Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


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.

*****

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.


Scenography: A Ritz-Carlton Secret For Creating A Magical Customer Experience

A frustration I have as a customer service consultant is the difficulty of convincing business leaders I work with to think in a less transactional, less fractured manner about the customer experience, to correct their misconception that improving independent pieces of the customer experience in isolation is sufficient, as if customers will logically tally up every aspect of working with their company and then dispassionately rate it.

This, of course, isn’t how the customer mind–the human mind–operates. Instead, a customer either decides that she enjoys being your customer or decides that she doesn’t. Your challenge in business, therefore, is to create this state of enjoyment for your customers: to envision what pleasure looks like for your customer and then­–and only then–get to work on the individual pieces that will make up this whole.

One approach I’ve had success with in getting this through the heads of leaders is to ask them to think of directing a movie with their customer as the star.  Once you decide to direct such a movie, and to put the customer (rather than your business, its processes, its internal org chart) in the starring role, we can get to work creating a tremendous customer experience.

Scenography at the Ritz-Carlton

There’s nothing more potentially interchangeable than a hotel room. Rectangular, built to particular safety standards, available at a particular price point.  What infuses a hotel room, and the surrounding property, with life is the experience of the guests within it.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company works every day to escape the commodity rut by taking the idea of moviemaking seriously, to the point of set design, music, lighting, and the rest. In Ritz-Carlton lingo, their approach is called “scenography.”

What “scenography” consists of is a little bit soft-focus, gauzy, hard to pin down.  And that’s the magic of it.  Scenography isn’t about features. Spec sheets. Room upgrades, and other easily-copied competitive advantages.  It’s about creating a feeling.

Scenography involves creating a property-wide theme and supporting it with accompanying design elements, lighting, cast participation and so forth (I think you get the theatrical metaphor here, so I won’t belabor it).

This overarching theme supports the specific hotel or resort’s “sense of place,” its uniqueness, even its quirkiness, something that has been an important change in the Ritz-Carlton brand's identity from its earlier, more cookie-cutter incarnation.
bagpipper

For example, Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, perched as it is above the Pacific Ocean, has adopted a theme related to sunset:  Candles.  S’mores or wine around the firepits. A bagpiper who plays each night as the sun falls into the sea.

Or look at (listen to, really) what’s going on at Ritz-Carlton’s Dove Mountain Resort, in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. Guests having cocktails outside its Ignite bar will suddenly hear melodies played on a handmade wood flute by a Native American musician (pictured below) who is perched on a hill some ways away from the hotel–played in a way that makes use of the answering echoes from the opposing mountains. Giving an auditory guide, in a sense, to the local landscape.

sonoran desert

The thing is, I’m laying out these component elements for you individually because, well, it’s my job as a customer service consultant to break things down into their individual components to see how a “whole” has been created.  But in practice, if you ask a Ritz-Carlton guest what they loved about their visit to, for example, Half Moon Bay, the answer is by and large “it was great,” not “the bagpiper played a modal air for eight repetitions before retiring for the evening.” Because the elements are designed and executed in a way that lets the guest, the “star,” go about their activities, but with critical enhancements that they wouldn’t necessarily notice on their own but would miss if the elements were absent.

To succeed with scenography requires first and foremost creativity on the part of the hotel staff.  This creativity has to reach all the way up to the traditionally RevPar (revenue per available room)-obsessed General Manager and throughout the ranks of the employees to make the program a success. Rather than there being a list of “ten rules for successful scenography,” the rules that matter are more like the following, to paraphrase Fred Dust from Ideo, a creative firm that was involved in the creation of scenography. “1.  Leaders, be more creative!” and 2. “Empower your employees to be more creative as well.”

The Ritz-Carlton’s commitment to scenography is such that they’ve written into their business plans that every year each individual hotel GM has to deliver three unique scenes as part of this scenography. Let me say that again: this fluffy, fuzzy idea of scenography is required now as part of each property’s business plan, to lay out that “these are the scenes we are going to be working on this year, and here’s the date that we’ll put them into motion.”

The thing about the creativity requirement is that it’s not just required to create these scenarios. The requirement for staff creativity continues to be important in implementation, in keeping each hotel property from becoming a slave to its pre-determined theme. Because every guest is unique, and the concept of creating, directing, supporting scenes needs to be modified, sometimes on the fly, based on the nature of the guest and the visit. For example: If you’re not much of a drinker, you can count on Half Moon Bay’s empathetic staff to pick up on this and not force their “red wine by the firepit” theme down your throat.

Ditto for smaller touchpoints, each instance of which may require adjustment for each guest: A stressed and jetlagged exec arriving at two in the morning needs one “scene” while   leisurely lovers arriving midday need another, and so forth.   The same approaches apply: preparing for likely scenarios (such as these two) and throwing out the script if something even more unusual is called for.  Creativity, again, carries the day.


5 Steps to Building a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign

4-22 Crowdfunding smallIt seems like nearly every day, there’s a new crowdfunding campaign or request for support that comes up. There’s a good reason for this, and that is: crowdfunding has become an exciting way for small businesses to build capital to launch a new business venture. If you’re not familiar with crowdfunding, it is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people through the Internet. If you think crowdfunding may be a viable option for you to raise money, let’s look at how it works and what you need for your campaign to be successful.

There are more than 500 active crowdfunding websites, with the biggest five being Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Go Fund Me, Crowdrise, and RocketHub. While each site has different features and capabilities, they all function basically in the same way. The sites take a commission fee from what you raise (typically 5 – 9 percent). Before you select your platform, you need to decide on your fundraising goal and the time frame. Make sure you research the platforms and their policy on whether you get any funds if your campaign doesn’t meet its goal. Some sites (like Kickstarter) require you return the money to donors if you don’t meet the fundraising goal. This means if your goal is $5,000 and you get $4,999 in pledges and donations, you get nothing.

How to Build a Successful Campaign

Once you decide on the right crowdfunding site, follow these five steps to build your campaign.

1. Work your network first. The worst mistake you can make is starting your campaign and then start using social media as your go-to place to reach prospects. You should be active on sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn at least six months before the launch of your campaign. Your first 30% of pledges will come from your personal network, and if you can’t get people who you know to invest in your idea, no one else will.

2. Tell a good story. Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to make a sale. If you have a strong idea, tell a compelling story about it. Then write engaging copy that focuses on the story, and create a short video that explains your idea. These will become the basis for your crowdfunding website profile.

3. Do not exaggerate. It’s important to be enthusiastic about your business idea. After all, how can you convince a customer to buy unless you also believe in what you’re selling? But make sure you don’t overhype your project either. If you promise things you cannot deliver, it will turn into a public relations (and possibly legal) train wreck.

4. Have great rewards. People love to get something, even if it’s small, for their donation. Create a list of rewards you are willing to give in exchange for a donation. The rewards should range in significance from the lowest amount to the highest. For example, if you’re crowdfunding to publish a book, perhaps the smallest donation receives a credit in the book as a reward. The highest donation may receive a signed copy and book cover poster.

5. Donor relations are critical. A successful crowdfunding venture does not stop the minute your campaign ends. Have a plan in place to communicate with your network and donors after the funding campaign is over. These people helped you raise the money you need to build your business. Make sure you keep them informed about what’s going on, and thank them whenever you can. You never know when you may need them to raise more capital in the future.

Crowdfunding is a great way to fund a business venture from the ground up. Start researching successful fundraising campaigns, look and your network, and decide whether this is the right medium for you.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Why You Need Customer Service Meetings

People in a Business MeetingHandling customer service is a 24/7 job for a small business, so it’s tempting to let regular meetings with your customer service employees fall by the wayside. Don’t. Meeting regularly with your team is essential to keeping your customer service stellar. Here are topics you and your team should discuss at your meetings:

Weekly:

Weekly customer service meetings should be fairly quick—30 minutes to an hour at most—to keep the team energized and enthusiastic (and informed).

  • Briefly review issues that have come up since the last meeting, such as specific customer service problems that representatives had difficulty resolving. Discussing these with the whole team enables you to tap into everyone’s experience to come up with guidelines that all your customer service reps can follow if the situation arises again.
  • Review the prior week’s customer service metrics such as average time for a call to be answered, average time spent on a call, average number of contacts for an issue to be resolved, etc. This can be done quickly to see if you are on track to meet your goals or if you’re falling behind.
  • Introduce new business such as new employees on the customer service team, new systems or procedures, and new products or services that customer service employees need to know about.
  • Reward outstanding customer service representatives by honoring employees who went “above and beyond” in the past week. Be sure to explain how what the person did can be a model for other customer service employees in the future and what lesson should be learned from the actions.

Monthly:

At monthly customer service meetings, it’s a good idea to focus on one subject in depth. This could include:

  • Explore your metrics over the past month in depth to note trends and, if necessary, brainstorm ideas for improving performance. For instance, if you notice calls are taking longer than desired, is this because employees are having trouble resolving problems, or because they’re spending more time interacting to build customer relationships? If the former, find a way to fix it—if the latter, perhaps you should set longer goal times for calls.
  • Providing extensive training about new products and/or services. You might bring vendors in to demonstrate new products, or offer in-house training in how to resolve potential problems with a new product or service.

While technology can help streamline service, there’s no substitute for meetings with your customer service employees if you want to help them be the best they can be. 


Mondays with Mike: Take A Lesson From The Marketing Masters

4-20 Marketing Experts smallThere’s something to be said for trusting the experts, and also for taking the time to do a little research.  Rather than believing you have to come up with all the answers on your own, sit back and learn from the real masters of marketing.  Who are the folk you should pay attention to?  Read on.

  1. Walt Disney.  Not only was Walt Disney the master of sales and advertising, but he was also one of the first true marketing masters.  One of the most important things I’ve learned from studying up on Disney is his belief that the people who design something should also use it.  Only when a designer fully understands the needs and desires of customers, can he or she build an experience perfectly.  Disney had all of his ride designers for his amusement parks ride every ride, over and over, until each detail was just right.  Even details as small as the fireflies on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride were carefully managed.
  2. Mary Kay Ash.  If we can learn anything from the pink-hued world of the woman who built an amazing cosmetics empire, it’s the power of multi-level marketing.  Women all over the country earned their pink Cadillacs simply by selling to their friends and family, building a network and recruiting other sellers.
  3. Steve Jobs.  Jobs didn’t just want to produce machines that did new things.  He understood the huge impact of intuitive design and super stylish packaging.  Rather than selling a smartphone that took a PhD to operate, instead, Apple launched a phone that didn’t even require an instruction manual.  Packaging products with stickers that identify users to other users is also a masterful tactic in image marketing.
  4. Tim Ferriss.  Ferriss is nothing if not a big ideas guy.  He teaches us that a claim needn’t necessarily be one hundred percent true in order to be a powerful selling tool.  While we don’t literally believe we can work just four hours a week, or become a chef in four hours, we’re still lured in by the idea that we can be substantially more efficient or more educated in a short period of time.  Ferriss operates on the principle that we all want to improve, and none of us has boatloads of free time to do it in.  Wild claims can work.
  5. David Ogilvy.  Whether you’re a new entrepreneur or a veteran, the most important lesson you can learn from Ogilvy still holds true.  Split testing pays dividends.  Make sure you’re making the very best decisions by testing variations and alternatives.  Try two versions of the same email offer and track the results, or run two versions of a new ad, each in a different zip code.  The point is we may think a move is successful, but unless we test it, we don’t know for sure.
  6. Michael Phelps.  Though we don’t necessarily think of the Olympic golden boy as an entrepreneur, he can certainly teach us a thing or two about brand building.  Phelps shows us the benefit at working all out, with single-minded dedication to becoming the very best at just one thing.  Phelps is focus personified.
  7. Seth Godin.  Godin gave us the purple cow – his term for a remarkable product, one that stands out from the crowd.  What Godin teaches is the benefit of making your brand distinct from everyone else.  Be your own, unique thing, and do it better than anyone else.

There’s so much entrepreneurial literature out there, you could spend your entire career simply reading, rather than working.  Since none of us has that luxury, it’s essential that we extract the heart of the very best advice out there.  Following the examples of the very best – the marketing masters – sets you up for success.




 
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