Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


Everything That’s Wrong With Your Company’s Plan (and How to Fix It)

Stocksy_txp9b06d560GD8000_Small_276711Wondering why your business revenue is going in the wrong direction? It all goes back to that foundation you first created for your company — or sometimes didn’t create — and how solid it was front the start. Everything since then should be built on top of that foundation, that plan. Without a strong and clear strategic plan, your business may flounder, and you may make a lot of costly mistakes along the way.

The following are some of the most common problems I’ve seen business owners have with regards to their business plan.

1. It’s Nonexistent

Maybe you never slowed down enough to actually write a business plan for the strategic growth of your company in its early days.  Perhaps that’s because you didn’t think you needed one, were overwhelmed at the idea of writing one, or didn’t know where to begin.

How to Fix It: Better late than never. Start today with a fresh business plan or strategic plan on where your company is and where you want to take it. Start with free software such as www.enloop.com

2. It’s Ginormous (and Therefore Useless)

Back in business school, you were taught that business plans had to be thick tomes, 40 pages plus. They needed to be all-inclusive and leave no stone unturned. Fortunately, that rarely applies to small businesses (unless perhaps you are seeking funding from investors), and what you’ve got is overkill. It’s so overwhelming, you never actually take it out to review it. So what’s the point of having it if you don’t use it?

How to Fix It: Try a simpler plan. You may be the only person who ever reads your strategic plan, and that’s okay. But you want it to be readable and comprehensible, and that starts with simplicity. Stick to the basics, and don’t strive for length. Just get to the point.

3. You Never Look at It

Maybe you developed a fantastic business plan…5 years ago. Likely a few things have changed since then. A plan should be a living, working document that you regularly review (try for 2-4 times a year) and modify as needed.

How to Fix It: Blow the dust off that thing and take a look at what you’ve got. Probably the structure can stay the same, but if you’ve pivoted in your product offerings or otherwise changed company goals, those need to be reflected in the business plan.

4. It’s Not Actionable

Maybe you stuffed your plan with $10 words and filled it with fluff. You read it and don’t have a clue about what to do next.

How to Fix It: Amend that plan with action items. If you established a goal of becoming a $1 million company, set up steps for how you can make that a reality. These need to be achievable and measurable steps so that the next time you review your strategic plan you can actually see how far (or not) you’ve come toward achieving those goals.

Having a manageable and updated business plan or strategic plan is what keeps your business on track toward achieving those goals you’ve set for yourself. So keep it simple, keep it updated, and keep it nearby so you can refer to it regularly.


The Secrets of Customer Service Recovery

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

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(c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Glitches–service breakdowns–are unavoidable when you provide service to customers. A computer system goes down. A key person walks out on you with no notice—on the only day you couldn’t possibly arrange coverage. A waiter drops a tray in a customer’s lap.  (I’ve done that one myself–a tray with six open bottles of beer on it.)

Service breakdowns are uncomfortable, and they require training to resolve. But you’ll find an opportunity hidden inside your company’s worst moments: the opportunity to bring a customer closer to you. Indeed, you can learn to handle service breakdowns so masterfully that these moments actually help you to create loyal customers.

The Four-Step Sequence for Great Service Recoveries

To recover masterfully when something goes wrong for a customer, respond to the service failure with a specific stepwise sequence.  (I with these would form a memorable acronym, but the best I’ve come up with is ARFFD. Not sure that’s very attractive as a memory aid.)

  1. Apologize and ask for forgiveness.
  2. Review the complaint with your customer.
  3. Fix the problem and then follow up: Either fix the issue in the next twenty minutes or follow up within twenty minutes to check on the customer and explain the progress you have made. Follow up after fixing things as well, to show continuing concern and appreciation.
  4. Document the problem in detail to allow you to permanently fix the defect by identifying trends.

Let me run through these steps in detail.

Step 1: Apologize and Ask for Forgiveness. What’s needed is a sincere, personal, non-mechanical apology.

What does a customer want out of an apology? He wants to be listened to, closely. He wants to know you’re genuinely sorry. He wants to know you think he’s right, at least in some sense. He wants to know you are taking his input seriously. Overall, he wants to feel important to you. This means that the key to an effective apology, to getting back on the right foot with your customer, is to convey at the outset that you are going to take his side and share his viewpoint.

Step 2: Go Over the Complaint with Your Customer. In Step 1, you’ve begun an alliance with your customer; in Step 2, those collaborative feelings will let you explore:

  • What actually went wrong, from the customers perspective
  • What the customer needs for a good outcome

These aren’t good places to jump to conclusions. They’re issues you want to take time to explore in some detail with the customer.

Step 3: Fix the Problem and Then Follow Up. So you’ve decided to replace a substandard service or product. That’s a step in the right direction—but it’s only a first step. Remember that the customer has been stressed, inconvenienced, and slowed down by your failings. Merely giving her back what she expected to receive is unlikely to restore satisfaction.

A key principle in fixing a problem is to work to alleviate the customer’s sense of injustice—of having been wronged or let down. You do this through the attitude you convey, certainly, but you also do it by providing something extra. You can find a way to restore the smile to almost any customer’s face, whether it’s a free upgrade or a more creative offering, like one on-one consultation time with an expert on your staff. 

Ideally, the ‘‘something extra’’ you come up with will change the nature of the event for her: your special and creative efforts on her behalf will come to the foreground in the picture of the event she paints for herself and others, online or off, and the initial problem will move to the background.

Follow Up If you’ve handled the problem yourself, check in promptly with the customer after the intended resolution. This underscores your concern. and also lets you catch lingering unresolved issues.

Immediate follow-up is also important when you have reassigned (handed off) the customer’s problem to somebody else: Did the customer end up being (and feeling) taken care of by the technician to whom you assigned her issue? Youll only find out if you check back in with the customer. Besides, customers want you, their original ally, to follow up with them on such questions, not just somebody over in, say,  IT, not even if you know for a fact that the IT person is best equipped to help.

Step 4: Document the Problem in Detail. It’s natural to want to give yourself a breather after solving a customer’s problem. Still, it’s important to record, every single time, the details of what went wrong—promptly, before the memory can fade or become distorted. I call this “the deposition.” Be scrupulous: The only way to prevent serious problems from recurring is to document the problem for careful analysis later.

Your goal in using this documentation is to identify trends or patterns that hint at underlying causes. For example:

  • You might notice that a problem tends to happen around 3:30 p.m. on Wednesdays when Billy is on the job. This could lead you to consider whether Billy may have missed a particular training module.

or

  • It happens only between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m., which leads you to notice that a freight elevator is always under maintenance at that time, creating unacceptably slow service.

or

  • The complaints are always about rear wiper blades you sell, but only in your Eastern and Midwest franchises, leading you to discover an interaction between salted roads and the particular rear blades you stock.  

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Manage Your Team and Still Get Your Own Work Done

One of the biggest challenges for any small business owner—or, for that matter, for any small business owner’s key managers—is how to manage people while still getting their own day-to-day work done. If you, like me, feel it’s important to be responsive to your team and value an open-door policy, you can often find yourself pulled in two directions as you balance an urgent task with an employee who urgently needs to talk to you.

How can you manage a team, put out unexpected “fires” in your business and still get your own work done? Here are three tips.

  1. Practice a closed-door policy. Not all the time, but at least one or two hours a day, set aside time when everyone knows that you’re not to be interrupted. Typically, the early morning hours work best for this. If you find this policy too difficult to stick to in the office, consider working at home for the first hour or so of the day before you head in to work. Once you’ve got that precious time, don’t waste it on small stuff—use it for activities that require concentration and focus, such as long-range planning or proposal writing.
  2. Delegate. As small business owners, we often like to keep our fingers in every pie. If you’re lucky enough to have managers working for you, make sure that employees go to their managers with questions, concerns or problems first before escalating it up to you. This doesn’t mean you’re an untouchable god on a throne in your office—it just means you shouldn’t be the first person that people come running to when they have a problem.
  3. Empower employees to create their own solutions. Very early in my career, someone gave me this advice: Never go to your boss with a problem until you’ve come up with at least two possible solutions on your own. Asking your employees—at all levels—to follow this rule will not only save you a lot of time coming up with solutions, but will also give your employees valuable lessons in coping with issues that arise at work. They’ll be better workers for it—and you’ll probably find that they often come up with better solutions than you would!

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Mondays with Mike: 7 Tips For Making Your Employees Marketing Superstars

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you had a team of enthusiastic marketing superstars who promoted your brand everywhere they went?  Here’s a secret:  You can make it happen!  Consider the fact that every one of your employees interacts with dozens and dozens of people everyday, and you’re missing your opportunity if you don’t enlist them in your mission to promote your brand.  Here are some sure-fire strategies for making your employees part of your marketing strategy:

  1. Speak their language.  Every single member of your staff is motivated in a slightly different way.  Take the time to figure out what’s important to your employees, and you’ll be able to tell your story in a way that matters to them.  If you can sell your staff on your vision, they’ll sell it to your customers.
  2. Create the right climate.  Make sure that your staff understands that you’re not just in business for the bottom line.  Show the ways in which you enrich your community, whether it’s by providing necessary services or through your investment in community programs.  If your staff feels good about the work they’re doing, they’ll share their enthusiasm.
  3. Provide awesome wearables.  The key to this tip is making the wardrobe genuinely cool – something that your staff will actually choose to wear.  Your tagline or logo on a t-shirt becomes a walking billboard.  If you make sure your staff actually likes their company togs, then you’ll be sure that they won’t end up in the trunk of the car, where – let’s face it – they’re not doing you any good.
  4. Use social media.  Whether your run a caption contest or share pics of your staff wearing your logo in interesting locales, make sure you leverage the powerful tool provided by the various social media apps.  Folks love that fifteen minutes of fame – so why not use it?  Turning your brand into one that people have fun sharing increases your visibility and strengthens brand loyalty.
  5. Provide Halloween costumes.  Create a character that suits your company climate and offer your staff the chance to celebrate without having to stress over what to wear.  Whether you create a superhero – think something like Uber Geek if you’re an IT company or Grammar Nazi if you’re a PR firm – you’re injecting a little fun into your corporate image.
  6. Use every opportunity to advertise, no matter how small.  One of my favorite, often overlooked examples of an underused means of getting your company’s name out there is to make sure that your company wi-fi and your employees’ mobile hotspots are all branded with your company’s name.  The next time your sales rep is working and sipping a latte at Starbucks, everyone who logs on to the free wi-fi will see your company’s name.  Never miss a chance to make in impression.
  7. Don’t forget the hardware.  Don’t send your staff out with laptops that advertise for Apple; slap your awesome logo on everything that sits still long enough.  Your staff can make countless impressions just by toting gear that advertises for you.

Be open, and be creative!  Brands are built one impression at a time, and you have more opportunities than you realize.


How to Prevent Hacking of Your Email

??????????????????????????Security is one of the biggest issues facing small businesses. With BYOD policies (Bring Your Own Device), many small businesses make easy targets for hacks that can literally cause havoc in their company. This is the result of having less sophisticated security that larger companies employ to protect themselves.

Many security breaches occur through email since they are a lot like postcards that travel over the internet. They are addressed to a person, but anyone can turn them over and read them. This is a major problem since emails often contain customer sensitive information.

When small businesses share information with their clients via email, they are liable for protecting that data. If a client sends their credit card information and someone intercepts that email, it can be used fraudulently. Not only does it reflect very poorly on the business, they may be liable

Here are a few steps small business owners should take to protect their email communication:

  1. Do not share passwords or accounts.  A lot of small businesses have a general account for communicating with customers that several people have access to. The problem is that every person can now access every message. Action to take: Increase the security of email communications by using person-specific accounts and not sharing passwords. Remember, a general account can automatically forward email to many person specific accounts if information always needs to be shared.
  2. Prevent physical access.. Leaving a computer open and unattended makes it incredibly easy for someone to walk up and read emails. Action to take: Make sure that all devices lock after not being used for 15 seconds and require a password to logon.
  3. Encrypt emails. Email encryption services, such as Enlocked, give an easy way to secure messages, allowing them to be sent safely over standard email. The service works right within an email environment. Action to take. Draft an email and address it to a user just like normal except next to the send standard button is a “send secure” button. The recipient receives the message normally, but must authenticate themselves before viewing.
  4. Use different channels. A common method for sending sensitive information, such as usernames and passwords, is send them in separate emails. Action to take: Use two separate channels; send the username via email and the password via text message. Another popular method of protection is sending password protected files. It works as a great first step, but the sender still runs into the problem of safely communicating password information.

If protecting email communications is not seen as problem in your company, you haven’t had the problem. Take the necessary steps to protect sensitive information and evaluate what works best for your small business.


How Small Businesses Can Give Back without Breaking the Bank

Major U.S. corporations are notorious for their philanthropic works across the globe, but how often do their efforts touch your local community? When small businesses reach out to help others in the area, they can witness the effects of their assistance, even as they build long-term relationships.  You don’t need a big-company bank account to make a real difference to your community, express gratitude to the major players in your business’s success and gain a little well-earned notoriety.

Here are four affordable ways your company can bring major benefits to the community.

?????????????????????????????????Sponsor a Worthwhile Cause

If you’re looking for a low-cost way to improve your community, sponsor a cause that has a local impact.  For example, your entire company can get some fun in the sun by adopting a local roadway and keeping it well-maintained.  Or perhaps consider sponsoring a youth sports team.  Depending on the team’s needs, you may initially view sponsorship as an expensive proposition.  But your net cost may be lower than you think.  Providing a great opportunity for the kids is a relatively inexpensive marketing investment that increases awareness of your business and loyalty to boot. Check with your accountant to see if you can get a tax write-off as well.

Involve your Employees

When the stresses of work start to take a toll on employee attitudes, many companies look for ways to release the pressure.  A nice summertime picnic may provide a pleasant interlude for your employees … well, except for those who suffer from severe allergies.  And I can’t even begin to describe the complaints that I heard from one non-sports fan I know who was forced to attend a pro baseball game every year.  Why not do something that makes everyone feel good, instead?  Involving your employees in charitable giving can offer the flexibility to meet individual needs, while providing workers with an opportunity to have fun as they experience the satisfaction of helping others.

Some companies ask their employees to choose a charitable event that they can work on as a team.  Others allow employees to select their own individual activities, perhaps offering a half day off to volunteer or prizes for the top three employee-volunteers.  If your company has only a few employees, consider encouraging employees from other local businesses to participate in your cause.

Take Collections

The spring cleaning season entices people to de-clutter their homes, but for anyone with a basement or an attic, restoring order is an ongoing concern.  You won’t have to ask twice to encourage employees to bring in toys for needy children during the holidays, gently-worn clothing or coats or pet food for a favorite shelter.  If you have a store-front business, keep a collection box where customers can see it.

When natural disasters strike, your employees might also welcome an easy way to make a monetary contribution.  But, you may need to do a little homework to make sure that the money goes to a reputable organization.  A review of charity evaluation sites such as Charity Navigator or Charity Watch can go a long way toward ensuring that your employees’ donations are used as intended.

Mentor a Local Student

With upwards of 27,000 public high schools and more than 4,200 community and four-year colleges and universities in the U.S., there is a good chance that many young people in your community are looking for some form of work experience.  Offering internships can be a low-cost way to offer training and experience to add to their resumes (plus a recommendation on their LinkedIn page or a personal reference).  You also gain by adding the extra hands needed to keep up with your workload. 

Just as important, today’s intern can become tomorrow’s valued employee.  I know one college computer sciences student who began a summertime internship with a software company nearly 20 years ago.  The company and its people have gone through many changes, but he remains with the major players to this day — as Chief Technology Officer!

Charitable Giving Benefits Everyone

Even if you can’t make huge monetary donations, you can find many ways to help people in need and be recognized as a local philanthropist who is dedicated to the betterment of your community.  Your efforts can help put your company name in front of the public, while building new relationships with other local entrepreneurs.  But the biggest benefit is how great it feels to pay it forward.


How You Can Grow Your Small Business to 7 Figures

Stocksy_txp1c8dcf91CD8000_Small_201077So many entrepreneurs I meet think too small. They’re concerned about paying today’s bills, and give little thought to where they’d like to take their business down the road. That’s an obstacle to success, but one that can be overcome with a little planning and strategy. But the most important thing to making more money is to believe that you can. So let’s get started! It’s time to stop struggling and start thriving in your business.

First, Visualize What You Want to Achieve?

Don’t be afraid to unleash your imagination here. Think big! Would you like to run a $5 million company? Sell it in five years and then retire and travel the world? You can’t hope to grow to any level of success if you don’t first establish what your goals are.

Write these goals down and develop a vision board. No matter how pie-in-the-sky they seem at first, if you think it, it can happen. It’s not your job to judge your desires, just to record them. Seeing these goals on paper or a poster will help you get the right mindset to start believing in those goals.

Next, Figure Out How to Get There

You wouldn’t leave for a major road trip without a map. It’s the same as a business owner. You need a plan for how you’ll get to the destination (those goals you set). It may be overwhelming right now to consider becoming a $5 million company, but if you break that goal down into smaller ones, you’ll actually be able to achieve them.

Maybe the first step is to hire a salesperson or expand the area you service. These are small and simple tasks. Continue your list of action items that will help you reach your goal, and assign timeframes to them. You could even list tasks to complete each quarter to lead you to your goal.

Find One Thing You Do Really Well

This might be a superior product. Or your insanely fast delivery time. Whatever that characteristic that makes you different (and better) than the competition, own it. And use it in your marketing material. You want people to know what makes your company unique from the second they discover you.

Hire the Right People

Few solopreneurs are able to reach that 7-figure goal without a little help. And there’s no shame in hiring people who are smarter than you! Find professionals who can complement your skill set with other qualities, and hire help to fill in the gaps with those tasks you simply don’t have the bandwidth to do yourself.

Another note on hiring: it’s important that you create a company culture that makes all your staff — whether they’re full-time or freelance — feel like part of something bigger than themselves. They’re going to be key in helping you hit those 7-figures, so make sure your company is inviting and that they want to work hard for you for years to come.

Refine Your Sales Process

The smoother your sales process is — and any other process in your company, for that matter — the more sales you can make. Automate what you can, from letting people easily make purchases online or sending an email after a purchase, and put personal attention where needed. This is where having sales staff can make a huge difference. You want every single customer to feel like he has the support and access he needs should he have questions or want help.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Success doesn’t happen when you keep doing the same thing over and over. It happens when you pay attention to what’s working and do more of it, and cull what’s not working. Be constantly diligent to ensure that you’re firing on all cylinders and moving closer to that 7-figure goal.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Tips to Motivate Your Part-Time Employees

If you’re like many small business owners, you have more part-time employees now than you did in the past. As employers seek flexibility in hiring and the ability to staff up or down as needed, part-time workers can often be the most cost-effective option.

But financial cost-effectiveness can come at a different cost. It’s often harder to manage and motivate part-time employees. They may not feel as connected to the company as full-timers with salaries and benefits, and for many of them, the job is short-term.

How can you motivate part-time workers despite these challenges? Try these tips.

  1. Show them where they fit in to the company’s structure and goals. It’s easy for part-timers to feel divorced from the “big picture,” especially if their work schedules vary from week to week. To create consistency, training for new part-timers should include an overview of the company’s organization chart, getting to know all the employees they’ll be working with, and how their job adds value to the company. By showing part-timers they’re not just random people who shows up on alternate afternoons, but instead are essential to your business’s success, they’ll feel more connected to your company.
  2. Know what they value. Different part-timers value different things, so it’s important to treat part-time employees as individuals. For instance, a mom working part-time may value consistent hours so she can spend after-school time with her kids; a senior working part-time may value social interaction with customers and co-workers; and a high school student working part-time may value flexible hours that give her time for school activities and a social life. Motivate each employee by ensuring they get what they value the most.
  3. Match them with mentors. Pairing part-timers with full-time mentors can ensure they’re kept in the loop about developments at the company that happen when they’re not there. It also gives them someone to ask questions of or express concerns to. In addition to helping with training and development, the mentor should also keep an eye on whether the part-timer seems happy and socially engaged as a member of the team.
  4. Plan for the long-term. Some part-timers are in it for a season, others want to work for you for the long haul. Show part-timers there are long-term opportunities at your business, and give them tasks that help them stretch and grow. For instance, if you hire a college student part-time during the summer, let him or her know if there are full-time job opportunities available after graduation.
  5. Use contests, rewards and incentives. Full-time employees have salaries and benefits to provide incentive, but you have to work a little harder with part-timers. Providing monetary rewards such as cash prizes for surpassing quotas or fun awards and recognition can make a big difference. For instance, has one of your part-timers excelled handing customer service calls? Then recognize his or her accomplishments at your weekly staff meeting, and perhaps offer a cash bonus or gift certificate. Get creative and think of rewards that match your corporate culture and your staff’s personalities.

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Mondays with Mike: 8 Ways You Can Accomplish More By Going Old School

I love gadgets as much as the next guy, but I had an experience recently that made me realize that sometimes, putting all your technological eggs in one basket isn’t a good idea.  My phone died while I was traveling (long story) and I was left without my clock, directions to the hotel, or even the name of the hotel that my assistant had reserved for me.  I was paralyzed until I could get some juice for my phone, and I realized that sometimes, old school is best.  Here’s a list of devices that you should always have in reserve.

  1. Calculator.  Yes, I know your phone has one, but have you ever needed the calculator while you’re on the phone?  Happens to me all the time.  A pocket-sized solar calculator with a battery backup can be a lifesaver.
  2. Typewriter.  Don’t roll your eyes.  I’m serious.  If you’ve ever needed to fill in a form that you can’t edit online, then the typewriter is a godsend.   Print the form, type your entries, and you’re all set.  I don’t use mine often, but when I need it, it’s the perfect solution.
  3. GPS device.  Sure, most phones have this function, but again – when you’re on a call and you simultaneously need directions, you’ll be glad you have the separate unit.  The bonus is that prices have come way down, and you can get a great GPS for very little.
  4. Alarm clock.  This item’s about redundancy as well, but if your phone battery dies or the power goes out, you’ll still be on time for that important meeting if you’ve packed a battery or wind-up alarm clock.  No need to make excuses for oversleeping.
  5. Compass.  Yes, really.  It never fails that the very moment that I need my GPS the most – like in the middle of Manhattan – the buildings keep my GPS from working properly.  If I know I need to head uptown, my pocket compass saves the day.
  6. Watch.  I may be old fashioned, but people who constantly check their phones drive me crazy.  If you just need to check the time, you’ll look much more engaged if you glance at your watch, rather than checking your phone and incidentally seeing the twenty new emails that need your attention.
  7. Pen and paper.  Inevitably, every time I try to use my phone’s notes function, I get distracted by a text message or a calendar alert and frequently forget what I needed to jot down.  Pen and paper in my pocket solves the problem.
  8. Polaroid camera.  I tell people that I keep a Polaroid camera just for fun, but it’s actually a fantastic leave behind.  Physical pictures are becoming so rare that they’re a brilliant way to remind a client or a friend of a momentous occasion.

I increasingly hear folks making excuses for why they haven’t managed to get something done, usually blaming their shortcomings on technology.  It’s far better to be the one person who always delivers, every time, rather than being the person whining about a dead battery and a failure to plan ahead.  Don’t be caught unprepared.  

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