and keep them ready for when you have big jobs that require you to be able to scale up rapidly.  Whether you’re a chef who needs catering staff for special events or you’re an accountant who needs additional help at tax time, doing the legwork ahead of time can give you a competitive edge when it comes to winning new clients in a clutch situation.
  4. Writer – We may not want to own up to it, but most of us aren’t great writers.  As important as our written messages are, it’s worth locating a skilled wordsmith to polish our prose.  Weigh your options:  you could spend all day working on a company newsletter (and hope no one catches the grammatical mistakes,) or you can call your professional writer, share the details, and get to work doing what you do best while your writer pens a perfect account of what’s current in your company.
  5. Translator – If you don’t need one now, odds are very good that you will before long.  The broadening global marketplace means that if you’re not working with clients in other countries, then you’re probably missing opportunities.  Identify the languages that are most likely to be relevant in your field and line up translators before you start losing jobs because you’re not fluent in Mandarin or Spanish.
  6. Administrative Assistant – This position is your key, backup, catch-all.  Whether you need timely follow-up on a new marketing campaign, or whether your full-time admin needs help handling the seasonal rush in your field, it’s wise to find a good admin to be at the ready.

So where do you find these folks?  You’ll be shocked at how many resources are out there.  Freelance websites like Elance and ODesk connect you with contractors all over the world in a variety of niches, and community-based sites like Craigslist or Patch can connect you with local talent.  The keys to successfully working with contractors are these:  first, get them lined up and vetted – with a small project to start – before you have a critical need for their services.   Second, always pay them promptly and treat them like gold.  You want that contractor to always be happy to get your call and eager to get to work on your next project. 


What Color Should Your Logo Be?

Small business owners fret over what their logo looks like. They want it to be clean, cool or fancy. What they should really focus on is how it makes a customer feel since logos play a large role in their purchasing decisions. Researchers at the University of Amsterdam found that children as young as two years old could recall a logo and its product 67% of the time. By eight, 100 percent of children tested could associate the logo with the product.

???????????????????????????Brand logos are valuable property because they evoke emotions connected with buying. For the first time in the history of Interbrand’s Best Global Brands report, Apple was the top brand. Google jumped to number 2 and Coca-Cola, the brand that held the number one position for 13 years was number three. The total value of all 100 Best Global Brands was $1.5 trillion with the Google brand logo being worth over $100 billion alone.

According to a new research at Financesonline.com, colors evoke a specific emotional response from a customer. This is important since 75% of all buying decision are emotional.

Here are what specific colors mean:

Red means active, passionate, trustful, love, and intensity. Think Coca-Cola and Target. Red Bull wants customers to see their brand as intense and active.

Yellow means energy and joy. Think Ferrari, Shell and Best Buy. McDonalds wants customers to associate their brand with happiness.

Orange means creative, determined, joyful and the beach. It can stimulate mental activity. Think Fanta and Firefox. The Home Depot wants to help its customers be creative in the Do-It-Yourself market of home construction and repair.

Pink is often associated with feminine brands. It means love, warm, sexuality and nurturing. Think Barbie and T-Mobile. Oprah’s Oxygen network is aimed at women.

Blue means depth, stability, calm, trust, comfort, and reliability. Think Samsung, IBM, Intel, GE and Ford. When a customer buys from Nextiva, they know that their office communications will always be reliably delivered.

Green means relax, peaceful, hopeful and natural. Think Starbucks and BP. Heineken beer wants their customers to feel exactly this way.

Brown is associated with the Earth. It means reliability, support, dependability and grounded. Think Godiva Chocolate and M&Ms (at least the brown ones). UPS has become synonymous with this type of consistent reliability.

Black means formal, mystery, bold, luxurious and serious. Think Blackberry. Customers shop at Tiffany’s for that special occasion.

A logo should not just be “pretty or cool”. Determine what feeling do you want your brand to evoke? Choose your colors wisely.

Barry Moltz helps get small businesses unstuck. His new book, “How to Get Unstuck: 25 Ways to Get Your Business Growing Again” is now available. 


Are You Keeping Score?

Stocksy_txp79d51f4dtW4000_Small_126195Some business people want to prevent losing by not keeping score, by ignoring the results, or by constantly moving the targets.

When my sons were introduced to baseball as small boys, the league prohibited officials from keeping score because they did not want the children to become too competitive at such an early age. League leaders wanted to emphasize the spirit of playing the game and having fun over winning or losing.

This did not work out the way the league planned. All the children on the team who knew how to count were keeping their own score. They knew who was winning! More importantly, they understood that a key part of the game is knowing how to win and to lose.

In winning, you can celebrate with your team members. You are elated because your hard work achieved the goal. In losing, you console yourself along with the team. The next steps are to learn what to do better, shake it off, and vow to return the next time to try again.

It’s important to know the score and declare winners and losers. A recent Ohio High School Hockey championship game was halted after seven overtimes and a 1-1 tie. State officials declared co-champions which angered a lot of players and fans. There was no postgame trophy ceremony because there was only one set of championship hardware. The players took turns posing for pictures with the lone trophy. In ended in a totally unsatisfying experience for both teams.

Many small business owners move their stated targets and goals so they don’t have to admit defeat. This happens during the budgeting process. The company will set a financial goal for the year, but when they start to miss this target, they change the budget. They hate to be wrong so they move the goal to a place they can make it. Similar, objectives are established for employee bonus pay, but when the target is missed, some companies award them anyways because of effort.

Both these examples defeat the purpose of setting a budget or establishing a bonus. Business people learn quickly that winning is a lot more fun and profitable. Learning what it feels like to lose is critical because that will incent everyone involved not to repeat it.

If your company never loses, how can they really appreciate winning?


20 Team Building Ideas for Your Company

The Nextiva team has discovered that some of our best brainstorming sessions and bonding moments happen outside of the office. It’s sometimes easier to toss around ideas and let your personality shine when you’re not restricted to the agenda and formality of an office meeting. Here are some ways to let your employees break out of the workplace and enjoy each other’s company:

1. Dave & Buster’s – In addition to arcade games, billiards, and bowling, D&B’s offers their own Team Building Packages to help customize your event.

Cost: $$$

2. On-Site Fitness Sessions – Schedule a trainer to come by your office at lunchtime and utilize an open area to teach yoga, aerobics, or Zumba to your employees.

Cost: $$

3. Flag Football – Nextiva holds an annual flag football game each January before the NFL Super Bowl, and the winning team gets a trophy (and bragging rights) for the remainder of the year.

Cost: $

Check out our 2014 Amazing Super Bowl game here:

4. Lunch & Learn – Cater a yummy lunch for your employees to enjoy while you train them on new products or skills, host a guest speaker, or do a simple arts & crafts project.

Cost: $$

5. Scavenger Hunt – Plan a small scavenger hunt around the office, or go all out and send groups of employees around the city on a day-long adventure.

Cost: $

6. Adventure Course – Find an outdoor adventure course near your town and plan a day trip that can include rope courses, rappelling, zip lines, and more.

Cost: $$$$

7. Local Sporting Events – Choose a local sporting event and hold a tailgating party in the parking lot for employees (and their families!) before the game.

Cost: $$$

8. Field Trips – Tour a location that is relevant to your company, or just let your team play hooky for the day to see a movie, go to the zoo, or visit a museum.

Cost: $$-$$$

9. Contests – The Nextiva Sales Team holds monthly contests, allowing team members who meet their personal goal to partake in silly rewards like shaving their manager’s head or throwing a pie in an exec’s face.

Cost: $

10. BBQ – Reserve a pavilion at a local park and invite your team to enjoy burgers, sand volleyball and bag toss. Add to the fun by including employees’ family members and children’s activites!

Cost: $$$

11. Book Club – Each month, pick a business book (these are our faves!) or a popular novel for your employees to read. Once a week, get together during lunch and share your opinions and ideas.

Cost: $

12. Potluck Lunches – Celebrate wacky holidays (our design team had a Pi Day Potluck this year!) with a group lunch that lets everyone contribute their signature dish.

Cost: $

13. Happy Hour – The Nextiva team encourages cross-departmental mingling by inviting a few people from each department to a weekly happy hour each Thursday.

Cost: $$

14. Volunteer – Reach out to the Red Cross or a local philanthropic organization to find volunteer opportunities in your area. Your employees will improve their leadership skills and feel a real sense of purpose at the end of the day!

Cost: $

15. Holiday Parties – It can be a low-key event in the office, or a lavish evening with food and entertainment. Nextiva holds a January Kickoff Party that includes dinner and drinks, and we’ve also featured a DJ, caricaturists, photo booth, flame throwers, magicians, and more!

Cost: $$$$

Get a peek inside of Nextiva’s 2014 Kickoff Party:

16. Sports sponsorships – Encourage employees to sign up for coed softball or volleyball leagues at a park or rec center and sponsor their team. Bonus: add your logo to their t-shirts for some cheap marketing!

Cost: $$

17. Charity events – Pay employee registration for 5K runs or half marathons and a celebratory brunch after the race.

Cost: $$

18. 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament – A casual tournament at a local park or gym on a weekend afternoon can be a great stress reliever.

Cost: $

19. BowlingLucky Strike in downtown Phoenix is a favorite for the Nextiva Marketing team! Most bowling alleys will offer special promotions for large groups.

Cost: $$$

20. Go Kart Racing – A favorite activity for the Nextiva Sales Team, it will let your employees experience speed and exhilaration while getting a little competitive.

Cost: $$$

Check out our most recent event at Octane Raceway in Scottsdale, Arizona:


Work Your Biz Wednesday: 4 Ways to Kickstart Your Marketing Efforts

Marketing your small business doesn't have to be difficult! Here are 4 ways to jump start your marketing plan and boost your revenue from the Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson.


Mondays with Mike: Productivity Killers – Apps You Should Prohibit in the Office

I don’t consider myself a dictator, but I do operate on the principle that no one cares about my company as much as I do.  I keep up on current research, and I’ve experimented with ways to boost my own productivity, and one thing is certain:  there are applications that have NO business in your workplace.  Assuming that you don’t run your office in order to entertain your employees, here are some apps that you absolutely must banish from the office:

  1. social-mediaSocial Media.  Facebook., Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr … not a single one of these apps belongs in your office (with the possible exception of the staff who handles social media for your company.)  They’re colossal time-suckers, and in addition to offering your staff games, quizzes, and celebrity news to occupy their work time, these platforms also offer a window into your office that you can’t control.  Do you want your competitors knowing that your customer service reps have the highest Candy Crush scores in the industry?  These apps – used on company time – provide absolutely zero benefit to your business.
  2. Media Players.  While it’s technically possible to come up with a legitimate business reason you might need YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Google Play on your computers, the odds are much greater that these apps will be used to divert your staff’s attention from their work.  Don’t make it harder than it already is for your staff to stay focused.  Have your IT folks block these apps from your company computers.
  3. Addictive Games.  The aforementioned Candy Crush, as well as Angry Birds, Words with Friends, the notorious Flappy Bird – all of these games are expressly designed to keep us playing longer than we’d planned.  While we all need breaks in order to stay productive, it’s much better to stand up, walk around, and get a change of scenery, rather than wasting half an hour trying to match up candies on a smartphone.  Games like these do not belong in the office.  ßSee the period?
  4. Illegal Sites.  It should go without saying, but prohibiting your staff from accessing pornography and gambling sites from the computers you own is just common sense.  Not only are these sites productivity slayers, but they also often contain illegal material that you could be prosecuted for.  Head these problems off before they start.
  5. Interoffice Chat and Text.  Now you may balk at this one, but I’ve found that almost never have these apps made my staff more productive.  You not only run the risk of your message not being conveyed as clearly as it could be by simply walking down the hall and delivering it in person, but you also wind up with off topic material that distracts your employees from their work.  An icon that chimes each time a new message comes in is a distraction that requires recovery and refocusing time to overcome.  Just eliminate it altogether.

Employee satisfaction is hugely important to me and other successful entrepreneurs who know that keeping good people on staff is cost effective.  What I’ve learned, though, is that while you may ruffle a few feathers by banning Facebook in the office, it’s always worth it.  If you’re serious about pushing your staff to produce work they’re proud of, you’ll be able to create that culture by banishing unwanted distractions.    


The Small Business Advantage to Snagging the Best Employees

One of my contacts worked for a young, growing company that paid top dollar for software engineers in preparation for the day that they would be needed to meet client demand.  When she expressed concern about the overspending, one partner told her that if she was in charge, the company would be defunct in a year.  Six months later, their doors closed forever.

That partner was not wrong in recognizing the need for exceptionally-skilled workers.  The error was in seeing spending as the only way to attract and keep the best talent.  Large corporations may have ready cash to pay top wages and benefits, but small business owners can attract and keep the finest employees through their entrepreneurial spirit.  Here are some great ways to get your workers involved in your business vision and develop a relationship that few big businesses can match.

Offer Creative Compensation

Economic downturns may create a buyer’s market for hiring, but that doesn’t mean that the most skilled applicants will agree to take a position that offers substandard incentives.  You may not have the funds to pay a top salary when making an offer — or even when it’s time for an annual review.  But as a small business, your company can offer achievement-based bonuses that can really motivate your employees while increasing your revenues.  So, when certain sales reps are responsible for accelerated sales or when engineers enhance a product to make it more attractive to the marketplace, make sure that they receive their fair share of the profits.

Encourage Active Involvement in the Company

Choosing to work for a small company carries certain inherent risks, but it also offers benefits that cannot be matched by working for a huge organization.  When you welcome and act on employee ideas and suggestions, your employees become partners who recognize their unique value to the company as they work alongside you to realize shared goals.

Make sure to listen to their feedback and acknowledge them too- the value of these soft incentives is highly underrated—not to mention easy for small business owners to embrace.

Give Employees the Power to Spread Their Wings

I know a writer who worked for many small software businesses, enlisting her full creativity to develop low-cost, but award-winning manuals.  When she moved to a large company, she vehemently complained that she no longer wrote documentation, so much as manufactured it in accordance with strict, detailed procedures.  She didn’t last long in this position.

Big businesses need to put their employees in specific boxes and keep them there to get their allotted portion of the job done.  As a business owner, you know that one of the greatest rewards comes with seeing a project through from beginning to final results.  Employees can feel that same sense of satisfaction and accomplishment — if you empower them to take on this type of challenge.  As they stretch their abilities, be available to provide upfront and ongoing guidance as needed, but give them latitude to do it their way.  As their abilities grow from new experiences, their investment in the company’s interests will grow as well.

Praise in Public

??????????????????????????????????????A job well done deserves praise and your employees never mind being called to your office to receive your personal kudos.  But when employees receive your commendations at a company meeting or in front of a customer who benefitted from their hard work, they clearly see their true value.  Naturally, public praise helps inspire all employees, but it also lets your customers recognize how the depth of your products and services helps them get the attention and consideration they deserve.

Promote from Within

When a key position opens up in your company, always look first to the members of the team that work hard for you every day.  Granted, some positions require very specific educational requirements not available in your organization, such as a degree in accounting.  But remember that your staff members already have a solid foundation and a deeper understanding of your company culture and how things work.  You probably have to spend time and effort training employees in new concepts and procedures.  Or, they may need to take a class or two to obtain additional knowledge.  But you can’t teach loyalty and dedication, and these traits grow even more when you reward them with advancement.

No large company can match the excitement employees experience going in to a job where they know that they make a vital difference every day.  As their efforts help grow your business, make sure you help them continue to grow as well.  




 
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