Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


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.

Stocksy_txpee8b7c22T9B000_Small_201077


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.

???????????

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. 


The 10 Most Common Accounting Mistakes That Cost Big Money

There is money flowing out of your business right now as a result of simple accounting mistakes. Here are the top ten and how to fix them:

  1. Not balancing your bank statements. All sorts of strange deductions can happen from your cash accounts at your bank. For example, checks and direct transfers can be cleared for the wrong amount. Checks can be cleared in your account that are not your checks. A transaction may be recorded for $63 when it is supposed to be $630 or worse, it could have been entered twice. Solution: Balance the checking accounts every month. Have it done by a different person than the one that pays the bills to add an increased level of security. Have an accountant check it quarterly.
  2. Letting customers pay with 30, 45 or 60 day terms. Every day, you don’t collect money from customers for an outstanding bill is a day you are acting as their personal bank. Solution: Ask to get paid at time of purchase or no later than 30 days. You will be amazed how many customers will agree to do this.
  3. Not following up to see if invoices are received and scheduled to be paid. Many small business owners’ mail or email invoices, but never check to see if they were received by the customer or when they are scheduled to be paid. Solution: Establish a strict follow up schedule. Call to see if the invoice was received and when it is to be paid. If payment is not received by the promised date, follow up again.
  4. Not checking invoices and vendor statements against products that are received. Did the vendor bill your company only for products ordered? Did you actually get the products that you wanted and were billed for? Solution: Match every bill against a purchase invoice. No exceptions.
  5. Not balancing checks against invoices. Are all the invoices for real products the company legitimately ordered? Creating phony invoices for imaginary vendors is the biggest way employees steal from companies. Solution: Carefully control the ability to create new vendors in the accounting software.
  6. Keeping track of cost of goods sold. What was actually paid for the product? What was the gross profit on it? Too many times, the small business owner is unaware of both of these answers. Solution: Practice a careful accounting method of LIFO or FIFO for managing inventory.
  7. Not the right amount of inventory. If there is too much inventory, the small business burns their cash flow. If there is not enough inventory, the customer fill rate is too low and the company can lose customers. Solution: Carefully track inventory turns, fill rates, reorder points and reorder quantities.
  8. Over paying on bank fees. Since the Great Recession, there has been an explosion of bank fees. Small business accounts have monthly maintenance, merchant accounts, wire transfer and minimum balance fees. Solution: Negotiate with your bank  for lower fees or find a community bank that may be more flexible.
  9. Capitalizing research and development instead of expensing it this year. Many companies depreciate capital expenses over a long period of time which increases their profit. Solution: New permanent tax laws enable small businesses to write off up to $500K in a single year.
  10. Not keeping track of all your business expenses. Small businesses owners get lazy and don’t keep track of all their expenses to write off. Solution: Implement a system like Shoeboxed to take photos of expense receipts when they happened for easier filing.

‚Äč???????????????????????????????


7 Keys to Digital Marketing Success

Man working at his desk during the dayIf you’re new to running a business online, you might feel like you’re looking up from the bottom of a very tall mountain. There’s so much to learn, and so much competition. Sure, it can be daunting, but you’ll learn the best strategies for your business over time. But for now, here are seven strategies that will give you a little boost to get started on the right path.

1. Have a Strong Presence Online

This is probably my biggest tip from my own personal experience. When I’m not running my #SmallBizChat or blogging, I’m on Twitter, Google+, or LinkedIn chatting with contacts and sharing content. I strive to create value to small business owners, and want them to know that they can find great advice and tips from me, no matter which channel.

Decide what you’re known for and what you can help people with. Then dominate that field on every digital channel that makes sense.

2. Limit The Channels You Use

Notice in the last tip, I said to use “every digital channel that makes sense.” That does not mean you need to be on every single social media out there. Find out which ones your customers are spending time on, then settle in to roost on those. I’d say you can’t successfully manage a presence on more than three or four. Find what number and which sites you enjoy using and stick to those, even if it’s just one to begin with.

3. Read, Read, Read!

You can’t succeed as a business owner if you operate in a bubble. Sure, you know a lot about your industry, but there’s still a ton left for you to learn. And you also need to stay on top of other areas like marketing and business strategy.

Find blogs you enjoy reading and subscribe to them. Participate in LinkedIn groups so you can get access to more content on your industry. Make continuous learning part of your daily to-dos.

4. Get Your Website Right

Because your website is often a potential customer’s first interaction with your brand, you need to ensure it speaks to them. Your copy should be targeted exactly to the audience you’re trying to reach and quickly tell them that they’re in the right place for what they’re seeking.

5. Leverage SEO

Being found on search engines is imperative for the success of your digital business. Use keywords that zero in on what you offer, and that will help you rise up search engines. And if you’re a local brick-and-mortar business, such as a bakery, make sure you include the name of your city or town in those keywords.

6. Use Email to Reach Your Network

Email, too, can help you expand your business. Segment your list so that it’s divided into groups of people that make sense, such as those that have bought shoes, those that have bought women’s dresses, et cetera. You want to send a highly targeted email to each group so they feel connected with your offer, not turned off by it because it’s not relevant.

7. Be Consistent

Everything you do online has to keep being done if you stand a shot of success. Update your social media daily, or at the very least, several times a week. Blog consistently. Send your email newsletter out at the same time each month. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 6 Steps to Measuring Your Customer Service Effectiveness

Computer Lab: Support Representatives Taking CallsHow good is your small business’s customer service? You’ll never know unless you measure it. As with every other aspect of your business, tracking customer service metrics and assessing areas you can improve on will help your business grow.

  1. Set standards for customer service. Some of these standards will be easily measurable. For instance, you might set a standard to answer each call before the third ring, or resolve 90 percent of issues on the first contact with the customer. Others will be more subjective, but even for these behaviors, try to develop a clear guide to whether the employee is following the behavior. For example, if one of your standards is “Always be polite to customers,” the measurable version of this might be “Always refer to customers as ‘Sir’ or “Ma’am,” “Never interrupt a customer” or “Never raise your voice to a customer.”
  2. Take advantage of technology. There are many customer service tools, such as customer service software or call center services, that make it simple to track and measure customer service effectiveness metrics. For instance, you can measure factors such as the average time a customer spends on hold, average abandonment rates (how many customers hang up before a representative ever answers), average duration of call and average resolution time (how long before the problem is resolved or the question is answered).
  3. Go beyond the numbers. Don’t just rely on numbers—look at what’s behind them. For instance, is one employee great at getting through calls quickly, but only because he always bumps them up to the supervisor level for resolution? Make sure employees understand that speed is important, but it’s not the only factor in effective customer service. Also take time to randomly listen to customer service call recordings from time to time and give employees feedback.
  4. Act on what you learn. By tracking customer service metrics, you can spot both overall trends and individual issues, then take steps to deal with problems. For example, if you spot a trend toward longer hold times during the holiday shopping season, you could solve the issue by putting more detailed FAQs on your website to help with the issues customers are having, or hiring more customer service employees to handle the load. If you notice that one employee consistently has longer than average call duration, find out why. Maybe the employee is new and frequently has to look up information or consult a supervisor. He or she may need more training to get up to speed.
  5. Involve employees. Friendly competition, or competition with oneself, is a good thing. Let your customer service employees view and track their own metrics so they can see how well they’re doing and be motivated to improve. Hold regular meetings to keep employees informed about the team’s performance, reward results and talk about areas for improvement. More experienced employees can share tips with newer ones so everyone benefits. 



 
Nextiva Logo

phone-icon(800) 799-0600 Sales phone-icon(800) 285-7995 Support
Nextiva is the leader in Business VoIP Services. Copyright 2014 Nextiva, All Rights Reserved,
Terms and Conditions, Privacy Policy, Patents, Sitemap