Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

How to Network Effectively

10-28 Networking smallWhen you think about networking, the heavy exchange of business cards might come to mind, but there’s so much more to it than that.  Being effective at networking is crucial to your business success. Regardless of what product or service you provide, you’ll need to sell yourself first. Building trust relationships with strangers is an important skill to develop. When you meet potential clients, first seek to be more interested than interesting. If you figure out how to be helpful to a new contact – people will help you and your business grow. In the digital age it’s easier than ever to stay connected to new people. You just need to know how to get the most of our your networking.

Here are some tips to network effectively.

1. Be Interested

Networking with someone new is much more than just handing out your business card and moving on to the next person. You need to take a moment more to get to know them a little better and let them get to know you, too. Talk about them first, then if asked discuss what your business does and how your solve problems. Business cards get lost and mixed together, but first impressions last a lifetime. Get them something to remember you with.

2. Prioritize at your events

Only focus on making five key contacts at any networking event. While you might want to meet everyone there, but you won’t have the time to maintain all of that communication. You need to move through the room, and meet some great people and call it a night. You should have a target list, but don’t worry about who is likeliest to call you for your product, service justfocus on making new friends. You never know who they could refer you too.

3. Ask for Recommendations

Ask for a warm introductions from satisfied customers, current clients, personal friends and mentors. They can be your best sources for recommendations. Ask this group of people to pass your name and information along should they find someone who may benefit from your help.Just remember that once a friend-of-a-friend gets in touch with you, be sure to give your new prospect the positive experience he or she is expecting, otherwise you could lose two relationships.

4. Communicate

To make networking work, you have to keep in touch with people. No one likes to only be contacted when something is needed of them..If you are professionally networking you need to cultivate your new contact to build trust.

5. Maintain

Once you meet someone, you should follow within five days. Then they should here from you again within 60 days to schedule a follow-up lunch or coffee. To keep yourself top of mine you can It’s a good idea to connect on LinkedIn Twitter or Instagram to keep yourself in their sights. Even if you don’t speak often sharing their content online can build relationships. If you neglect new contacts your networking efforts will be in vain.

It can take a while to build up a solid, reliable network , but don’t get discouraged. Meeting new people and building your network will become second nature to you. And with a little patience, you will create a lead engine for your business.

The 10 Digits That Are Vital to Your Business

10-27 Importance of phone numbers smallWhile email and chat have become increasingly popular, many customers still prefer to talk to a live person on the phone. In order to do so, they have to be able to reach your business. That’s where your all-important business phone number comes in.

Cloud phone systems provide today’s businesses with unprecedented flexibility when it comes to their communications systems, and this extends to phone numbers.

Below are two popular phone number options available to businesses with a cloud phone system.

One Number For All

Your business can have one central phone number, such as a toll free phone number, that can route to multiple locations based on criteria you specify. This is a great option for companies that serve customers that are not centralized to one area.

This concept is also common with customer service centers. Have you ever called a toll-free number and then been routed to a location in your city or state? I recently called AAA for roadside assistance, and based on the phone number I was calling from, they routed me to an agent in my local area.

The beauty of cloud phone systems is you have unlimited flexibility when it comes to your call flows. Based on the phone number of the inbound call, you can determine the best location, department or individual to answer the call without the caller needing to dial multiple numbers to reach the desired destination.

Multiple Numbers for One Business

Alternatively you can have multiple phone numbers route to one central business location. If you choose to have multiple numbers, say with different area codes to show a local presence, cloud phone systems allow you to route all of these numbers to a central location. When you, or a member of your team, answer the incoming call, the number the caller dialed will appear on the phone so you can answer appropriately. For instance, if the customer dialed the number for your Phoenix office and the call was routed to your headquarters in Los Angeles because of criteria you specify, the user can still answer, “Thank you for calling our Phoenix office, how may I help you?” 

This type of call routing and phone number usage is great for marketing purposes and companies that want to appear more local, such as real estate agencies where local expertise is important to customers.

Your phone number is vital to your business, and you now have more options than ever when it comes to call routing and call forwarding thanks to the advancements of cloud phone systems. Since they are hosted in the cloud, these systems offer significant scalability and flexibility, and they can be adjusted as frequently to meet the evolving needs of your business without the hassle of costly equipment and maintenance fees.

5 Keys to Understanding Millennial Customer Values

10-26 millenial values smallMillennials, the group of young people born 1980ish to 2000ish, are the largest generation in U.S. and world history. And they’re right on the cusp of having the largest spending power in the U.S., and in many other countries as well.  And the values that drive this important generation of customers are different in significant ways from preceding generations. 

Since millennials, more than previous generations at the same age, strive to buy where their values lie–whenever they can afford to– a business that wants to win the hearts of these consumers will benefit from knowing what their values entail. (Think this stuff doesn't matter, or that it can be faked? Think again: One millennial I interviewed told me, “People my age are especially attuned to and adept at figuring out if a company is being pro-people or pro-environment in its marketing, and anti-people or anti-environment in its actions.” I believe her–and so should you, if you want the soon to be all-powerful millennial generation as customers, loyalists, and ambassadors for your company.)

Before I go any further, I want to add a caveat: Millennials, like any other cohort, are very, very diverse. So any generalization like this list that follows can only be that: a generalization.  So take this rundown with at least a grain of salt. 

  1. Millennials want to protect the environment. Millennials harbor a deep-seated support for environmentally friendly action. This is something the millennial generation has believed in since childhood and that shows no sign of slowing down, perhaps in part because this is the first generation to grow up with an overwhelming scientific consensus pointing to manmade climate change.
  2. Millennials support workers’ rights. According to Pew, 78% of millennials agree with the statement, “Labor unions are needed to protect the rights and economic well-being of workers.” Unions or not, they strongly support the idea that companies should treat employees well and pay them fairly.
  3. Millennials are tolerant. Pew surveys consistently demonstrate that this generation is more supportive of minorities on issues of race, more tolerant of interracial dating, more supportive of gay marriage, more in favor of unmarried adults cohabitating, more approving of mothers working who have young children, and more likely by far to have a close gay friend than do members of older generations.
  4. Millennials support diversity. From Pew again: Almost twice the percentage of millennials agree with the statement that “we should make every possible effort to improve the position of blacks and other minorities, even if it means giving them preferential treatment” than do members of previous generations. On the issue of immigration, only one-third of millennials agree with the statement that “immigrants threaten American values and customs.”

Note: Millennials’ support for diversity is no doubt affected by how diverse this generation is itself. Millennials are by far the most varied cohort in U.S. generational history.  If you were looking to generalize Boomers or the Silent Generation in the U.S., a good guess would be “they’re all white.” You’d be wrong, but not by all that much. Ninety percent of the Silent Generation is white (80% are non-Hispanic white), and even among Boomers, 73% are non-Hispanic white. The makeup of the millennial generation is far different. Only 61% of millennials are non-Hispanic whites (this percentage is similar to that in the smaller Gen X), and millennials are more likely than any generation since the Silent Generation to be the children of immigrants. (All figures here are from Pew research.) Even these numbers don’t fully demonstrate the impact of this diversity. Take note that these “minorities” (hardly the right term) are far from evenly dispersed across the country, and are disproportionately represented in cities. In metropolises of significant size around the country, “minority” (Hispanic, Asian-American and African American) groups together make up the majority. This diversity is well represented in purchasing decisions. Among the all-important business traveler segment, there are 60% more Hispanics, double the number of Asian-Americans, and 40% more women in the millennial generation traveling for business by plane than there are among nonmillennial business fliers, according to Boston Consulting Group.

  1. Millennials believe company values should go beyond corporate self-interest. In general, millennials disagree with the notion that a business’s only responsibilities are to its shareholders and to watching the bottom line, according to studies cited by Van den Bergh and Behrer. Millennials’ faith in the free market sank in 2008 with the stock market, housing prices, their parents’ retirement funds and their own employment prospects. Far from supporting an “it’s all about the bottom line” philosophy of business, their ethos is closer to something like the “triple bottom-line” equation that Southwest Airlines strives to follow: Our Performance, Our People and Our Planet.

5 Ways to Win the War Against Digital Distractions

10-23 digitally multi-tasking smallIn a 2009 National Public Radio interview, Dr. Clifford Nass, who was a noted Stanford educator, harshly referred to multitaskers as "suckers for distraction and suckers for the irrelevant." He was referring largely to students under the control of their digital devices, but it applies to the business world as well, because multitasking does not increase productivity; it reduces it.

Where multitasking was once considered an essential skill for anyone pursuing advancement in the business world, newer research asserts that the human brain best handles one thing at a time. Unfortunately, most workers are faced with constant interruptions on a daily basis and every digital advance makes matters worse. With a little common sense and dedication, you can take control over digital distractions. Here are five habits to start developing today.

1. Use Personal Peak Times Effectively

Your brain is still more powerful than any electronic device — provided that you schedule your day based on its ebbs and flows.

For example, as a general rule, high-thought level work is best handled in the period from late morning to midday due to body changes after awakening. This is the time to turn off any unnecessary devices and allow your brain to handle high-level tasks, such as creating presentations or analyzing financial reports. Between about noon and 4pm, distractions take hold of the brain more easily, so it makes sense to hold off on emails, texts and any other unessential digital interruptions until this time.

Of course, not everyone follows the same circadian rhythm. You need to monitor your own patterns to determine when to put all unnecessary devices away and when to allow distractions.

2. Exercise Device Control

Just about everyone in the working world has a PC. Most have smart phones and an increasing number of workers have tablets, as well. But, how many of these devices pertain strictly to business?

Electronic devices make it easy to take your work home with you, but they also let you bring your home life into the office. Granted, this is only fair if you want any form of work-life balance. But, if you want your work quality to be high, you need to avoid the temptation of personal distractions whenever possible. Keep work-related devices active while on the job and schedule appropriate time into your day for device-checking and social media updates.

3. Choose the Right Device for the Task

Just because you can browse the web from your smart phone, doesn't make it the right tool for remaining on-task. Jumping from window to window on a three-inch screen or being forced to close an app when you run out of memory are other types of distractions. Don't be fooled into thinking that a phone in the hand will save valuable time. Even if you have to walk over to your PC or tablet, you will save time and focus by having the power and screen size to properly perform the job at hand.

4. Put Web Site Distractions Off to the Side

Speaking of distractions, every web page seems to have a million links. It's just about impossible to avoid clicking tempting web page links, but a great way to forget what you're doing is to jump from link to link. So, open those links in a new tab or window, and immediately return to the original page to maintain your primary flow. Once you finish with the present page, the distraction will be there when you want it — if you haven't lost interest.

5. Placemark the Original Task

How much time do you spend back-tracking when you return to a previously-interrupted task? You cannot avoid important customer calls, but you can get in the habit of marking your place before you start talking. So, if the phone rings while you are mid-sentence in a report or adding up numbers in a column, ask the caller to hold on for just a moment. Finish that sentence, or at least jot down a quick note describing where you left off. Don't worry — the interrupter will understand.

Only the Cream of Interruptions Should Rise to the Top

Scheduling interruptions is a lofty goal, but no one — from office workers to top brass — is immune from someone waiting in the wings to disrupt that schedule. Interruptions may be unavoidable, but they also short change the people who need your help. Not every interruption ranks priority one. Power off unnecessary devices and take a critical look at remaining interruptions to give top-notch service to your customers and your company.

How to Use LinkedIn Groups to Reach Your Target Customer

10-21 LInkedIn Groups smallLinkedIn touts itself as the most professional social networking site. It’s focused on letting you reconnect with old colleagues, leverage your existing network and it’s also a great way for business owners to reach your target customer. LinkedIn users tend to keep their profiles focused on their work experience and relevant skills. LinkedIn is not about connecting with strangers. It is a place where people trust those with whom they connect. One of the best things about LinkedIn is the groups you can join. Here are some tips on how to reach your target customer via LinkedIn Groups.

1. Do Your Homework

There are thousands of LinkedIn groups, as a member you are limited to joining 50. There are many groups with the same exact topic, so look for groups who are most active. Don’t bother with groups of less than 500 people. If you head to the group page and see many conversations started by many different users, it would be wise to join that group.

2. Don’t Sell

Many people are leery of hard sales tactics in their LinkedIn groups. Group members have joined for valuable and diverse industry insights – not to become targets of a marketing campaign. Also be careful with sharing links. Some group members are notorious for spamming LinkedIn groups with self-serving links. Groups with admins look out for these behaviors so you risk getting the boot when you do this! Focus on dialogue here, not sales.

3. Start Conversations

Posing questions for open group feedback is always a good idea. It’s also a great way to build engagement with your target customer. It could be a valuable tool for understanding customer insights as well. Links to relevant material on your blog is a helpful ways to begin a conversation, if you not too overtly promotional. Be sure to comment and give feedback on other posts in the group. Make your presence one of modest authority. By getting your name and face out there to your customer, group members will start connecting with you directly.

4. Create Your Own Group

Once your presence in a group has been felt and you’ve begun to make connections outside of the group setting, this is a perfect time to branch off and create your own group. Creating your own LinkedIn group is a way for you to invite new connections you’ve made in your groups. Your group can be a tangent off of the original in a way that is much more specific to your industry. Invite people with whom you’ve had a friendly rapport.. Check out my group Smallbizchat on LinkedIn to see how you might what to run your own group. 

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that LinkedIn is restricted to your personal resume. Many of LinkedIn’s users head to the site specifically for answers and professional advice. LinkedIn groups are like a door or opportunity for you to build relationships with a flood of new target customers. If this is where the majority of target customers spend time online, building a LinkedIn group could be a great investment.

The Top 5 Ways to Keep Remote Employees Connected & Engaged

10-19 remote workers smallIf you want to bring remote workers together and make them feel connected to your company, it is essential that you take advantage of the communications tools available today. Technology has changed the way the world works, and this is especially true for remote workers.

While all of our operations is located at our headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona, we do have a growing number of sales representatives and software developers that work remotely. These individuals are essential to our company’s success, and we want them to feel just as connected to the company as our team members who work at our headquarters.

We have found that the five tools below significantly improve communication with remote team members, keep them informed of office activities, and keep them connected to their coworkers.

Regular team calls

This may seem like a no-brainer, but scheduling a call that works for everyone’s schedule is no small feat. However, constant and consistent communication is extremely important to moving projects along and discussing initiatives and goals. Try to touch base with your entire team at least once a week. If blocking off an hour may not be feasible, try for shorter, more frequent check-ins. This will hold team members accountable, will keep everyone up-to-date on what each team member is working on, and can help identify team members or projects that may need extra support.

Cloud Phone System

Moving communications systems to the cloud is a essential to keep employees connected, such as moving to a cloud phone system. You can route calls to these employees from your main office, take advantage of extension dialing, and utilize a mobile app to stay connected on the go.

Additionally, the mobile apps for these systems, such as the Nextiva App, come with additional features including IM and presence for easy communication from anywhere.

An Instant Message System

Remember the days of AIM? Instant message systems have matured from a social chat tool for teens and are now essential communications tools many of us, myself included, couldn’t imagine getting through a workday without. As the name indicates, an instant message system allows you to send messages to your coworkers in different locations and receive an immediate response. This tool is great for quick questions were sending an email is unnecessary, and the best part is it won’t clog your inbox! At Nextiva we rely on Jabber or the Nextiva App, but there are a variety of tools out there your business can use, and many are free.  

A Company-focused Blog

Our Culture team began an internal blog at Nextiva about a year ago and it has been a great platform to keep everyone connected. Everyone’s inboxes are overflowing these days and it’s easy to miss internal emails about office activities. Creating a central place to house all of your company communication will help keep everyone informed of office activities, product updates, HR resources, without having to check multiple places for the information. Also, blogs, especially ones powered by WordPress, are easy to customize and update to suite your unique needs and culture.

Employee Engagement Activities that are not Location-Based

Focus on creating employee engagement activities that all team members can participate in, regardless of their physical location. Voting activities or a weekly internal news show that highlights everything going on in the company that week is a great way to share information and make employees feel connected. Highlighting remote employees via “department discoveries” or internal interviews will help employees in different locations to get to know each other.

These five tools can be implemented in every business, and will help improve the satisfaction of your remote workers. Are there any tools you rely on to improve communication with remote team members and make them feel more connected to your company?

The Top 3 Ways to Improve Your Company’s Culture

Attracting top talent to your business is now more competitive than ever. Gone are the days of focusing only on compensation as your company’s main differentiating factor. Today’s workforce wants more than just a nice paycheck, especially when it comes to Millennials. Now people want to work for a company that shows appreciation for its employees in more ways then just money, provides advancement opportunities, has an inviting and fun work environment, and who’s mission and culture aligns with their values.

At Nextiva, we’ve found there are three ways you can improve your company culture to increase the overall happiness of your employees. And as any business owner or team leader knows, if you’re employees are happy, they’re more efficient, productive, and innovative.

1. Open communication between employees and management

To have truly open communication, your team must feel like their thoughts, opinions, and concerns are heard. This starts with creating a company culture that is void of egos and focused on two-way communication—talking and listening. Also, trust is a large part of the equation that takes time to establish, but if you stay consistent, it can be done. Trust is built from listening, following through on the things you said you would take action on, and creating an environment where employees feel supported. Fostering a culture that values everyone’s unique ideas can lead to amazing business advancement and growth. You never know who may have a great idea to improve a process, product or service, so stay open minded and listen to your employees.

OCEO Appreciation Day

2. Show your appreciation

This cannot be reiterated enough. Positive reinforcement will do wonders for individual and company-wide moral. If you show your employees appreciation on an individual and group basis, they’ll be more productive, happier and more likely to grow their career with your company.

Showing appreciation and recognition makes people feel valued, and they’re more willing to go the extra mile for you and your business. You don’t need to offer extravagant prizes to show appreciation. We’ve found that things such as a coveted parking spot, an extra vacation day, free lunch, etc. all make a big impact.

Additionally, we focus on initiatives and events that highlight individuals, teams, and departments. For example, our dedicated Culture team plans appreciation days throughout the year for each department, and once a year we highlight five individuals at our company event that made a positive impact on our culture and company. These awards are a huge honor and voted on by the management team. Also, team members are encouraged to give shout-outs to employees who go above and beyond for others in the company on an ongoing basis.

10-8 Nextiva Company Culture

3. Create career paths and advancement opportunities

No matter the size of your business, you can create career paths and advancement opportunities for your team. If you don’t give your team something to strive for, whether it is a raise, promotion, continuing education opportunities, or other means of advancing their career and improving skill-set, they’re going to look for a company that does offer these benefits.

Just as an athletic team works hard so they can win a game, your employees are also working hard towards their own individual goals. This aspect of your company culture is a direct result of creating an environment that promotes open communication and shows appreciation for its employees. Check in with your employees on an ongoing basis and ask what they’re interested in and the direction they’d like their career to go in your organization. From there, work on creating a development plan and projects that will help them acquire the skills and experience they need to get to the next level. This will not only benefit them, but the company overall.

Top Salesperson

Building a good company culture doesn’t happen overnight….

Building a strong company culture takes a lot of time, effort and consistency from all levels of the organization. Also, focus on fostering an environment that is in line with your companies mission and values. What works for one company may be not be feasible for another, but the three areas listed above—open communication, appreciation, and advancement opportunities—are universal to all organizations. How you execute this is up to you, but we guarantee it will improve the work environment, increase your team’s productivity, and ultimately help your business grow.

Developing a Style of Customer Service that Suits Today’s Customer Sensibilities

When it comes to communication, customers today and younger customers in particular are “disillusioned by anything canned and artificial,” as business and marketing expert Andrew Jensen puts it. A stilted, overly formal service style, even from the most caring providers, puts a ceiling on how intimate and inviting the interactions can be between employees and customers.

Which means that developing an authentic customer service style is a requirement for success with customers in the new economy. Customers in today’s marketplace (including the enormous millennial generation, their Boomer parents and the GenX’ers in the middle) favor a straightforward, down to earth, even slangy style of communication from most types of business with which they interact.

Your brand will appear out of touch or even condescending if you retain an excessively formal style. For example, traditionally prescribed hospitality language has included the use of phrases like “my pleasure” and “certainly, Sir,” which work up to a point but sound wooden when overused or used inappropriately. “It was really my pleasure to visit with you during your stay, Mr. Jamison” is fine, but never: “It will be my pleasure to clean your toilet.”

A good way to enforce reasonable language standards, without hobbling the verbal footwork of your employees, is what I’ve named the Danny Meyer Method, after the great New York restaurateur. With the Meyer Method, although you ask your employees to nix certain phrases (“it’s our policy,” “to be honest with you,” “uh-huh,” “you guys,” or this pet peeve of Danny’s: “Are we still working on the lamb?”), you don’t prescribe specific replacements, leaving that up to the creativity and individuality of your staff.

This approach has the additional benefit of keeping your employees comfortable in their own skins, using their own shorthand as needed with customers. You’re providing employees with boundaries in their interactions but empowering them by letting them use their own style within those parameters.

Now, with the authentic style of service I am suggesting, I don’t want to accidentally encourage you to be too familiar.  Instead, I suggest the approach that service designer Tim Miller has articulated: “What I look for from my staff in terms of authenticity is approximately a ‘first date’ level.  Best-foot-forward level.”  This is a style that’s going to work for your customers very well. 

How to Pursue Funding for Your Company

10-7 Funding your biz smallIf you have a great idea for a business and your second thought is to look for financing, I want you to hold your horses for a moment and ask yourself, Why? You need to get three different answers before moving forward. If you think that funding is the best option rather than bootstrapping it with your personal resources, be careful! Outside funding brings its own crop of distractions. Here are 7 things you need to know before pursing financing for your small business.

1. You Won't Write the Deal

If this is your first business, then you don’t have a financial track record, which puts you in a beggar's position. The investor you seek funding from has the power and may deploy an agreement that puts you at a disadvantage, either by valuing your company less than you think it should be valued at, or by charging you a higher cost of capital.

2. You'll Be Chasing the Funding Instead of the Customer

At this stage of building a business, there are few things as important as your customer. Once you divert your interest from your clientele to pursue funding, you will distract yourself from the building your business. Building a customer base requires focus and dedication; getting funding requires the same. Since you have limited time, it will be a real challenge. Customers are the linchpin of your success. Ignore them at your own risk.

3. You Could Undervalue Your Company

When you seek money from outside sources, you have to place a specific monetary value on your company based on its assets and intellectual property. It is easy to make a substantial mistake that you’ll only be able to determine after the fact. It is difficult to calculate the value of an emerging company, and this may make getting funding a challenge.

4. You Might Partner With the Wrong People

Partnerships are like other relationships. When you partner with an investor in haste, you put your business at risk. The offer to fund your enterprise rarely comes without strings, so make sure you understand your financier better than you understand your spouse. If that sounds like a tall order, then you may not be ready to take the leap with complete confidence. There is a lot at stake, so use caution.

5. You'll Learn More Without Funding

Bootstrapping is a valuable exercise. A true entrepreneur builds a business to learn something: about the market, about the customer, about the product and himself. When you build your business without a cushion, you get to learn expensive lessons. They are often the most valuable. Running a business will build your instincts and help you hone your talent.

6. Funding Often Masks Underlying Problems

An excess of cash can hide critical deficiencies in a business model. An infusion of capital won’t fix all your problems. If your staff isn’t properly trained and you’re getting customer service complaints, money won’t remedy that; effort will. It’s sometimes easier to see these issues and fix them if you don’t have too much money between you and the problems.

7. You Could Lose Control of Your Company

Once you’ve put your most devoted efforts into building your company, and secured outside funding you’ll have to appoint a Board of Directors, but most likely your funded will have financial and board control. Investors like to work with executives they know. You, as a fresh entrepreneur, represent an unknown territory. Backers don’t know how you’ll react to success or difficulty and may want to remove you as the CEO.

If you see your business opportunity as a way to cash in quick, you may not have the stamina to bring your business venture to success. Investors rarely invest in an idea and they don’t invest quickly.  It could take 18-24 months to secure a deal.. The reality is that funding brings as many problems as it appears to solve. While there are other options for funding, explore them carefully and avoid making commitments under duress.

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