Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


Creative Ways to Get Cash to Run Your Business

There is very little that you can count on in business.  But one thing is universally true — banks and investors are the most interested in giving capital to the businesses that need it the least. Given this universal truth, how can small businesses get the capital that they need to operate and grow?  It may be time to open your mind to creative cash flow methods that can infuse your business with the money that you need when you need it.

Leverage Your Customers

One way to achieve financial fitness is by practicing what I call “cash flow yoga.”  Simply put, you need to find ways to take cash in quickly, while letting it out slowly.  Rather than making your products or deliveries up-front and then chasing down payment, why not flip that traditional formula on its head?  Move to a system where you pre-sell and then, fulfill product orders.  Or, if you sell services, ask your customers to reserve your time with an upfront deposit.

Pre-selling definitely improves your cash flow, helps you save time chasing down payments and helps to filter out deadbeats.  Moreover, it also teaches you a great deal about the popularity of your products, so that you know what and how much to produce — and what products to abandon.

If you think that customers will not welcome this approach, the right marketing can transform this strategy into a selling point. For example, I advised a woman selling organic cosmetics that using a “made to order” messaging would keep her from having to retain inventory and allow her to take payments, make the products and then, deliver them. 

Just be sure to know the laws about deposits in your jurisdictions, so that you know how long you have to deliver while being compliant.

Embrace Gift Cards

??????????????????????????????????One major gift card vendor reports that consumers spend over $100 billion in gift cards each year.  And 72 percent of gift card holders spend more than the value on their cards.  But you do not have to be in the retail industry to benefit in this way.  Many businesses can boost their up-front cash by issuing gift cards or certificates.

Gift cards and certificates provide a win-win for you and your customers.  If you run a time-sensitive business like a tax accounting firm, pre-paid clients know that they lock in the knowledgeable support that they need during the busy tax season — and  if you combine the pre-pay strategy with a discount, even save money by paying upfront.  Not only does it provide a cash infusion into your business, you can better anticipate your future workload, so that you can plan resources effectively.

Before you start making these offers, however, you need to keep two important caveats in mind.  First, you need to review state and local laws to make sure that your strategy works for your business.  Additionally, pre-payments require different bookkeeping practices.  When you sell gift cards, they represent liabilities to your business.  Once you deliver the products or services, they become revenues.

“Kick Start” Some Cash

You may not know the term, “crowdfunding,” but you probably recognize the name Kickstarter, which is one of the most popular sites used by people looking for financial “backers” for their new projects and products.  Although there have been recent legislation changes around crowdfunding equity, there are many crowdsourcing platforms that allow you to seek contributions in exchange for providing perks and benefits to your sponsors.  For example, a $100 sponsor for your flying widget might receive a widget once they are produced.  $250 sponsors might also see their names on the packaging.

If you need additional cash to bring a product to market, crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo may be the right solution.  But, unless you get enough pledges, you will not obtain the funding you need, so you need to actively promote your listing.  Too many entrepreneurs think that if they build it or list it, that sponsors will just line up.  This isn’t the case- you need to take an active role to make sure that your project is fully funded. Get your friends and family involved in your project, and then make liberal use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media to let the world know where to go to learn more and sponsor your project.

Also, the more excitement you create, the more involved your sponsors become.  Consider fun and informative videos, creative perks and fun descriptions that create engagement.  If you do it right, you may get more than money- sponsors may even make suggestions on how to improve on your original concept or share new product benefits that will improve your marketing.  The advantage is that small business owners can gain financial and collaborative benefits from their sponsors without giving up ownership in their companies.

Banks aren’t always waiting in the wings to help fund small businesses, but that’s no reason to throw in the towel.  Your entrepreneurial spirit and some out-of-the-box thinking can go a long way to help supplement your cash.


Work Your Biz Wednesday: How to Run a Successful TweetChat

Learn how to run a successful TweetChat for your business with these tips from the host of the longest running TweetChat that has ever been on Twitter, Melinda Emerson.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Who They Gonna Call (and How You Gonna Answer)?

Stocksy_txpba8ad81dGw4000_Small_178379Is your small business paying enough attention to incoming calls? Today, with so much focus on social media, email and online marketing, it’s easy to believe that providing customer service through live chat is all you need to do, or that customers are content to contact you by email and wait to hear back from you.

In reality, human behavior hasn’t changed—just the technology has. When customers are frustrated about something, have questions about your product or service, or are ready to buy, their first instinct is often to pick up the phone and call your business. In other words, customers who take the trouble to call you are primed—to buy, to vent, to ask questions. What’s more, if your business is involved in any kind of inbound marketing program—whether using SEO, click-to-call buttons on your website or in your ads—you’re spending good money to generate those calls from interested customers.

How callers are treated can make all the difference in whether they move to the next stage in the purchasing process, get over their anger, actually make a purchase…or get turned off of your company forever.

So how are customers and prospects treated when they call your business? Here are some questions to ask yourself.

  1. Do they get through right away? Set standards for employees to answer the phone on the second ring (third ring at the absolute latest). Make sure all employees—not just the receptionist or office manager—know it’s their responsibility to answer the phone if necessary.
  2. Are they greeted pleasantly? Do the employees who answer your phone sound excited to talk to customers—or like it’s an interruption in their busy day? Remember, customers are the ones who pay your bills, and they have plenty of options to go elsewhere.
  3. Do employees have the tools they need to help customers? Internal FAQ lists can help employees quickly find answers to questions customers may have. Make sure all employees know how to transfer calls to the proper person.
  4. When customers are on hold, can they tell? There’s nothing worse than being put on hold and hearing dead silence, so you don’t know if you’ve been cut off or should continue to wait. Use on-hold messages or music so customers know what’s going on.
  5. Are calls returned within a reasonable time? The faster you can respond to a customer’s inquiry, the more likely you are to make a sale. If you can’t answer all calls, strive to return all calls within 30 minutes—yes, 30 minutes—for best results. Outgoing voice mail messages should state how quickly customers can expect their calls to be returned.

By paying as much attention to incoming calls as you do to your social media outreach, you’ll rapidly see results—and increased sales.


Mondays with Mike: Sure-Fire Techniques For Cutting Costs

Every entrepreneur knows that minimizing expenses is essential to maximizing profit, but we don’t always know how to go about cutting costs – especially for big ticket items.  The longer I’m in business, the more I realize that paying full price for something is rarely necessary.  Here’s my list of tactics to avoid spending more than you have to:

  1. Buy generic.  Whether you’re talking about antibiotics or office equipment, insisting on a brand name will nearly always cost you more.  Shopping based on reviews, rather than name recognition will get you better quality for a better price.
  2. Borrow.  Look around your office, and I guarantee you’ll find a piece of equipment that you don’t use very often.  Whether it’s a box truck that you use twice a year, or whether it’s a fancy printer/scanner/copier that you only use to do your quarterly newsletters, examine your purchases and find someone to lend you the big-ticket items that you only need infrequently.
  3. Lease.  For seriously big-ticket expenses, especially those that you only plan to keep for a short while, or will incur significant maintenance charges, you should consider whether a lease is a good option.  If you must have a late model car, but you don’t need to put lots of miles on it, then a lease may be ideal.  Large office equipment can be cheaper to lease than purchase as well.
  4. ??????????????????????????????????????????Be patient.  We often don’t realize it, but a lot of purchases are made because of emotional, rather than practical reasons.  If you force yourself to sleep on a decision, you’re taking emotions out of the equation, and you’ll find that you frequently choose not to buy after all.  Make yourself wait, and you’ll inevitably save money.
  5. Barter.  Trading your unique skill set for talents you don’t possess is one of the best ways to save money – and strengthen community ties as well.  Trading your pizza shop’s delicious fare for business card printing services can benefit everyone involved with very little outlay of cash.  While you used to be limited to your immediate community to make bartering practical, there are now websites like TradeAway and BarterOnly that facilitate trading using sitewide credits so that you don’t have to find someone who needs exactly what you have to offer in order to get what you’re looking for.
  6. Buy used.  Products start depreciating as soon as you purchase them, and finding lightly used alternatives can save you a boatload.  If you’re savvy, you can often even find products that are still under warranty, and you may even find ones that are sold with an extended warranty that protects your investment. 
  7. Share.  Whether it’s infrequently used equipment or facilities like break rooms in your office space, if you look hard enough, you’ll find that you and other businesses are spending far more than you should on things you don’t use very often.  Working with folks in close proximity and finding the ways in which you’ve duplicated purchases can clue you in to options for making more efficient use of items you can share.  Think about negotiating a lease at a lower rate for shared restrooms on your floor, rather than several individual ones, or sharing a microwave or refrigerator with your neighbors in the office building.

I’ve always admired entrepreneurs who find innovative ways to spend less, and I constantly strive to be a better penny pincher when I can.  I don’t advocate cutting corners or sacrificing quality where it matters, but I do suggest taking a look at your business and identifying areas where you’re spending more than you have to.


Protect Yourself from Heartbleed

HeartbleedSecurity researchers recently released details of a security threat, nicknamed “Heartbleed,” that exploits a vulnerability in certain versions of Open SSL, a free software toolkit used for encryption of user data such as passwords, credit card numbers and other personal information. Unlike a conventional security breach that allows hackers to break into a site and download usernames and passwords, this bug potentially allows an attacker to access tiny chunks of data as they flow through or are stored in a server’s memory.

Nextiva accounts were not affected by the Heartbleed Bug. However, all Internet users are likely to be affected directly or indirectly. OpenSSL is the most popular open source cryptographic library that is used to encrypt traffic on the Internet. Your free email account, company ecommerce site, social media pages, and even government sites could be using a vulnerable OpenSSL.

We recommend that you test your server for Heartbleed and change all of your account passwords. Mashable provided a helpful breakdown of which password updates you should focus on first.

For additional information about the Heartbleed bug, visit heartbleed.com.


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. 




 
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