Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


Mondays with Mike: What’s In A Name? 8 Tips For Finding The Perfect Name

12-22 Hello my name is smallWe all know those iconic product names – the ones that speak for entire categories:  Kleenex.™  Coke.™  Even Cronut,™ for those of you looking at more recent examples.  Names are powerful, and while some entrepreneurs luck into great names, there are steps you can take to improve your chances of selecting the perfect name, one that conveys your unique attributes.

  1. Avoid sound-alikes.  If you’re entering a category with some high-profile leaders, you’re better off avoiding confusion by selecting a name that is distinctly different.  If you’re starting a delivery company, picking a name like YewPS not only begs for mixups, but it also sets you up for trade name infringement problems.  Be unique!
  2. Use mnemonics.  Yellowtail, the huge wine brand from Australia is the perfect example of a name that leverages mnemonics.  Not only is the kangaroo on the label associated with the continent of origin, but the color coded labels also make it easy for consumers to pick up the variety they want from a sea of choices.
  3. Tell a story.  Whether humble or grand, every company has a story to tell.  Look at Ralph Lauren’s logo.  The polo player tells the tale of privilege and cultural capital.  The polo player’s inclusion in the logo associates the brand name with a desirable, iconic story, a story that translates to millions of dollars every year.
  4. Make it easy to spell.  As more and more consumers turn to online resources to find products and companies, it becomes increasingly more important that prospective customers be able to spell your name.  Choose a name that’s easy to spell, and you’re making your business easy to find.
  5. Make it easy to pronounce.  If you can trust anyone on this point, you can trust me, Mike Michalowicz.  My name is my brand, and since I’m kinda stuck with what my parents gave me, I’ve made light of it – including the pronunciation (mi-KAL-o-wits, in case you’re curious) everywhere I can.
  6. Embed a secret in your logo.  Once you find the arrow in the FedEx logo, or the people holding chips in the Tostitos logo, you’ll find yourself showing your friends, and you’ll notice it every time you see a truck or a bag of chips.  Giving your customers cool little secrets to share helps pull them in as marketers of your brand.
  7. Change the spelling.  Now you want to be careful here, but a misspelled brand name CAN be the key to success.  Krispy Kreme.  Chick-Fil-A.  Tumblr.  Froot Loops.  Liquid Plumr.  The list could go on for miles.  These names are memorable, partly because of their unconventional spelling.  The caution here is that you not stray so far from the correct spelling that you make it hard for customers to find you.
  8. Make your name a verb.  You know you’ve made it when people start using your brand name as a verb.  You can Skype your friends.  You Google something when you want to know the answer.  Even if you use a different search engine, you know what it means to Google something.  Category leaders with memorable names can end up standing for all the other companies in their field.

Of all the business decisions entrepreneurs face, selecting a name is one of the most important.  Your company or product name is your brand, your identity, and your statement to the world.  Make sure you select it wisely.


The New Leaderboard: How Gamification Can Motivate Your Team

12-19 leaderboard smallIn traditional sales environments, managers would often keep leaderboards as a visual representation of employee performance. Achieving the top spot on the leaderboard gives employees something to aspire to, igniting the spirit of competition among team members.

As the business world has become increasingly mobile, however, it’s less common to have all employees in the same physical location. This eliminates the possibility of a traditional leaderboard, but the benefits of such a visual tool still remain. For businesses with multiple workers, an automated leaderboard is a great way to motivate employees and achieve better results. For that reason, gamification is growing in popularity among sales teams across the country. There are a variety of uses for gamification in an organization. Here are three ways this tool can be put to use in your small business.

Time and Attendance

Showing up for work every day should be a given, but as many business owners know, reliability can be a real problem for some employees. Perhaps taking a lesson from schools that issue certificates for consistent attendance, some software providers are incorporating gamification into their HR efforts. Kronos’s Workforce Central 7 has a points-based rewards system that provides positive reinforcement for activities like perfect attendance, timely approval of timecards, bonuses for overtime, and more.

Customer Support

Many companies are finding ways to improve customer support processes. However, healthcare company OmniCare learned through experience that gamification should be customized to the type of employees. After unsuccessfully deploying a leaderboard with cash rewards for its helpdesk, the company realized that its technology-oriented workers felt overly watched instead of motivated. After adjusting the program to one that more adequately motivated its helpdesk employees—one that issued challenges and gave non-cash rewards—OmniCare saw a dramatic improvement in its helpdesk performance.

Sales

Gamification is perhaps most popular in sales departments, since companies so often rely on sales teams to bring in revenue. Sales tools like Hoopla, Ambition.com, FantasySalesTeam.com, and Salesforce’s Work.com offer incentives to employees through performance rewards, leaderboards, and countdown clocks. Like Work.com, Ambition.com, and FantasySalesTeam.com, Hoopla can be incorporated into Salesforce and handled along with a manager’s other responsibilities. Rewards aren’t simply badges and virtual awards, either. Businesses can build in real rewards like gift cards to make hosting contests easier for managers.

Before choosing a gamification program, however, it’s important that businesses understand which incentives appeal to the team members in question. In 2012, Gartner documented this issue, predicting that by 2014, 80 percent of all gamification programs would fail due to poor design. This hasn’t happened, however, due in part to the evolution of Big Data. Businesses are interested in measuring performance and improving operations and gamification is a way to incentivize employees to do things differently.

How can gamification be used in your organization? Only you know. But there are many tools available to help you reach out to your employees and make them excited to come to work each day. One of the best things about gamification is that it challenges employees and makes work fun, which tends to get better results than repeated staff meetings to remind workers of their objectives.


How to Get Customers to Buy from Your Facebook Page

12-19 Facebook sales  smallMillions of small businesses have Facebook pages, but most have no idea how to use them to make sales. The page may have hundreds, maybe even thousands of “likes”, but without sales to match, it is not very valuable.

How can a small business turn virtual “likes” turn into real purchases? Here is where to start:

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Post about Products and Services

Facebook is primarily about engaging with customers and forming a relationship with them by posting educating articles, photos and videos that relate to the company’s brand.  However, no business can expect to make sales if they never post about their actual products and services. Don’t always feel the need to disguise a sales pitch. Sometimes a direct message is the best way to catch a prospect’s attention and convert a sale.

2. Tell a Fun Story

Tell a story that includes the product. Connecting a company’s product or service to “fun” will always get more engagement. The best example is the BlendTec’s “Will It Blend” series. It’s not only funny, but it made people want to buy the blender. Post a preview of the story on the Facebook page, and link it to the full version on the website to make purchase conversion simpler.

3. Connect Online and In-store Activities

An integrated approach to online and offline marketing will drive likes and engagement as well as more visits to a physical store location. These types of posts can influence fans and consumers at the beginning of their purchasing cycle. Make sure what is featured in the store for this month is reflected on social media. Make parallel online announcements when sales on products and discounts are offered in-store

4. Offer Exclusive Deals to Facebook Fans

Another way to encourage purchase activity is to provide products that are available exclusively to Facebook fans. This could include special limited editions or new product launches that are offered to them first.

5. Offer a Subscription Tab

Add a tab on the company’s page that makes a free offer if the visitor “likes” the page and signs up for a mailing list. This way, that Facebook friend can be converted to an email address which can be marketed to through traditional online campaigns.

6. Learn from Facebook Insights

Small businesses need to learn about who visits their page and which content is most popular.  Use the “Insights” tab of the company’s Facebook page on a regular basis. Insights makes it easy to monitor what’s working and what’s not effective. It provides information on the people who like the page and are engaged with the posts. It also enables the tracking of competitive pages for comparison on a weekly basis.

7. Provide an Incentive for Fans to Share Their Experiences

According to Hubspot, ninety percent of people on social media trust and believe recommendations from both strangers and friends. Harness this power by encouraging fans to submit photos with their newly purchased products along with reviews, advice and where to find it. Spark discussions between customers about the service they received.  Use discounts or bonuses to customers who post on Facebook after their purchase.

Companies can also use traditional Facebook advertising to boost posts for increased customer engagement.

What tactics does your business use to convert Facebook “likes” to purchases?


Four Crazy HR Ideas To Ignore – And Six Guiding Principles To Follow

Boutique: Owner with Help Wanted SignWrongheaded, even crazy, HR advice tends to be delivered emphatically, as if passed down from Moses, but that doesn’t make it any truer for the delivery.

Misinformation–myths–about how to hire (or “select," which is the term I prefer) and treat employees can destroy your attempts at building a rich and sustainable corporate culture and can make a hash of your leadership. Here are four of them in particular that I urge you to reject:

1. Snappy but utterly insane advice like “hire slowly, fire quickly.” Try this sometime. Or better, don’t. "Hire slowly" certainly has its good points, but "fire quickly" applied to those who aren't immediately successful means you're throwing away human potential in a way that is completely cruel:  a blip on a resume and wasted resources for your company, not to mention the shockwaves felt by those left un-fired.  In my experience great companies certainly don't ignore the failures of initially unsuccessful employees, but they engage in the more difficult "coach quickly," "make adjustments quickly," and "amp up the training" rather than the kneejerkish "fire quickly."

2. Advice like, Go on your gut.”  If people went on their guts, they wouldn’t hire, well, let’s see:  people of different ethnicities, people of different ages, people of different religious backgrounds, single people for the CEO job. And no way in Helsinki would they hire tattooed, pierced, possibly hoodied Millennials, no matter how great their potential.

3. Advice like, “Turnover is inevitable.  You can manage this fact, but you’ll never transform it.”  (This is especially dangerous advice to take as gospel when employing younger workers (millennials), since it fits with the generational assumption — to some extent true — that millennials don’t expect to work with you forever.  If you consider anyone disposable, you increase the chances they'll live up to/down to your expectations. )

4. Advice like, You can’t work successfully with a union:”  Clearly, people who say this ignore companies like Southwest Airlines — the most unionized airline in a unionized industry—who have great employee relations, with management actually striving to learn from the “other side” at each negotiation, Fairmont Hotels, Host Marriott… The incoming workforce of Millennials, by the way, are the most pro-union generation in quite some time.  Even if it is largely theoretical for them, the anti-union rhetoric isn’t going to win you points with them.

Six Guiding Principles 

Fortunately, there are tested approaches, antithetical to all this idiocy, that help companies thrive every day, while the naysayers nay. The model I use in my corporate culture consulting draws not only from my own experience but from the model of superior service-focused companies like Mayo Clinic, Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, USAA Insurance, Marriott, Auberge Resorts and others, as well as the work of a few true visionaries in the field include the creators of the Ritz-Carlton Hotels And Resorts and the work of Brad Black of HUMANeX Ventures.

1. Hiring — “selecting” – employees has to be systematic. Your approach to whom you select to work in your company, and in which position you place them, needs to be based on science, not on hunches, politics, whims.

[Quick Refresher: Here, speaking broadly, are the underlying personality traits that make for a great customer-facing employee. They spell “WETCO”):

• W is for Warmth: Simple human kindness
• E is for Empathy: The ability to sense what another person is feeling
• T is for Teamwork: An inclination toward ‘‘Let’s work together to make this happen’’ and against ‘‘I’d rather do it all myself"
• C is for Conscientiousness: Detail orientation, including an ability and willingness to follow through to completion
• O is for Optimism: The ability to bounce back and to not internalize challenges. Optimism is a necessity in customer-facing positions.

Similarly, your approach to getting recruits from whom to choose needs to be relentlessly systematic: As Brad Black puts it, "ABS: Always Be Scouting";This allows you ultimately to be able to choose from perhaps the top 1% rather than forced to make do with the top 10% of those who apply.

2. You need an integrated approach to employee development: Great hiring is never enough. In everything else related to employees, you need to be systematic. You need a system of HR. Not just in hiring, but in reviewing your talent for advancement (and lateral moves): you need an integrated approach

3. Go overboard with the onboard:  Onboarding—orientation and the first weeks of employment— matters.  Make sure employees are welcomed, and oriented by a power in the organization, and onboarded by the team they will be working with.

4. Employees need design input and performance leeway: Employees need to have input into the design of, and leeway in the  performance of, their work — and you as an employer need them to have this input and leeway.  (Fill this in with info from high-tech high-touch on both a) design input and b) autonomy

5. Employees need a purpose to their work – and you as a leader need them to have a purpose, in order to get the most out of them.

6. Employees are an asset, not just an expense. Don’t just hire and then try to minimize turnover.  Select and then maximize potential of your asset.  It requires more forethought and dedication, but ultimately it's vastly more effective and sustainable.


Nextiva Customer Success Story: MaidPro

Nextiva customer MaidPro has a simple vision: to clean up North America. Their nationwide residential and commercial cleaning service brings trained professionals to rid customers of dirt at surprisingly affordable rates. Founded in 1991 in Massachusetts, MaidPro has recently franchised their cleaning business into offices across the country.

The Nextiva team traveled to Boston to meet with Jeff Wechsler, VP of R&D and Technology at MaidPro, to learn more about the organization and how cloud phone service can benefit a franchised company.

Jeff explained how the transition into adding franchisees led to the need for a more intricate phone system. He shared with us, “When we originally built our model, the only option was to get copper. To be able to handle multiple calls simultaneously, you’d have to get multiple lines, and it became very expensive and cumbersome.”

Eventually, these annoyances led the MaidPro team to look into alternative communication options. What Jeff’s team found with Nextiva was a partnership that was able to make their business communications:

  • Simpler – MaidPro is now able to provide franchisees with a system that is simple to set up, use, and obtain support. As a franchisor, we need to ensure that our franchisees get support from the vendors that we help line up for them,” Jeff explained.
  • Easier – MaidPro can now provide franchise owners with a phone system that can be activated by simply plugging an IP phone into an Internet connection. “This solution makes it a heck of a lot easier for us,” he said of communications in the cloud.
  • Faster – Things move rapidly within MaidPro, as they’re constantly adding new franchises across the country. Jeff told us, You want someone picking up the phone that can actually help you. There’s always work for us and our franchisees end up getting the support that we require.”
  • More cost efficient – MaidPro discovered the attractive cost benefit of VoIP that thousands of other businesses across the country have experienced: a flat monthly rate payment structure instead of being charged per-minute, which has improved their franchisees’ profit margins.
  • More manageable – “One of the real benefits we’ve always found with Nextiva is that their infrastructure is designed in such a way that it makes it very usable for franchised and distribution organizations,” explained Jeff. The cloud system allows business owners to have hands-on access to their own system, or simply call Nextiva’s Support Team for immediate assistance

5 Tax To-Dos to Wrap Up Before Year’s End

12-17 Business-Taxes smallThis time of year zooms by, and before you know it, it will be January. Waiting until then to get your business tax affairs in order can put you in a time crunch at the start of the year, so get started now to ensure you’re ready for 2015. Here are five things you can do now to ensure you get off to a great start on New Year’s.

1. Make Sure Your Corporation is Compliant

If you’re incorporated, it’s imperative that you remain compliant. That means you’ll need to file your Statement of Information and update any information that has changed in the last year for your corporation. You should receive notification of when your paperwork is due, but it’s a wise idea to keep that due date on your calendar to ensure you don’t miss it.

2. Pull Together Your Accounting Records

If you are one of those business owners who had been putting off doing financial statements all year, you are out of time. In addition to your receipts, you also want to make sure you have all your invoices, bank statements, credit card statements, and your records from anyone you pay online pulled together so that a bookkeeper or tax professional can help you get you accounting records in order.

3. Prepare Your Profit and Loss Statement

While you’ll need to wait until the year has ended to actually run your profit and loss statement for tax purposes, you can start the preparation by logging into your accounting software and making sure all your expenses are appropriately categorized. Match them up to tax categories to ensure that, come tax time, it’s easier to get a clear picture of what you’ve spent and what you’ve earned.

4. Examine Your Budgets

Remember those budgets you set at the start of this year? Now’s the time to see where you stand with your budget projections versus what you actually spent. If, for example, you still have money in your marketing budget, decide how you can spend what’s left in a way that will best help your company before the year closes out. If you’ve got a surplus, consider sharing the wealth with your staff as a holiday bonus, or spending it on a party to celebrate all their hard work throughout the year.

5. Get Your Tax Form Information Ready

Again, you’ll have to wait until the year’s up to file, print, and mail tax forms to your employees and contractors, but you can still get everything lined up. January 31 is the deadline for sending out W2 forms to your staff, so you won’t have much time to take care of them once 2015 rolls around.

Additionally, you should decide now whether you want to DIY your own business taxes or hire a tax professional to help you before the March 2015 deadline. If you’re a solopreneur, you may be able to handle doing your own taxes, but if you have a more complex business, it is worth it to get professional help.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Recovering From a Customer Service Slip

12-16 customer service mistake smallHow your small business recovers from a customer service slipup is one of the most important aspects of good customer service. Why? Because one bad customer service experience runs the risk of running your good reputation—even with loyal customers.

Let me share an example. This holiday shopping season, I seem to be encountering an unusually high number of shipping problems with my online shopping. Recently, I realized that one of the online retailers I normally rely on hadn’t shipped an order placed more than a week ago. This made me nervous: In the past, everything I’ve ordered from them has shipped within two days.

Despite years of history with this retailer, and their standout performance all the rest of the time with something like 20 orders a year, I was so annoyed that immediately, their sterling reputation with me was in jeopardy. Here’s what happened next—and what they did (and didn’t) do right.

I contacted the retailer to find out what was going on.

Wrong: Their customer service contact information was difficult to find. I wanted to talk to—or at least email or chat online with—a live person. For a while, I was panicked that this was one of those sites where that was impossible.

Right: When I did find the contact info, I was pleased the company offered email, phone and chat customer service. You should always offer the widest possible number of options for people to contact you; not every customer is the same. I picked chat.

I started a chat with the company.

Right: I immediately got a response, as well as a notification that there might be longer than normal wait times due to high volume. I understood; it’s the holidays. Always let customers know what to expect—it eases their stress, and eliminates unnecessary anger in dealing with you.

During the chat I got distracted multitasking and stopped responding to the customer service rep. (That was a goof on my part!)

Right: She politely asked me several times if I was still there, then politely told me she would need to end the chat since I hadn’t responded for 10 minutes.

Mortified, I started a new chat, copying the text of the old chat into the window and apologizing for dropping the ball.

Right: The next customer service rep smoothly picked up where the previous one had left off. Realizing I was a flake, he asked me if I could stay on the chat for three minutes.

Right: He told me there was a problem with my order that was keeping it from shipping. He fixed the problem and sent me a detailed status report of my order with the new delivery time.

Wrong: I should have received notification that my order was “stuck” in the system. What if I hadn’t remembered the order until it was too late to get it in time? Develop systems for your business ensures this type of error doesn’t happen. Depending on the size and nature of your business, you can set up automated systems, or use simple manual systems like a checklist employees must go over before shipping an order.

Right: To make up for the delay, the customer service rep gave me next-day shipping for free. I was already pretty happy that the problem was solved, but this “something extra” made me fall in love with the company all over again. Always recognize when you have caused a customer to feel stressed, and take steps to not only fix it, but make up for it.

How do you handle customer service slipups in your business? 


Mondays with Mike: Secure Your Data On The Cloud

12-15 Secure cloud data smallI’ll be honest.  One of my biggest concerns about converting my business to run on the Cloud was the security of my information.  And lest you think I’m unduly concerned, you should know that I used to work in computer forensics.  My background in retrieving information that people most definitely didn’t want recovered has taught me one lasting lesson: absolutely everything you do on your computer leaves a record – even if you try to eradicate it.

So I know a thing or two about how information is stored, recovered, shared, and protected.  I knew that data security was a potential problem when I moved all of my apps and programs to the Cloud.  It turns out that if you’re going to work on the Cloud, your information is vulnerable – simple as that.  What you can do, though, is take some steps to protect your valuable files.

First, for files you store online, consider encrypting or encapsulating particularly sensitive information.  It turns out that one of the biggest companies for online storage was opening files in order to extract information for a preview function.  Dropbox neither asked nor disclosed that user files were being accessed, but when a few users employed a program that notified them when files were opened, the practice came to light.  Now Dropbox didn’t have an ulterior motive, but clients who thought their materials were completely private and inaccessible were, well, wrong.  Encrypted and encapsulated files are safer.

But even if you take steps to protect the information you store online, what about your personal device when you’re accessing those files?  Even if you take the smart step of password protecting your computer, if you walk away while you’re signed in, the documents you’ve opened – or the sites you’ve saved passwords for – are vulnerable.  Make sure you take steps to protect the individual devices used by you and your staff when you access sensitive information.

Another big vulnerability arises when we access information stored on the Cloud while we’re using public wi-fi.  You stop, grab a latte at Starbucks, and you check an email, review and edit a proposal from a colleague, and you get back on the road.  The problem is if you’re not taking practical steps like disabling automatic file sharing or using a VPN (Virtual Private Network,) then you’re making it far easier for unscrupulous folks to access your data via a shared, public network.

The last really big hole in your cloud defenses is your email, and that’s no small thing.  We correspond about sensitive information every day, and here’s the thing about email:  you can practice good password hygiene – changing it regularly, not using your dog’s name or your birthday – but there’s no foolproof way to ensure that email is secure both on your end, and on your recipient’s end.  You should be careful about your email security, but here’s the best advice I can give:  never, ever put anything in an email that you wouldn’t want plastered on a billboard.  It’s simply impossible to protect everything from everyone, whether it’s someone inside our outside your company.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Now don’t take all of these warnings and recommendations as another excuse to delay converting your business to run on the Cloud.  The Cloud’s not going away, and in fact, it’s more common and more useful every day.  Best practice is to go in with your eyes open and with a plan to protect the information that’s most vulnerable and most valuable.    


How to Free Yourself from Ruts

12-11 Get out of a rut small“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” This may have worked for a philosopher like Confucius, but let’s get real. Even if you own your own business, it’s rare that your professional life is so perfect that you never feel like you’re working. In fact, major ruts can be contagious. If they go on too long, they can even affect your entire team. Before you or anyone you work with decides to walk away, try these suggestions to regain your spirit.

Find Something Fun that Inspires You

At some point, all work and no play actually prevents you and your business from moving forward. Plus, sitting around pretending to work doesn’t do you any favors either. So, step back and have some fun. When was the last time you turned off your electronics and spent a week on your favorite ski slope or lazed around on a white sand beach? If you can’t release yourself from your business for any length of time, try baby steps. Go to a movie, read a novel for an hour every day or do some activity that completely takes business off of your mind. Absence makes the heart grow fonder — and the ideas come faster.

Go Back to Your Business Inspiration

What motivated you to start your business in the first place? Was it an urge to follow your passion, help the world with a brilliant invention or even do something better than your former employers did them?

You probably didn’t need five alarm clocks to get out of bed in the early days, so close your eyes and mentally travel back to that time. If you can recapture the spark that got your company off of the ground in the first place, you may even inspire your entire team, no extra alarm clocks needed.

Bring in Fresh Ideas

Business owners tend to count on themselves and a few other people to generate new ideas. But as years go by, those ideas are bound to become stale. Consider introducing other people who will (dare I say it?) think outside of the box and encourage your core team to do the same. Hiring an outside consultant may be a viable option, but you may not need to spend the money. You have any number of people who come to work every day with creative ideas. Why not invite them to your meetings? Or perhaps seek feedback from customers.  These new perspectives can bring some creativity and renewed spirit to your endeavors.

Get Out More

Looking at the same walls and talking to the same people day after day is a rut-waiting-to-happen. When the walls start closing in and stifling your creative flow, get out of there! Go to an industry meeting to educate and inspire you. Or, visit people in your professional network in their places of business. Seeing how they do things will help you gain a fresh perspective that can help you get re-excited about what you are doing.

Embrace Change

The notion of change is scary. It takes you out of your comfort zone, which basically is another name for “rut.” Change does not have to be huge; you don’t have to completely change the purpose of your business by replacing your widget product line with thingamabobs to liven things up.

Change does not even have to be permanent. If you delegate some of your daily activities to someone else, there’s nothing that says you can’t take it back … if you really miss doing it yourself. Still, initiating smatterings of change in your business can spur brainstorming throughout your organization. As new ideas arise, implementing them creates a flurry of activity and challenges for everyone involved. Ruts cannot survive in this type of atmosphere.

Since everyone has a different set of motivators, some of these ideas may work well for you, while others can be abysmal failures. No rut has to become a permanent way of life, so open your mind to any option that can ease you back on the road to a productive and happy future. Remember: if all else fails, there’s always chocolate!




 
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