Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


Mondays with Mike: Improve Your Client Relationships With Social Media

In the olden days – you know, before Facebook – the success of a marketing campaign was often simply a measure of how much money you had to spend.  After all, we know that if you repeat something often enough, then people will believe it. 

My, how times have changed.

People consume information so differently now, that the weight of a single television commercial or magazine ad is often diluted by all of the impressions that we get from other forms of media, and that’s a huge opportunity for small businesses.  You can build your brand without investing tons of money, if you’re willing to invest a little time.  Consumers are looking for a genuine connection and a way to interact with a company, and you can give them what they want by using social media.

There are lots of serious minded folks who dismiss Facebook and Twitter as frivolous fads – wasters of time and energy.  What those folks don’t know is that their company is most likely already being discussed on social media.  Whether you run a restaurant or a carpet cleaning service, chances are good that there are online reviews of your business.  If that doesn’t scare you, it should.  The conversation is happening.  The only question is whether you want to participate and start to shape that conversation into one that presents your company in its best light.

Responding to reviews on Yelp or Trip Advisor is a great opportunity to thank happy patrons for their business, and it’s also a chance for you to see what your customers didn’t like about their experience.  If it’s appropriate, a public acknowledgement of their complaint and a promise to make it right shows that you value your customers and are invested in providing excellent service.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Social media also gives you a chance to invite prospective customers in for a virtual visit.  You can post pictures of your daily special at the restaurant, or you can write a quick blog post about why you’ve chosen a particular brand of environmentally safe cleaners for use in your customers’ homes.  You can run silly little contests on your Facebook page, inviting folks to provide suggestions for your newest drink creation or offering a freebie for the 1000th person who likes your Facebook page.  The idea is to get your customers involved on your social media platforms.  Invite them to share pictures of your business on Instagram, and make sure you monitor all of the possible sites that might have reviews of your business.  It’s possible that you’ll luck into some great, unsolicited free advertising, but if you carefully cultivate your social media presence, you’ll end up interacting with far more consumers.

Your company’s reputation depends on your relationship with your customers, and you can manage that relationship – in part, anyway – by using the free social media tools available to you.  Whether you’re in love with Facebook or not, you’re missing out if you don’t acknowledge the powerful opportunities that it provides you.


10 Pieces of Advice to Ignore

Entrepreneurs get advice every day from their professional advisors and information they read. A lot of it needs to be ignored. Pay close attention to disregarding these platitudes and what to do instead:

  1. It takes money to make money. Many entrepreneurs spend too much money getting their company off the ground. In fact, having a lot of money can lead to being wasteful. Use small investments to test ideas and get paying customers. Based on this success or failure, spend alittle more money to test the next action.
  2. Do what you love and the money will follow. This principle has the entrepreneur focus on what they want to do instead of what the customer wants. Building a company is about finding the pain a buyer has, not what the entrepreneur wants to provide. Instead, do what you love and if you solve a customer’s pain, the money will always follow.
  3. Failure is required for success. This is what many entrepreneurs tell themselves when they fail. While failure is not required for success, ultimately it is part of every entrepreneur’s experience. Never fear failure. When it comes, acknowledge it, learn what you can, then take another action to give you another chance at success.
  4. Failure is not an option. Not only is it an option, it is the most likely outcome. Get comfortable with the fact that you will fail some of the time and not knowing exactly what will happen next.
  5. A penny saved is a penny earned. This is short term thinking. While it is important to be carefully frugal with your money, not every transaction needs to yield the maximum profit. Successful business owners invest in long term relationships.
  6. Good things come to those that wait. Waiting is typically not in an owners DNA. As another platitude says “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to meet it”. Being proactive rather than reactive will typically win the day.
  7. A penny for your thoughts. Be careful not to give away your value to customers for free. Entrepreneurs typically undervalue their products and services since they are uncomfortable asking customers to buy.
  8. The customer is always right. If the customer was always right, most entrepreneurs would be out of business! When the customer has a concern, the most important thing is to listen and show empathy. They don’t need to be right, but always need to be heard.
  9. Another day, another dollar. Making money is not a linear process. Successful small business owners look for the leverage in profitability and this typically is not in the form of working harder or longer hours. Look for the financial leverage points in hiring other people, intellectual property or a dedicated distribution channel.
  10. Money doesn’t grow on trees. While this is literally true, there is ways to make money all around any entrepreneur. Follow the customers that have the money to solve their pain and the money will follow. 

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How Spreadsheets Can Turn You into a Business Super Power

Posted on by Carol Roth

supermanphoneboothWhen Clark Kent runs to a phone booth and emerges as Superman, a competent, mild-mannered news man begins using an entirely different set of skills to save the world.  These days, phone booths are a rare sight, but you don’t need one to develop business super powers.  By embracing the capabilities of spreadsheets, you gain skills that help you wear the many hats (or capes) that you need to run a successful business.

You are already well versed in providing your goods or services to happy customers, but any business requires you to be equally adept at planning, organizing, analyzing, reporting and countless other activities.  So, update your superhero wardrobe and toolkit by replacing your many hats with a single spreadsheet cape that helps you super-charge your capacity to handle any type of business task (although I don’t recommend going with the superhero look of wearing your underwear over your pants). 

Here are a few great ways that you can use spreadsheets to “save the day” in your business.

Handling Administrative Tasks Faster than a Speeding Bullet

Like me, you probably view administrative activities as the evil villain in your business day.  How many of your filing cabinets contain nothing but time sheets, expense reports, travel advance requests and other forms that your employees use to keep track of administrative issues?  And how many employees spend countless hours checking the math and making sure that these forms are complete? 

Spreadsheets to the rescue!  When you switch from paper to spreadsheets for your business paperwork, you can release floor space for better uses than paper filing, while freeing employee time (or your time) for more valuable tasks.  Since my college days, Microsoft Excel has been my spreadsheet of choice (which may explain why the company is now one of my clients), so that’s what I recommend.  Microsoft Excel provides an amazing array of helpful templates when you create a new spreadsheet.  Heck, they provide over a dozen templates just for employee time sheets.  But on the off chance that you cannot find the template you need, you can probably find it online on Microsoft’s Templates page.  Browse these templates to get inspired on how you can streamline your administrative duties.

Planning and Reporting with X-Ray Focus

Spreadsheets make planning and reporting easier, more accurate and more collaborative.  By building in assumptions and using formulas for calculations, you can easily test different scenarios, such as what happens if you were able to generate a cost reduction for a key client or what happens if you doubled your revenue.  By copying the current year’s formulas, you can also project future years without having to recreate the wheel each time, which saves you time.  And your customers, lenders and accountants won’t need X-ray vision to find or understand the information that they need.

And, of course, templates are available to help you create everything from startup business plans to just about any type of financial report that you can imagine, so you don’t even need to create them from scratch. 

Use the Power of Charts and Graphs

Analyzing data can be valuable for companies to see trends and deficiencies.  Whether you have one client that is accounting for too much of your business and creating additional risk, or a continual increase in your expenditures of professional services, sometimes it is easier to see with the visual presentation of charts and graphs.  Using spreadsheets, you are just a few clicks away from converting that dry data into colorful charts and graphs that instantly make data evaluation a snap. 

Not only do charts and graphs make it easier for you to analyze data, they are great for transforming presentations as well.  

Whether you do it all in your small business or even if you have the luxury of delegating number crunching to an employee or two, your business needs consistent, accurate and professional-looking information to grow and prosper.  I hope that you will use these suggestions to replace drudgery with productivity.  Then, continue the adventure by finding many other ways to use spreadsheets to make the switch from mild-mannered business owner to business superhero.


How to Build a Massive YouTube Audience

?????????????????????????????????????????????YouTube is the #2 most commonly searched website online. In fact, how to videos are the most common content searched on YouTube, but when you are really trying to make a splash online you want to create a viral video. I don’t believe in luck, I believe in proven systems. There is a process for creating a viral video.

Three things all viral videos have in common they are authentic, entertaining, and memorable. In order to create a YouTube strategy your should develop a specific point of view. Think about the types of content you want to be known for, determine how you will distribute the content, to how you will optimize it along the way.

When it comes to building a massive YouTube audience. There are fundamentals that need to go into the copy and video production. As as a former television producer, I have some specific thoughts about quality production here my four basic rules.

  1. Keep is simple. A sixth grader should be able to understand the point.
  2. Keep it brief. Never produce a video over 2 minutes. (Honestly, keep it to 1 minute)
  3. Make sure it’s visual. Nothing is worse then using a video, when you really should have used audio.
  4. Invest in quality graphics. Professional artwork makes a big difference in how a video is perceived.

Many viral video campaigns fall flat because they don't follow these five steps:

  1. Create an emotional connection: Does your video make your audience reflect on a time in their past, have a good laugh or picture themselves in the future living their dreams. People share things that make them feel a certain way. Your content should create an emotional connection with your audience.  
  2. Make your message stick: We all love slogans, they are so easy to remember. Alliteration is another great tool wordsmiths like to use to create association with messages.  Pick something that is easy. What we share in social media defines who we are and our brand. Your message in your video needs to be clear and something people will want to be associated with.
  3. Teach em something: People love to learn new stuff. If you have developed a new way to do something that you share in an entertaining way, that can become viral. People respond well to easy steps. Try to incorporarte 3-5 action steps in your videos.
  4. Time your release: Pick a day and time to release your video when you'll need less overall views to reach the top of YouTube leaderboards in your chosen category. You’ll want your views to spike significantly during the first 24 hours to show YouTube algorithms high rates of views, likes, comments and shares.
  5. Rally your network: Get social proof for your video and some immediate views by emailing your fan list, inviting your Twitter followers, and Facebook fans to share it. You can use a platform like GroSocial to boost views from Facebook, where video is huge.

If you develop powerful viral video, you could create a whole new audience for your small business. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Develop a Content Marketing Strategy

Are you using content marketing in your small business? If you ever write blog posts or articles for your business website, send out email newsletters or even post on social media, the answer is yes. Content marketing means creating content (text, visuals or both) and sharing it with your current and prospective customers through your website, social media or elsewhere online.

Content marketing is becoming more important as a marketing strategy. Last year, 90 percent of business owners in the Content Marketing Survey Report from Econsultancy and Outbrain predicted content marketing would be more important to business in 2014. What separates successful content marketers from those who try and fail? Having a content marketing strategy is crucial.

With just 38 percent of those in the survey reporting they have a content marketing strategy, developing one will clearly put you ahead of the pack. So how can you create a successful content marketing strategy?

  • Set goals. Figure out what you want your content to accomplish, whether that’s educating potential customers, getting existing customers to buy more from you, spreading the word about your business or establishing you as a thought leader in your industry.
  • Create quality content. Good-quality content is key to success. If you don’t have the talent or staff in-house to create good content, use sites such as Freelancer.com or Elance.com to find qualified content marketing writers.
  • Mix it up. Content isn’t just words—in fact, photos and videos often get more attention. Consider posting pictures of your employees or customer events, videos demonstrating your product in action or behind-the-scenes interviews with employees or satisfied customers to add excitement to your content.

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Mondays with Mike: Keep ‘Em Coming Back – Rich, Relevant Content

???????????????????Even if you don’t have a product that you sell online, nearly every business benefits from having a website.  It’s how you build your brand, reach new consumers, and share the important details about your business.  Whether you build it yourself or hire a web designer, though, getting the site up and running is only the first step. 

If you want repeat visits to your website, you have to give folks a reason to come back.  Especially if you’re not using the site for online sales, you’ll find that providing articles or blog posts with fresh and interesting content is one of the best ways to get consumers in the habit of coming back.  If your customers look forward to the new content you post, you have a much better shot at creating a lasting impression of your brand.

The key is to make your content fresh and relevant, though, and that’s no easy task.  Entrepreneurs with new websites often worry that they’ll have trouble continually coming up with a new story to tell.  Here’s the secret:  you don’t have to tell a new story with every post; you simply have to tell the same story in a fresh way. 

Technology is your friend.

Let’s say that your family owns a farm – you have orchards, a bakery, a produce stand, and wagon rides so that customers can pick their own fresh fruit.  You want your website to tell your story and to encourage folks to support your small local business.  But what will you write about in your blog?

You start out with blog posts about what’s in season, but it doesn’t have to end there.  You can include recipes that feature your fresh produce, and move on to other topics.  Take your website visitors on a virtual tour of your bakery, or of the farm, using Skype.  Interview your visitors and get their permission to include their favorite parts of their visit in a video collection.  Show off the new water recycling system you’ve installed and take the opportunity to talk about sustainable farming and how important it is.  Invite a local chef to feature your produce in their restaurant and post the menus on your website.  Create an infographic that talks about the nutritional value of fresh fruit, or that shows a breakdown of all the crops you raise and where you have them planted on the farm.

You’re telling the same story about a hardworking, family-owned business, but you’re using technology to share that story in fresh and interesting ways.  Your website analytics can give you valuable information about which pages get the most views and are shared with others, and you can use that feedback to tailor future content.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an important tool – so important that lots of websites simply hire someone to spin (rewrite) articles to fool Google into thinking that the site is materially different from the last time it was crawled.  The benefit of creating genuine rich content is that you don’t have to fool a search engine – your site actually has new, relevant, and engaging content.  There’s so much more to building a vibrant, successful website than simply securing a web address and slapping up some graphics.  If you’re not using the incredibly power of your site to tell your unique story, then you’re missing the boat.


Nextiva Customer Success Story: Five Star Tours

The leading tour bus company in San Diego, Five Star Tours and Charter Bus Company is a family-operated business that specializes in international group transportation and tour services along the Californian and Mexican coasts.

We recently met with Alfonso Hernandez, General Manager of Five Star Tours, to chat with him about how his company uses their phone system to conduct their business operations.

Located in a bustling train station, the Five Star Tours team used to have a phone system that was connected to the station’s PA. This proved to be a headache throughout their day-to-day activities, as the system consistently dropped calls, didn’t support caller ID, and wouldn’t accurately transfer calls. On top of that, they would receive conductor messages over their phone calls. It was time for a change.

We were happy to hear Alfonso report that Nextiva’s phone service gave them a 100% turnaround. They can now hear their clients clearly, and they have programmed their call forwarding functions and hunt groups to give the team more freedom of mobility.

Best of all, Nextiva gave Five Star Tours a competitive advantage. That’s the goal of Nextiva’s products and services – to make your day easier and give you a leg up on your competition. We’re glad that we were able to make that happen for Alfonso and his team.

Hear his full story here:


Be Like Google: How to Build a Valuable Brand

Your company’s brand is what people say when you are not around. Customers buy from brands that they know, like and trust. If built right, your brand can be one of the most valuable assets your company owns.

Google-LogoThis past year, Google finally topped Apple for the title of the world’s most valuable brand. According to Millward Brown’s BrandZ study, Apple’s brand value diminished 20 percent to an estimated $148 billion while Google’s brand value increased 40 percent since last year to reach $159 billion. Rounding out the top five on the list of the most valuable brands are two more technology firms: IBM at $170 billion and Microsoft at $90 billion. The fifth spot is claimed by fast food giant, McDonald’s. Where is Coca-Cola? Number 6.

Including the top four most valuable brands, a total of 18 technology companies made the list accounting for $827 billion in brand value. Facebook’s brand value increased 68% to reach number 21, while Twitter and LinkedIn make their debut to the list coming in at 71 and 78 respectively.

According to financeonline.com, there are several explanations for Apple’s fall. Here is what happened and what small business owners can learn from the world’s top brands:

  1. Perfectionism can slow your company down. Apple and Google could not be more different with how they choose to roll out their products. Apple exemplifies perfection and secrecy, while Google is known for releasing beta versions of their products and embracing feedback from the crowd. Overall, Google seems to take more risk (like Google Glass and a self-driving car) and is less afraid of failure. Lesson: You will make mistakes, so fail faster. Done is better than perfect.
  2. Build your brand image carefully. Even today, the Apple brand is impossible to separate from its cofounder, Steve Jobs. Can the company keep its winning brand without its visionary leader? Pundits continue to ask questions like how much of Apple’s breakthrough products was the result of one man’s genius? Alternately, Google is seen as a team of incredibly talented people on a mission to develop the world’s most innovative ideas. Lesson: A brand image can grow more easily and sustainably if it is not be tied to one person.
  3. If you’re going to set the bar high, make sure you can reach it. For a decade, Apple redefined product categories with iTunes, the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. This is what consumers have come to expect with every new product. Its failure to launch an innovative new product to match the genius of the past has contributed to its fall. Lesson: Don’t get caught in the Innovator’s Dilemma. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Innovator%27s_Dilemma

Set the bar high for others, but be able to consistently reach it yourself.

How have you made your brand valuable?


Think Like a Doctor to Cure Your Customers’ Problems

????????????????????????????????????????????Greg House, M.D. was a brilliant (if fictitious) diagnostician who based his success on the premise that “everybody lies.”  I can imagine a number of reasons why patients may lie outright to their doctors — even if those lies send them to the brink of death until the last few minutes of the episode.  But your business customers seldom try to misdirect you.  They just don’t know how to accurately tell you about the issues that they want to resolve with your goods or services. 

If you find yourself constantly tweaking and re-tweaking your business solutions, or if customers seem to return your products too frequently, you may be a victim of the dreaded customer-service disease known as problem solving by deduction.  However, by playing doctor and recognizing certain symptoms, you can find effective cures your customers’ needs.

Symptom 1: Requesting a Cure without Describing the Ailment

How many patients stroll into their doctors’ offices just to ask for an antibiotic?  Did they conduct their own testing before the visit to verify that they have a bacterial infection that antibiotics actually cure?  Unless your clients have your level of expertise, their requested solutions may not guarantee a cure for their ills, and it can even create a new disease.

When a first-time customer came to my friend’s flower shop looking for a bouquet of lilies to bring as a hostess gift, my friend initiated a conversation about the gift-giving occasion.  Once she learned that the flowers were intended for a dinner party being held by a first-generation German family, she quickly suggested alternative flowers because in Germany, lilies are used at funerals.  A few minutes of conversation saved the customer from embarrassment — and it earned my friend many future flower orders for the customer’s frequent business events.

Symptom 2: Providing Vague Explanations of the Ailment

You probably wouldn’t spend money on a doctor visit to report that you just don’t feel right.  Just as you might bring a list of specific complaints like loss of appetite or exhaustion, your clients need to describe their issues as specifically as possible. 

Think of the months of wasted effort you would put in if you were to build a Model A Ford from original parts, only to learn later than the customer wanted a ’65 Mustang when he asked you to “build a classic car.”  Business people can fall into this trap, often because they don’t want to appear ignorant.  But, if you don’t ask questions to get to the specifics, you will not find the right solutions to your customers’ business needs.

Symptom 3: Defining Issues by Elimination

When your doctor asks you where it hurts, you wouldn’t respond with, “I’ll tell you where it doesn’t hurt.”  Yet, some consulting customers expect you to come up with solutions based solely on what they do not want.  This is an extreme example of customer service by deduction, and you have to carefully nip it in the bud.

One report designer quickly learned this lesson when she was called in to modify a series of reports used to analyze product sales within a company.  The client provided her with a printout of each report and then, proceeded to point out what was wrong with each one.

Recognizing that this type of information would lead to a trial-and-error approach that would never solve the problem, the designer refused to end the meeting.  She kept digging until she got the client to clearly explain the intended use for each report and identify the missing information that prevented the report from meeting its goals.  With clear answers, she could solve the real issues.  Her clients were delighted when she returned with new reports that met or exceeded their expectations.

Recognize the Symptoms to Heal Your Customers’ Ailments

Your customers come to you because you have knowledge that they do not have.  But just as patients do not clearly express their medical concerns, your clients can easily lead you down the wrong path.  Of course, you probably want to act more like Marcus Welby than Greg House, but you need to keep asking questions until you can hone in on the issues and apply the healing touch that they really need.




 
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