Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


How to Do Multitasking Right

1-8 multi-tasking smallIn most cases, multitasking only accomplishes one thing: it gets more things done poorly. However, there is a way to do multitasking that can increase productivity.

When running a small business, everyone and everything demands your attention all at once. With so much to do against so many distractions, it’s amazing that anything gets accomplished well. The answer can be multitasking, but it’s important to clarify what multitasking should be and just what can never ever happen.

If you are constantly shifting back and forth between tasks or allowing interruptions to determine what gets done, you are doing multitasking wrong. This type of activity has been reported to cause as much as a 40% reduction in productivity. Not surprisingly, it also increases the incidents of mistakes and errors.

While people shouldn’t perform several tasks at once, they can manage several tasks at one time. Multitasking should be thought of as a system for being able to make quick decisions about the importance and sequence of tasks, and then proceeding to complete those focused tasks efficiently.

Here are steps for doing multitasking right:

  1. Prioritize. Make a short list of the things to be accomplished (five or less) and which needs to be accomplished first.
  2. Organize. Once tasks are prioritized, decide which tasks on the list can actually be done together. This is efficient and saves more time than starting and stopping different activities. For example, instead of calling four prospects at random times throughout the day, set aside two hours to make the four 30 minute phone calls back-to-back. Also, checking email only two to four times a day is more productive then looking at each notification.
  3. Focus. Complete the task at hand and don’t think of all the other things that need to get done. Block out all other interruptions. Everything should be on the prioritized to-do list and out of mind until the more important tasks are complete. 
  4. Finish what you start. Going back and forth between tasks wastes time because it ends up being more difficult to complete the task when you try to go back to it. Aim to finish the task, in one or two work sessions, before moving on to another one.
  5. Delegate. There is a certain point where not even operating at 100 percent efficiency can get everything done. It’s important to recognize as soon as you can’t do everything yourself. The best course of action is to delegate your tasks to employees and other outside resources.

This is what multitasking should look like. The sooner you stop doing multiple things at once and start managing multiple things at once, the better off your businesses will be and the more you will actually get done. 


5 Must-Know Mobile Marketing Tips

free wifi cafeThe mobile market keeps growing and flourishing, and the best of it may still be ahead of us. As more people rely on their smartphones throughout the day, these devices become veritable marketing tools. Just as with any emerging technology, using mobile early in the game can be a major benefit to marketing to your customers. That being said, not all small businesses know where to begin in using mobile marketing. There are several things you should keep in mind as you explore this latest and exciting frontier:

1. Your web presence must be mobile friendly

Both your emails and your website should be optimized for mobile. It’s not enough to just design your page and then release it. Test it on as many platforms as you can and make it easy for people to report problems. Yahoo has some good advice on the topic. Even if none that technical information means much to you, the bottom line is that your page or newsletter needs to render quickly (<4 secs), be legible, and easy to navigate.

2. Get to know your mobile customers

Metrics are important. It is vital for you to know what works for your company. How do you keep track of that data? Google Analytics is one place to start. Pay attention to the pages that attract a mobile audience and focus your efforts there at first. Notice what campaigns attract mobile traffic over desktop traffic. Mobile customers have different priorities than traditional traffic, and conversion rates are very different. Pay attention to their needs and make it easy for them to find what they need. Mobile is growing, and as a business owner, it is better to be in front of your customer rather than chasing her from behind.

3. Mobile marketing is not just advertising on a smartphone

Mobile customers require a different method of communication. There is no consensus on the baseline of what works with mobile customers. We are at the leading edge of mobile marketing and no one quite knows where we are headed, but there are some best practices that you can play with to see what works best for you. Retailers should be thinking about how to deploy mobile engagement either through in-store posters or even QR codes. Other businesses may want to use text messaging to engage their audience. Social media definitely dovetails here, but the specifics will differ depending on your industry.

4. Exploit location-based services

Because so much of mobile web traffic is related to search, now is the time to make sure you have claimed your page on the various sites, such as Google Pages, Facebook Pages, Yelp, and Foursquare. This is an easy and relatively low effort task that may offer a payout later on. It also demonstrates that you are paying attention to the emerging trends, and are open to communicating with your audience on different networks and sites. You simply never know where a referral will come from, and you never know when or where your company will get in front of your next customer.

5. Respect your audience

This goes without saying, but the reality is that the temptation is there to use exploitative tactics to get extra facetime with your audience. Mobile’s relevance may be undercut if your audience feels manipulated, so tread carefully as you probe this new technology. It may be tempting to repeat verbatim what you’ve said on social media page or newsletter, but mobile is its own medium, so consider mobile a new channel and program accordingly.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Customer Service Resolutions for 2015

1-6 CS resolutions smallIncreasingly, customer service is the standard by which companies are measured, and the service you provide can make or break your small business. To achieve better customer service and more sales in 2015, here are five customer service resolutions for your small business.

  1. I will listen to my customers. You can read everything written about new technology trends, customer service on social media and more, but the reality comes down to one thing: What do your customers want? Don’t make customer service changes based on Top 10 or Hot Trends lists—make them based on what your customers are asking for. Listen to customers in every possible channel, from social media and online reviews to in-person conversations, surveys and emails. They’re giving you feedback every minute of the day if you’ll only open your ears.
  2. I will listen to my customer service employees. Equally important as listening to your customers is listening to your customer service reps and any other frontline employee who engages with customers. They’re the ones who use your tools and systems every day, hear customer complaints and praise, and know when a process is unwieldy, wasting time or annoying customers. Don’t assume they’re just griping—take their complaints seriously and regularly ask them for input on how your customer service could be improved.
  3. I will invest in customer service. Customer service is paramount today, so don’t skimp when it comes to spending on the technology, tools and training your employees need to provide standout service. Carefully weigh the costs of various options and assess how much they could potentially save you. If an investment enables you to spend less time on training, less money on employee salaries or less time getting new employees up to speed, chances are it’s worth the cost. 
  4. I will offer options. Some customers love to talk on the phone to live customer service agents. Others hate dealing with humans and prefer filling out online forms. Still others opt for the speedy resolution of online chat while they multitask on their computers. No one customer service option is right or wrong, and to reach the widest range of customers, you need to offer all the options that your customers express interest in and use.  
  5. I will always remember customers are human beings. This is the most important resolution of all. As customer interactions become increasingly enabled by technology, it’s easy to forget there’s a person at the other end of the online review/chat box/phone line. When you or your team are struggling with difficult customers, stop, take a breath and remember to engage with them on a human level. That means listening to them vent, acknowledging their frustrations and offering a solution that makes them happy.

What are your customer service resolutions for 2015? 


Mondays with Mike: The New Marketing Trend That’s Here To Stay

1-5-15 authencitiy seal smallLimited time!  Lowest price!  Buy now!

Consumers are inundated with claims on their attention, time, and money.  We’re tired of brand impressions everywhere we turn, and we crave something different.  What works right now for consumers in our crowded marketplace? 

Authenticity.  Surprising, isn’t it?  What’s most effective is providing great value to customers who feel invested in your success.  Here’s what you need to know about making an authentic connection with your customers and transforming them into your biggest fans.

  1. Tell your story.  Customers want to support ordinary people, folks they can relate to, and it’s your job to convey your tale in a compelling way.  Hint – you may need help here … that’s what great marketing companies can help with.   Whether you tell your rags-to-riches saga, or whether you detail your unorthodox approach to success, you need to define what sets you apart from the crowd – that’s your message, your story.
  2. Use the phoenix effect.  They mythical phoenix is consumed by flames and reborn from the ashes.  We love to hear tales about someone who manages to start fresh, overcoming adversity, to make it big.  Part of telling your story should convey the unique challenges you’ve faced.
  3. Don’t start a pity party.  You don’t want customers to buy from you just because they feel sorry for you, so it’s important to cast your story – even if it includes difficulties – in a positive light.  Don’t spend too much time whining about how hard it was; focus, instead, on how far you’ve come.  Tell your customers how proud you are of your hard work and achievements.
  4. Don’t brag.  You do not want to make prospective customers envious of your success.  Take Donald Trump as an example.  We may admire some of his success, and we may even choose to adopt some of his business practices, but I don’t know anyone who’s dying to fork over their hard-earned money simply to enrich The Donald.  You don’t want to flaunt your success.  You want to earn loyal supporters.
  5. Have an enemy.  Whether it’s the huge, soulless corporation that you’re struggling to compete with, or whether it’s rigid, outdated practices you’re revolutionizing, people love to root for the underdog.  As part of your narrative, you need to situate your business in a context – give your clients a reason to invest in your success.
  6. Be part of your community.  If you could choose to spend your money with a big company who spirits the profits to somewhere on the other side of the world or with a small company who reinvests in the local community, which would it be?  No contest, right.  Make sure you share the good work you’re doing to make your town or neighborhood a better place to live and work.

Authentic marketing is a refreshing, revolutionary approach, and one that shows no signs of going away.  We’re tired of overblown, high-pressure sales tactics, and we crave a real connection with the companies we choose to do business with.  Make sure you take the time to share your unique vision, journey, and mission with your customers.


How Bosses Can Deal with Smartphone-Addicted Employees

Group of friends all using smart phonesSmartphones have become more than communication tools. As phones have evolved to include email, internet browsing, and social media connectivity, consumers have begun increasing their screen time each day. These devices have gone beyond being a way to make phone calls to becoming a lifeline for most people.

As The Washington Post pointed out, the modern smartphone is a way for people to protect themselves, allowing people something to do. But mobile devices too often take priority over the people in the room with someone, which is problem enough when it happens in social settings. In business meetings, it can be disruptive and insubordinate. In a world that seems to be increasingly tech-addicted, how do bosses handle employees who can’t seem to go five seconds without texting, tweeting, or checking email? Here are some things leaders can do to deal with distracted workers in the office.

Set Policies

As restrictive as it can be, employers need to set boundaries when it comes to tech use in the workplace. An across-the-board ban against personal cell phone use in the workplace isn’t reasonable in today’s environment. But it’s perfectly reasonable to ask phones to be turned off in meetings, especially if they’re with clients.

The problem comes in when employees are checking work email in meetings. Important work emails could be missed during a no-phones-allowed staff meeting, yet it’s often impossible to differentiate between company-related interactions and personal.

Address the Problem

As with any personal technology use in the workplace, it’s often easier to address the real problem than the symptoms of that problem. In other words, if someone wastes an untold amount of time texting throughout the day, he’s likely not getting his work done. If he is, it might be time to determine whether he has enough to do. A co-worker may be overloaded with work that could be shifted over to a smartphone-addicted colleague, solving two issues at once.

If an employee’s work performance is suffering as a result of his device use, begin documenting missed deadlines or failure to meet standards. Use this documentation to discuss these standards with the employee and state what he needs to do to improve. In some cases once an employee realizes his job is at stake, he’ll spend less time on the phone and more time working.

Offer Help

While it may sound extreme, technology addiction is such a problem there is now a name for it: nomophobia. Instead of taking your employees’ vices away, consider offering help. You don’t have to send them off to rehab or enter them in a 12-step program. Instead, bring in an expert to speak to employees about how they can break their smartphone addictions and get more done in a day.

If a workshop isn’t helpful and disciplining employees for poor performance isn’t successful, it’s likely time to directly address the problem. As long as your discipline is consistent, without showing favoritism, you may reduce workers’ disruptive smartphone use and have a more productive, collaborative workplace.


10 Trends for Small Business In 2015

1-2 2015 trends small

This New Year will be an important one for every small business as powerful trends shape the direction of the economy. Here are the shifts that companies can expect in 2015:

  1. Less employees, more freelancers. The nature of work has profoundly changed. Small businesses now are easily able to match new revenue to needs in increased resources. This means less permanent employees and more part time resources. This is a beneficial trend that enables the small business owner to make their workforce a variable expense as their sales goes up and down.
  2. Less office employees, more remote resources. While it can be comforting for small business owners to look out from their office and see their team, this version of the company is a thing of the past. Instead, all managers need to get comfortable with leading and building a team culture with remote resources that they do not see every day.
  3. Less email, more in person meetings (or at least video chat). People have opted for email instead of phone calls. But the trend this year will be to have more in person meetings with employees, vendors and customers as everyone wants to make true connections that build lasting relationships.
  4. Less apps, more dashboards. Apple and Android apps have become ubiquitous. According to a recent Intermedia study, 14.3 is the average number of apps per small business and it’s hurting employee productivity. Companies will begin to use more dashboards to integrate these apps to track the key metrics of their business. These include tools like iDashboard.
  5. Less “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD), more company issued phones. In recent years, small businesses have saved money by having employees conveniently use their own smart phone device for business. This has resulted in many security issues. The trend is for companies to spend the extra money to issue business only devices. They are then able to load only approved applications and keep tight security on those smartphones.
  6. Less data, more analysis. Small business owners are flooded with disparate data that they don’t understand. The trend is away from just data to more analysis of what it all means. Key tools include Power BI from Microsoft, Qlik and Tableau. These applications can integrate much of the company information into something that can be used by management.
  7. Less features, more relationships. With the spread of information almost instantaneously worldwide, there are less differences in product features. The customer can always choose the lowest price. The focus in 2015 will be to continue to service the customer to build value in a personal long term relationship that ensures loyalty. This includes less mass marketing and more one on one personalization through technology.
  8. Less secrecy, more transparency. With social media instantly communicating anything and with every phone having a camera, nothing in business is a secret any longer. This will force every small business to be much more transparent in dealings with customers, employees and product developments. This will also boost more social responsibility for these companies.
  9. Less organic social posts, more boosted advertising. With the sheer glut of millions of posts every day clogging feeds, small business owners in 2015 will be forced to boost their message through social media paid advertising on all the major platforms in order to be seen by their customers.
  10. Less bank loans, more peer to peer lending. Even though bank loans will continue to grow from the depths of the Great Recession, small businesses will now get more of their capital from sites like Fundera that will help choose the best alternate source.

What trends do you see in your business for 2015?


Saving Your Customers From Customer Satisfaction

got loyaltyHave you ever had a customer tell you on a survey that she is "satisfied" or even "very satisfied"–and then leave you the next day for one of your competitors? An experience like this, where nothing goes wrong yet the customer goes away, can lead a business leader to wonder if satisfactory customer service–a solid customer experience, in other words–is enough to ensure customer engagement and loyalty.

The research on the subject would confirm your doubts that there's a connection between self-reported customer satisfaction and what a business really is looking for: customer engagement and customer loyalty.

Various research, including the work that provides the conceptual basis for the entire Net Promoter Score methodology, has found a weak link at best between a self-reported satisfied customer and repeat purchases from that customer. (And most of this research was done before it became as easy to switch suppliers as it is today in our globalized, de-frictionalized, broadbanded economy.)

So here's the deal. Here's the reason there's no clear-cut connection between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. It's quite possible to satisfy a customer without leaving an indelible impression on him or her.  Getting a customer to return depends on more than satisfaction.  It depends on giving the customer a reason to come back. 

The most bulletproof reason you can have for a customer to return, of course, is to have a product or service they absolutely can't get anywhere else, and that they really, truly need or desire.  Apple (if you're hooked), Google (if you're alive), Oxford (if Mum and Grandfather attended and will disinherit you if you don't follow suit) all fall into this enviable category.  Also falling into this category, due solely to geography, are (if you don't like to drive) your corner dry cleaner and (if you don't like to drive after drinking) your corner pub.

For the rest of us in business, those of us whose services or products aren't absolutely unique and irreplaceable, the best way to give a customer a reason to come back is through a customer experience methodology I call "homebuilding." This means building a customer experience that feels to your customer like an ideal vision of home. Think of it as having three parts:

  1. The customer needs to know that you're happy to hear from them and are dropping all other concerns except the customer's own pleasure, safety, and success the moment they enter your establishment/call on the phone/email or chat with you.
  2. The customer needs to feel, while they're experiencing your service or the purchase and use of your product, that they are receiving something special.  Specifically, that you are tailoring your service to their particular needs, interests, and wishes in an anticipatory manner that doesn't even require them to ask or explain themselves.  That you are serving "even the unexpressed wishes" of this customer, to use the Ritz-Carlton's trademark phrase.
  3. The customer needs to know, as they are leaving your business at the end of the transaction, that their business matters to you, and that it matters to you that they return soon.

The business-killing hazard of “Who Cares?” 

These three, somewhat fluffy-sounding customer experience elements are important because the problem of the satisfied-but-not-loyal customer comes down to this: You are always at the mercy of a great big “who cares?" from the customer.

Think about it: Do you think passengers mentally thank Delta every time it doesn't lose their bag, doesn't overbook their seat, and so forth?

Generally they don't. They don't even think to do so.  The airline didn't lose their bag, didn't overbook their seat, but who cares? It's not really their job as customers, actually, to care.

There is a way to build customer loyalty via customer satisfaction. But it's hard.

There is, actually, a way to build customer loyalty via satisfactory customer service.  You can, eventually, build customer loyalty via cycles of repeated, unrelentingly "satisfactory" service. In other words, the correlation between satisfactory service and customer retention increases the more iterations that the customer experiences satisfactory service: if a restaurant treats a guest fine once, it's no big deal, and it's not going to correlate very well with customer retention; that guest may go anywhere for lunch the next time. 

However, if for whatever reason the guest happens to come back, and if she then gets at least temporarily in the habit of coming back, and if she's treated fine-but-not-exceptionally-memorably every time, after, say, 5 visits the likelihood of a 6th visit becomes a pretty good bet.  The tricky thing is that that's a lot of "ifs." For each of those first five iterations, the customer is an open target for other marketing, passive or active.  Who knows where she may go for lunch the 2nd, or 3rd, or 4th, or 5th time; anywhere in there she may get distracted and wander over to a competitor.

So I try, as a customer service and customer loyalty consultant, to warn businesses away from thinking their best path to a customer’s heart is year after year of giving good-enough service and hoping that nobody else’s good-enough service catches their eye.

The better way to kickstart customer loyalty

Better, I argue, is to give extra consideration and do the extra customer experience and customer service work needed on the important touches–the attention, the recognition–that can directly break through customers' apathy, that can break through a customer's default position of "who cares?"– a default position that unfortunately is likely to be held even by customers who are "satisfied" with everything about you as a brand.

Because that's the way to build customer engagement and customer loyalty, directly and reliably. And it's worth it.


How to Choose a Structure for Your Small Business

12-31 Business Structure smallWhen starting a business, a lot of newbie entrepreneurs overlook what is one of the most key components to their business:  selecting an appropriate business structure. By default, your business will operate as a sole proprietorship, but you won’t get any legal protection should your business be sued. You need to consider forming an LLC or corporation as your setup your business. If you’re serious about being in business for years to come, it’s a wise idea to form a legal entity. Do you homework and consult with professional about the “right” legal structure for your business. Here’s what you need to know about how to choose the best business structure for your small business.

Benefits to Incorporating

First, consider making your business a corporation. Corporations — especially the S-Corp, is a popular option for small businesses — provide ample benefits that a sole proprietorship does not.

With a corporation, your personal assets are protected. Once your business is incorporated, it exists as a separate legal entity from you. In the event that you are sued or file bankruptcy, the corporation — not you, the owner — is responsible for all of its debts and liabilities. So your personal assets, like your home or savings, can’t be touched to pay your business debt. They can, on the other hand, be used to cover your business debt if you are a sole proprietor.

Incorporating also has tax perks. Through an S-Corp, you can use what’s called pass-through taxation. That’s a fancy way of saying that an S-Corp is taxed more like a sole proprietor or a partnership than as a separate entity, the way a C Corporation is. So company profits are “passed through” and reported on your personal income tax return. You get taxed only once on your revenue. End of story.

Benefits to Forming an LLC

An LLC has many of the same tax and personal asset protection benefits as a corporation. In fact, when it comes to taxes, there’s a lot more flexibility in how you file, as you can file as a:

  • Corporations
  • Dual Member: Partnership
  • Single Member

An additional perk is that LLCs require a little less red tape and annual paperwork to file, than an S-Corp.

Which to Choose?

Ultimately, the decision on which business structure to set up for your small business will come down to preferences. Speak to a lawyer or tax professional about the benefits of each for your specific benefits. The goal, no matter which you select, is to make sure your business and personal assets are protected, and that you have the best setup for taxes (after all, who wants to pay more than they have to?).

Keep in mind you may need to file paperwork or pay fees to remain compliant with either structure. Do all the research necessary to determine exactly how much work you’ll need to put into maintaining your business structure status, or look to companies who can manage the maintenance on your behalf.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Ways to Make Your Employees More Productive

12-30 Office Environment smallThe holidays are the season of giving, so since we’re just days away from the New Year, why not think about ways to give your employees a more comfortable workplace in 2015? This might sound frivolous, but in reality a comfortable work environment has been shown to make employees more creative, productive and happier with their jobs. That type of “gift” can’t help but translate into better interactions with customers!

Here are five ideas for ways to improve your employees’ work environment.

  1. Seating: Ergonomic desks and task chairs have become very affordable. Try letting workers pick the options they want on their own chairs (within a certain price range), such as with or without arms, with different back levels and with height-adjustable options.
  2. Lighting: Natural light is best—it helps keep employees alert, happy and engaged. If your office space doesn’t provide much natural light, look into getting light bulbs that mimic natural light. Also consider creating a break space outside so employees can get some sunlight during their downtime.
  3. Air quality: Since most office spaces don’t have windows that open, keeping air quality high is vitally important. Make sure your business’s air ducts are cleaned regularly so employees aren’t breathing polluted or allergen-laden air.
  4. Heating and cooling: In general, cooler temps are better for keeping workers alert and energetic, but you don’t want it so cold that people have to wear gloves at work or that they start bringing space heaters, which can be a fire hazard. Work with your team to find a comfortable level, and make sure your HVAC system is well maintained.
  5. Variety: Who does their best work in a beige box? Add life to your office with indoor plants, framed artwork and colorful carpeting or paint on the walls. Offering variety in seating and working arrangements can spark creativity and energize workers. For example, a few comfy couches or chairs scattered in inviting areas will encourage employees to chat, which might lead to informal brainstorming and innovations for your business. A cozy break room will get people to hang around work at lunch instead of leaving the building; that means less likelihood of late lunches and more employee bonding.

By implementing these five simple changes, you can create a more inviting workplace where people are happy to spend time and feel “fired up” to do their best. 




 
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