Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


7 Things You Do Every Day That Hurt Your Company

Posted on by Barry Moltz

5-8 harming businessEvery business owners works hard daily to help their company. Unfortunately, there are many actions they take that do more harm than good. Here are the top seven and what to do about it:


1. You’re busy, but not productive.

Emails, phone calls, and meetings get in the way of accomplishing critical tasks. When these interruptions dominate your day, you become busy, but not productive. Instead, start the day with two goals that need to be accomplished. Do these two things before anything else and your day will always be productive.

2. You don’t ask for feedback.

The old adage says that no news is good news. You haven’t heard any complaints from your customers lately, so everything’s fine, right? Not necessarily. People typically do not tell you what they think. They usually just go away dissatisfied (and tell their friends and post in on the web).  Many times you need do some research to see what people are saying about your company.  Google your company’s name and pay attention to the search results. Read Amazon, TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews. Send an email or post a comment to ask “what can I be doing better?” Don’t be afraid of what you’ll hear, but rather excited about the opportunity to make your company better.

3. You post to social media without thinking of your brand.

Many companies have designated social media pages that they carefully craft to represent their brand. But what about your personal social media pages? You should be just as careful there. Your social media connections are made up of friends, co-workers, clients and even potential customers, and your actions always represent your company. Do not post snarky comments about customers or competitors. Think twice before posting a controversial political article or a picture of your alcoholic drink of choice that evening. Social media posts are an easy way to damage your reputation.

4. You don’t update your website.

Your website is a resource for both prospects and customers; if it’s not updated, you are hurting your company. The most common place for companies to fall behind is on their blog. Since the posts are dated, it’s easy to tell how much attention the website getting. Old posts give the impression that the website isn’t being maintained. Make sure your most recent post isn’t more than a few weeks old. Not only will posting more frequently give a better impression, it gives Google more to index so that your search rankings will be higher.

5. You ignore a client’s complaint.

If you have an unhappy customer you have not dealt with yet, you are hurting your business. The best course of action is to apologize as soon as possible and offer a generous solution. Don’t underestimate the power of a person’s angry voice. In this case, the time you’d spend doing damage control would far exceed the time it would’ve taken to remedy the situation.

6. You make critical decisions in the afternoon.

The time of day affects our brain’s functioning. According to neuroeconomist, Baba Shiv, we should make more decisions or hold important meetings in the morning when serotonin, the calming hormone, is at its natural high. It makes us feel less risk averse, so we can make harder choices.  Later in the day, it’s common to postpone decisions because we favor indecision or just avoid making a choice at all.

7. You fill every waking moment with activity.

A lack of downtime during the day hurts your company because you aren’t performing your best. The human body is designed to labor in short pulses and requires physical and mental rest at regular intervals. Schedule at least two times during the workday to reflect and recharge for a few minutes. This is done most effectively by wandering around outside where you work. Remember that taking care of yourself means you are taking care of your company.

Which one will you commit to improving?


I Wouldn’t Serve You (Like This) If You Were the Last Customer on Earth

5-7 Last customer on earth smallAdvocating and helping your employees sustain a “treat each customer like the last customer on earth” attitude is one of the most important leadership responsibilities you have in your company, one of your key weapons against losing customers through employee and organizational neglect. When you treat each customer as if she’s the last remaining customer on the planet–the customer on whom the very existence of your business depends–things start to change in your perception, and, almost simultaneously, in the results you get from your customer relationships: Every customer request is an opportunity, not an imposition. Everything about your customer is worth learning, and remembering, in order to help you serve this last remaining customer better. Every opportunity to connect with, assist, serve, and ultimately sell (and re-sell) your last remaining customer is one you’ll want to maximize.

Here’s an exercise to start your employees off in this new mindset: to help them habituate to thinking about each customer as a singular, irreplaceable entity. Ask a group of your employees to imaging the following customers, Mrs. Jones, Jane Anderson, Raymond Washington and Jeanine Chamberlain, all in a line waiting to be served.  (Use actual customer names in this training exercise.) Confer with your employees on how it feels to think about customers in this context. Your employees will probably be affected by picturing them en masse, waiting in line for service; it will up their internal pressure to rush these customers through the system, to minimize the personalization offered, to minimize the service enhancements offered, rush through or even eliminate the greeting and the goodbye they offer to each.

Second, encourage your employees to think about Mrs. Jones all by herself.  This feels different, doesn’t it? Your employees’ thoughts linger on what they know about Mrs. Jones as a person, and as a customer, as well as on the cues they can pick up on from her demeanor today.  They’ll be able to think about ways they can personalize their greeting and their good-bye for her, and about upsells that might be appropriate to offer Mrs. Jones.  All in all, there’s a lot that employees were leaving out when they thought of customers only in the plural, wasn’t there?

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Now, I need to concede right here that delivering this level of service to Mrs. Jones without inconveniencing the rest of your customers can be a significant challenge, involving investments in training, processes, and technology. In fact, you will not–I repeat: not–be able to execute a “last customer on the earth” approach to your satisfaction all of the time.

But if you don’t start with, strive for, this last customer on earth approach, you’ll end up compromising on the service you provide and not even realize that you’re making compromises in your service standards. By contrast, if you set out explicitly to play the “last customer on earth” way, every time you are forced to compromise your service ideal–due to limitations of time, staffing, technology, or other resources–you’ll acutely feel the discrepancy. You’ll know that you’re not living up to your ideal. And you will be motivated to work on the staffing, systems, technology, and processes that can bring you closer to the ideal.


6 Ways to Renew and Revitalize Your Business Relationships

Business team having fun on coffee breakPeople do business with people they like, know and trust. So it’s really all about the relationship that determines whether or not you get the opportunity to even pitch for the business.  But when is that last time you evaluated your relationships. Joleen Jaworkski, President of Business Clubs America (BCA) of Philadelphia, inspired me to expand upon her six tips for making the most of your business relationships.  Here’s my take on the 6 ways to renew and revitalize your business relationships.

1. Treat Relationships like an Investment

Just as important as the money you invest back into your company is the time and energy you invest in your business relationships. Even when you’re swamped, you’ve got to put time in to check on your customers and contacts and see how you can move the relationship forward.

If it’s been a while since you caught up with some of your key connections, make an effort this month to email, call, or have coffee with each one. While your goal isn’t to sell, you never know where this effort will take you.

2. Be More Understanding and Accepting

Just like with married couples, business relationships undergo their own ebb and flow. Realize that if a client snaps at you, it’s probably not really about you; don’t take it personally. Also, have a grain of patience in your interactions. If, for example, a long-standing customer tells you she’s having some financial issues that are keeping her from paying you, be understanding and offer her a payment plan that will help her get back on track. She’ll appreciate you being so accommodating. The best relationships are made in tough times.

3. Be Present

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been in a meeting with someone who keeps checking his phone or email…or even accepts a call while you’re talking! It’s the worst, and it makes you feel like that person doesn’t value your time.

Don’t be that guy. Put all your attention on the person in front of you, and really hear what they’re saying. Don’t interrupt them with what you think they want to hear; you might be wrong and offend them.

4. Go Out of Your Way to Reconnect

If you are flying to a city to attend a conference or see another client, make a lunch, dinner, a drinks appointment to check in on a current or old client. You often don’t have to go far out of your way to show a contact that you’re thinking of her. You can also email an article that you think a client would like. Send a birthday card. Pick up the phone just to say hi. These little efforts can have a pretty big impact to the recipient of your attention.

5. Be Authentic

I thrive on being myself as the SmallBizLady. I’m nothing if not authentic, and people seem to appreciate my honesty in who I am. No one wants you to be something you’re not; they’ll appreciate you, warts and all. You’ll be surprised by how much you have in common with another professional single mom or dad that travels a lot. So see yourself how others see you, strengths and weaknesses included. Then be that person in every interaction you have.

6. Be Generous

Always look for a way you can serve your customers, even if it does directly put money in your pocket. I often introduce my clients to each other. Even if you hope that your business relationships blossom into sales, that’s not your aim in revitalizing those relationships. Put your focus on giving: giving your time, your energy, your advice, your referrals.

The effort you put into nurturing your business relationships will come back to you tenfold, so keep the energy flowing.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Customers Love Loyalty Programs

5-5 customer loyalty programs smallDo you have a customer loyalty program? If not, you’re missing out—because loyalty programs drive sales. Sixty-three percent of customers in the 2015 Loyalty Report say a loyalty program makes their relationships with a brand better, and 34 percent say they wouldn’t be loyal to a brand without a loyalty program. In addition, 64 percent modify the brands they buy, and 76 percent modify when and where they buy, in order to maximize their loyalty program benefits.

So what makes for a successful loyalty program? The top criteria for customer satisfaction include:

  • How appealing the program rewards are
  • How easy the rewards are to redeem
  • The amount accumulated per $1 spent
  • Being able to build up meaningful rewards in a timely manner 
  • Having different options for how rewards/benefits can be earned

Customers also want loyalty programs to be simple, easy to understand and fun to use.

What about mobility as part of loyalty programs? The data is inconclusive here—while about half the respondents say they would like to engage with loyalty programs through a mobile device, just 12 percent of them have actually downloaded a mobile loyalty program app to do so.

However, there are a few ways in which loyalty programs are falling short—not for customers, but for brands. For instance, only 49 percent of consumers report that joining a loyalty program leads them to spend more with the brand. That means you might be throwing away money on a loyalty program that isn’t bringing in enough financial returns.

In addition, almost half (44 percent) of consumers polled agree that “…it would be easy to replace the program with a competitor’s program.” In other words, loyalty programs aren’t differentiating themselves enough from the competition.

Interestingly, the survey notes that some of America’s most popular brands don’t have a formal loyalty program, but achieve many of the same goals without one. By focusing not solely on transactions, but also on treating customers as individuals, making them feel valued and providing personalized experiences, they build a relationship that makes customers willing to pay more for and be loyal to a brand.

In other words, whether you use technology or just plain old human interaction, loyalty is all about creating a human connection.


Mondays with Mike: Be Prepared! The 7 Biggest Cloud Risks

5-4 Cloud Computing smallI was an early convert to the cloud.  It suits my business and lets me work anywhere at any time.  While I’m an enthusiast of mobile access to all my information, when you’re making the leap, you need to be informed about potential problems, so you can head them off.  Here are some risks you’ll want to mitigate:

  1. Inconvenient maintenance times.  Inevitably, whatever host you choose for your cloud-based apps, there will be times when there’s behind-the-scenes tech work being done.  You’ll want to make sure you know when maintenance is scheduled so you don’t bring your entire team in for a big project, only to discover your site’s down.  Keep track of scheduled maintenance.
  2. Upgrade/update schedule.  Just when you get comfortable with the way an app works, it’ll be time for an upgrade … and you get to learn it all over again.  My favorite way to combat this problem is to stay informed about updates and get a core group of your staff trained early, so they can be a resource to the rest of the staff when you absolutely must update or upgrade.
  3. Terminated Employees.  Gone are the days when all you have to do is take back a set of keys from an employee who’s leaving.  Now, you have to make sure you protect the valuable information that’s stored online – accounts to which your employees have access.  Make sure you have a company procedure for changing passwords and protecting your privacy and the privacy of your clients.
  4. Inadvertent change.  Back when phones were just phones, the worst thing we had to worry about was accidentally “butt dialing” someone.  But now that our companies have Facebook and Twitter accounts with mobile access, you have to be extra careful you don’t accidentally post something on your company’s Facebook page that you intended to be on your personal page.  Have your IT folks add in extra steps to ensure nothing is accidentally posted or altered via your mobile apps.
  5. Legal Problems.  Certain industries not only expect, but even require confidentiality in client records.  Whether you’re an accountant, an attorney, a doctor, or any number of professions for which privacy is paramount, you must ensure your records on the cloud are completely secure.  Take the time to vet your cloud provider’s security, and you’ll head off lawsuits.
  6. Becoming a bigger target.  While it’s unlikely someone would try to break into your individual PC in order to get information, when a cloud provider amasses thousands of users records, they’re a much more appealing target for thieves who want your data.   Choose your host wisely and have a backup plan in case your account is compromised.
  7. The cloud is unavoidable.  I’m not warning you about the problems you may encounter to keep you from making the transition.  I’m helping you avoid some of the pitfalls of working on the cloud.  Assess your risks, mitigate the ones you can, and then take the leap.

More business is done on the cloud every single day, and the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.  Businesses who do their homework, create a deliberate plan, and manage the transition carefully will be poised to capture more business and manage it more easily than ever before.  


Local Resources that Can Help Your Small Business Succeed

Posted on by Carol Roth

5-1 Local Resources smallSometimes, the best source of information for your small business is right in your own back yard. In fact, thanks to the Internet, great resources from around the country can come directly to your desktop. Here are six benefits that you can reap with local resources.

1. Networking

Finding new clients is critical to any business, but getting to know people within your industry can be just as important. This is how you can gain new ideas and find ways to solve problems. 

Opportunities for networking are as varied as the types of businesses they support, so you need to do your own research to find a network that fits your needs. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce can help at a national level, but most businesses benefit more with support from a local chapter. In fact, a search for “Chamber of Commerce” is likely to instantly display links to your local chapters, since your cookies probably reveal where you are.

Don’t automatically discount organizations that charge dues, such as industry associations. Their programs can provide a phenomenal professional experience and the like-minded people you meet can become lifelong friends and associates. Before paying the dues, you can try them out by attending a meeting to assess their potential value for your business.

2. Government Contracting Assistance

It may seem impossible for a small business to gain a government contract, but there are many online resources that can help you find leads and even provide the guidance that can make the proposal process seem less overwhelming. Check out these sites:

  • Not just for women: Check out the Women’s Business Development Center, where a search for “government contractor” provides a wealth of information that works for women — and men, too.
  • Contractor registration and education: You can register for government contracting from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) site, go to their government contracting classroom, and more. Just click the Contracting link from the home page to get started.
  • Advice to meet your needs:  Between the links to everything from government contractor training to information about Federal Tax ID numbers — and the articles of interest at the bottom of the page — you can spend lots of time at About.com, but it will be worth the effort.

3. Access to Capital

Of course, a great way to gain a high-level view of this topic is to take a few minutes to look at the video posted at my Business Unplugged ™ blog. That being said, a number of other resources can also provide great tips:

  • The SBA (again): Don’t expect the SBA Small Business Loans pages to hand you money directly, but they provide a guarantee that can encourage lenders to extend loans and can point you to a network of lenders. Check out their advice, as well.
  • Online business publications: Online business publications like Entrepreneur provide high-level advice on raising capital, while letting you drill down to the details that interest you.
  • Networking groups:  Your local chamber or industry organization, as discussed above, can also put you in touch with various traditional and alternative lenders in your area.

4. Mentoring

You may have an amazing skillset after working for years within your industry, but that doesn’t mean that you know everything about starting and running a business. Why not turn to someone who has a track record of business success? That’s what SCORE is all about.

The website alone provides valuable information, as well as access to online and local workshops. But, entrepreneurs at all stages of business can also schedule personal meetings with volunteers- all of whom are former business executives- at more than 300 locations across the U.S.  SCORE provides excellent assistance to help you grow your business and it’s entirely free.

5. Ongoing Education

Many companies are committed to helping small businesses succeed. For example, Nextiva has a fantastic blog and resources for small business success. Constant Contact offers a free program called Small Business Innovation Loft, along with many other resources. And, if you’re looking to get up to speed on technology, Microsoft partners with a variety of organizations, such as local Chambers of Commerce, through their Microsoft Community Connections programs, to provide you resources and information to help you keep pace with changes in business and technology.   They also provide information via articles and videos on their website.  Look into these and other brand’s resources that are available both locally and online.

6. Local Government Offices

Your local government often has a strong dedication to helping your business do well. In Chicago, for example, the Office of the City Treasurer website provides amazing resources, such as contests, expos, education and a resource guide that leads businesses to other information and the Mayor’s Office runs a Small Business Center that helps you streamline permitting and has launched a Small Business Initiative. Don’t forget about these local resources that are available to help you succeed.

It Takes a Village to Run a Small Business

Actually, that’s a bit tongue-in-cheek — small business owners have the ultimate responsibility for running their own businesses. But, you don’t have to go it alone. There are many free and low-cost resources to help guide you along the way, many of which are right in your own backyard.


How to Manage Hyper Growth in Your Business

Posted on by Barry Moltz

4-30 business growth smallEvery small business owner likes speed. They want to rapidly add sales and people to create a large company to show they are successful. But this type of hyper growth can get many small businesses into trouble since they lack the money, the skills or the infrastructure to support it. As a result, they can eventually grow themselves right out of business.  

The key is to manage these three components of growth. Here is how to do it:

Get more cash: Growing companies eat cash. Expenses always lag sales revenue and cash payments from customers. Increasing sales typically means more inventory which equates to bigger cash investments. It also means adding people expenses before they produce revenue. Accounts receivable also goes up as customers pay after the company is required to pay for their cost of sales vendors. To understand this equation, a cash flow statement is critical. Learn how the company’s cash varies with its growth. Produce a pro-forma cash flow statement to predict what it will be in the future as expenses and revenue grow. This is difficult to do, so ask for assistance from your accountant or another financial resource. There are many analytical tools that can also help. (source)

Hire skilled people. As the company grows, the small business owner will need more experienced people. Entry level employees that are trained will no longer learn fast enough. Higher skilled team members will cost more money to hire. As a result, invest in one critical hire at a time and make sure that they are successful before adding the next key person. Even experienced people will take time to become effective in their new job. This is important not only from a productivity aspect, but from a company cultural fit. Rapidly hiring of people will shift the company culture and the small business owner needs to ensure it goes in the desired direction.

Improve infrastructure. Fast growing companies need bigger and more sophisticated infrastructures because of the increased number of customers that are serviced. This could mean more office space, better operational software or additional support services like IT and HR. Fortunately, team members can now effectively work remotely which minimizes the need for additional office space. Software as a Service (SaaS) allows companies to easily ramp to use the most sophisticated applications. Freelancers are easy to identify for support other support services using sites like Odesk or Elance.

Remember that sales growth does not always mean success unless it is supported by more cash, better people, and an improved infrastructure.


Stop Treating Your Customers as an Interruption

Barbeque: Customer Unhappy with FoodI want to encourage you to look at the ways that you, your business, and your employees may be making your customers feel like they’re interrupting your business, rather than that they are the point of your business.  If you make them feel like an interruption, they’ll get a pretty clear message that their patronage as a customer doesn’t mean that much to you. A feeling that they’ll ultimately reciprocate, by not forming much of an attachment to your business, either. 

Here are specific behaviors, some general and some specific to particular types of workplaces, that are guaranteed to make a customer feel like an interruption, rather than central to your company’s existence.

• Foodservice workers: Remember to yield at any potential collision point within your restaurant. In fact, not only should you be yielding if a collision is otherwise imminent, you should be using your senses to allow you to yield before the guest even realizes that there is a potential collision point.

• Physicians, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners: Stop standing in the exam room while talking with (seated) patients. And please, please get your hand off the doorknob (making it seem like you wish that you were already out the door).

All customer-facing employees: Never talk with your co-workers—never—without situating yourself in a way that allows you to use your direct or peripheral senses to allow you to stop when a customer approaches, before the customer is made to feel that they’re taking you away from how you’d rather be spending your time.   (To put this bluntly: Your customer probably won’t appreciate coming in contact with your backside before your face.) When you do talk with co-workers, never—even for a minute–make a customer or potential customer wait for you to finish your conversation, even if your conversation is work-related. Drop that conversation mid-sentence, assist the customer, and then come back to it after.

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To summarize what these points have in common: You make your customers feel like an interruption when you fail to serve them with speed and enthusiasm.  In many business situations, of course the customer will, eventually, be served; there’s no way to definitively ignore them.  If a customer’s standing at a counter awaiting service, they’re not going to be flat-out turned down. But will they get served after the nearest employee puts down her cell phone with a tiny accompanying grimace? After she finishes the note she is writing? After she finishes the sentence or paragraph she is sharing with her co-worker? Or right away, and with a smile?  The difference here is a matter of seconds, or even just milliseconds. But that brief time span, and the attitude it evokes, makes all the difference in how the customer feels about your company.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 3 Ways to Attract Millennials to Your Customer Service Jobs

Young Man Making a Video CallCan you get Millennial employees to work in customer service roles? If you’ve swallowed the conventional wisdom about this generation—that they’re entitled, spoiled and hard to work with—you may think there’s no way you could convince them to take a “lowly” entry-level customer service role. But the conventional wisdom about Millennials workers is far from true. Here are three things you really need to know about Millennials to attract more of them to customer service jobs.

  1. Millennials want their work to be meaningful and make a difference. Focus on how customer service jobs fit into the larger goals of your company, such as improving the customer experience, making your business best-in-class, helping the company grow and helping people feel good about your products and services.
  2. Financial security is a big concern for Millennial employees. Perhaps because so many have seen friends and family struggle to find jobs in a rough economy, 70 percent of recent college grads in the latest Way to Work survey from Adecco Staffing USA say stability and security is what they want most from a job. In fact, stability is more important than high pay in selecting a first job, survey respondents say. Benefits, such as a 401(k) or other retirement savings plan, matter to this age group, too.
  3. More than anything else, Millennials are looking for career advancement. You’ll have an advantage in hiring them if you can show that you promote from within and how entry-level customer service roles can lead to more responsibility, either in customer service or other roles. Since customer service is often seen as a short-term job, it’s important to explain that it actually has a career path and what it can lead to.

By keeping these tips in mind, you’ll have an edge in attracting these vital and energetic employees to your customer service positions.




 
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