Posts Tagged ‘business tips’


Why You Need a Google Alias Now

11-28 hiding behind a mask smallGoogle has become another social media tool that allows its Google Plus clients to use something other than their real name. These aliases or pseudonyms can be a nickname or just a series of letters. When Google launched their social tool a few years back, they wanted people to build a network based on people with real names. They recently ditched this idea in their terms of service in favor of a growing trend for any creative ID to act as a name similar to those used on Twitter and Youtube. However, there are limits to how many times a user can change their name in a given period of time.

If authenticity is so important online, why would a business person want to use an alias?

  1. Get greater separation between personal and online life. Despite popular practices, not everything should be shared online. Many business people have opinions that they want to post that should not be associated with their business (and for good reasons).
  2. Prevent stalkers. There are a lot of weird and predatory people surfing the Internet. An alias gives more privacy which is a difficult commodity in an Internet connected world. It provides a barrier to actually meeting these crazy people in real life. Any pseudonym can be deleted and recreated in a different form at any time.
  3. Prevents work colleagues on viewing personal work or opinions online. Personal views may conflict with business employees or customers. It allows this body of work new opinions posted under an alias not to be viewed through the filter of a real known person.
  4. Aliases bring a new start. Anyone can create an online alter ego. This can be an outlet for creativity and exploration. Different personas can also cover a variety of niche areas without conflict.

Be careful. There are drawbacks of an alias which include:

  1. Adds stress to life. Constantly mentally separating to be an alias can be time consuming. This is especially true if it becomes more popular than the real life version of the person.
  2. The temptation of less accountability. Hiding behind an alias will tempt many business people to say and do things that they would not with their real identities. This can cause real life regret. Caution should still be used because no one should assume that an alias will never be connected to the real person.
  3. More conflicts. People may be put off when they find you are the alias for a pseudonym that they despise. Steve Colbert says he is playing a character on The Colbert Report and has a difficult time being viewed as himself.
  4. Changing perceptions. Once an alias becomes well established, it's hard to transfer that online capital to a real person. When Amber Osborne wanted to come out from behind her alias "blue haired Miss Destructo " persona,  there were many challenges. Some people did not want to view her as anything else except her alias. Think about the stereotyping of actors for certain roles like William Shatner as the iconic Captain Kirk and James Gandolfini as mob boss Tony Soprano.

Have you created a personal alias separate from the business? What has been the results?


How to Plan Your Holiday Vacation While Keeping Your Business Running

11-26 holiday vacation small The holiday season is upon us, and with that comes vacation time for many entrepreneurs. If you’re on the fence about shutting down your business while you go over the river and through the woods because you’re worried you’ll miss out on sales or opportunities, keep reading. You absolutely can take a vacation while keeping your business alive. Here’s how:

Tip 1: Start Planning Early

If you know you’ll be out between Christmas and New Year’s, plan for your vacation now. Let your clients know you’ll be out, and if they need any work done, to inform you now so you can get it done early. Clear your plate of work so that you can walk out the door confident that you didn’t leave any activities undone. This will also help you transition back to work on your return, and keep you from having to face a giant pile of work after such a relaxing vacation.

Tip 2: Put Someone in Charge

If your company will continue to operate in your absence, find a replacement for you for the week. At the minimum, you need a point of contact you can include in your vacation email autoresponder so that if people who email you need immediate help, they can get it. I always give a few points of contact in my autoresponder so that the appropriate person can help my clients.

Make sure the person you put in charge is confident in “being you” while you’re out. Go over any protocols or questions they have, and discourage them from contacting you unless it’s a true emergency. Empower them to make decisions in your absence.

Tip 3: Schedule Your Marketing

What I love about marketing tools these days is how you can schedule your social media updates and blog posts in advance. No one even needs to know you’re not working! Carve out time from your busy schedule to get your social media updates scheduled in your absence, as well as to write a few posts to go live while you’re out.

Tip 4: Tie Up Loose Ends

Do you have bills due while you’re out? Meetings you’re supposed to attend? Make sure everything is squared away so you don’t disappoint anyone who expects to meet with you (and don’t miss due dates for bills!). The more details you pay attention to now, the more refreshed you can return to the office after the holidays.

Tip 5: Relax. Your Business will be Fine

More than all the tactical, this is the hardest for many business owners. They are convinced that their businesses will fall apart if they’re not there. But the truth is, your business can handle it. Whether you’re a solopreneur or you have a capable team, if you’ve let clients know you’ll be out and done your part to clear your plate, you can relax and enjoy your time off.

And given that many other people take vacations at the end of the year, rest assured that there will be no crises while you’re out!


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Be Productive During the Holidays

Mother and Daughter Making Christmas Cookies for SantaAre you one of those small business owners whose holiday wish would be for “more hours in the day”? Even if you’re usually a model of efficiency, the holidays—with their hectic schedules, family visitors and employee vacation days—can throw everything off.

How can you stay productive and still enjoy the holidays? Try these tips.

Plan ahead. Let employees know how far ahead of time they should put in requests for time off. Employee scheduling software tools can make things simpler, especially if you run a business like a retail store or service provider that gets slammed this time of year. And be prepared for employees to call in sick at the last minute—that’s simply what happens this time of year, so have a backup plan in mind.

Prioritize. Both in your personal and your work lives, it’s important to know which battles to fight. If you’ll save time, money and sanity by sending e-cards this year instead of mailing 200 paper cards to your client list, do it! If you always knit scarves for family gifts but this year a huge project is getting in the way, take a break from the tradition to do something simpler. Know what you aren’t willing to compromise on, and stick to that decision.

Hand it off. You can delegate almost anything these days. Try services like TaskRabbit to handle time-consuming chores like running to the post office or picking up your drycleaning. Holding a family gathering? Hire a cleaning service and get the meal catered or at the very least, have your groceries delivered instead of heading to the store. The concept works for business, too—if your staff is overloaded, call a temporary help agency, enlist a teenage relative home from college to help out for a few days, or connect with a virtual assistant.

Tap technology. Use mobile devices, apps and cloud services to access your business files, data and documents wherever you are so you can get work done wherever you are. Devising templates, auto-responses and keyboard shortcuts lets you create files or reply to inquiries quickly so you’re not reinventing the wheel every time.


Don’t Do This! 5 Mistakes You Can Avoid When Handling Your Staff

I’ve hired and fired enough people to know what works and what doesn’t in terms of managing staff.  When you’re dealing with people, things can be unpredictable, but I’ve learned a few lessons that always hold true.  Here’s my top list of things you should NOT do when you’re dealing with your staff.

  1. Expect the same dedication you bring to the office.  Your company is your baby.  It’s your dream, your vision, and your potential payoff.  Your staff – even the most vibrant, engaged employees – are in it for the paycheck.  They don’t stand to gain as much as you do if you succeed, and they don’t see the same value you do in sacrificing their energy, free time, and income.  If you expect your staff to give up their lives in service of your vision, you’re asking too much, and you’re certain to be disappointed.  Be realistic about what you can expect from your staff.
  2. Give a lofty title to a rookie.  In the absence of tons of free money, entrepreneurs sometimes have to be creative when it comes to rewarding their staff.  Don’t attempt to compensate your staff by giving them titles they haven’t earned.  If you hire on an admin to handle your corporate Facebook and Twitter account and put “Chief Marketing Officer” on the new business card, you’re setting yourself up for problems.  If your new Chief Marketing Officer learns that his title usually comes with a much higher salary out in the marketplace, he’s likely to become disgruntled and feel like he’s undercompensated.  Give your staff authentic titles.
  3. Not handling reviews on time.  Your employees know their start dates, and you should too.  Not only do formal, regular reviews give you a chance to address any problems, but they also give your staff valuable feedback on what they’re doing right.  Don’t overlook an opportunity to praise your staff.
  4. Train and pray.  It’s expensive to hire and fire staff, and one of the most commonly made mistakes in the way business owners handle their staff is to skimp on the training.  If you send an employee out with inadequate training, not only are you running the risk of disappointing your customers, but you’re also fostering uncertainty in your new hire.  Let your staff know that you care enough about them and your clients to train and support new hires properly.
  5. Messing up the first day.  Your new hire starts forming an impression of you and your company the second they walk through the door on the first day on the new job.  You can either impress your new employee with business cards, formal, supportive training, and a schedule for the first day, or you can put them in a corner and let them fill out paperwork.  Start your staff off right – thoughtfully, deliberately, and with a warm welcome that lets your employees know you’re glad they’re there.

Hiring and firing employees is time consuming and can be very costly.  When you add in the immeasurable value of great staff, you’ll realize right away that making a conscious effort to handle your staff properly will pay dividends.  You’ll be able to retain great staff and continue to give your customers great value, and you’ll also free yourself up to develop new business, rather than dealing with staff troubles.

10-24 handing employees small


Improving Customer Service? Try These 4 Tech Tools

11-21 tech customer service toolsCustomer service can make or break a business, especially in an era of online reviews and social media. One post about a bad experience with your company can linger online for years, scaring away business and harming the professional reputation you’ve worked so hard to build.

But technology can help businesses, too. A wide variety of tools are available to help businesses manage their customer service, automating processes to prevent calls from falling through the cracks. Here are four tools that can put your business in control of all of its interactions with customers.

Ticketing System

Whether a business is handling an occasional call for assistance or hundreds of support requests each day, a ticketing system can help bring it all together. Each call that comes in creates a new ticket that remains open until the issue is resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. The call is routed to the right support representative and escalated as necessary, with each employee logging notes as they work to help the customer. By regularly extracting reports on tickets, a business can pinpoint trends, including specific issues with a product or service, giving it the opportunity to fix those issues.

Live Chat

As your business grows, your website will receive multiple visits each day from customers interested in learning more about your product. The ability to initiate a chat to ask questions can make a big difference to both new visitors and current customers, some of whom feel more comfortable chatting through an online interface than picking up the phone to call. This technology has evolved even further in recent years to allow businesses to initiate a chat with every guest who visits. As a user clicks around your site, an invitation to chat (usually phrased as “How may I help you today?”) can be sent, with the customer opting to either close it or engage in a conversation.

Virtual Call Center

Cloud technology allows businesses to set up an affordable customer service desk online. Representatives no longer have to drive into an office each day to gather in clusters of cubicles. With a virtual call center, each customer service representatives can login from any internet-connected device to begin accepting calls, freeing up businesses to hire employees to work from home. With reporting and call management features, virtual call centers also provide ongoing insight into call volume trends for resource planning purposes.

Google Alerts

When a customer has an issue with a product or service your business provides, he can easily blast it across the internet before you’re even aware of it. By setting up Google Alerts for any mention of your brand, you’ll know immediately when you’ve been mentioned on social media or online review sites, giving you the opportunity to engage in damage control before the problem spirals out of control.

Quality customer service is essential to a business’s ongoing success. Thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to implement and manage high-quality customer service desks. With many of these features coming with built-in reporting tools, you’ll have insight into your customers that will help drive future business decisions, improving your efficiency and keeping you in better contact with the consumers you’re serving.


Go Find the Thin Places in Your Business

Wide avenue with trees on each side forming a shaded tunnel.When was the last time you felt inspired and then fundamentally changed your view of the business world?

In the hustle and thickness of every day, it is rare to have a transformational experience. Most small business owners see their days as a list of to-do’s they must check off. Typically this provides nothing more than a sigh of relief or a sense of frustration at the conclusion of every day.

This is one reason why taking scheduled breaks to recharge from the daily routine is so important. It can thrust you into places where you can have new experiences and gain totally different perspectives. These are called thin places.

Characteristics of a Thin Place

According to Eric Weiner, cultural traveler and writer for the New York Times, thin places can be charming, enchanting, and awe-inspiring. They can be calming, yet stir feelings and emotions. Time passes pleasantly in these places, without feeling a need to track it. They are places where one can’t help but marvel at beauty, efficiency, and the power of everything. Thin places are where wisdom just sits. They prompt you to ponder rare and new thoughts. They help you make thought associations that have alluded you.

In his article, Weiner explains that thin places are not necessarily tranquil, beautiful, or fun. They usually aren’t places like Disney World or an awards dinner. Thin places are where there is not agenda. They can be natural places like the Sonoran Desert or the ocean. They can be man-made parks or city squares. For some people, thin places can even be an airport or a local bookstore.

Purpose of Thin Places
Thin places give people new perspectives. They don’t necessarily provide “spiritual breakthroughs”, but they do change the way one sees the world. They disorient, confuse, and transform. People leave as different, yet perhaps more authentically themselves, after encountering a thin place. They see themselves and their business from a different place.

How to Get to Thin Places
Usually, thin places are just stumbled upon. In order to increase the likelihood of encountering thinness, you must start by having no preconceived notions. Thinking you will walk out with a brilliant idea or revelation will probably mean disappointment. There are no guidebooks to take you there since thin places are not the same for everyone. Each person must discover what thinness looks like to them.

Whether you are traveling the world or a local neighborhood, be open to new places and experiences that don’t exist inside your office or your company. It’s not so much the place itself as it is how you feel in that place. You must find the places where you feel thin – where you feel really you.

My thin place is at Wallace Desert Gardens in Scottsdale. Where are yours?


The Power of the Press Release

11-19 press release smallAs a small business owner, you need as many tools in your marketing arsenal as possible. Press releases are an excellent resource for helping you reach more people online as well as attract the attention of journalists and bloggers. But you don’t need to hire a public relations professional to start leveraging press releases. Here’s your guide to getting started.

Focus on the Angle

Press releases, by their very nature, focus on news. They’re not promotional articles or advertising. So if you’re going to write one, you need a news angle. That might be that you just opened your shop downtown, or that you recently secured your first government contract. Ask yourself this: would this fit in my local newspaper? If not, you don’t have a topic for your first press release.

This is especially important when you reach out to journalists to cover your story. They don’t care how great you think your company is; they want stories that their readers are interested in. So keep your focus on relevant news, and you’ll be fine.

Consider Your Channels

There are websites that focus solely on distributing press releases online. These are great for getting your news out there on many sites, as well as getting links back to your website. The more places your press release is found, the more opportunity for potential customers, as well as journalists and bloggers, to stumble upon it.

Another option you have is to send that press release directly to journalists you think might be interested in your news. Start locally; you’ll have a better shot of making it in your local daily newspaper than on the front page of New York Times.

Keep Your Timing in Mind

If your news happens in two weeks, you need to start pitching journalists now, and ask them to honor the embargo of 2 weeks (that just means they won’t leak your news until your specified date). While journalists and bloggers will need more lead time to write the story, online press release distribution services don’t, and many can publish your release within a few hours of submission. Chart out your timing before you need your news announced so you avoid last minute time crunches that could ruin your carefully-timed news announcement.

Watch Those Metrics

One of the purposes of using press releases online is to attract website visitors. Once you’ve published a press release or have gotten mentioned in online media, check your analytics after a few days to see if this coverage resulted in a boost in traffic. See where the traffic is coming from; one site that publishes press releases might send more than another, and this is important for your overall marketing and PR strategy.

One press release won’t result in dozens of new customers, but a steady cadence might. Only publish releases if you’ve got something newsworthy, but do build them into the bigger picture.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: What Do Customers Want From Your Customer Service?

Woman working in restaurant taking payment from customerGood customer service makes life better for your customers—but it also makes your profits better. Need confirmation of that claim? Check out the results from the latest Global Customer Service Barometer by American Express.

Customers today don’t feel very positive about customer service in general. Maybe that’s why those who do get good service really appreciate it. Nearly three-fourths (74 percent) of consumers surveyed say they have spent more with a company because they had a history of positive customer service experiences with that business. On average, customers are willing to spend 14 percent more with companies that provide good service.

Good customer service not only boosts your sales with current customers, it’s a major factor in landing new customers. More than four in 10 (42 percent) say a recommendation from a friend or family member is likely to get them to do business with a new company. What’s more, 34 percent say such a recommendation is even more influential than sales or promotions.

On the flip side, last year six out of 10 consumers say they had an experience where they planned to buy something from a business, but changed their minds after a poor customer service experience. And 37 percent of respondents say they only give a business one chance to mess up before they switch to the competition.

While nearly half of consumers tell people about good customer service—and they tell an average of eight people—a whopping 95 percent of shoppers tell others about bad customer service experiences. Even worse, customers who have negative experiences tell twice as many people as those who have positive experiences.

So what constitutes good customer service? It’s pretty easy to do: To exceed U.S. consumers’ expectations, simply deliver the value you promise at the right price. While that’s the most important factor in customer service, consumers also say “ease of doing business” and “personalized service” factor in to good customer service.

When it comes to interaction with customer service reps, consumers overwhelmingly agree that good service means being able to provide satisfactory answers to their questions (86 percent) or connect them with someone who can (78 percent).

Beyond these basics, customers value efficiency (they want their transactions handled quickly and competently) and empowerment (they want employees who are able to make decisions on their own). 


Mondays with Mike: Why Pivoting Can Kill Your Business

11-17 stop sign small

If you’re anything like me, you’re perpetually trying to improve your business.  I read a lot of material produced by other entrepreneurs to make sure I stay on top of trends and the most current research that can help me be a better business owner.  My companies are my babies, and I want to be a good parent.

We have to be wary consumers of entrepreneurial advice, though, and there’s one trend that is particularly troubling to me because it eats away at the core reasons you and I had for starting our companies in the first place.  Pivoting can be lethal to your business, and here’s why.

Pivoting, explained simply, is finding out what your customers want and altering your product until you satisfy your customers.  Now in theory, trying to please your customers doesn’t sound like a bad thing, right?  Here’s the problem, though:  assuming that you started your business because you had a philosophy and a product that you believed in, pivoting can end up being nothing more than incremental steps that carry you further and further from your vision.

In fact, not only can pivoting move you away from your vision, but it can also do real harm to your bottom line. 

I’ll share a story that illustrates how dangerous pivoting can be:  When I wrote my first book, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, I thought I knew exactly who my target audience was.  I was absolutely certain that my readers would be male, recent college graduates.  I’d created marketing plans with that reader in mind, and I was shocked when I didn’t see immediate sales to my expected demographic.  I’d missed my mark, and for whatever reason, my book wasn’t selling as well as I’d hoped … at least not to the people I thought it would.

As it turned out – before I could revise the book and re-release it, hoping to get the readers I’d hoped for – I discovered my book did have a market – a really good one.  It just wasn’t what I expected.  I was shocked when I started getting feedback from middle aged women who were telling me how valuable they’d found my insights.  I did have natural readership – one who identified with and valued my methods – and if I’d revised my book to chase after another set of readers, I’d have lost the ones I had.  Had I pivoted … altered my product … I’d have missed out on the customer that already existed – for the product I really believed in.

So pivoting can not only mean that you’ll miss out on the natural customers who want what you’re producing, but there’s also a principle at the core of pivoting that’s a problem.  You’ll see advice about producing a minimum viable product (MVP) to test market customer reception.  The problem with MVPs is that they’re necessarily watered down, poorer quality offerings than what you’d produce if you were really going all in with a product launch.  It’s my position that if you’re truly invested in a product you believe is a unique, high quality offering, then you’ll find your customers.  Putting out a lousy representation in order to test the waters will ultimately damage your brand and dilute the effect you’re trying to create in the marketplace.

My advice when it comes to pivoting – or any other entrepreneurial trend – is to remember why you started your business in the first place.  Any trend or new concept that moves you away from your vision for your company deserves closer scrutiny and a skeptical eye.  Finding your authentic customers and then earning and keeping their confidence is a much sounder course than shifting your direction in search of an easier road.




 
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