Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


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. 

Mondays with Mike: How To Become A TED Speaker

TED-Talk-WebTED can change your life, and I’m not just talking about the insights you can glean from the brilliant ideas shared by the many speakers. I’m talking about giving a TED talk – one single engagement that will expose you, your ideas, and your brand to millions of people. It’s the biggest public speaking opportunity around, and it ain’t an easy one to land.  

I’ve given a few TEDx talks – the regional feeder program for TED, and I sat down with the curator of TEDx Hoboken, Elizabeth Barry, to get some insight into what the curators are looking for and some strategies that speakers can use to get the opportunity of giving a talk. If your goal is to give a TED talk, TEDx is the logical place to start.  

 

Let’s start with Elizabeth’s list of dos and don’ts for landing a TEDx talk:

 

DO NOT:

  • Pitch yourself or your business. TED and TEDx talks focus on ideas, rather than people.
  • Simply repeat an earlier performance. Find a fresh idea.
  • Think you’re more important than your idea.

DO:

  • Be real and be kind. You’re not the focus of the talk; your idea is.
  • Present an idea that’s original, profound, and genuinely worth spreading.
  • Bring all your passion and expertise.
  • Focus on your idea and its applications in the lives of others.  Your talk should be more than simply a story about your life. Look for an idea that can benefit your audience.

Elizabeth stressed that TED and TEDx aren’t about grandstanding. Sure, the events generate great publicity, but the goal of the project is to spread and profound ideas that make a difference in people’s lives.  

 

Once you’ve landed and given a TEDx talk, you can focus on the big fish. One thing you should keep in mind is that TED was created by a group of journalists, so your best angle is to focus on a compelling story. Additionally, you should consult the editorial calendar to make sure your great idea wasn’t covered by the previous quarter’s talks. 

 

You should absolutely promote the heck out of your TEDx video – since each view is a new (and trackable) impression, but it’s essential that you not simply try to recycle your TEDx content. Don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s your idea that’s the focus. Should you land a TED gig, it’s not simply because you’re so wonderful; it’s because you have something important to share that can enrich the lives of the audience.

 

It’s impossible to overstate how huge a TED talk will be for your career. At the time I wrote this article, 1.2 million viewers had watched a TED talk given by a young man named Cesar Kuriyama. He stood on the stage and shared the insight he’d gained from his project in which he recorded one second of video every day and edited the clips into a video that captures the absolutely ordinary images that comprise our lives. The power of his talk was in the weight of the impressions that fill our lives … the ones that we too often take for granted and forget as soon as we’ve seen them.  

 

Kuriyama shared his experience of image and memory and the complex ways that we recall the events of our lives, both good and bad. Not only has he gained astounding publicity for his projects, but he’s also touched 1.2 million people with his idea worth sharing. That’s the power of TED. It’s a worthy goal.


Life Lessons on Training Great Employees

Dog Photo SmallAll of life’s experiences can provide insight into running a small business. A good friend just drove this point home after adopting a new dog. She’s full of stories about her training challenges and as she told me her tales (or should I say, “tails?”), it was clear that the principles applied to employee training as well. You may have never trained a pet, but your own childhood memories or even your favorite TV show provide lessons that can make you a more effective employee trainer.

Keep it Positive

When my dog-training friend talks about her own childhood music training, it is easy to see the difference that positive reinforcement makes in a person’s ability and willingness to learn. She dutifully practiced piano (for a while), but her mother kept running into the room, yelling, “WRONG NOTE!” She quickly lost interest in playing piano. On the other hand, her mother’s outspoken pride in her dance abilities created a prodigy. At 13 years old, she was the youngest student in the advanced class that was generally reserved for teachers.

Positive reinforcement has real power over employees’ current and future success, so be sure to catch trainees doing something right and commend them for it. Each success breeds employee confidence, making it easier to master future tasks successfully. In fact, a well-placed compliment can feed their drive for success throughout their careers.

Also, give employees credit for contributions in front of clients, vendors and other employees.  The more that the employee knows that they are valued, the more incentivized they will be to do their best work.

Set New Employees Up for Success

Of course, it’s hard to provide positive reinforcement when the tasks are too complicated to learn, so break down new tasks into smaller components to give employees a real chance at success. Think back to the classic I Love Lucy Episode when Lucy and Ethel take jobs in a candy factory. They had about a minute of training before taking their places at a slow-moving conveyor belt to wrap chocolates. When the belt speed increased, the girls start stuffing candies into their mouths, their blouses and even their hats. They were set up to fail.

Not all jobs can be learned in five minutes —or even a week. And even relatively simple jobs cannot be performed at top speed on the first day. Break down procedures into manageable tasks so employee successes drive accuracy. Consider constructing checklists that the employee signs off on as they finish each task component. If you set them up for success, your employees will gain confidence and speed.

Use Errors as Training Opportunities

You have the power to turn trainee mistakes into lessons, rather than sources of embarrassment. My dog-training friend was happily surprised when a gentle “uh-uh,” combined with an acceptable chew toy, stopped her pup from biting an electric cord — and he avoided all cords from that point on because he learned what was wrong and what was right. Of course, saying, “uh-uh” to an employee would be patronizing, however, pointing out an error and gently correcting it makes a lot of sense.

No matter how carefully you conduct training, employees do not always know what “right” looks like until you point it out. If they pick lug bolts when filling a customer order that requests lug nuts, you have the opportunity to go beyond correcting that single error. This is the time to point out that many fasteners have similar names, so a careful review of each bin label is essential while picking each item in an order.

Be Flexible

People have differing backgrounds and a variety of learning styles; they do not all need to learn the same things in the same way. You need to be flexible enough to make training interesting and informative on an individual basis.

I know a seasoned sales rep who nearly walked out on his first day when he was herded into a room with sales newbies to watch a week’s worth of generic sales training videos. Sure, he needed to learn the company’s product line and its sales culture, but he did not need to learn what a “cold call” is. Rather than lose the company’s most valuable new hire, the sales manager personally took on his training.

Let the Student Become the Teacher

New employees have a fresh outlook and ideas that are untainted by a “we’ve always done it this way” attitude. From their first day on the job, they can ask questions or spot process incongruities that can make things unnecessarily difficult. When my friend’s dog insisted on getting his leash attached while sitting on a chair, he made the process easier — no stooping required. So, whether trainees have certain personal preferences, or if they see ways to make a process simpler or more precise, you should listen and learn.

Even seasoned business owners have new things to learn. Just as you accept suggestions from your longer-term employees, never discount the possibility that the new kid on the block has something to contribute. Everyone benefits when the student becomes the teacher.


Business Leadership Lessons from Pope Francis

From the beginning, the 266th Pope showed the world that he would somehow be different.  Pope Francis declined fancy shoes, a palace apartment, and the protected “Pope Mobile”. He said, he opted instead for more modest loafers, the Vatican guesthouse, and a bus ride.

Pope Francis’s model of leadership is one of authenticity, commitment, and understanding. He leads from a place of humility in order to serve the greater good and is an example for all leaders to follow.

Here’s what small business leaders in particular can learn from Pope Francis about leading:

  1. Master self-leadership first. Each person must be able to lead themselves before they can lead others. This self-leadership ability comes from a deep understanding of who they really are. This includes examining both their good and bad attributes. They then need to identify other people that can fill these gaps. The second step is to have courage to always be oneself. It is key to become a direct and authentic person that employees respect, admire, and want to follow.
  2. Commit to development. Never stop learning how to be a better leader. Just like every company should never become comfortable with profits or market position, a business leader should never settle on “good enough” leadership. All leaders need to look to who they can learn from inside and outside the organization. This includes not only other managers, but other individual employees.
  3. Work directly with the team. Small business leaders spend a lot of time with their customers, so they know what their problems are. In the same way, small business leaders need to work closely with their employees in order to understand their particular issues and goals to be able to match those to the company’s objectives.
  4. Lead selflessly. Effective small business leaders put their own self-interests aside in order to serve the greater mission their business has. When their interests diverge from the company’s, this is where that business begins to fail.

Pope Francis’s leadership is a reminder of what a great leader looks like. With authentic and humble leadership, every team will work harder, be more loyal and make it easier to grow a profitably company.

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What non-business leaders have you learned from?


NextOS Enhancements – What to Expect in Your Business Communications

NextOS EnhancementsNextiva is excited to announce the upcoming enhancements to the NextOS system. In the coming months, we will introduce several new features for Nextiva Office products as well as Call Center. We know these enhancements will help make your business even more efficient and productive. Here are the highlights

Nextiva Office

We are improving the experience for your customers from the minute they call into your business.

  • The Auto Attendant now has the option for Holiday Hours on the menu.
  • Upon completion of announcements played on the Auto Attendant, it will automatically take callers back to the main menu.
  • You can store media files in a repository for all of your announcements and easily access different messages when you need to make changes.
  • If you use our Meet-Me Conferencing, you will notice that you can now see who is talking during the conference taking all the guess work out of collaboration.
  • Receptionist Consoles will now display calendar information for all users in real-time.
  • Everyone using the dashboard will see their colleagues’ presence/availability status and IM them on the spot.
  • New options will be available for Executive/Admin roles, allowing for multiple configurations, where all key features are supported in a single view, including Call Screening, Simultaneous Ring, Monitoring, Bridging and Call Push/Pull.

Call Center

We are also enhancing Nextiva Call Center to improve agent efficiency and customer experience.

  • Agent skill-based routing will send calls to only agents/groups of agents assigned to a certain business skill, i.e. advanced technical service, claims processing or administrator skillss.
  • Agents and Supervisors will see visual cues when agents are not operating within desired limits, SLAs or KPIs, so adjustments can quickly be made or training issues addressed.
  • Queue status will now be visible to support better staffing, call routing and training decisions.

Stay tuned for more information in the near future! 


5 Things to do to Prep Your E-Commerce Site for the Holidays

It’s crazy how the end of the year seems to speed up, isn’t it? One minute we’re enjoying fireworks on the Fourth of July, and the next…it’s Christmas. For most people, this just means it’s time to start thinking about buying presents, but if you run an e-commerce store, it means a lot more planning. Don’t procrastinate until November to get your holiday marketing and sales strategies in place. Get started today.

1. Decide on Your Marketing Campaigns

No, it’s not too early to brainstorm on what this holiday season’s marketing campaign will look like. You’ll need ample time to plan out your social media and blogging calendar, as well as purchase advertising and tweak your SEO keywords.

Look at past campaigns and assess what worked and what didn’t. Then use that information to develop an even smarter campaign to reach new and existing customers this year.

2. Get Your Email List in Order

Even if you’re regularly using email to market to your customers, you need to get a game plan for the holidays. If you use a sophisticated ecommerce system, you should be able to pull the email addresses of the customers that bought from you last holiday season. Start a new list of past holiday customers to send promotions to. They already know the quality of your products, and you’ll make it easy for them to buy again from you this year.

3. Plan for a Bump Up in Inventory

The last thing you want is to run out of a product in the middle of the busiest shopping time of the year. So budget to increase your orders with your suppliers, and even find backup suppliers in case the companies you typically work with can’t keep up with demand. See if you can negotiate a lower per-unit price if you boost your order size.

4. Recruit Holiday Help

You should consider bringing on additional hands to help you fulfill orders and answer customer service calls for Q4. Start looking now. You need time before the holidays to recruit and train your temp staff to ensure that they’re on top of their game when sales start escalating in late November.

5. Plan Promotions

Will you take advantage of Black Friday or Cyber Monday? What about Free Shipping Day, which falls on December 18 this year? These are all easy opportunities to build promotions around, so set up a calendar, select the days you want to pump up promotions for, then plan out your emails and social media updates for each.

Speaking of social media, make sure you’ll have time to manage your accounts, if you’re the person who usually does so. If you let your social networks fall to the wayside last year, consider hiring a freelancer or part-time marketing assistant to help with it this year. After all, retailers have seen as much as 66% of Black Friday sales as a result of social media shares, so you want to capitalize on that this year!

The sooner you start planning and working on your holiday sales strategy, the smoother it’ll go at the end of the year.

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Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Ways to Get More Done in Less Time

As a veteran of more late nights than I can count, I’d give anything if there were just a few more hours in each day to get work done. But short of adding time to the clock, there are some ways small business owners can accomplish more in less time. Here are five ideas to try.

  1. Come in late or leave early. Many small business owners get more done working at home, where they aren’t juggling meetings, clients and pop-in employees all day. It’s perfectly legit to come in late or leave early to get some work done at home before or after normal work hours. Just make sure once you’re in the office, you focus on helping your team with what they need.
  2. Minimize email. Lessen your email burdens by sending fewer emails in the first place, and keeping those you do send super-short. Forward less-important emails to an assistant (real or virtual) to handle. (Even better, have the assistant sort through your emails in the first place and only send you the important ones.) Create shortcuts or templates with your most-common replies instead of typing the same thing dozens of times a day. When you see “reply all” email chains getting out of hand, nip it in the bud.
  3. Delegate. Many small business owners work long hours because they can’t let go. Employees welcome the chance to learn and take tasks off your plate—that’s what they’re there for. Start small with simple tasks and build up to the big things.
  4. Automate. Use technology to do what it does best: save you time. Store documents and data in the cloud to eliminate endless hunts for files. Synch your desktop, laptop and mobile devices so you always have access to the same information no matter where you are. Cut back on tedious tasks like scanning, faxing and sorting receipts by using smartphone apps to speed these chores.
  5. Take breaks. It sounds counterintuitive, but taking frequent, short breaks makes the time you do spend working more productive so you can get more done in less time. A recent study said those who work intensely for 52 minutes and then take 17 minutes breaks are more productive than those trying to muscle through without taking breaks. Use that break time to walk around the office checking in on your staff. Don’t spend that brain-break on your computer—that won’t refresh your mind the same way physical movement and real-world interaction will. ‚Äč

Clock hanging in modern railway station


Mondays with Mike: What The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Can Teach You About Marketing

Your mother, your brother, your best friend, and a loooong list of celebrities, and me too: everyone jumped on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, posting videos of themselves, donating money, and challenging their friends and family to do the same.  Those who participated got their fifteen minutes of fame, and those who wimped out were ridiculed as being no fun.

Aside from the fact that the Challenge raised millions of dollars and promoted awareness about ALS, a terrible, degenerative disease, the Ice Bucket Challenge is a remarkable example of the tremendous power of social media, and it illustrates what can happen when you invite your customers to share pics, videos, and messages that promote your brand.  There are several important principles that the Ice Bucket Challenge teaches us about developing a winning social media marketing strategy. 

  1. Be the EST.  While Challenge videos that simply featured calls out to a couple of friends followed by a typical soaking didn’t circulate terribly far, videos of particularly creative approaches were shared thousands and thousands of times.  FunniEST, coldEST, wettEST … extreme examples got the most views.  Whether it was Ben Affleck calling out his celebrity pals and then pushing his wife into their swimming pool, or whether it was a group of middle aged moms rapping their challenge, standing out from the crowd is what gets the most mileage.  Invite the participants in your social media campaign to interact in creative ways.  Ask them to give you their EST.
  2. Find something ubiquitous.  Everyone could participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge, because all that’s required is water, ice, and some sort of container.  If the components had been caviar, platinum, and moon rocks, then that would have left most of us out.  Invite your fans to tweet, photograph, and share pics of themselves in your place of business, or wearing your logo.  Make it simple, repeatable, and leave room for creativity.
  3. Recognize the emotional power of social media.  There was some criticism of the Ice Bucket Challenge from folks who thought it trivialized the disease.  Some of the most powerful videos posted and shared were those made by people who suffer from ALS and from their friends and families.  Authenticity shines through in a video, and creating a powerful emotional connection with your brand through your customers’ true stories promotes your brand in a positive way.
  4. Be pictorial or easy to replicate.  Maybe you invite your fans to take your logo on vacation with them and share pics of your logo in exotic places.  Or perhaps you give away bumper stickers and ask customers to take pics of their cars in unusual spots.  The key is to make it easy to incorporate your logo into a photo that can be shared and reshared until the image covers the globe. 

Creative images make millions of impressions via social media.  You invite the participation of your customers, and while you will need to monitor and perhaps to edit content to ensure that it’s appropriate, the beauty of a social media campaign is that you can sit back and let your fans do your marketing for you. 

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