Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


3 Tools to Help Bosses Show Employee Appreciation

12-11 rewarding employees smallAs the economy continues to recover from the slowdown of the past few years, many employees have worked for years without pay raises. Attracting and retaining good employees will become increasingly hard for small businesses, who now face competition from larger employers who can offer perks. There is one way small business owners can gain an edge, though, and it won’t cost as much as an annual salary hike or Christmas bonus.

Employees want to feel as though their bosses respect them. Yet despite data showing that employees who feel respected report 89 percent greater job satisfaction than those who don’t, half of all employees surveyed reported they don’t feel respected by their bosses. The simple act of regularly showing respect for underpaid, overworked employees can go a long way toward cultivating a happy, healthy workplace. But how does a time-strapped business owner find time to regularly show respect? These technology tools can help.

Regular Performance Evaluations

When handled correctly, performance evaluations have the ability to motivate and inspire employees. One research study found that performance evaluations can be especially beneficial if a worker knows what the evaluation will cover. During this process, employees should be given feedback on how they’re performing, as well as information on what they can do to improve.

Several software solutions can automate the process of creating and providing performance appraisals. These include not only rating employees and offering written feedback, but also automating approvals to make the process as paperless as possible. Even if the system is automated, though, employers should set aside time to have a face-to-face meeting with the employee and discuss areas where improvements can be made, as well as praise the employees for his accomplishments.

Make Praising Employees Fun

In today’s technology-minded environment, gamification can be a big motivator. Instead of simply giving an employee a pat on the back, employers can use tools like Salesforce’s Work.com to motivate employees. Using badges and rewards, employees are acknowledged for completing various business tasks, with those awards displayed on their Salesforce profiles.

By creating leaderboards, businesses can ignite the spirit of competition among team members, with specific activities being linked to Salesforce activities to automatically update. If an activity is being measured in Salesforce, the system can be set up to automatically acknowledge accomplishments, including closing big deals, marketing success, and positive comments from customers.

Give Rewards

If badges and virtual rewards aren’t enough, YouEarnedIt offers tangible rewards that really put employees in the competitive mood. Not only can employers thank employees in front of the entire staff, they can attach gift cards or products from the YouEarnedIt catalog. Companies can customize rewards to fit their unique culture, including offering nonprofit and charity gifts, mentoring opportunities as gifts, and customized experiences that mean more to some employees than monetary prizes would.

By finding ways to acknowledge and reward employees, bosses can keep morale and productivity high. As the job market continues to improve, it’s becoming more important than ever that a small business find ways to attract and retain good employees and these tools can help.


Where to Find Your Next Employee

12-11 Looking for employees smallSix years after the Great Recession, national unemployment is finally dropping. At 5.8 percent, it is the lowest since 2008. This poses a problem for small business owners who need to find the best people to fill open positions at their company. Unfortunately, posting jobs on various sites like Craigslist or Monster can bring in a lot of unqualified people and be expensive. For most small businesses, hiring a recruiter that collects 25% of the first year’s compensation is out of reach. The key is to find those individuals that have the required skills and the cultural fit at a reasonable search price.

Here is the best way to do it:

  1. Ask current employees. People socialize with other people like them. If a company wants to find more similar employees, ask the current staff. Pay a $250 to $1,000 bonus for any employee that refers a candidate and stays for at least 90 days.
  2. Post openings on the website. Many candidates are doing job searches through Google, Yahoo! and Bing. Posting job descriptions with the appropriate search keywords will get the opportunity found by those who are looking.
  3. List the opening in every employee’s email signature. Use a simple sentence and link in the signature of every outgoing email from the company. For example, “We are growing! We need sales and marketing superstars. Check out these opportunities”. Then add the appropriate hyperlink for the website.
  4. Search employees at competitors on LinkedIn. Find competitors who have the employees that your company is looking for. Get connected to them and see if they are interested in making a switch. Some websites even list key employees. Alternately, competitors can be called to find out the names of people who hold positions that could be candidates for your company.
  5. Niche job boards. Look at the smaller job boards that focus on a specific job candidate. For example, HealthCareJobsite is for health care positions and Hoojobs for PR. The more niched the job board, the better the quality of applications you will receive. Fifty more niche job boards are listed here. A company may even find a candidate at freelance sites like Elance and oDesk.  
  6. Ask social media. Post weekly (or as a tab on the company’s Facebook page) the types of job candidates that the business needs. This will allow followers to spread the word as well.
  7. Search trade shows or other industry events. Many of these have job boards. In addition, see who is speaking on various panels to source higher level positions. I also saw one company executive once at a show wearing a button that said “I am looking to hire you.”

Where do you find your best employees?


Four Skills to Network More Powerfully

12-10 networking smallNot all of us are born networkers, so we have to work at improving the skill and it is a vital one. Fortunately, networking is a fundamental skill that you can develop with a little effort. You never know where your next referral will come from, so it behooves you to wear your networking hat whenever you are out in public. If you are an introvert, don’t worry or feel pressure to be “on” all the time. Just use these tips when you are ready to engage.

In order to be interesting, charm…

One of the greatest arts of interacting is being able to ask questions that encourage the speaker to open up. Of course, the point is not to be a therapist or get someone to let it all hang out, but to find questions that engage on a different level than just routine small talk. A charming question can encourage someone to reflect on a event in a whole new way.

At the next networking event you attend, ask open-ended questions that inspire a real conversation. Not only will you get people to open up, but you will also become more memorable and create a connection.

In order to be engaging, listen…

Have you ever been in a conversation at a meet and greet and had to tell someone the same information over and over again because they weren’t really listening to you? It is important to treat the person in front of you with respect and listen deeply to her words. You may be surprised at how conversations will unfold when you focus on listening instead of what you are going to say next.

People can tell when your mind is focused on their words or something else. Challenge yourself to listen with complete attention, especially when you feel distracted. If your distraction becomes too overwhelming, you can use that as a way to extend the interaction, saying, “I’d really like to talk to you more about that. May I have your card and contact you later, so that we can continue the conversation?” Now you’ve created an opportunity for future action.

In order to feel comfortable, help…

If you are concerned about feeling part of the crowd, offer to help. Most events are run on a shoestring and could use even more support. Consider the time you donate an investment in creating the community and use the opportunity to help as training to assist you in further developing your skills.

This is a great opportunity for introverts to feel involved with events, which can help you warm up to pull yourself off that wall and start mixing and mingling.

In order to feel confident, know…

Confidence goes a long way in helping humans feel more comfortable, so practice your pitch before you head out. Think of the questions you’re most likely to hear, which will help later when you’re approaching other people to make connections, and devise quick, succinct answers for them.

Networking isn’t about making a sale, it’s about making connections you can build over time. If they result in doing business, so much the better.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Do Social Media and Customer Service Mix?

12-8 Social Media Customer Support smallA few years back there was a flurry of interest in using social media as a customer service tool. Reports in the media of big companies ignoring customer complaints on Facebook and Twitter—then facing backlash—led businesses to worry so much about their online reputations that some companies started moving their customer service to social media. 

But using social media as a customer service tool has some key weaknesses you should know about. First, while customers do want to feel their venting on social media is heard by the business in question, the vast majority does not want to use social media as a customer service forum.

According to an American Express survey on customer service expectations released earlier this year, just 23 percent of respondents have ever used social media for customer service purposes. However, the majority of those customers used social media to praise a business for good customer service, while half used it to express frustration for poor service, and nearly half simply wanted to spread the word about the business on social media. Relatively few used social media to reach out to the business in search of a response or to deal with a specific problem.

Overwhelmingly, talking to a live person on the phone is still the way most consumers want to resolve customer service issues, especially complex ones. In fact, 48 percent of those surveyed want to deal with customer service problems by phone; only 3 percent want to do so on social media.

So what does this mean if you’ve launched a social media customer service effort? Don’t drop it completely and start ignoring customer complaints or questions on social platforms. No matter what your customers are posting there, it’s important to be responsive. But don’t put all of your customer service support into social media. Make sure you have a website that can answer customers’ basic questions and problems, and sufficient phone support to deal with more complicated issues. That’s what customers want—and isn’t giving customers what they want Rule No. 1 of customer service? 


Mondays with Mike: 7 Ways To Banish Spam

12-8 spam smallI used to hear people complaining about telemarketers who always seemed to call at dinnertime.  Fortunately, we don’t get as many phone calls from people trying to sell us something, but those calls have been replaced by a plague of junk email – spam.  It clutters up our inboxes and can prevent us from seeing all of the important email that needs our attention.  Worse yet, some spam contains viruses that can infect our computers. 

Never fear, though.  These 7 steps will help you eliminate spam permanently!

  1. Use Gmail.  It’s simple.  Gmail is the best email service in terms of automatically blocking spam.  It sorts known spam producing addresses into your spam folder without your having to lift a finger, and it also lets you identify senders you want sent to that folder in the future.  Gmail also sorts promotional emails – ones with offers you may actually want to see – into a Promotions folder, keeping your inbox reserved for more important emails.
  2. Unsubscribe.  It may take you a few minutes and you may have to go through a couple of steps, but reputable companies will respect your unsubscribe request.  Just make sure you unsubscribe from all of the emails each sender generates.  Some companies make it a little tricky to completely unsubscribe, so take your time and make sure you do it right. 
  3. Blacklist spammers.  Blacklists permanently block emails from particular domains, servers, and senders, and if you use a blacklist, you’ll never hear from the senders on your list again.
  4. Use a spam filter.  You’d be surprised how many people complain about junk mail and don’t bother to use a filter.  Mailwasher Pro and SPAMfighter Pro are both great products that give you flexible and comprehensive protection
  5. Report spam.  If you take just a few seconds to mark unwanted messages for Gmail, your email service will work behind the scenes to make everyone’s email experience more efficient and pleasant.  Think of it as one way to make the world a better place.
  6. Use your own filters.  This step is more involved and requires a little more work, but it’s very effective if you’re really plagued by persistent spam.  You list addresses from which you no longer want to see mail, and those messages get shifted to your spam file.  When you’re using custom filters, it’s a good idea to scan your spam file periodically, just in case messages you do want to see end up there by mistake.
  7.  Change your email address.  This step is a pain, but it’s the last resort for folks whose emails have been hacked or otherwise compromised and who simply can’t eradicate all of their spam.  You have to notify all the people you correspond with, and you’re likely to end up missing some messages from lazy folks who don’t change your address in their contacts, but you will be able to start fresh without any spam, at least when you first open the account.  Practicing good email hygiene can help you protect the new account from the spam buildup you had in your old account.

Don’t let a cluttered inbox frustrate you for a minute longer.  A few simple steps can clear out the clutter and make your email far more efficient and secure.


Don’t Avoid Failure, Just Fail Properly

12-5 Failure smallTruman Capote once said, “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”  However, based on the way that we learn as youngsters, the thought of failure may leave a bad taste in your mouth. 

In school, we were taught that failing something results in a red mark on the paper and perhaps a timeout with a dunce cap in the corner.  However, failure is a critical component of long-term success.  If you aren’t willing to take risks and try new things, you won’t be able to truly take your business to the next level.   

Remember, there are many hugely successful entrepreneurs that tried a few different things before hitting it big.

While it’s important to embrace failure, there are three things that you should know about the right way to fail.  You need to fail quickly, fail cheaply and never fail the same way twice.

Fail Quickly. While it’s important to try new things (and as the proverb goes, “try, try again”) investing a lifetime before achieving success amounts to a lifetime of lost years.

If you invest too much time in getting to the point of determining success or failure, it can be demoralizing.  It can also allow your competition to surpass you by leaps and bounds.

Set a reasonable time frame up front to decide how much time you need to assess whether you are on the right path.  If you don’t meet that time frame (or a revised time frame, based on achieving interim milestones), it’s time for a new strategy.

Also, knowing when to tweak, accept less or give up is a vital part of embarking on a new project or venture. Whenever you hit a bump, you need to reassess:

  • Are you seriously off-track or can you make adjustments to get back on the road?
  • Can you still succeed even if you don’t meet all of your original expectations?
  • If you have to spend more time or money to avoid failure, can you afford the extra expenditures while staying on top of your current business operations?
  • Or, is it time to walk away?

Remember that a lengthy failure robs you of other opportunities. Unless you can afford the opportunity cost, break lengthy, big risk ventures into smaller steps, or find other ways to realize failure sooner rather than later.

Fail Cheaply. Too many entrepreneurs start with a grand idea that has a grand budget attached to it.  However, investing too much money in one idea or path can create substantial setbacks if your first go-round doesn’t work.  It may deplete your funds to try again, or worse, impair your personal finances in a way that is detrimental to your long-term financial (and possibly mental) health. 

You don’t want to risk the farm on one idea, so keep the scope of your initial experiments affordable. Do you dream of becoming a restaurateur? Consider starting with a food truck. Are you determined to double your consulting clientele within a year? Retaining contract-to-hire consultants may reduce employment costs until your company’s growth is a certainty.

Failing cheaply allows you to recover more easily, both financially and emotionally, from any failures.

Never Fail the Same Way Twice. Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting different results. Failure can teach lessons that you would not learn in any other way. However, when you don’t learn from those lessons, you can run your business into a downward spiral.

Let’s say that you left your production line at a standstill because you tried saving money by buying cheaper parts. Figure out exactly what went wrong. Saving money is a worthy goal, but not without properly vetting suppliers. Or, maybe the supplier offered higher grades than you chose. Higher-quality materials might still have saved you money. Learn exactly what failed and you will do better the next time.

Most importantly, take the time to truly understand the real reasons behind the failures, so that you don’t end up repeating them again.

Vision and time heal many wounds and can be the foundation for success. When a 3M scientist unintentionally developed a moderately-tacky adhesive rather than a stronger one, he failed at the assigned task. Years later, the use for that adhesive became apparent. The end product was Post-it® Notes —a virtual necessity in people’s lives now.

Don’t invest more to perpetuate a failure, but keep the experience in your mind. Some form of yesterday’s failure can become tomorrow’s triumph.


What Should I Give Away When A Customer’s Unhappy?

One of the most common and emotionally fraught questions I encounter is this: "How should I compensate a customer for a service or product failure?

No matter how superb your product or service is, everyone in business eventually needs to find the answer to this question.  And the answer to the question is this: It depends. Customers have diverse values and preferences, varying even from day to day as well as from customer to customer—so your employees working with disgruntled customers need to be given enormous discretion.

Still: There are principles that almost always apply:

  1. Most customers understand that things can and will go wrong. What they don't  understand, accept, or find interesting are excuses. For example, they don’t care about your org chart: Your mentioning that a problem originated in a different department is of no interest to them.
  2. Don’t panic. With most customers and in most situations, customers’ sense of trust and camaraderie increases after a problem is successfully resolved, compared to if you had never had the problem in the first place. This make sense, since you now have a shared experience: You have solved something by working closely together.
  3. Avoid assuming you know what solution a customer wants or ‘‘should’’ want. Ask. And if a customer makes a request that sounds extreme or absurd, don’t rush to dismiss it. Even if it seems on its face impossible, there may be a creative way to make the requested solution, or something a lot like it, happen.
  4. Dont strive for ‘‘fairness’’ or ‘‘justice.’’  Creating, or preserving, a customer’s warm feelings for a company isn't about fairness or justice. It's about being treated especially well.
  5. Learn from customer issues, but dont use them as an opportunity to discipline or train your staff in front of your customer. This may sound obvious, but it happens quite often. Watch out for this flaw, especially when you’re under stress.
  6. Dont imagine youre doing something special for a customer by making things how they should have been in the first place. Time cannot be given back—it’s gone. The chance to get it right the first time? It’s gone. So re-creating how things should have been is just a first step. You need to then give the customer something extra. If you aren’t sure which ‘‘extra’’ to offer a particular customer, just make it clear you want to offer something. If the customer doesn’t like red lollipops or doesn’t eat sugar, she’ll let you know. Then you can decide together on a different treat.
  7. …And always, always, keep an eye on the lifetime value–directly and as a vocal supporter–of having a loyal, engaged customer. A loyal customer is likely worth a small fortune to your company when considered over a decade or two of regular purchases, not to mention that customer's "network value"–the value of her or his recommendations online and off.

Perhaps in your business this number is a few thousand dollars, or perhaps it's hundreds of thousands. It's well worth figuring out that number and keeping it in mind if you ever feel that temptation to quarrel with a customer over, say, an overnight shipping bill.

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Does the “Internet of Things” Really Matter to Small Business?

12-4 the internet of things small

One of the biggest buzz words for this past year was “The Internet of Things” (IoT). This is the convergence of the digital and virtual world with the physical one. Even before IoT, there are already 16B devices attached to the Internet. (Remember, there are only 7B people on the planet.)

Today, an increasing number of wearable and home devices are being integrated to the Internet like Fitbits on the wrists, Nests in the home and crockpots in the kitchen. Oral B even has a toothbrush that is Bluetooth connected to the Internet to track brushing. More recently, Apple unveiled a HealthKit app that allows its iPhone users to track personal health and fitness data. They also announced HomeKit that will allow users to control “smart devices” in their home like garage doors, lights and security cameras.  The introduction of the Amazon Echo, an in-home personal assistant will definitely raise the profile of this category.

While Pew Research says IoT’s full implementation is still about 5 to 10 years away, a new study by Gartner predicts that entrepreneurs will drive the growth of IoT in the next five years. So where can small business owners start?

1.     Manufacturing at the beginning. Barbara Edson, General Manager of IoT at Microsoft says this sector will lead the way.  She believes it will happen through monitoring their equipment performance instantly and securely in real time. This will lead to better service to customers and an increased profit for the company.

2.     Analyzing big data. While IoT can be a big advantage in allowing sensors to track business assets, it will help analyze what the data really means and how it fits into the operation of the business. The key is to make the data received intelligent and actionable for a business. Used correctly, it will allow the measuring of key KPIs more easily and objectively.

3.     Enhancing the customer experience. With most things being a commodity, the customer experience is the future of marketing and loyalty. A company needs to use IoT to improve the experience for the customer. Intuitive and natural experiences from all devices can help make this happen.

4.     Focus on your things. Forget about the hype, Microsoft recommends to focus on IoT that are key to your business. Forget the hype of everything else.

How are you integrating IoT into your business for the future?


5 Funding Options for Small Businesses

12-3 Small biz funding smallWhen it comes to financing your small business, you need options that will help you grow your business. Sometimes you can’t do that when you bootstrap on your own. Whether you’re launching a business or ready to take an established business to the next level, you have options. Browse the following five funding options and see which one’s best for your biz.

1. Traditional Small Business Loan

Whether you need $5,000 or $100,000, a small business loan backed by the SBA might be what you’re looking for. You can apply for an SBA loan through your existing bank, or through other organizations that provide small business resources in your city. Some organizations cater to specific niches such as women and minorities (check out your local Women Business Development Center or the Minority Business Development Agency). Business loans have a lifespan of several years — typically you have five to seven years to pay the loan back at the agreed-upon interest rate and payment schedule.

2. Line of Credit

If you’ve been in business two years or more with positive cash flow, a line of credit could be what you need. This is an especially good option if you’re simply looking to have working capital available (so you can pay your vendors and staff while waiting for slow-paying clients to pay their invoices.) You can pull from the line of credit when you need the money, and can even use a debit card for transactions from that account. But be warned, interest accrues daily, so you won’t have years to pay it back. It’s a solid option if you need a cash injection now, and can repay it promptly.

3. Investors

Another financing option is to seek investment from venture capitalists or angel investors. In exchange for the cash, you’ll give up a percent of the ownership of your company. That can be a perk, since you’ll get the advice and insight of someone who knows your industry and can make suggestions for improvement, but that can also be a drawback if you like having total control over your business decisions.

If you go the investment route, position yourself to get a “yes” by putting yourself in the investors’ shoes. What would be appealing about your company? What makes it a strong financial investment?

4. Crowdfunding

Not only can crowdfunding get your cash flowing for expansion, but it can also help you attract new customers and rabid fans. Using sites like Kickstarter, you develop a crowdfunding campaign to tell your brand’s story as well as explain what you want the money for. The site will take a percent of what you raise, as long as you hit your target amount. (If you set your goal for $20,000 but only raise $18,000, you’ll get nothing).

A well-strategized crowdfunding campaign can result in everyday people supporting your company through donations. In return, you give them perks, such as early access to your product, samples, t-shirts, or interactions with your brand. That’s a small price to pay for such a great financial resource!

5. Credit Cards

While not ideal for funding a small business, credit cards do serve a purpose. For one, they’re easy to use and provide instant payment to your vendors or purchases you need to make. They can also help you build up credit under your business’ name. Do your homework. Make sure you use a credit card with great rewards or cash back on purchases. Just be wary of charging more than you can pay off in a reasonable amount of time. Those credit card fees can rack up over time!




 
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