Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


The Small Business Advantage to Snagging the Best Employees

One of my contacts worked for a young, growing company that paid top dollar for software engineers in preparation for the day that they would be needed to meet client demand.  When she expressed concern about the overspending, one partner told her that if she was in charge, the company would be defunct in a year.  Six months later, their doors closed forever.

That partner was not wrong in recognizing the need for exceptionally-skilled workers.  The error was in seeing spending as the only way to attract and keep the best talent.  Large corporations may have ready cash to pay top wages and benefits, but small business owners can attract and keep the finest employees through their entrepreneurial spirit.  Here are some great ways to get your workers involved in your business vision and develop a relationship that few big businesses can match.

Offer Creative Compensation

Economic downturns may create a buyer’s market for hiring, but that doesn’t mean that the most skilled applicants will agree to take a position that offers substandard incentives.  You may not have the funds to pay a top salary when making an offer — or even when it’s time for an annual review.  But as a small business, your company can offer achievement-based bonuses that can really motivate your employees while increasing your revenues.  So, when certain sales reps are responsible for accelerated sales or when engineers enhance a product to make it more attractive to the marketplace, make sure that they receive their fair share of the profits.

Encourage Active Involvement in the Company

Choosing to work for a small company carries certain inherent risks, but it also offers benefits that cannot be matched by working for a huge organization.  When you welcome and act on employee ideas and suggestions, your employees become partners who recognize their unique value to the company as they work alongside you to realize shared goals.

Make sure to listen to their feedback and acknowledge them too- the value of these soft incentives is highly underrated—not to mention easy for small business owners to embrace.

Give Employees the Power to Spread Their Wings

I know a writer who worked for many small software businesses, enlisting her full creativity to develop low-cost, but award-winning manuals.  When she moved to a large company, she vehemently complained that she no longer wrote documentation, so much as manufactured it in accordance with strict, detailed procedures.  She didn’t last long in this position.

Big businesses need to put their employees in specific boxes and keep them there to get their allotted portion of the job done.  As a business owner, you know that one of the greatest rewards comes with seeing a project through from beginning to final results.  Employees can feel that same sense of satisfaction and accomplishment — if you empower them to take on this type of challenge.  As they stretch their abilities, be available to provide upfront and ongoing guidance as needed, but give them latitude to do it their way.  As their abilities grow from new experiences, their investment in the company’s interests will grow as well.

Praise in Public

??????????????????????????????????????A job well done deserves praise and your employees never mind being called to your office to receive your personal kudos.  But when employees receive your commendations at a company meeting or in front of a customer who benefitted from their hard work, they clearly see their true value.  Naturally, public praise helps inspire all employees, but it also lets your customers recognize how the depth of your products and services helps them get the attention and consideration they deserve.

Promote from Within

When a key position opens up in your company, always look first to the members of the team that work hard for you every day.  Granted, some positions require very specific educational requirements not available in your organization, such as a degree in accounting.  But remember that your staff members already have a solid foundation and a deeper understanding of your company culture and how things work.  You probably have to spend time and effort training employees in new concepts and procedures.  Or, they may need to take a class or two to obtain additional knowledge.  But you can’t teach loyalty and dedication, and these traits grow even more when you reward them with advancement.

No large company can match the excitement employees experience going in to a job where they know that they make a vital difference every day.  As their efforts help grow your business, make sure you help them continue to grow as well.  


Where Small Businesses Are Stuck in 2014

During the course of their career, every small business owner gets stuck. The key is to know where and how to get unstuck.

My annual survey of 5,000 small business owners identifies the problem areas. Here are a few excerpts:

  1. Treating their company like a job. The Survey: Over 40% of owners do whatever customers need in order to earn money for their business. This does not allow them to strategically ramp up a profitable business. The Solution: Don’t take every piece of work offered by a customer. Focus on what the company is good at and get more of that profitable business.
  2. The daily plan gets interrupted when entering the office. The Survey: 53% don’t have a plan for their day or it gets destroyed when the start work. The Solution: Before opening email, voice mail or social media, do two important tasks that will make the day productive.
  3. Stocksy_txpe7f75a0ezH4000_Small_41935They never take a break. The Survey: Over 50% said they are too busy to take a break and always have their phone near them. This is because they have a fear of getting left behind. The Solution: Find a daily place without a smartphone where personal batteries can be recharged and let creativity flow.
  4. They fear failure. The Survey: Over 40% said that failure is not an option. They fear it so much that they stop taking risks in their business. The Solution: Accept failure. Learn something. Let go of that failure and take another action to get to another success.
  5. They are afraid of selling. The Survey: 41% are either afraid of rejection or not sure how to build a relationship with a prospect. 59% said that they are too busy servicing existing customer to find new ones. The Solution: A company can’t really sell anything to anyone. They need to be there when customers are ready to buy by executing a daily systematic marketing plan.
  6. They stop marketing as soon as they have sales. The Survey: 58% only market their products when they do not have sales. They also believe their products are so superior that they do not need to market them at all! The Solution: Execute a systematic marketing plan through content marketing on a weekly basis.
  7. They don’t know how to use or have stopped with social media. The Survey: 54% either do not have a social media strategy or have stopped using it. The Solution: Social media is part of promotion. Use it to form relationships by providing help to customers, prospects and connectors.
  8. They let poor performing employees stay. The Survey: 53% never fire employees since it is too uncomfortable or they are too loyal. The Solution: Be slow to hire and quick to fire. Find the team that makes the company profitable. Fire anyone that does not add productively to the company.
  9. They don’t ask for help. The Survey: 44% never ask for help because they believe they have to figure it out on their own. Many others are unsure of who to ask for help. The Solution: Find a formal or informal group of advisors and mentors to answer pressing questions. Do not go it alone!
  10. They allow personal smartphone usage at work. The Survey: 74% do not monitor personal use of smartphones which can destroy company productivity. The Solution: Have a written policy that personal smartphones are not to be used during work except in emergencies.

Bonus: They rarely review their financial statements. The Survey: Over 20% never look at their financial statements because they are hard to understand. The Solution: Get trained to understand every line of the company’s financial statement. Review them monthly.

Tell me where you are stuck!


Nextiva Customer Success Story: Lorddys Healthcare Solutions

Nextiva understands the importance of being able to confidently rely on your phone system to provide you with message alerts, mobile capabilities, and quality voice services throughout your work day. These features are especially critical for professionals in the medical industry who are in constant communication with patients, doctors, and hospital staff.

Companies like Rocky Mountain Vein Institute and 19th Avenue Dental Care have been able to increase their staff flexibility and streamline their operations with a cloud-based solution from Nextiva. Features like call forwarding and Nextiva Anywhere™ allow their teams to:

  • Work from anywhere while patients can always reach them “in the office”
  • Swap calls between a desk phone and cell phone
  • Make calls from any device with the caller ID displaying as their office line
  • Maintain call continuity in the rare case of a disaster
  • Use auto attendant as an automated receptionist while away from their desk

We recently met with Lorddys Healthcare Solutions, an Atlanta-based provider of primary nursing services and supportive care for disabled and medically fragile individuals. Driven by the compassion to deliver comfortable, safe care for their patients, the team at Lorddys Healthcare Solutions knew they needed a robust, yet affordable, phone and fax system to keep them in constant communication with patients, employees, hospitals and doctors.

Meet Lorddys Healthcare Solutions’ CEO and Administrator, Yvette Odumosu, and hear her story here:


Work Your Biz Wednesday: How to Leverage a Daily Deal Promotion

In this week's Work Your Biz Wednesday video, Small Biz Lady Melinda Emerson gives you tips on leveraging a daily deal promotion through companies like Groupon and LivingSocial.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 10 Warning Signs an Employee’s Ready to Quit

Do you think taking lots of sick days, coming to work dressed up and then going to a “doctor’s appointment,” or leaving on the dot of 5:00 are warning signs an employee is about to quit? Then you could be missing subtler, more serious signs.

A study by Utah State University associate professor Tim Gardner identified 10 behaviors employees who are planning to quit ????????????????????????????????????????typically display:

  1. They offered fewer suggestions in meetings.
  2. They became reluctant to commit to long-term projects.
  3. They became quieter and more reserved.
  4. They became less interested in advancing in their jobs.
  5. They were less interested in pleasing the boss.
  6. They avoided interacting socially with their boss or other managers.
  7. They were less likely to suggest new ideas or innovative approaches.
  8. They started doing the bare minimum at work and stopped going above and beyond the call of duty.
  9. They became less interested in workplace training and development programs.
  10. Their productivity at work declined.

According to Gardner, if an employee displays at least six of these behaviors, he can predict with 80 percent accuracy that the person is about to quit.

What can you do if you spot these behaviors in a key employee? Since the behaviors typically arise one to two months before quitting, there’s not much time to change the employee’s mind—so you need to be proactive.

As a busy boss, it’s easy to get wrapped up in your own work and not engage with your employees much. Walk around, talk to your team every day and really listen—not just to what they say, but also to their body language and how they act. Is a formerly chatty employee now staring at her computer every time you come by? Does a formerly jovial employee no longer look you in the eye?

If you suspect a key employee is ready to jump ship, call the person in for an honest talk. If they are considering leaving but haven’t yet made a firm decision, what can you offer that would make them reconsider? Perhaps employees feel their ideas aren’t taken seriously, that there’s no room for advancement or not enough workplace training. Can you address these issues?

If the employee has already accepted or is about to accept a job offer, you face a bigger challenge—but you may still be able to keep the person on board by making a counteroffer or addressing his or her concerns.

If the employee does leave, conduct an exit interview to probe what prompted the decision. It’s likely this employee isn’t the only one bothered by the same issues, and by becoming more aware, you can remedy the problem before other employees leave, too.  


Mondays with Mike: Secret Short Cuts – Legal Aid

What’s the difference between a bad lawyer and a good lawyer?  A bad lawyer can drag a case out for years.  A good lawyer can make it last even longer.

All kidding aside, legal fees aren’t necessarily the first thing entrepreneurs think of when they’re adding up the costs of doing business.  As litigious as society is, though, you’re foolish if you don’t engage an attorney to ensure that you’re legit and covered in case of legal action.  Don’t have the $350/hour lying around to consult a lawyer?  Keep reading.

Here’s my secret for low (or no) cost legal aid.  Head to a local university and talk to the head of the legal department.  Offer your business up for use by students (under the professors’ supervision, of course) as a real-life example.  Your business and its legal needs become coursework for up-and-coming attorneys.  There aren’t many situations in business that are truly win-win, but this is one of them.  Students benefit from concrete experience, rather than boring hypotheticals, and you get your legal work done for free.  Professors love it; students benefit; you save big bucks.

????????????????????????????????????????????????Rather than trying to do it yourself with old legal documents that you dug up online (and which might be completely outdated,) you’re going to get cutting edge, custom work.  Students can draw up your incorporation paperwork, make sure your legal disclaimers are airtight, draft your employment contracts, and basically ensure that you’re covered and are in a position to head off most legal problems that could arise.

You’ll literally get thousands of dollars of work for free, and I strongly recommend thanking the classes who work on your case with pizza or coffee from time to time.

One final benefit from offering your business up to a college department is that you get a preview of the talent that’s emerging from your local universities.  In fact, one of the times that I approached the head of the legal department at my local college, the professor recommended that I work with his best student who was about to graduate.  The student prepared my contract, and the process served as a great extended interview.  I hired him after he graduated, and he ended up being one of my most valuable employees.

Now think a little bit bigger…let’s see how this little secret can work in other areas as well.  Are there marketing students in your area?  Students of web design, graphic design?  Think about all of the exciting, creative work you can cash in on while at the same time providing local students with exciting, valuable real-life experience – experience that they can use to get an edge on the fierce competition they’ll face once they’re out looking for work.  Don’t pass up a chance to get a great deal on the services your business requires, while fostering closer ties to your community and helping better prepare the workforce of the future.


How to Keep the Rule of 3 from Ruling your Business

Even with the best laid plans, it has become clear to me that every business project follows the “Rule of 3”: it takes three times longer, costs three times as much and is three times as difficult as it should be.  This is a universal truth, so if you can accept it and even embrace it, you can put yourself on a path toward a more successful future for your business.

Here are some ways to battle some of the Rule of 3 issues that have been frustrating business owners since the beginning of time.

Everything Takes Longer, but You Can Get There

Setting your expectations too high is often the cause of this phenomenon.  Once you align yourself with realistic goals, you can head for longer term success.  Consider the following situations:

  • Getting the big order from a new client:  New customers may want to test the waters by initially offering smaller jobs.  When you impress them by providing high-quality work on time or before deadlines, the large order will come.
  • Getting a new product to market:  Even with extensive planning, Murphy’s Law accurately predicts that something will inevitably go wrong.  Perhaps a vital part is not delivered, manufacturing becomes halted, or your entire software development team gets the flu a week prior to scheduled delivery.  One way to deal with this issue is to develop an accurate delivery date up front — and then, multiply it by three or at least add some padding to the date. The worst case scenario is that you end up delivering early.
  • Providing on-site support for clients:  The moment you lose control over the place where your work is performed or your product is installed, any number of things can go wrong.  If you need to rely on a client’s computer, you might get a defective one.  Or you may set out to install 220 volt equipment in a building with only 120 volt outlets. Make sure that your contract provides detailed requirement specs and estimates the resulting time delays if those requirements are not met.

Of course, time delays can also amount to income delays.  So, make sure that you have enough capital to ride out the extra time.

Creativity and Planning Helps Handle Extra Expense

Stocksy_txp31123075Gu3000_Small_81280Even the big business players want to bring projects in on budget, but additional expenses do not generally bring their operations to a screeching halt.  As a small business owner, you do not have the luxury of overspending, but there are some ways to help avoid — or at least deal with — financial surprises.

Just as you need to add a buffer when planning the timing for an undertaking, you have to do the same when it comes to budgeting.  After a careful analysis tells you that your new widget will cost $5,000 from design to final production, you need to plan for what you will do if the actual expenses turn out to be $15,000.  Even if you don’t have the cash on-hand to deal with the additional costs, create a Plan B so that you have a pre-approved bank loan in place or someone waiting in the wings to help.

You may also be able to manage the additional costs with some creative strategies.  For example, a vendor might be willing to barter its product in exchange for one of your products or services.  If you think bartering is not a viable way to conduct business, I recently heard of a web designer who conducts all business within a “gift economy.”  He designs and builds websites as gifts for his customers, trusting them to gift back based on what they believe is fair value for his work.  While he reports this business model has worked well for him, I’m not recommending — or even suggesting — that you take such an extreme approach to your cash flow.  But entering into a barter agreement can be valuable in a pinch.

It May be Difficult, but You Don’t Have to Go it Alone

There is nothing better than the power of people.  Every small business owner should find a support group of other business owners that they can use as sounding boards for business challenges.  The Web offers many ready-made groups that you can turn to, or you can form your own group.  Often, the experience of expressing your concerns out loud is enough to help you find solutions.  And the chances are that others in your group have worked through the same issues and have found successful solutions.   At a minimum, they can provide you with some comfort when things are inevitably more difficult than you expect them to be.

Dealing with the Rule of 3 can be one of the most frustrating aspects of running any business, but you can lessen its effects with creative thinking and a few good friends. And for those times when you feel overwhelmed by these issues, remember — there’s always ice cream.


20 Words to Get Your Posts Read

The key to getting any business content read is its headline. Take a lesson from print media, articles with boring titles never get read. Here are 20 words to make sure that prospects and customers read what your company posts:

  1. Numbers:  3, 5, 7 or 10 are a clear winners. Even numbers are less popular. Every reader wants a simple step by step list to accomplish their task.
  2. Easier: They want your business to make it easier for them. They seek an easier way out or an easier way to solve their pain.
  3. Rock star: Most customers have a secret desire to be a famous rock star even if it is only in their immediate world. They will pay anyone to get there.
  4. Capture: The best word to help customers get what they desire. It denotes things that are not easy to accomplish.
  5. Killer: This is a powerful, yet controversial word. It can backfire if used in times of domestic violence.
  6. Secrets: Every customer wants to learn the secret formula that not everyone else knows so they can benefit from it.
  7. Stocksy_txp870288944a3000_Small_22647Perfection: Consumers are always striving for this ideal. They know they can’t really achieve it, but it does not stop them looking for help to get it.
  8. Quick: Customers have no time. They want something fast (see “Easy”). This can be learned from the popular fast and prepared food craze.
  9. Dangerous: Many customers lead fairly mundane lives and seek safety. They want to read about dangerous things they should avoid.
  10. Clever: Customers hope to gain an advantage by being cleverer than the next person. This is a quality that is almost universally admired.
  11. Next level: Every customer wants to go up, forward and to the next higher level. They will buy whatever can help them get there.
  12. Guarantee: This helps mitigate the risk a customer is taking in their purchase. If the results are “guaranteed”, they feel more comfortable to act.
  13. Boost: Customers want quick help to get higher. The “boost” is a popular and warm image from childhood.
  14. Latest: Many customers are addicted to the “shiny object syndrome” and always want the latest and greatest. Companies feed that desire.
  15. Mega: Americans always like things which are large. In fact, the bigger, the better. Many believe that a higher quantity means increased value.
  16. Absolutely: A better way of saying “the best”. It leaves no room for doubt.
  17. Ridiculous: Customers like to hear about the “crazy” so they can pass along these stories to friends and associates.
  18. VIP: Every customer wants to be part of something that not all people can join. It makes them feel special.
  19. Limited time: Customers will act if they believe there is scarcity.
  20. Worst: Unfortunately, people are more attracted to the negative, than the positive. This is the basis of the popularity of every reality TV show.

What are your best headline words?


Work Your Biz Wednesday: How to Provide Outstanding Customer Service

The real secret to keeping customers coming back is to deliver great customer service. Find out how to deliver the "wow" from Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson:




 
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