Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


7 Creative Team Building Exercises

Soccer players celebrating a goalPerforming at a high level of productivity demands breaks from the daily routine. Take 30 minutes or less to try one of these seven team building exercises at your next company or department meeting to improve a certain skill.

Improving Communication

1. Two Truths and a Lie. Time required: 20 minutes.
This popular college game can be adapted for business when certain boundaries are used. Divide the group into teams and have each person introduce themselves and states two truths and one lie. Within the team, have a quick 30 second discussion to come to a consensus about which one is the lie. Award points to each team when they guess the lie correctly.

2. Classification Game. Time required: 10 minutes.

Split the room into teams of four. Instruct the participants to spend a couple minutes introducing themselves and quickly discuss some of their likes and dislikes. Then reveal to them that they have 60 seconds to classify themselves into two or three subgroups. Examples of subgroups can include night owls, morning people, or sushi lovers. Teams present more of their likes and dislikes in these subgroups to the entire room.

Problem Solving
3. Zoom. Time required: 30 minutes.
This activity requires the wordless picture book entitled “Zoom” by Istvan Banyai. Hand out one picture to each participant, making sure a continuous sequence is being used. Give participants time to privately study their own picture. The participants must then place the pictures in sequential order by discussing what is featured in their picture and how it fits the overall pattern.

4. Sneak a Peek Game. Time required: 15 minutes.
Build a small structure out of Legos and hide it from the group. Divide participants into teams of four. Hand out building materials to each team, being sure to include enough to recreate the structure you made. Place the structure at the front of the room (but still hidden). One member from each team can come up at the same time and look it for ten seconds. They then have one minute to instruct their teams how to build a replica. Repeat with a new member and continue until one of the teams successfully duplicates the original structure.

Planning

5. The Paper Tower. Time Required: 10 minutes.

A quicker version of the Marshmallow Challenge, each person is given a single sheet of paper and told to construct the tallest free-standing structure in just five minutes using no other materials. Review the structures and discuss what worked well and what didn’t.

6. Lost at Sea. Time Required: 30 minutes.

Divide room into groups of four. Read each team the lost at sea scenario in which a boat catches fire, leaving you with only 15 items to survive. The group’s chances of survival depend on their ability to rank the salvaged items in relative order of importance. After the teams rank the items, reveal the rank of the items according to expert coastguards and determine the winning group.

Developing Trust

7. Eye contact. Time required: 5 minutes.
This exercise requires no special equipment, just an even number of participants. Instruct participants to find a partner. Have them sit or stand 2-3 feet away and face each other. Tell them to stare into their partner’s eyes and start the timer for 60 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times. There will be giggles and some will feel awkward at first, but this exercise will help co-workers become more trusting of each other.

Do you have others you want to suggest? Which one will you try?


Customer Success Story: ABBOTT Engineering

We always enjoy meeting with Nextiva customers and recently had the pleasure of meeting the team at ABBOTT Engineering in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California. ABBOTT Engineering is a full service HVAC and plumbing design firm that serves the greater San Diego area with building energy optimization, plumbing, humidification, engineering reports, and more.

Louis Abbott, President and CEO, told us about how his growing team of mechanical engineers uses Nextiva’s cloud phone service to keep in touch with contractors and clients. His business received multiple benefits from switching to a VoIP system, including:

  • Affordability– Previously, the team at ABBOTT had a single cordless phone that they passed throughout their 10-person office. Now, each employee is able to have their own desk phone at a price that the company can easily afford.
  • Scalability – Louis has enjoyed how easy it is to add new phone lines as his team continues to grow.  “All we have to do is just plug it in, and it works,” Louis says. “It caters towards growth.”
  • Advanced Features – Louis’s team enjoys utilizing Nextiva’s phone functions, especially voicemail-to-email and call forwarding so they can receive messages when out of the office (and on surf breaks!)
  • Accessible Customer Support – The ABBOTT team is able to reach out to the Nextiva support team whenever they have a question or issue so they can spend their day focusing on what they excel at: mechanical engineering.
  • Enhanced Company Image – The professional features and organized forwarding that Nextiva has put into place for the ABBOTT Engineering team has allowed their 10-person team to project the image of a larger company.

Meet Louis and hear his story:


Lease vs. Buy: Which is Right for Your Small Business?

3-4 lease or buy equipment smallCongratulations! You’ve secured an office space and are ready to begin setting up shop in your new small business location. But before you can start welcoming clients and customers through the door, you need to fill your office with furniture and equipment. This component of business ownership can be an expensive part of the process. One way to keep costs low is to look at leasing equipment rather than buying it outright. Which approach is best for your small business? Let’s look at the advantages of leasing and buying.

Advantages of Leasing

  • Better Cash Position: There are several advantages to this strategy, the most important being an improvement in your cash position. A loan to purchase equipment requires at least 25 percent of the loan in cash up front. Other than a refundable security deposit, equipment leases require no money down. This saves you considerable cash that you would be spending if you purchased it instead.
  • Easier to Secure Funding: It’s also easier to secure financing for leasing over buying. Leasing companies typically want a year or less of business credit history before approving a lease of furniture or office equipment. Capital equipment loans, on the other hand, require three years of financial history.
  • You Won’t Be Stuck with Obsolete Equipment: Another advantage leasing offers is the ability to change out equipment every one to two years. This is important because, seeing how quickly technology changes, it’s important not to be stuck with an antiquated machine when something faster and cheaper is available. Always see if you can negotiate a “modern equipment substitution clause” that lets you trade up for the latest technology.
  • Leasing Helps the Bottom Line: Your accountant may be able to re-categorize some assets on your balance sheet if you lease equipment, which can make your business’ debt-to-equity ratio look much healthier, as will your earnings-to-fixed-assets ratio.

Advantages of Buying

  • Less Expensive Overall: Over the long-term, leasing equipment is typically always more expensive than buying it outright. The reason is because you are paying for the item and monthly interest on the lease. So while you may be expending less cash each month, you are paying more over the course of the multi-year lease loan.
  • Ownership: With a lease, you are paying for items that you are only borrowing from someone else. At the conclusion of the payment cycle, you are not left with anything you own and are forced to start anew by expending more cash. Buying, on the other hand, provides you with an asset you can sell.
  • Tax Advantages:  Small businesses often miss out on the substantial savings that can be made by claiming business expenses. The office equipment you purchase for your business is tax-deductible, which can make a significant impact on your expenses and overall income when it comes time to pay taxes.

When furnishing your office with equipment and furniture, it’s best to review your financial plan before making any decision. Always run your numbers first to determine what you can afford and whether it makes more sense to buy or lease items. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Do Your Employees Have Emotional Intelligence?

Business Team Chatting at Their OfficeIn my recent post 5 Things to Look for When Hiring Customer Service Reps, I mentioned the concept of “emotional intelligence.” Since emotional intelligence is a very desirable quality in a customer service employee, I wanted to explore this topic a little further.

In the workplace, emotional intelligence (sometimes called EI or EQ for “emotional quotient”) means being able to identify, understand, manage and use emotions—your own, and others’—in positive ways to build teams, lessen stress and communicate more effectively.

There are four aspects of emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-awareness: Understanding one’s own emotions is the first step in EI. By paying attention to their own emotional reactions, employees can learn to recognize the physical, mental and emotional signs of emotions such as stress, anger or sadness that can hinder good customer service.
  2. Self-management: Self-aware employees are in a better position to manage their own emotions. For an example, an employee who recognizes that a stomachache is a sign of stress can take steps to ease the stress before it becomes overwhelming. When they realize that emotions are interfering with their job, employees can make positive choices to defuse these emotions.
  3. Social awareness: The third part of emotional intelligence is being able to understand what others are feeling, empathize with them and react appropriately. For instance, if a customer is sighing heavily during a customer service call, an employee with social awareness will recognize this might indicate growing frustration, and “check in” on the customer’s emotional temperature.
  4. Managing relationships: Employees who possess the three other aspects of EI will be more successful at managing their interactions with other people. By being aware of their own emotions, managing them in a positive fashion, and responding appropriately to others’ emotions, these customer service employees can defuse conflicts, improve customers’ moods and build customer loyalty.

Want to assess and improve your employees (or your own) EI? Here are some emotional intelligence exercises and an emotional intelligence toolkit to assess and improve EI. 


7 Ways To Make Money In Your Sleep

3-2 Make Money While you Sleep smallIf you think about the way your business works – you find clients, pitch your goods, land the sale, deliver the product, build repeat business, and work for referrals – there are loads of challenges entailed in every step.  If you want to generate more income with less effort at every stage, the key is automation.  Finding ways to implement systems and maximize efficiencies helps your business earn an income even when you’re not actively working.

  1. Turn yourself into the product.  Once you’ve established yourself as a credible authority in your field, the logical move is to develop a way to market your expertise.  Whether you sell a book or instructional videos, once you’ve created your product and implemented a marketing plan, the hard work is over.  You collect your money while you’re moving on to the next challenge.
  2. Do fewer things.  The surest recipe for failure is trying to do everything under the sun that could possibly be relevant in your venture.  If you settle on a few key services or products, then you can perfect the systems for producing and delivering your offerings.  Always remember that the riches are often in the niches;  if you can offer customers something unique – and do it efficiently – then you’re a standout.  You don’t have to be everything to everyone.
  3. Create continuity.  If you can find a way to build a recurring service plan for clients, you’re maximizing efficiency in two main ways:  you’re creating predictable expenses for your clients, and you’re ensuring continued revenue for your company.  Recurring billing – the subscription model – capitalizes on efficiency both for the client and the service provider.
  4. Sell the system cheap and make money on the refills.  One word:  Keurig.  The dominant entry in the single-cup coffee industry doesn’t actually make that much money on its high quality brewers.  The real bucks are in the coffee refills.  Millions of dollars in revenue are derived from individual sized coffee pods.  Proprietary design is the key to recurring purchases.
  5. Become the middleman.  There’s a reason middlemen exist, and it’s the economy of scale you can find when you consolidate the transportation, sales, and delivery of goods.  Look at Amazon:  they don’t produce the stuff they sell.  They simply attract vendors and find a way to sell, collect money, and deliver products – faster than nearly anyone else in the world.
  6. Become a teacher.  Much like turning yourself into a product, becoming a teacher lets you market your expertise.  Whether you become a part time consultant for other entrepreneurs in your field, or you write a how-to guide for starting your kind of small business, you’ll reap dual benefits from becoming an educational resource:  income from the time you spend consulting or writing, as well as increased visibility for your brand.
  7. Become an investor.  When you started your business, you did it to fill a need you saw in your market.  My advice to entrepreneurs who want to invest is to look at needs (other than the ones you supply) that your existing clients have.  By partnering with other companies who service the same clients, you can find efficiencies and provide an overall better level of service.  It’s a win-win for both entrepreneurs and their clients.

There’s no avoiding the hard work it takes to get a fledgling business off the ground, but once you’ve achieved a measure of success, your most profitable moves will be those that maximize efficiency and generate revenue – even when you’re not actively working.


How to Make More Money without More Customers

2-27 More money from customers smallFable: A man who sold his farm and everything he owned to travel in search of diamonds in a foreign land. After he spent all his money, he lived in poverty for the rest of his life. One day, the successor of the man’s farm was out on the land and found diamonds that reflected all the colors of the rainbow. Morale:  If the man stayed home and dug on his own land, he would have had “acres of diamonds.

Much like the man’s search for diamonds, the secret to increasing profits and growing a business typically already is present inside every company with existing customers. Unfortunately, many small business owners ignore this advice since they are so busy trying to get new customers in the front door that they let existing ones escape out their back door. They focus their energy on scrambling for the next lead, chasing the next prospect, and spend thousands of dollars on marketing to uncover the next big customer. They forget about mining for the “acres of diamonds on their own land”. Remember that every customer that leaves, needs to be replaced by a new one.

Here are ten ways to increase profits by extracting the maximum value from your existing customers.

  1. Sell more. Are the best customers buying all of your company’s products or services? Put together a chart where all your customers are listed on one axis and your products are listed on the other. Place an X where each customer is buying a given product. Use this chart to discover where your holes are. If they already trust your company, they will want to buy more things from you.
  2. Incentivize greater usage. Encourage your customers to use your product or service more often. Offer loyalty programs or bonuses for repeat use to the best customers. This is especially true in an industry where products are commodities or they can be sourced easily. Great examples of this are Amazon Prime and all airline frequent flyer programs.
  3. Communicate Consistently. Use content marketing strategies to send customers useful information like articles and newsletters that are both educational and funny. Keep in touch with your customers at least once a week using multiple mediums so you can be there when they are ready to buy. This can be original advice or links to relevant articles.
  4. Know your customers. Mine the data. Know what, when and how much your customers buy monthly or annually. Invest time and money in knowing exactly how your customers think, what they like, what they dislike, and tailor offers to match. This data can be found in Google analytics, your CRM sytem, your accounting or shopping cart system.
  5. Know your ABCs. Separate your customers into “A”s, “B”s, and “C”s according their life time value to your company. Measure them based on purchases, referrals, and brand recognition. Come up with a strategy to move Cs to Bs and Bs to As.  
  6. Become the “Go-To”. Leverage your strategic alliances to connect your customers to other resources that can fill needs and desires that are beyond the scope of your business. Your customers will view you as their “go-to-resource” which will give you an opportunity to go from being vendor to a partner.
  7. Show thanks frequently. Build customer loyalty by rewarding your customers beyond financial incentives. Call them to express your appreciation or send a handwritten card. Post a thanks on their social media page or feed.
  8. Make an exclusive club. In addition to recognition, people love to feel a sense of belonging. Create a membership group for your customers with special offers and privileges for members. Costco and Sam’s club does this very effectively.
  9. Sell a subscription. Renewable products are ones that customers use up and will need to buy again. Harry’s (razor blades) and Birchbox (cosmetics) are successful examples. This will ensure that the company always has customers at the beginning of every month. According to John Warrillow, author of “The Automatic Customer: Creating a Subscription Business in Any Industry”, any business can be a subscription based company if they think big enough. He suggests starting by asking yourself, “what could I offer to them that is 10X bigger than I do today”.
  10. Just ask. Simply ask your customers what they want. They may not be always be able to tell you directly, but it will begin a dialogue which will get to what they really desire. This can be done easily through two to three question surveys using Survey Gizmo.

Where will you begin in mining your customers?


Why Entrepreneurs Should Fake It Until They Make It

Young Businessman Using a Digital TabletWith the increasing popularity of business-casual attire, a great business suit is not as effective as it used to be in creating an impression of success. But projecting a successful appearance is still important when you want your business to attract customers and clients, as it creates a feeling of higher comfort and less risk in your potential customers’ minds.  I mean, who doesn’t want to be associated with a successful entrepreneur?

Even if your business doesn’t yet have mountains of cash, you can appear prosperous without breaking your bank. Here are a few ways to economically enhance your professional image without misrepresenting your business or yourself.

A Successful First Impression

After a failed attempt at an acting career, Beanie Babies founder Ty Warner became a billionaire by selling stuffed animals. According to legend, he rented a Rolls Royce to drive to sales calls to project a wildly successful image. While we don’t recommend following Ty Warner’s cues on all of his faking- (Warner is still trying to stay out of jail after admitting to tax fraud), you can borrow his moxy for creating a successful impression.

Creating a successful impression extends not only to your car, but also to your business office. Your business may involve two people working in your basement, but unless your basement resembles the Taj Mahal, you will not impress prospective clients by holding meetings there. Until you have a high-profile address where you can meet with clients, a flexible office solution, such as the choices offered by companies like Regus, can enhance your office image while providing services that you need.

You may decide that a virtual office gives you a prestigious address (complete with a phone number and receptionist support) without having to make a big financial commitment.

One extra word of advice, though: make sure that your impression matches your target customers. If you want to attract eco-friendly customers, don’t show up in a Humvee or if you are attracting clients in the pet care industry, showing up in your fur coat is probably counterproductive.

Consider a Website Upgrade

Clients will not flock to your door if your website has a similar production value to a late-night auto insurance commercial. Your website needs to convey a professional image with content that makes search engines place your company toward the top of a search list.

Only you can decide how much help your website needs, but you do not have to spend a fortune to head in the right direction toward a slick website. You can use templates, like those that coordinate with WordPress, to look modern and professional.  And of course, don’t forget to make your website mobile-friendly, as more and more customers are accessing information from their smartphones.

Do your homework by talking to a number of web development firms. Look for those that use words like “SEO,” “interface design” and “regular maintenance.” If you hear the word “cool” too often, head for the hills.

Establish Credibility with a Quick PR Blitz

One way to boost your profile is to be featured in the press.  Having appeared in print or online publications, television shows and/or on the radio can make you seem bigger than you are.

Leverage any relationships that you have to get some PR placements.  If you don’t have connections, one cost-efficient strategy is to hire a “pay-to-play” PR firm, which may cost a bit more for a placement, but guarantees their services, instead of you rolling the dice on a monthly retainer fee.

I did precisely this when I was starting out. I hired a firm that put me on a radio tour.  Within 45 days’ time, I had between 20 and 30 radio appearances that I had made.  Since I only listed the appearances (not the dates of) on my website’s “press” page, that list looked like I had been a go-to press expert for years.

To get the most out of your PR, highlight where you have been featured on your website, in your marketing materials and even in your email signature line.

Work Pro Bono for the Right Clients

Working for free will not generally add to your success. But there’s an exception to this rule: high-profile clients. When you add a big name to your client list, your work is repaid when other big-name clients buy your goods or services. They see your business as a legitimate industry player.

As a bonus, high-profile clients do not have to remain pro bono forever. Do a great job for them the first time, get to know their key decision makers, and you can develop a valuable business relationship in the future.

So, before you hit the big time, act like you are already there and you will be there in no time at all!


Improve Your Company’s Customer Experience – By Thinking Like Steve Jobs

“You‘ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.”

2-26 customer experience smallThis is a message that Steve Jobs would repeat, over and over and over. It means that the technology sold by Apple, or used by Apple in support of the customer experience, doesn't have to be invented at Apple. And the technology Apple has lying around at its disposal doesn’t have to end up being used.

A company like Apple, and perhaps yours, suffers from almost a surplus of technologically adept employees.  But Apple, when it is at its best (which isn't always, unfortunately), refuses to let technological capability drive the customer experience.  Siri, to pick just one small example, wasn’t developed at Apple.  It was envisioned at Apple after which Apple went on a hunt to see how their vision could be brought to life.

The Apple Store, to pick another example, was envisioned as the best customer experience anywhere (not just the best electronics retailing experience).  So Apple benchmarked its customer service not against Best Buy, not against Radio Shack.

Instead, in preparing to open the first Apple Store, Apple chose to benchmark a company in an entirely different industry, hospitality: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. From their study of the Ritz-Carlton, they developed the Genius Bar (a repurposing of the concierge station in the lobby of hotel: just like concierges at the Ritz, the Apple Genius Bar is staffed with empathetic, knowledgeable people who will, so to speak, help you get to where you want to go), as well as their very specific approach to greeting customers as they enter the Apple Store.

Apply this to your own business situation

Obviously, Apple is a unique company, with a unique historical and financial position.  But there is a practical entrepreneurial lesson here: Think about how different your customer experience could be if you channeled Steve Jobs’ "first things first" attitude and made it integral to your customer experience approach.  A couple examples that might apply to your business:

  • What if you didn’t force customers to suffer through your use of the (probably obsolete) CRM technology you have in house, but instead reconsidered what it would take to actually create the experience you want to provide for customers?
  • What if you didn’t surrender responsibility for your social media interactions with customers to those in your company who are most technically adept at social media, but instead kept it firmly under the reins of the people who are truly your long-time customer service experts, with, of course, the helpful support of the above-mentioned technocrats?
  • What if you picked up the doggone phone and called your customer (telephones are fantastic technology, albeit often poorly used by business) when that's the most direct way to resolve a customer issue, rather than thinking you need to sit back and hopelessly watch a simple customer issue escalate via twitter, email, and live chat?

How to Choose a Bank for Your Small Business

2-25 Choosing a bank smallOne of the first things you need to do on your path to becoming your own boss is to open a business checking account. Now, you might think it’s best to keep your business account with the same bank where you have your personal accounts, but it’s better not to. Should your business fail and you have both business and personal accounts at the same bank, you risk losing everything because the bank can seize your personal assets to satisfy your business debt.

What You Need in a Bank

Your business needs a banking relationship not just a bank. It isn’t just a place to put your money. It’s a place you have a relationship with a partner that should be interested in helping your business succeed. Not every bank has great personal relationships with its business clientele, so keep that in mind when beginning your search.

While you might only start out opening a business checking account, there may come a day when you want to apply for a small business loan through your bank, so make sure the banks you consider offer a variety of small business services that can support your company as you grow.

Where to Start Looking

Ignore billboards, online ads, and commercials when choosing a bank. You’re better off asking other entrepreneurs for referrals, since they will know which banks are small business-friendly (not all are).

It’s a good idea to narrow your choices down to three, and then schedule time to sit down with a branch manager from each. These questions can help you gauge which is the best fit for your business’ needs:

  • What percentage of your customers at this branch are small business owners?
  • How fast are checks cleared to my business account (both in- and out-of-state)?
  • Is there a dedicated small business banker on your staff?
  • What kind of customer service do you provide for small business?
  • Are loan decisions made locally?
  • Does the small business banker have any influence over the loan decision process?
  • How many SBA loans did your bank process last year?

The point of these questions is to see how much energy a bank puts into managing and developing its small business clientele. You want to feel like a welcome and cherished customer, especially since you will be trusting this bank with your hard-earned cash!

Also consider what you’re looking for in a bank. Do you need to easily get to it to deposit cash each day (if you operate a restaurant, this is a must)? Would you prefer to be able to access your accounts through a mobile app?

Developing the Relationship Over Time

You may have little need to visit your local branch, especially since many banks allow you to deposit checks with a few clicks on your phone. But make a point to stop in and visit your branch manager or small business banker every few months and update them on what’s happening with your company.

Ask if there’s anything new service-wise with the bank. You might find out they’ve got a new banking program that’s perfect for your needs at the moment. Keeping that dialogue going will help you both find ways to work together for the success of your business.




 
Nextiva Logo

phone-icon Sales phone-icon Support
Nextiva
Nextiva is the leader in Business VoIP Services. Copyright 2015 Nextiva, All Rights Reserved,
Terms and Conditions, Privacy Policy, Patents, Sitemap