Archive for the ‘Startup’ Category


How to Get the Work Done and Still Go on Vacation

Stocksy_txp611ba5ef119000_Small_293786American small business owners don’t take enough vacation. In fact, the United States is the only western nation without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday. By law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation. Do they know something we don’t?

Most entrepreneurs would agree that time away from work is actually good for their productivity. Unfortunately, so many small business owners are afraid to take vacation for fear of missing something or the their company “falling apart”. However, vacation time is actually a good time to measure how well the company actually operates without you. If the company‘s success is all about you, it is actually a very dangerous situation. Assign someone take your place while you are on vacation and test what happens. Even though it is a risk, a company that runs without your daily involvement is more valuable to any buyer or shareholder.

When I go on vacation, I do come back to over 3,000 emails, but I also realize that no one died and nothing happened that I could not be resolved the next week. No matter how fast we think business moves, things will many times wait longer than you initially realized. While there may be a few missed opportunities, the time away will be worth the increased productivity when you return.

If you can’t leave work for an entire week to recharge, consider doing work every morning for an hour while on vacation. During this time, follow these strict rules:

  1. Set an out of out of office message on your email and voice mail. Do not respond to emails that can be successfully handled by others at the company or when you return. While this may be tempting, it is important not to engage in these conversations since they will lead to additional work while on vacation.
  2. Leave strict instructions with your staff. This should include not to be bothered unless they need your advice or approval to a situation that will be “irreversible” if it is resolved instead in a week. Never call into the office to see “what’s happening”.
  3. Have no major deadlines while on vacation. Don’t take work with you. Any business done during this week should be to new issues that come up while you are gone.
  4. Do not use your laptop, tablet or phone for work except during this one hour a day. If you forgot something that you think of later in the day, write it down and let it wait to be addressed until the following morning.

What tips do you have to go on vacation from work?


What Is the Ice Bucket Challenge for Small Business Owners?

Doing_the_ALS_Ice_Bucket_Challenge_(14927191426)Have you taken the “Ice Bucket Challenge”? It challenges friends to put a bucket of ice over their head or donate $100 to the ALS Association. The rules state that within 24 hours of being challenged, participants need to video record themselves by accepting the challenge followed by pouring a bucket of ice over their head. The participant then challenges others on that video. As a result of this viral phenomenon, the ALS Association has received $31.5 million in donations during the past month. 

What would the small business version of the Ice Bucket Challenge? Consider these for yourself:

“The Cash Flow” Challenge: You only have $1000 in the bank on Monday to keep running your business until Friday. Help to beat this challenge: Learn how to read a cash flow statement every month so there are no surprises.  If cash is low, isolate the expenses that need to absolutely be paid or it will drive you out of business. Be direct to vendors and employees about when they can expect to be paid.

“The Customer Satisfaction” Challenge: Your top customer is dissatisfied and is threatening to leave your business. Help to beat this challenge: Listen fully to what the customer has to say. Ask them what the best solution to the problem is. Follow through to a resolution and report back to them on the results.

“The Key Employee Left” Challenge: A key employee just quit and now you have to replace them in 24 hours. Where do you look to replace them? Help to beat this challenge: Always ensure that your employees are cross trained so if one leaves, another can do that job for at least a short time.

“The New Version of Your Product Doesn’t Work” Challenge: You announced a new product, but the latest test show it does not work. You have thousands on backorder. Help to beat this challenge: Isolate what is wrong with the product and what can it be fixed in a reasonable amount of time. Take any other functionality out and notify backorder customers when a product can be shipped.

“The 16 Hours of Work Needs to Get Done in 24 Hours” Challenge: You have a huge pile of work to get done today that will take a lot longer than you have. Help to beat this challenge: First decide what not to do. How will it really affect the business if the work was done tomorrow instead of today? What two things must get done today that are critical to the company?

What would your small business challenge be?


Take this Test before Quitting Your Day Job

Unlike popular business myths, not everyone should start their own company. In fact, it is not the path to happiness and wealth for most people. Every month, over a half million people will quit their day jobs to start a company. Many people have that big dream of betting it all to take a huge risk. Others have a business on the side or as Pamela Slim says, a "side hustle" going while they work a full time job. Unfortunately, most of these people that make the jump to quit their day job are making one of the biggest mistakes of their lives.

Please take this test before quitting. Answer yes or no to each question below:

  1. Do you have paying customers for your product or service? (This does not include relatives!) 
  2. Have you placed a strict limit on the amount of money you will invest? This means is there someone else that has to approve more funds besides you?
  3. Can your family survive if you lose all the money that you are about to invest in your business?
  4. Does your spouse have a job? (Living with your parents counts.)
  5. Is your spouse “enthusiastic” about your move to quit your job and start a company?
  6. Do you have other smart people and mentors that you will listen to even if you think they are wrong?
  7. Have you started a business before?
  8. Do you have good alternative for health care insurance that you currently get through your job?
  9. Is this really the very best timing for quitting your job (or starting a business)?
  10. Can you afford to not make any money from your business for the next six to twelve months?

Scoring the test: Give one point for every “yes” answer and zero points for every “no” answer.

Results: Unless you scored seven points, don't quit your day job yet. There are still too many risk factors for there to be high odds of success.

If I could be happy working for another person I would. If you are like me and can't, pass this test and welcome to world of entrepreneurship. 

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How You Can Grow Your Small Business to 7 Figures

Stocksy_txp1c8dcf91CD8000_Small_201077So many entrepreneurs I meet think too small. They’re concerned about paying today’s bills, and give little thought to where they’d like to take their business down the road. That’s an obstacle to success, but one that can be overcome with a little planning and strategy. But the most important thing to making more money is to believe that you can. So let’s get started! It’s time to stop struggling and start thriving in your business.

First, Visualize What You Want to Achieve?

Don’t be afraid to unleash your imagination here. Think big! Would you like to run a $5 million company? Sell it in five years and then retire and travel the world? You can’t hope to grow to any level of success if you don’t first establish what your goals are.

Write these goals down and develop a vision board. No matter how pie-in-the-sky they seem at first, if you think it, it can happen. It’s not your job to judge your desires, just to record them. Seeing these goals on paper or a poster will help you get the right mindset to start believing in those goals.

Next, Figure Out How to Get There

You wouldn’t leave for a major road trip without a map. It’s the same as a business owner. You need a plan for how you’ll get to the destination (those goals you set). It may be overwhelming right now to consider becoming a $5 million company, but if you break that goal down into smaller ones, you’ll actually be able to achieve them.

Maybe the first step is to hire a salesperson or expand the area you service. These are small and simple tasks. Continue your list of action items that will help you reach your goal, and assign timeframes to them. You could even list tasks to complete each quarter to lead you to your goal.

Find One Thing You Do Really Well

This might be a superior product. Or your insanely fast delivery time. Whatever that characteristic that makes you different (and better) than the competition, own it. And use it in your marketing material. You want people to know what makes your company unique from the second they discover you.

Hire the Right People

Few solopreneurs are able to reach that 7-figure goal without a little help. And there’s no shame in hiring people who are smarter than you! Find professionals who can complement your skill set with other qualities, and hire help to fill in the gaps with those tasks you simply don’t have the bandwidth to do yourself.

Another note on hiring: it’s important that you create a company culture that makes all your staff — whether they’re full-time or freelance — feel like part of something bigger than themselves. They’re going to be key in helping you hit those 7-figures, so make sure your company is inviting and that they want to work hard for you for years to come.

Refine Your Sales Process

The smoother your sales process is — and any other process in your company, for that matter — the more sales you can make. Automate what you can, from letting people easily make purchases online or sending an email after a purchase, and put personal attention where needed. This is where having sales staff can make a huge difference. You want every single customer to feel like he has the support and access he needs should he have questions or want help.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Success doesn’t happen when you keep doing the same thing over and over. It happens when you pay attention to what’s working and do more of it, and cull what’s not working. Be constantly diligent to ensure that you’re firing on all cylinders and moving closer to that 7-figure goal.


4 Tips for Building Your Network Before You Start Your Business

Many would-be entrepreneurs think they’ve got to wait until they start a business to begin building a network of contacts and potential customers. Not so. 90 percent of all small business owners get business from referrals, so the sooner you start — both online and off — the sooner you can forge connections with people that will help you create a sustainable business. You also want to position yourself as a resource so that you can make connections that are meaningful. So don’t wait to start networking! Get started today.

Tip 1: Find Your Industry Peers Locally

?????????????????????????????????Depending on how large a city you live in, there may be networking or support groups for businesses in your industry. If that’s the case, begin your networking efforts there immediately. Join professional organizations or simply attend a few meetings so you can get to know the big (and small) players in the space where you want to do business.

How this will help you: Networking in person helps you assess what types of businesses you’ll be competing against, as well as provide ideas for how you can better serve your target audience. You can look for strategic partnerships. If you plan to only offer Service A, you can find others who offer Services B, C, and D, and by working together, you can reach more customers. And finally, you can find a mentor who can provide you with guidance through your journey into entrepreneurship.

Tip 2: Start Getting Social Online

Social media provides you with the fabulous opportunity to brand yourself and your soon-to-be business. You can create profiles for yourself now and start sharing content that will make you known in your field, before you even have a website for your company. Start by following people that fit the mold for the types of customers you’ll want for your business, and you’ll have an instant audience when you do launch.

How this will help you: Once you start your business, you’ll need an audience for your content. Social media is the ticket to getting more readers for your blog posts — and thereby more customers on your site. And being known as a thought leader will also net you plenty of followers.

Tip 3: Attend Conferences

Another spot rife with networking opportunity is industry conferences or local business events and workshops. Wherever people in your industry — or for that matter, your ideal customers — gather, you want to be there too. Collect business cards. Run your idea by people. Just get your name out there.

How this will help you: Not only do conferences provide great learning opportunities, but you can observe your competition closely. You can also bounce your business idea off of other people to see if it’s even got viability. You may find you need to tweak your strategy before you launch — by getting feedback from others now, you save the time and money of not launching a bad idea.

Tip 4: Join LinkedIn Groups

An even more specific social networking strategy, especially useful if you’re relatively new to an industry or owning a business, is to participate in LinkedIn groups that cater to that niche. Just like with other types of networking, LinkedIn provides access to smart folks who can give you ideas for your business, as well as let you get feedback from them before you start yours.

How this will help you: There’s plenty to learn from others, if you’re open to it. Read the articles and discussions, jump in where appropriate, and take plenty of notes. You’ll need them for your business.

Networking opportunities are abound, if you know where to look. It’s better to start your relationship-building now while you’ve got the time, because once you launch that business, you’re going to be really busy!


Buzz vs. Staying Power: Creating a Customer Experience They Want to Come Back To

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

 

Buzz is a mysterious, magical substance. It's what gets customers to your establishment in the first place. 

Books have been written about this mysterious force. But not by me. 

boy looks in window of closed toy store / (c) 2014 Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

(c) micah@micahsolomon.com

Because buzz only gets you so far, and only for so long.  Literally speaking, it  only gets them to the front door, to try you that first time.

Far be it from me to say that buzz isn't important; Obviously, getting prospective customers interested in what you do is an important first step.  But it's not enough to build a business on, any more than building a business on Groupon discounts is a long-term strategy.

What you need is staying power.  Something that gives customers a desire to return. 

And the best model for this is a vision of home. 

Here’s what I mean: If you want your customers to return over and over, you need to consciously create an environment/product/process/service that “feels like home” to them.

Now, if you think about it, customers don’t actually want the place they do business with to “be like home”– the home of the typical adult, with dirty dishes in the sink, deferred maintenance up the yin yang.  So I use this “home” term advisedly and with some apprehension. 

At home as a typical adult, you are in control, but only on a self-serve basis. In your childhood home (optimally), it was a different sort of experience. Food appeared at mealtimes. You didn’t have to worry about shopping for personal items. When light bulbs blew out, new ones replaced them. When you left in the morning for school, your parents were genuinely saddened by your departure, and they looked forward to seeing you again. Your personal preferences were well known and were ‘’magically’’ taken into consideration.

So how does this apply to building staying power at your business?  Well, spend a lot of time greeting your customers enthusiastically when they return.  Pay attention to how you bid them good-bye when they leave. Make sure that what they typically order is already pre-selected for them and available without any—any—hassle at all. 

This builds an environment that a customer will choose to return to, over and over and over. Where they’re known.  Where they’re welcomed.  Where things work.  Where they not only can get what they want, but where you know what they want before they even have to ask for it.

This is the ultimate way to acknowledge a human being, in this case a customer.

© 2014 Micah Solomon


Desperate for Cash? Beware of These Lenders

One of the main results of the banking crisis that brought the Great Recession was a new law created to protect the consumer through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Unfortunately, this has only moved the focus for predatory lenders to small businesses.

Desperately seeking cash, these owners are now at risk of borrowing money for their companies and not fully understanding the terms of their loans. The subprime lending industry has exploded to $3 billion. These loans are still unregulated and are not protected by the same laws that cover individual borrowers. Mark Pinsky of Opportunity Finance Network says “[For subprime business lenders] the sweet spot is someone who can limp along well enough for six months but probably isn't going to be around much longer…They’re in the business of helping these businesses fail.”

Stocksy_txpbb9bc609CY7000_Small_159204According to Bloomberg Businessweek, one of the companies specializing in subprime lending – also referred to alternative lending – is World Business Lenders. The firm’s representatives pitch their high-rate loans to small business owners who have trouble borrowing elsewhere. World Business Lenders seizes collateral such as vehicles and other assets when borrowers can’t pay, and press legal action where World Business sues companies for missed payments, often sending companies into bankruptcy. In fact, 20 percent of World Business’s borrowers were forced to close down last year, according to former executives.

This capital comes from well-known sources. One subprime business lender, OnDeck, has credit commitments from financial lenders like Goldman Sachs. Interest rates on loans from OnDeck range from 29 percent to 134 percent.

Sales representatives of these types of lenders can use confusing terminology such as “short-term capital” and discuss “money factors” instead of interest rates when talking to potential borrowers. Here are steps you need to take before signing any loan agreement:

  1. How much are you borrowing? Know the exact amount you will receive after any application, up front or prepaid fees.
  2. What is the actual annual interest rate?  Make sure you understand in writing the nominal and effective annual percentage rate.
  3. What is the borrowing term? How often do on time payments need to be made? What are the penalties for late payments?
  4. Are there other fees for paying off the loan early? Some agreements apply all the term interest even if the loan is paid ahead of schedule.
  5. Is there a personal guarantee? Are just the officers of the company signing the documents or do you need to personally guarantee it as well?  Stay away from these types of guarantees that can put your personal savings and home at risk.
  6. Don’t rush it. Don’t be in a hurry to sign any document. Think about it for a day. Show it to a professional advisor (or a banker) to get their opinion on this source of capital.

Always look at all other available sources of capital before agreeing to this type of loan. Check for help from friends, family, customers and additional business cash flow management.


Should salespeople be doing customer service?

Prosser BlogThis is a question of great importance to companies with 20 to 50 employees. While there are exceptions, companies with only a few employees don’t have the resources to allocate separate people to sales and customer service. Larger companies tend to divide up these roles, providing different training and compensation plans for employees that do sales and customer service. But, there is not necessarily a clear path for companies in the 20 to 50 employee range. Here is why my former company decided not to separate these functions at first, and then went with a hybrid solution in which certain types of support were done by specialists.

My former company was in an industry with a really bad reputation (ten years ago). The industry was known for high-pressure sales tactics and shady practices. Our company was different.  We wanted to create a reputation for outstanding customer service, instead of pushy sales people.

We believed that having the sales professionals handle responsibilities for both closing the sale and dealing with any communications that occurred afterwards would dramatically change the way they approached selling. It would encourage them to do a good job setting expectations and educating customers prior to closing the sale. If they didn’t, the salespeople might have to deal with unhappy customers later on.

This approach was “mostly” successful, however, it did create some problems:

  1. Great salespeople tended to dislike this system and felt they were undercompensated. Some left the company, because they could make more in a “pure” sales job where they wouldn’t have to devote time to customer service.
  2. Many of our customer service oriented salespeople did not make any effort to close sales.
  3. Resolving certain types of customer service issues like a hard technical support question, sometimes took a while.

Before I discuss how we dealt with these challenges, I would like to emphasize that combining these functions did achieve the intended goal. Our company received very high marks for customer service, and established a reputation as having more integrity than our competitors.

Great salespeople want to both be recognized and rewarded for their skills. The key to both is tracking their performance. We heavily relied on our CRM system to see how different salespeople were performing.  We measured both their performance on the sales side (new leads that opened accounts) and customer service side (how many interactions they had with existing customers, and how frequently they were able to resolve the customer’s issue).  This information was used both for performance reviews and in making decisions regarding bonuses. While salespeople may not have been able to devote all their time to closing, they received praise and financial compensation for bringing new business.

It should be stated that we did not pay salespeople a commission, but a base salary and a quarterly bonus based on both the company’s and their personal performance. We believed that providing commission based compensation would lead to poor customer service.

We did lose some good salespeople, but many good salespeople liked the customer friendly environment.

The bigger problem was getting customer service focused employees to close sales. Surprisingly, the solution to this problem turned out to be “social” pressure. While these employees earned 0 or smaller bonuses, this did not seem to motivate them.  After a few warnings about putting more effort into sales, the company had to let a few of them go. However, there was a better solution that we found only years later. When we put the sales numbers of each employee on public whiteboards, there was a dramatic cultural change, and we saw an improvement in their performance. Because bonuses were based on personal and group performance, the weaker salespeople and their colleagues were suddenly aware of how these people were hurting their own compensation.

As the company grew, we did start separating certain customer support functions. The first area was technical support. Instead of having a general salesperson be the client’s point of contact in handling difficult tech issues, the company created technical support specialists which only dealt with technology related issues. This enabled tech support issues to be resolved more quickly.

Bottom Line: Keeping sales and customer support together sends a message to employees that customer support is not a second class job, but integral to the company’s success. On the other hand, it makes it harder to keep sales stars happy, and can create motivational issues for less sales driven employees. Combining sales and customer services puts more pressure on management and in the short-run can hurt sales.

Marc Prosser is the publisher of Fit Small Business.


Using Internet Monitoring Software to Increase Employee Productivity

Stocksy_txpe4825224HV7000_Small_184198Small business owners used to be able to walk around their offices to see the work that their employees where doing. But as organizations are have become increasingly virtual, it is now impossible for a manager to accomplish this since work is now done at client sites, coffee shops, and homes. As a result, many small business owners are up at night wondering if employees are working or just playing video games during the day.

Productivity is being impacted. A 2013 salary.com survey showed that 58% of employees waste up to 60 minutes per day on non-business related websites during the work day, not including lunch or break times.

One solution to this problem is to use an internet monitoring software service for employees. Web monitoring and filtering is traditionally installed to block adult content, phishing sites, or to reduce time wasted on shopping and social media sites. One company, Rawstream is a cloud-based web monitoring and filtering product that helps employees spend their time online productively, profitably and safely.

This tool shows the exact amount of time a user spends looking at a particular website. It gives managers the visibility to see what employees are working on in real time no matter where they are via the application dashboard and report generation function. It also allows managers to see what files are being put into sharing apps like Dropbox, Google Drive, One Drive, and Cubby. The software shows who is using the content sharing apps and lists any files shared that break company policy to protect against the sharing of files containing sensitive data such as credit card numbers. More importantly, employees have access to their own web usage reports, so they can examine their own habits and learn to use their time on the internet more effectively. Managers and employees can also set time limits to access to sites or block certain sites.

There are several benefits for small businesses to use web filtering solutions. Company production can increase when employees are not wasting time on websites that have no business value. Additionally, managers can have more confidence in allowing employees to work off site, giving employees the flexibility to work in an environment they can be most productive.

Too “Big Brother” for you? Remember that just letting employees know that the company is using an Internet monitoring tool will actually boost their productivity.




 
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