Posts Tagged ‘business tips’


Four Ways to Apply Brainstorming to Your Small Business Meetings

To avoid idea freeze, small businesses need to take advantage of the brain power of every person connected with a product or project. If you have experience or knowledge of brainstorming, you already know that the techniques can be a great way to solve problems and generate new ideas … if you can get past a few downsides.

Good news: whether you need ideas from your employees, your vendors or your clients, brainstorming sessions do not have to require excessive and costly time commitments to develop workable solutions for your business issues. The following four techniques can help you use group-think to efficiently generate ideas and solutions.

1. Prepare in Advance to Keep Meetings from Becoming Overnighters

The cardinal rule of brainstorming sessions is that there are no bad ideas. But, there is no rule that says that you have to use meeting time to develop your initial idea list. Loran Nordgren, a professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, has a practical approach that saves valuable time. When issuing invitations for the meeting, ask participants to propose their ideas in advance.

A prepared idea list instantly eliminates the most time-consuming portion of the meeting. Once participants settle in with their coffee and sweet rolls, they are ready to assess the merits of each idea and build solutions that make sense.

For the record, Nordgren offers an app to help brainstorm participants decouple the idea-generation phase from the evaluation phase. While he stresses that the app can be helpful, he maintains that it is not absolutely necessary.

2. At the Onset, Separate the Wheat from the Chaff

Even if there are no bad ideas, there are impractical ones, so don't get into any serious discussions before you apply a clear set of objective criteria to the list. You can quickly reduce the list by eliminating the unworkable ones. If you know up-front that an idea is too expensive, takes too long or requires resources that you don't have, then you probably don't need to discuss it further.

But, keep in mind that brainstorming sessions can reveal surprising solutions. For example, five people in the meeting might agree that you would have to hire three new employees to assemble a proposed new product. The sixth person, on the other hand, might know how the existing team can do it with minor modifications to the process. This kind of thinking is what brainstorming is all about.

3. Leave Power Trips at the Door

As a small business owner, you may be both co-worker and boss. And, if your brainstorming session involves outside participants — such as vendors or even clients — you might have several bosses in the room. Other participants sometimes remain silent when their ideas conflict with those of the power players.

Highly-ranked meeting participants need to leave all arrogance at the door — and actively encourage conflicting opinions and ideas. Of course, this is not as simple as it sounds. You probably know the attitudes of all of your invitees. If you believe an attendee cannot take an objective look at the ideas of others, it may be best to have them invite a knowledgeable representative who can better embrace the spirit of brainstorming.

4. Avoid Meeting Domination

Even if everyone in the meeting is at the same level, some people are more vocal than others. They instantly have more to say about any topic and they often interrupt when others attempt to voice their thoughts. Clearly, the facilitator needs to gain control over these situations, but it is vital to understand that the outspoken participants are no more at fault than the reserved ones.

This is not the time to reprimand rude behavior or teach conversational courtesy, but you don't want to revert to school days by putting the quiet individuals on the spot ("What do you think, Tommy?). Naturally, the personality profiles of the individuals at the table will drive how you handle any given situation. A great option is to use an extrovert's monologue to solicit other opinions (“George made some great points. Let's spend some time discussing them.").

Rules and Creativity Go Hand-in-Hand

It may seem counterintuitive to equate any form of structure with a free-flow of creativity, but without structure, creativity cannot exist. A brainstorming session based on a few logical rules provides the direction necessary to unleash meaningful ideas.


The Power of Crowd-augmented, Transparent Customer Support

Rather than solely rely on its employees to answer customer support inquiries, Applegate, the successful purveyor of humanely raised and slaughtered meats, openly crowdsources commentary and advice from other customers to answer these questions honestly, making use of a community software platform called “Get Satisfaction.” By using the feedback from customers who have already explored these kinds of questions, Applegate is making transparency work in its favor, elevating the customer and its products at the same time. This is particularly useful to the company and to its customers, because Applegate regularly fields specific, detailed and emotionally charged questions about both the meat and the packaging in which it is conveyed.

Letting your customers be the experts–in support of other customers

JD Peterson, chief revenue officer at Scripted.com and well known as a force behind the popular Zendesk customer support platform, points out that the millennial need for recognition and feedback drives the push toward crowdsourcing: “Let your power users be the voice [of your brand]. Customers these days are more willing to do this kind of work for your brand, but they want recognition for doing it—they would like to be given that badge or stamp that says, ‘You’re the power expert in Applegate bacon.’ Giving power users that recognition, a badge, points [or] some sort of title, giving them something they can stamp on their resume or their LinkedIn profile that says they’re an expert or a power user, I think, is really important to customers today. It’s certainly a win for [the] business as well: You’re not having to take on all the burden of support costs because your users are able to do some of that for you—and your customers get closer to the brand at the same time by assisting you.”

The power of ratings and review transparency

Ratings and review transparency is likewise an important commercial trend: from voluntary transparency on sites like amazon.com that openly show customer ratings for all products (including sometimes mixed reviews for Amazon’s own Kindle tablets and Fire phone), to enforced transparency via TripAdvisor, Yelp and the like that post reviews of your services and products whether you want to be rated this way or not. Embrace this trend even though it can be uncomfortable, because it’s not going away. Reviews are now decentralized and user driven, and you can’t control product ratings, product discussions or much else in the way of reviews, except by providing the best customer experience possible and by being proactive in responding to negative trends that come to the surface in your reviews and ratings.

Emulate a company like Engine Yard, a San Francisco-based cloud application management platform that has taken the brave step of putting a real-time (not to mention cute and cuddly) indicator of its current customer satisfaction stats right on its support site. You’ll find 100 panda icons featured prominently on Engine Yard’s website with just a few “sad pandas” crossed out in red. Looking at the company’s site right now I see 97 happy pandas and three that are crossed out, indicating a current 97% customer satisfaction rating. How does Engine Yard arrive at the proportion of happy and sad pandas? Each time there’s a support interaction, Engine Yard asks the customer, “Are you satisfied with the response you got? Yes or no?” They then total that percentage on their website for anyone to see. This transparent approach goes a long way toward reassuring customers (and, perhaps as much to the point in the competitive arena in which Engine Yard plays), prospective customers that this company is, and will remain, on the ball throughout the life of the customer relationship. 


6 Ways to Fix What’s Broken in Your Business

When you’ve been in business a while, it’s sometimes easier to bury your head in the sand than to deal with the issues at hand. You’re not doing your business any favors, however.  Look at these 6 scenarios, see what you can relate to, and take action to make positive changes for your company.  These are 6 ways to fix what’s broken in your business.

8-26 broken business small1. You Have Staffing Issues

One situation is that you’re a solopreneur and need help, but you can’t quite afford to hire a full-time employee. In this case, consider hiring a freelancer (great for design or marketing help), an intern (though you’ll have to do some hand-holding), or a part-time employee to fill the need. Consider hiremymom.com, to find a great stay-at-home mom great to get back into the workforce.

If your problem is more with the staff you have (especially true for those of you who hire teenagers), it’s time to firm up your discipline. Create an employee handbook to ensure that everyone knows what’s expected of them. If they’re unwilling to follow the rules, tell them to hit the road.

2. Cash Flow is a Problem

If you are biting your nails until your clients pay you so you can pay your team or your vendors, you have a cash flow problem. Sometimes, clients pay late, but you need to make sure you have a contingency plan. Here are a few strategies.

First, you can enforce either a late fee or offer an early discount for your invoices. The idea is that those late paying clients will be motivated — either to save money by paying early or to pay on time to avoid a late payment fee. Another idea is to take out a line of credit so that you can access cash when you need it, then pay it back when you get paid.

3. You Don’t Have Time to Market Your Business

You’re too busy dealing with those staffing and cash flow issues to hop on social media and update your profiles or write any new blog content. With only a trickle of customers coming through your door, marketing should be a priority.  Consider hiring a consultant or freelancer to take over some of your marketing efforts. You can pay a flat monthly rate or per article, and it may be more affordable than you’d imagine to hire a professional. The important thing is to get those customers coming back in, and then that expense won’t even matter.

4. You Haven’t Put Money Back into Your Business

As soon as you’ve paid everyone, you take out your cut. But your computer is on its last leg, you need to reorder inventory, and your business insurance is pats due. You feel like there’s just not enough money to go around. While paying yourself is critical, it’s just as important to reinvest in your business. Set aside a percentage of your profits — say, 20% — so that when you need to buy a computer or software, you’ve got the funds.

5. Your Yelp Reviews are Going Downhill

It started with a nasty review on Yelp months ago that you ignored, and now it’s snowballed. It seems like every other review is negative, and you don’t know what to do about it. It’s hurting your business. First, take action. Ignoring a bad review is like bleeding in shark-infested waters. Even if things aren’t so bad at your business, potential customers will move on after reading the negative review. But examine the complaints in those reviews. They might give you the opportunity to straighten up an attitudinal employee or polish your product.

6. You’re a Workaholic

If you’re working on the weekends, every weekend, please stop. I get it; sometimes you just need more time to get things done. But remember that you need downtime in the evenings and on weekends to recharge your battery. Otherwise you will burn out and eventually hate your business.  If you must work after hours, set a timer so you don’t end up eating an entire day that you should have been spending with your family. Set rules for yourself so you don’t check your email when you should be doing something more relaxing.


5 Ways to Improve Your Internal Communication With Cloud Phone Service

Effective and efficient internal communication is key to business success and an enjoyable work environment, but the execution is not always as easy as it seems. Keeping appropriate team members informed and ensuring communication is seamless between employees, departments, and different locations takes a significant amount of dedication, effort and communication tools.  Luckily, technology, and specifically cloud-based unified communications services, have streamlined processes and made it easier than ever to stay connected and communicate within your organization.

Nextiva Office® is a robust cloud-based suite of products that will improve your internal communication. Below are five key features within Nextiva Office that will change the way your team communicates.

The Nextiva App

With features such as chat and Presence, it is easy to communicate with team members when you’re in the office or working remotely. Additionally, you’ll have your business phone at your fingertips so colleagues can reach you anytime without having to call multiple numbers to track you down.

Group Paging

Sometimes an email just won’t do. The Group Paging feature allows you to initiate a one-way call to multiple users. You can easily broadcast information to a group of people from the convenience of your office phone.

Call Forwarding

Reduce your colleagues’ frustration and wait time by automatically redirecting, or forwarding, calls to a third party destination, such as a phone number or extension based on circumstances you specify, when you are away from your office phone.

Voicemail-to-Text

With the more advanced version of Voicemail-to-Email, Voicemail-to-Text transcribes your voicemails and sends them to you via email or SMS depending on your personal preferences. You’ll be able to quickly reference information mentioned in the voicemail when working with coworkers on a project. Also, easily share the message with colleagues to reduce issues that arise from miscommunication.

Quick Call Transfers

Quickly transfer calls and call team members in different locations or home offices via an extension. You no longer have to dial a full 10-digit number or ask the customer to hang up and call the other location’s direct number.

What tools do you use in your business for effective internal communication? 


Starting Small: Why It Might Be Your Best Bet for Business Success

8-19 business growth smallWhile you may have a large-scale idea for a new business, sometimes it’s better to take just a small segment of your plan and focus on starting your business on a small level. If this is your first business, you may want to target an endeavor that will help you build skills without wiping out your nest egg. A business that can succeed on a small level gives you great training wheels for building the experience, knowledge, and competency you’ll need to take your company to the next level. Here are several reasons why it might be your best bet  to start small for business success.

1. You’ll Save Money

Starting with a narrow scope of business means you can run it out of your extra bedroom or den. You won’t have to rent office space or furnish a suite. There are even tax incentives or deductions you can take to save money as you build your business on the small side. If you do need specialized space for your endeavor, you can investigate subleasing space from other entrepreneurs, which reduces costs.

2. You’ll Need Less Capital to Get Started

Bootstrapping is an effective strategy that allows you to grow into your business and keep initial financial outlays on the low end. Instead of stressing over technology requirements and phone systems, you can concentrate on creating your sales funnel or refining your product. The fancy phone system can come later (if at all). A lean business structure keeps you flexible and focused.

3. Learn as You Go

When you base your business on a hobby, you can start by making a handful of products, selling them, then growing when you’re ready. As your business takes off, you can educate yourself in other areas of running a business, creating a formal business structure, managing employees, and meeting regulatory requirements.

4. You Can Start Today

If you set your sights on a small enterprise, the barriers are lower and you can get going more quickly. You don’t need a huge infrastructure, massive staff, or complete line of products to get started. You have no excuse for not starting your business today.

5. Your Sweat Equity is Valuable

By doing everything yourself, you learn all that's needed to keep your company going. Of course, it’s great to hire out those things that you are not able to do, but if you have direct knowhow those experiences inform your executive decisions down the road. It will also help you make better decisions that impact your customers. While financial investment is necessary to building a business, your sweat equity is just as necessary to growing your endeavor. 

6. It’s Simpler to Run

Smaller companies are lean machines and often have higher profit margins because they are simpler to run. There are fewer costs associated with overhead and administrative requirements with a small-scale business, and you can reassess market changes frequently and pivot when necessary. When big jobs come through, you can team with other small companies or hire contractors to deal with the workflow if it’s more than you can handle.

Slow and steady wins the race. Start small. Test the market. Grow with intention. Sample the cheese before you bet the farm on your idea. When it comes to small business success, the truth is: scaled-down, slower growth companies do just as well as their big sisters.


6 Customer Service Trends You Need to Know About

A lot has changed in the business world since 2007, but perhaps what’s changed the most is how rapidly customer service expectations have risen. As customers evolve, your customer service has to keep pace. Just how are customers’ expectations changing? Customer2020, a new study from Accenture, has some insights every business owner should know about.

  1. They want it now. Accenture dubs today’s consumer the “Nonstop Customer”—which should give you a clue as to what type of service they expect. Customers don’t just want rapid resolution and minimal hassle—they expect it. If your business doesn’t deliver, they’ll move on to your competitor. Slightly more than half of consumers polled say they have become more impatient with the buying process since last year; two-thirds say they turn to online channels for customer service because they’re seeking speed and convenience.
  2. They have more options. Not only are consumers today more impatient, but they also have more places to go if they’re not happy with your customer service. Two-thirds report that the number of companies or brands they consider when making a purchase has increased significantly compared to 10 years ago.
  3. They care about what others have to say. Word-of-mouth has always been important to growing a business—but never more so than today. Last year, Accenture reported that 78 percent of consumers used at least one online channel when prospecting. Today, 88 percent do, which means they have many more opportunities to hear good (or bad) things about your customer service. More than half of respondents say they rely “much more” on other people’s experiences or reviews when making a purchase decision than they did 10 years ago. If bad word-of-mouth about your service spreads, either offline or online, you’ve got to turn it around.
  4. They’re itching to switch. Consumer loyalty isn’t quite a thing of the past, but it’s definitely become much harder to come by. Two-thirds of respondents say they have switched providers in at least one industry as a result of poor customer service. Six in 10 say they are more likely to switch providers now than they were 10 years ago.
  5. They want you to fix it the first time. Of those respondents who switched providers because of poor service, over 80 percent say the original company could have kept their business if their issue had been resolved the first time they contacted the company about it. In fact, first-contact resolution has been consumers’ number-one source of frustration for the past five years of the study—which suggests that companies aren’t getting much better at it.
  6. They still like human contact. While some consumers have “gone digital,” seeking to interact with customer service via online channels at every opportunity, many others of all ages still prefer traditional channels for resolving issues. To keep everyone happy (isn’t that the whole point of customer service?), your best bet is to provide a wide variety of ways for customers to resolve service problems.

By incorporating these six trends into your customer service systems, you’ll be able to step ahead of the pack and provide the kind of service today’s customers expect. 


Is a Cloud-Based Phone System Right for You?

Many businesses are beginning to realize that in addition to the economic advantages, cloud-based phone systems are more powerful than traditional phone lines. Cloud-based phone systems, often called VoIP, leverage broadband Internet connections instead of the standard phone line. The technology transforms voice singals in to a digital form that can travel over the Internet, which enables a low-cost but powerful way to make and receive phone calls from a variety of devices. Is a cloud-based phone system right for your business? Read through the infographic below to learn more about the business advantages of cloud-based communications solutions. 

Cloud-Based Phone System Infographic


To Win the Hearts of Today’s Consumer, Stand for Something and Mean It

A business that wants to win the hearts of today’s consumers benefits from standing for something and meaning it.  “Meaning it” is key: Customers are always on the lookout for corporate hypocrisy. One test for gauging an organization’s trustworthiness is whether it engages in greenwashing, the practice of merely paying lip service to environmental issues. Greenwashing is considered bad enough on its own, but customers also feel it likely to indicate hypocrisy at the company concerning other ethical issues as well. These knocks include the more general phenomenon called “causewashing,” where companies put up a façade of sympathetic labor practices, community involvement, ethical dealings with vendors, humane treatment of animals and more. 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-peopleor anti-environment in its actions.”

With social media ubiquitous and “inside information” a Google search away, an organization can’t hope to hide its hypocrisy for long. A causewashing company, or any company that appears to differ between its words and its deeds, can find itself flayed online before it knows what happened. When Lululemon showed reluctance to take responsibility for a see-through yoga-pants debacle, it turned off customers, who had previously considered the company a paragon of New Age virtue, to the tune of a massive drop in share price. You’d do better as a company to emulate Starbucks and strive for honest marketing practices, walking the talk of your corporate philosophy. The coffee giant spends more than it needs to spend on coffee beans to buy only the most ethically sourced beans. It also famously shells out (heh) more on employee compensation by insisting on giving health insurance to every part-time worker, not just to the company’s full-timers

Transparency is a corporate attribute that today’s customers particularly value. And transparency is inherently an attribute that a business can’t superficially slap atop its brand. “I look for total transparency in a company I buy from—or, for that matter, work for,” says Adriana Dunn, a customer behavior and marketing expert and a youthful consumer herself. “I want to know what’s behind the brand.” Two brands that Dunn singled out for making transparency a cornerstone of their business practices are Everlane and Honest by. Everlane offers designer goods with transparent pricing and sourcing: Vendor practices, markup, and materials and production processes are laid out online for all to see. Honest by sells luxury brands with complete sourcing transparency. Its openness corresponds to its lengthy ethical statement, so lengthy in fact that I'm not going to strain your eyesight reprinting it here.

This phenomenon is significant, and extends to all demographics.   Three years ago, a study of consumer habits confirmed that shoppers are becoming “more deliberate and purposeful” in their purchasing decisions, and another study showed that 87% of consumers in the United States believe that companies should value the interests of society at least as much as strict business interests.  Today, with the rise of millennials (born circa 1980-2000) as customers, this commitment to values-based purchasing is becoming more pronounced than ever.  So getting ahead of the curve is key. 


Finally, The Top 10 Email and Text Acronyms Explained

8-13 Business Acronyms smallBusiness conversation is becoming more informal these days with the use of email and texting. The need to respond quickly has given birth to an entirely new vocabulary and acronyms. Many small business owners need to look them up to understand what people are talking about.

Here is your short guide to the most common acronyms and what they really mean:

1. EOM- End of Message. This is especially useful on mobile phones that only download the header for the message. By putting EOM in the title, the receiver knows that is the entire message and does not need to read further.

2. NRN- No Reply Necessary. A perennial favorite for the cluttered email box, this message means that it is FYI or “For Your Information” and does not need to be replied to (so don’t).

3. TLTR- Too Long to Read. Some people send long volumes of emails or very detailed text messages. This acronym is used to tell the sender to shorten it up and just send a summary. Sometimes it is written TL:DR or “ Too Long, Did Not Read”

4. Y/N- Yes or No. This asks for a simple answer from the receiver. Any further explanation is not required. They may respond IDK or “I Don’t Know”.

5. EOD- End of Day. This typically refers to when a task will be completed by or sets a deadline. It is interchangeable with COB or by “Close of Business”. Another acronym used instead is PRB or “Please Reply By”. A longer time frame is signified as EOW or “End of Week”. This is the opposite of TYT or “Take Your Time”

6. WFH- Working from Home. It is an increasingly popular option to not work in an office. This acronym is used to let the receiver know they are working, but will not be able to meet at the office. However, they are not OOO or “Out of the Office”.

7. LET- Leaving Early Today. Fewer jobs are 9 to 5 these days and this acronym is used to alert the receiver on a work schedule change.

8. SFW- Safe for Work. Many people are afraid to open attachments especially at work for fear of a virus. This signifies that it is okay to open whatever has been sent.

9. IMO or IMHO- In My “Humble” Opinion. No one wants to sound like they know everything at work. This adds humility to a response instead of stating it as fact. FWIW or “For What It’s Worth” can also be used.

10. ITT- In This Thread. Many times a receiver needs to follow the email thread to make sense of the entire conversation. This reminds them to read more.

BTW or “By The Way”, there are more acronyms that are important to know so you can LMAO. Look it up!




 
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