Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


5 Out-of-the Box Digital Marketing Ideas

10-22 Outside the boxWhen it comes to marketing your small business, you don’t want to have the same marketing campaign as your competitor, but sometimes you simply can’t find the creative juice to develop an inspiring idea. Here, we’ve got five ideas to jumpstart your thinking and get you moving toward increased sales and floods of new customers.

1. Viral Video

If you’ve never considered creating a video, there’s never been a more affordable time to dabble in the medium. Many of your customers likely prefer video as a means to consume content, over written content. By developing a few strategic videos (try a how-to to start) you can attract a different audience from your standard one, and you can reach a wider number of people if you invest in making a killer video that people want to share.

Getting Started: John Jantsch has a great list of video editing tools that will set you off on the right foot with your video marketing. 

​​2. Infographics

If you’re heavy into blogging, remember that you don’t always have to write your content. Liven up your blog with an occasional infographic, and then see if your traffic jumped for that post. An infographic takes a dense amount of information and makes it visually appealing so that more people absorb it.

Getting Started: If you’re not design-oriented, use a tool like Piktochart to easily create visually appealing infographics.

3. Giveaway

What better way to attract people toward your brand than by giving something away? That might be some of your products, or maybe a larger prize, like an iPad. If you list your giveaway on sites dedicated to giveaways, you’ll reach people who otherwise wouldn’t have heard of your product.

Getting Started:  Set your parameters for the giveaway. How can people enter? Are there multiple ways to get entries? How many winners will you select? What’s the deadline? Where will you promote it? The more you promote it, the more entries you’ll have, and thereby more leads. 

4. Co-Marketing

Let’s say you sell peanut butter, and you know a guy who runs a jelly store. If you partner up, you can combine forces to market your products together. Maybe you offer a 25% off of jelly coupon to every customer you have, and he does the same for your peanut butter. Or you go in on online advertising together, cut your costs, and double your results.

Getting Started: Look to your local community to find possible partners. They shouldn’t compete, but should sell products that complement yours. 

5. Speaking

Speaking as an expert in your field is an excellent way to brand yourself. Choose a topic you know well (and maybe one that lends itself to people deciding they’d rather hire you to do it than do themselves), and give plenty of value in that speech. Afterward, be available for people to approach with questions.

Getting Started:  Look for conferences and trade shows in your industry, then pitch event planners on the topic you’d like to cover. After getting a few under your belt, they’ll come easier.

Always be on the lookout for opportunities to market that maybe everyone else isn’t already doing.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Does Your Customer Service Reflect Your Brand?

Barbeque: Waiter Seating Guest at TableHave you ever stopped to think about how well your company’s customer service reflects your brand? As workers on the front lines of your business, customer service employees are often the first contact customers have with your company, making their role as “brand ambassadors” crucial.

How do customer service employees convey your brand? Consider the different types of customer service you might receive at a fancy, white-tablecloth restaurant vs. a casual, ‘50s-style diner. Waiters at the fancy restaurant might be formally dressed, speak quietly and address you as “Sir.” Waitresses at the diner might chomp gum, call you “Hon” and slide into your booth to take an order. In both cases, they’re conveying the business’s brand.

Here are some aspects of customer service that can build your business brand.  

  • Uniforms: If your customer service employees interact with customers in person, uniforms are essential to building a brand. Uniforms should tie in with your business’s colors and logo, its mood (formal or informal, fashionable or functional), and the demands of the job.
  • Grooming: Along with uniforms, grooming standards reinforce your brand. If you own a hip graphic design firm or restaurant, you might want staff to show off their tattoos and nose rings. If you own a conservative accounting firm, you probably want these covered up removed during work hours. To make sure your grooming standards don’t discriminate against any category of employee, allow for work-arounds. In other words, you can’t refuse to hire someone because of tattoos, but you can require the tattoos to be covered on the job.
  • Speech: The ways your customer service representatives talk to customers says a lot about your brand. You might require a more formal conversational style, such as always addressing customers as “Ms.,” “Mr.” or “Mrs.” And saying “Please” and “You’re welcome.” Or you might be fine with employees addressing customers by their first names or using casual expressions like “Sure” and “No problem.” Either way, setting guidelines for employees to follow—such as scripts for customer service reps who deal with customers on the phone–creates a level of uniformity that reinforces your brand.
  • Assistance level: At some businesses, customer service is more of a DIY affair; at others, it’s a white-glove approach. Set standards that are in line with your brand. Should customer service reps guide customers through every step of a complicated process, or get them started and then let them finish on their own? Can an employee assist more than one customer at the same time, or must they handle one customer’s issue before interacting with the next? When transferring a customer to another phone line, should the employee stay on the line and introduce the customer to the other service rep, or just transfer the call and hang up?

When it comes to customer service, little things make a big difference in how your brand is perceived.


Mondays with Mike: 4 Marketing Fails And What You Can Learn From Them

Some marketing campaigns are more successful than others.  You might be unhappy with an ad that leaves consumers scratching their heads or that doesn’t make your product very memorable.  You may want to take a big chance – roll the dice on a new campaign that will cement your place in consumers’ minds and hearts.  As we are bombarded by more and more images, slogans, and ads, companies are having to be increasingly creative in making a lasting impression.  

 

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Be careful, though!  It’s possible not to just miss the mark, but to miss the target altogether and end up with a full-blown marketing catastrophe.  Here are a few ways in which marketing can be a huge flop – and more importantly, what you can learn from the failures of others.

  1. Unintended Consequences.  How certain was Todd Davis, CEO of Lifelock, that his company could protect the financial security and identities of its users?  Certain enough that he posted his social security number on the company’s website and even on billboards.  How big was the fail?  By last count, Davis’ identity has been stolen at least thirteen times, and to add insult to injury, the Federal Trade Commission even fined Lifelock $12 million for making false claims in its advertising.  Takeaway:  Think your ad campaign through.  Don’t set yourself up by failing to anticipate the logical outcome of your marketing strategy.
  2. Underestimated Cost.  In the early 1990s, Pepsi developed a marketing campaign designed to boost its flagging sales in the Philippines.  They printed numbers on the underside of bottle caps and ran a contest, promising to award 1 million Philippine pesos to the lucky winner with the winning number.  An error in the number selection process resulted in the wrong winning number being announced – a number that had been printed on 800,000 bottle caps.  A contest that was intended to have a $2 million in payouts ended up costing Pepsi over $10 million in legal fees and restitution.  The moral:  Run the numbers, and then run them again.  Make sure you’ve accounted for all of the costs of your campaign, even if it doesn’t go the way you’ve planned.
  3. Inability To Control Content.  Making the most of social media means that companies have to react lightning quick to comments from users who expect interaction.  The trouble, though, is that when comments are live and public, you can end up with some embarrassing or inappropriate messages on your company’s page.  Take Qantas Airlines as an example.  Despite the fact that they’d grounded their flights due to a contract dispute, they introduced a campaign inviting customers to share their dream flight experiences.  The hashtag #QantasLuxury was quickly coopted by frustrated fliers who were trying to get to a funeral or home to a pregnant partner about to deliver.  If you invite the public to participate, make sure you can control the content.
  4. Unintentionally offensive.  Motherhood – the sacred institution.  It’s associated with love, warmth, caring, and … housework?  Mr. Clean’s Mother’s Day advertisement prompted women with a catchy encouragement: “This Mother’s Day, get back to the job that really matters.”  The photo of a woman cleaning pressed all the wrong buttons with many consumers.  Make sure that the message you’re sending isn’t going to inadvertently piss your customers off.  Do a little test marketing!

It’s the splashiest, most outrageous marketing campaigns that garner the most attention.  Fortune does indeed favor the bold, but you need to ensure that your advertisements don’t end up costing you business.  Learn from the mistakes of others.

 

 

 


News You Can Use for Small Business

Young man sitting on a sofa reading a newspaperIf you own a small business, there are a number of things that likely fall to the bottom of your “to-do” list.  However, keeping up with “the news” shouldn’t be one of them.  It may seem like a grind, but keeping abreast of certain types of news and trends is essential to business success.  Here are the best ways for you to use the news to enhance your own business.

Find Competitor and Industry Opportunities

While you don’t have to turn into a bona fide spy, you can glean insights and opportunities from your competitors and the industry. Stories about customer reactions to anything from competitors’ products and services to their websites teach you what to do — and what not to do- in your own business.

Also, competitor and industry news can lead you to explore great collaboration opportunities as well. If you make chocolate-covered pretzels and you learn that another company is introducing chocolate-covered beer, you can contact them to consider cross-selling beer and pretzel packages.

Read the News, then Make Some News

Many stories you read are bound to generate your own thoughts. What did the XYZ Company do wrong to cause a sudden reduction in sales? How does your company avoid a particular problem? Don’t let those thoughts go to waste — consider writing an article that offers valuable advice — and gives your company great PR.

The recent news about the horrendous Comcast customer service phone call went viral, and the savvy CEO of Nextiva, Tomas Gorny, capitalized on the newsworthiness of the story. He used it as the jumping-off point for a great article in Entrepreneur containing helpful customer service lessons. That article has undoubtedly helped many entrepreneurs while gaining free PR for Nextiva.

Stay on Top of Your Key Vendors

No business is an island; you count on any number of vendors or service providers to get your product or service to the public. News that your main parts vendor is moving to a lower (or even higher) grade of plastic can instantly affect your pricing decisions and many other aspects of your day-to-day operations. The sooner you know the news, the more time you have to formulate a backup plan.

Go Local

Even chiropractors and real estate companies take booths at local food fairs, so why shouldn’t your company be represented? Any event that draws the public can be a low-cost marketing tool. Whether you set up your own booth at a festival, or even if you just hand out leaflets or promotional items at a parade, you have a golden opportunity to get your company name out to the public. So, watch for news of upcoming local events and find out how you can participate.

Keep Abreast of Technology Changes, including Social Media

The social media outlets that you use to promote your business are not stagnant. They add features and change the rules in ways that can positively – or negatively – impact your business. You don’t have to learn every new feature or tool, but you do need to stay apprised of changes that will directly affect your business.

Let’s say you sell women’s lingerie. If you advertise on Facebook, their current policy says you cannot show too much skin in your images. If you learn that they have further tightened their policy, your models may have to button up. Not knowing this information up front could cost you dearly in both wasted photo shoot dollars and lack of exposure (pun entirely intended).

Find Efficient Ways to Stay Informed

You can really use the news to better your business, so find technology solutions to help you minimize the time-sink. TweetDeck or similar apps can alert you to the tweets with information on your key competitors. Similarly, Google Alerts notifies you of news stories of interest, such as industry-related stories. And, the old standby, RSS Feeds, lets you create a custom news page that you can scan quickly each day. These tools set up quickly, while generating a big return on the time investment for your small business.


How to Get Your Business Email Delivered

Stocksy_txpf1294e40taA000_Small_354765Spam has been a problem since 1865. When a group of British politicians received unsolicited telegrams promoting a local dentistry shop, they were angry. One of the recipients wrote a letter to the editor of The Times asking “by what right do they disturb me by a telegram which is evidently simply the medium of advertisement?” He proceeded to request a stop to this “intolerable nuisance”.

Flash forward over 100 years to 1978. Gary Thuerk, a marketing manager at Digital Equipment Corp., sends a message promoting a new computer model to 393 users on ARPANET (the precursor to the internet) and becomes the “father of spam”. The reaction was almost completely hostile and Thuerk was harshly reprimanded.

So after so much backlash, why does the sending of spam messages continue? Because this marketing technique works. Thuerk’s company sold more than 20 computer systems for more than a million dollars apiece from this type of message.

In the years since, spam has continued to be sent and continued to be fought by email gatekeeping filters. Some estimate that 90% of all email sent is actually spam.

So how do you get a company’s email through all that spam filters?

  1. Use double opt in when possible. A subscriber fills out a form and then confirms that subscription again via email. While this two-step process is a bit cumbersome and will result in a reduction of the list, it is the best way to preserve a reputation and therefore the deliverability with the email provider.
  2. Keep complaints low. When someone does complain, remove them from the list immediately. It is surprising how these people do not remove themselves when they make the complaint.
  3. Use a reputable email marketing provider. Most professional services like Infusionsoft, and Constant Contact have strict standards of mailing. Every email address on a subscriber list must be verified by the sender or the receiver to keep deliverability high.
  4. Do not use Yahoo, Gmail or AOL domain names. Since these types of accounts represent the domains where most spam is sent from, they have a higher likelihood to be filter out as spam.
  5. Stop using trigger words. This increase the chances of the email being labeled as spam. For instance, do not use the words “free”, “you have been selected”, “24 hours”, “test”, “hello”, “help”, “percent off” or “reminder”.
  6. If images are used, include more text. Images alone have a greater chance of going into the spam bucket. Use plenty of text along with those images to improve deliverability.
  7. Always spell check the email. A lot of spam is from non English speakers who have a tendency to misspell words. Always spell check the entire email to get past this filter.
  8. Use 25 character subject line. Keep the subject line short. Not only does this help to get past the spam filters, it increase readability on mobile devices.
  9. Watch the “From” field. Always use a real person’s name and not Sales@Mystore.com. These have a greater probability to get caught in the filters since they are viewed as less authentic.
  10. Encourage recipients to add the domain to their address book or white label list. This will ensure that the emails always land in the inbox.

What is the deliverability of your email like?


How to Get Paid 7 Days Sooner in Your Small Business

One of the biggest pet peeves of small business owners is late-paying clients. We’re not running corporations, so cash flow can make or break our businesses! And when a client doesn’t pay on time, we can’t pay our own vendors. It’s a sticky situation, but with a little strategy to light a fire under your clients, you can get paid not only on time but even seven (or more) days early.

Look at Why They’re Paying Late

If you have a client who typically pays on time, one late payment may be nothing to worry about. But analyze your accounts receivables to see if you have other clients who habitually pay their invoices after your due date.

Next, look at your payment policy. Is it clear on each invoice when the payment is due? Do you let your client know at the beginning of your business relationship when payments are due? If it’s not clear to a client when you expect a payment, you can’t blame them for the problem.

If this is the case, send an email letting your clients know your payment policy. Consider sending this to all clients so those late-payers don’t feel you’re picking on them. Make it objective and simply a notification of your company policies. And make sure that due date is clear on each invoice.

You can also send a reminder a few days before the invoice is due. It’s completely understandable that your email invoice might have gotten lost in the stack of emails in your clients’ inbox.

Offer Incentive to Pay

There’s two ways to go about this: in the first, you can charge a penalty for late payments. Not everyone wants to take such a negative approach, but if you think that’s the right motivation to get your clients moving (after all, who wants to pay more if they can simply pay on time?), then try it out.

The other is to offer a discount for early payment. You’ll have to decide how much money you’re willing to part with in order to get paid on time. Many businesses offer something like a 2% discount if the invoice is paid 7 days early, or even 5% off if they pay 14 days early. Make the amount enough to motivate them to pay early.

Whichever incentive you decide to offer, mention it in the email you send about your payment policy. It’s imperative that you clearly communicate any changes to your clients, as well as give them a heads up of a few weeks or even a month before this new policy kicks in. The last thing you want to do is upset your customers.

If They’re Still Not Paying on Time…

Consider each on a case-by-case basis. Perhaps one client is having his own financial woes. In that case, set up a payment plan that works for both of you. If it’s not a financial problem that’s keeping a client from paying on time, consider whether you truly want to continue working with a problematic client like this.

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Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Motivate Holiday Workers

Woman wrapping Christmas giftsIs your small business hiring customer service, call center or retail sales employees to help you handle the upcoming holiday rush? Motivating workers who are with your company for only a short time can be challenging, especially during such a busy and stressful time of year. Here are some tips to keep your holiday employees happy—so your customers will be happy, too.

  • Make seasonal workers feel at home. No matter how busy you and your permanent employees are, it’s crucial to start temporary workers off right by making them feel like they belong in the business. Welcome them to the team and assign them a “buddy” or team leader who’ll be responsible for training them, getting them up to speed on company norms, and generally making sure they’re doing OK.
  • Provide clear directions. Start seasonal employees off slowly by teaching one task at a time and then adding on. Provide easy-to-follow checklists, “cheat” sheets and operations manuals new employees can turn to if they need memory aids to fall back on while learning their jobs.
  • Set goals. Setting measurable goals, such as how many calls customer service employees should handle per hour, lets temporary workers know how well they’re doing. Go beyond individual goals by holding contests such as departmental competitions or team challenges. This helps make stressful jobs fun, promotes bonding and motivates employees to continually improve.
  • Reward results. Giving regular rewards such as gift cards, comp time off or a 15-minute free neck massage to the seasonal employee of the day helps temporary employees feel appreciated. 
  • Be flexible. Seasonal employees are often students, parents or others who need flexible hours to fit their schedules. Be open to their needs for flexibility (within reason) and you’ll do better at retaining them.
  • Look ahead. Got a great seasonal worker? Keep the person’s contact information and stay in touch during the year. Offer perks or pay upgrades to lure the person back next year. 

Mondays with Mike: How To Get Your Entire Business Running On The Cloud In One Day

Stocksy_txpe7e51ee740B000_Small_134978A lot of business owners put off making big decisions – like transitioning their company to running on the cloud – because they fear change.  They’re reluctant to undertake a major overhaul because they know that difficulties will arise, and there will be a learning curve for their staff.

 

For the most part, they’re right.  Change is a struggle.  But it’s a struggle worth taking on.  My advice to entrepreneurs considering making the switch to a cloud-based office is to take a deep breath, get a few things in place ahead of time, and dive right in!  If you follow these steps, your transition will be smooth and will put you on the road to flexibility you’ve only dreamed of.  

 

The key to a seamless transition to the cloud is doing your homework and making a workable plan.

 

First, you want to pick your date.  There actually is a very best day for major business transitions – January 1st.  While everyone else in the world is sleeping off a hangover, you have a full day to make you changes and start working out the bugs before the world returns to work.  A new fiscal year makes record keeping easier, and since you’re likely to do little actual business, you’ll be able to focus on your transition.  Working out the kinks on a slow day lets you troubleshoot without the stress of impatient customers.

 

Next, you’ll want to make a list of all the applications and programs you use and sort them into three categories:  apps you use daily, ones you use monthly, and ones that you use occasionally or only for special purposes.  How frequently you use an app will determine exactly how you transition it.

 

For apps you use daily – word processing, phone service, accounting – you’ll ideally want to port all of your information directly – say, from QuickBooks to QuickBoooks Online.  If that’s not an option, you’ll need to find a full replacement.  Keep in mind that any replacement will have differences, and you’ll want to familiarize yourself with those differences ahead of time.  Apps you use monthly can be replaced by cloud-based alternatives, and apps that you use infrequently may not need to be cloud-based at all.  It doesn’t make sense to spend the time and money looking for alternatives for programs that you seldom use.

 

Once you have your cloud-based applications selected, you should select your test users, and I strongly recommend that you don’t rely on your IT people for this task.  You want to get a feel for how the folks who will actually be in the trenches – the ones who will have to use the new tech to do their jobs – will interact with the new programs.  Once your test users are comfortable, you’re ready to roll the cloud out to the rest of the company, using your new experts as support staff.

 

If it’s possible, you should plan to run parallel for a few weeks.  Now I know that running parallel is double the work, but if you have a problem, you’ll be glad you did it.  Keeping the old system up for a brief period ensures that your customers don’t experience any troubles getting the same great service they’re used to.

 

Finally, since your business is now cloud-based, you need to develop an emergency plan – figure out what you’ll do if something goes wrong.  Think I’m overreacting?  When Superstorm Sandy swept through my neck of the woods, I managed to keep my business running from an emergency shelter.  How?  I’d already planned and tested how my office would handle needing to work in less-than-ideal circumstances.  Knowing that if the power goes out you can still do business is key.

 

Is it a lot of work to get your business up and running on the cloud?  You bet!  Is it worth it to get flexibility and increased productivity?  Absolutely.  While making the transition in a day may not be ideal, it is possible, which demonstrates that you shouldn’t be afraid to make the leap.


Stop Dropping The Customer Service Ball On Your Handoffs

I have a pretty good idea of where you're dropping the ball in your customer service delivery.

Although you and I, as far as I know, have never met,  from what I’ve seen in the world of business, I can tell you that the odds are good that you’re dropping the customer service ball when you make your handoffs.

It's easy for your employee to promise something to a customer– and then send the customer elsewhere within your organization for actual results. Fair enough: but did the details of the customer's needs actually get fully conveyed to the person who was handed the ball? And did the handoffee follow through on these instructions?  Or did she hand off the responsibility again?  And, if so, was the customer support fumbled on that handoff?

Follow-through and follow-up are keys to a successful customer experience.  And they’re often best accomplished by the person who first took the request.

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Going to Lexus levels to eliminate handoffs

When the Lexus brand was being created by Toyota, the company zeroed in on a dealer strategy of reducing service defects through the minimization of ‘‘handoffs’’ between service providers.

Think of what an automotive customer typically experiences: You bring your car for service to a service department. There is a person at the door who greets you and takes you to the service advisor. The service advisor writes up what’s wrong and calls the mechanic. The mechanic takes the car away. At the end, when it’s time to pay the bill, the service advisor reappears, gives you the bill, and you have to go and deal with a disconnected, bored cashier, who is probably not focusing on you, not living up to service standards that match the car this same dealer sold you, and not capable of explaining what the strangely coded charges were for, because she wasn’t even aware of your existence until this very moment.

Imagine instead that a single superbly trained service advisor, Sharon, takes care of you from the moment you enter the premises until the moment you leave the premises. Sharon greets you. Sharon writes up your service ticket. Sharon summarizes your complaint to the mechanic. Sharon alerts you when the car is ready. Sharon presents you with the bill, and Sharon accepts your payment.

Lexus settled on this as their ideal approach, to be used to a greater or lesser extent depending on the size and other realities of a specific dealership.

You may want to consider it yourself. 




 
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