Posts Tagged ‘business tips’


5 Strategies to Bootstrapping Your Business

1-28 Funding Options SmallAs you prepare to become your own boss, you need to get your finances in order. You’ll need enough money to cover 6-12 months of business and personal finances before you even launch your business. That being said, you have a few options to consider in terms of where that money comes from.

1. Savings

If you’re lucky enough to have a well-padded savings account, kudos to you. This should be your first option for funding your business. Note: don’t jeopardize your own future by taking the money out. If you have a savings account to cover “rainy day” home repairs, the last thing you want to do is take that money out, and then find you need a new roof!

Consider leaving your money in your savings or money market account, and just taking what you need. That way, your money continues to earn interest.

Benefits: Using your savings account keeps you from having to take out a business loan, which many entrepreneurs are reticent to do. If you have less than stellar credit, you can purchase a Certificate of Deposit and use it as collateral for a loan while earning interest.

2. Bank Loan

The Small Business Association (SBA) is set up to help businesses get the money they need to start a business. There are banks that cater to small businesses just like yours that can help you find a great rate. Start with your own bank, or look for one that does small business lending.  Look for alternative lenders as well, such as Women’s Business Loans. Note: banks don’t lend to startups, so you’ll need to be in business two years prior to applying for a traditional bank loan.

Benefits: The SBA provides a guarantee for business loans, which means applicants with challenged credit score still have an opportunity to get funding.

3. Your Retirement Fund

You can borrow against your 401(k) to start a business. With this option, you essentially use your own money to fund your company, then pay yourself back. Just make sure you pay it back! Sometimes there can be penalties for borrowing funds, so you want to make sure you are aware of them before you take this option.

Benefits: 401(k) financing actually has lower risk than an SBA loan. If things go badly, you still have to pay for the loss, but the 401(k) provides before-tax money, reducing the effective cost. Plus, there are no credit implications and your house is not on the line as collateral.

4. Home Equity Line of Credit

If you own your home, borrow no more than 80% of your home’s value through a home equity line of credit to avoid having to purchase private mortgage insurance.  You’ll increase your chances of getting approved for one if you have great credit and good payment history. Make sure to pay attention to what current interest rates are before deciding on this strategy. And remember: you’re putting your house on the line, so if your business fails, you risk losing it if you can’t pay the loan.

Benefits: Funds are easy to access once you’ve been approved. The interest is tax-deductible, since it’s mortgage interest.

5. Friends and Family

Having a friend or family member who’s willing to invest in your business idea is a real boon. Some may want to be involved in the business in exchange for the investment, while others may hand you a check and say “pay me whenever.” Either way, make sure you’re clear on payment terms (and offer interest) and how willing you are to have someone involved in helping you make the business decisions.

Benefits: If you have a family member who can afford to loose the money they invest in your business, this means they could be more patient with letting you build your business.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Creating How-To Content for Customer Service (and More)

1-27 how-to for customers smallIs how-to content part of your small business’s content marketing strategy? If you aren’t creating content that shows customers how to do something, you’re missing out on a big opportunity to provide customer service in a format that customers increasingly want.

Suppose you own a company that sells kits to remove the “haze” that develops on the headlight lenses of cars over time, decreasing visibility. If you sell your kits wholesale to retailers, you want to make sure customers are satisfied with the product—otherwise, they might return it and retailers will stop carrying it. But a product like this can be tricky to use. The answer? How-to content that expands on the directions packaged with the product.

You can—and should—create how-to content in a variety of formats. Some people learn better by reading, others by looking at photos and others by watching a video that talks them through it, so offering options covers all your bases. In the example above, you could write blogs about how to use the product, make one blog photo-based showing each step with captions below, and finally create a video showing the product in use with a voice-over giving directions.

Once you’ve got your how-to content, share it in a variety of places. Of course, your business website is the number-one place to host it. Include it as part of your customer service page. Also put videos on your YouTube channel and share links to the content on social media.

Expand on your basic how-to content by:

  • Creating new content to deal with common problems or questions customers have with your product.
  • Developing content that shares creative ideas for using the product. For example, can the headlight kit also be used for other purposes?
  • Upsell additional products. If there’s a complementary add-on that goes with the headlight kit, include it at the end of the headlight-kit content.
  • Take it to a general audience. You might create a video about car care in general (like how to maintain a car’s like-new look, or get a car ready for a car show) and include your product as part of the process.

As a bonus, how-to content not only answers customer service questions, but also serves to drive traffic to your website and build your business’s reputation. Using keywords that potential customers are likely to search for, such as car care, car repair, etc., will help attract online searchers to your content and spread awareness of your business.

Done right, how-to content keeps existing customers happy and attracts new ones, too. 


Mondays with Mike: What They Told You About Sales Is Wrong!

1-26 sales trips eye contact smallWhat’s been written about sales tactics could stretch from here to the moon and back.  There are seminars, webinars, and even one-on-one coaches who promise to give you the low-down on surefire tips to close a deal.  What’s wrong with the accepted truths about sales?  Many of them are wrong!  When you look at evidence, we discover that sometimes these techniques can backfire and actually hurt your chances for making the sale.  Here are some tips to watch out for:

  1. Make eye contact.  The goal of this tactic is to create a connection between you and your prospective client.  While you do want to connect, too much eye contact is frequently interpreted as aggression and can actually make a client uncomfortable and less likely to buy what you’re selling.  Intermittent eye contact is much more comfortable and still helps you create a connection.
  2. Quote a range of prices.  Say you’re working to land a new client for your cleaning service.  You tell the client it’ll cost between $100 and $200 monthly for your services.  You think that by giving a range you can settle in the middle and satisfy both parties, but here’s the trouble:  your client hears $100, and you’re hoping for $200.  If you settle at $150, then your client feels ripped off, and you’re disappointed.  A much better strategy is to quote a specific price, preferably one with wiggle room.  If you quote $170, knowing you’re willing to negotiate downward, then when you settle at $150, your client feels like he got a bargain, and you’re precisely where you wanted to be.  A specific price with room for expected negotiation is more likely to give you a win-win outcome.
  3. Assume the sale.  In the old days, we were taught to make your pitch assuming success.  The trouble is that consumers are wise to this not-so-subtle attempt at manipulation, and engaging in it can make you seem a little sleazy.  Telegraphing your attempts to toy with clients’ emotions is a fail, in part because it makes customers feel like you think they’re suckers – easily manipulated and not very smart.  Respect your customers enough to let them make their own decisions.
  4. Give them no way out.  High pressure sales can work, at least in the short term, but it’s not a recipe for long term success.  Consider this:  there’s an entire legal niche for attorneys who specialize in handling cases for clients who have buyers remorse after being pressured into purchasing a time share.  The tactic of shutting a client in a room and holding them there until they sign has major negative ramifications.  If your customers feel like they’re in control, they’re going to walk away thrilled to have given you their business, rather than walking away feeling like they’ve been ripped off.

The best sales people are psychologists, in a way.  They understand what consumers want, and they find a way to deliver it.  Assuming the goal isn’t just a one-time sale, building business deals that treat your clients like partners will result in consumer loyalty and future sales, as well as referrals based on great experiences.  Don’t let tired truisms guide your sales pitches.  Take the time to use tactics that are proven effective.


Why No One Wants to Be Your Mentor

Small business owners frequently cite that having a mentor is one of their top keys to success. So why don’t you have one? It’s because you have misconceptions about what a mentor looks like and how they can help.

Here is why people don’t want to be your mentor:

  1. They don’t know you. You won’t find mentors by reaching out to strangers since they don’t know you and won’t invest time in helping. Instead, look around at the inspiring people you are already interact. Your mentor needs to be someone who believes you are worthy of helping. Ask who in your network already fits that profile.
  2. You ask for mentorship. “Will you be my mentor?” Sheryl Sandberg explains that, “If someone has to ask the question, the answer is probably no. When someone finds the right mentor, it is obvious.  The question becomes a statement. Chasing or forcing that connection rarely works.” When looking for a mentor, author Ryan Holiday says don’t even use the word. A mentor is a label that can only be applied to someone over time, and by the time that label can be applied, it is already very clear what that person’s role is. Just like any other relationship, it has to grow and transform into what you both want it to be. Let them develop slowly over a period of time.
  3. You take without giving. The “mentor-mentee” relationship needs to be a mutual exchange. While at first it may seem like you have nothing to bring to the table, this is not the case. Give your time by finding articles, links, or news that can benefit your mentors. Make connections for them to your network. Tweet their posts, comment on their blogs, and share their updates. Ask how you can be of service to them.
  4. You are a drag to mentor. Take a closer look at yourself. Are you somebody you yourself would like to mentor? Are you eager to listen, learn and committed to implementing the advice you receive? People don’t want to mentor those who are sensitive to criticism and stuck in their ways. Arguing with all feedback is a major red flag to a potential mentor that you aren’t worth their time. Excuses are also a barrier.

Be great at what you do. Work hard and be dependable. Go out and become that person that others would love to support and nurture in business.

1-22 Business mentor small


Is Your Passion Enough to Start a Business?

1-21 passion into business smallPassion is an overused term in business. You keep hearing “do what you love,” but you need to be thinking about whether your passion is truly sufficient enough to start a successful business. To create a business you must provide a product or service people are willing to pay for. Maybe you love knitting baby booties, and want to make millions doing so. I’m sad to tell you: unless you employ about 10,000 other baby-bootie knitters, you will likely never reach that financial goal.

It’s important that you assess whether your passion has a profit center before you start that business. By making sure you can actually make money you’ll ensure that your business will be able to weather an economic crisis and other bumps in the road. You also need to be able to scale that profit center beyond what your own two hands can create.

Assess Your Passions

Start by looking at what you’re passionate about. Your list will likely include things you can quickly mark off your “possible business” list, like “watching WWE fights or The Food Network.” You simply aren’t going to be able to build a business around that!

Maybe you’re an avid bike rider who’s passionate about taking kids on long cross-country bike treks. Or you love animals and have a knack for training them. Maybe you are good at helping friend pull together a killer look or update their wardrobe. These are passions you can build a business around.

But go beyond those obvious passions, like what you enjoy doing in your spare time, and look at the abstract. You might enjoy working with small teams, or planning events. You might love closing a sale, or have an eye for home design. Some of these passions may be worth considering starting a business around, while others may simply be useful as you develop your business.

Consider Your Goals

Going back to that baby bootie example. If you’re content knitting 25 hours a week and making enough cash to take a vacation, leaving you ample time to spend with your kids, this could be a sustainable business model. You have to look at your resources (at this point, that’s just you, the knitter) and determine whether you can accomplish what you want with them.

Maybe you’ve got money squirreled away, and could hire your knitting club to triple your production of booties. Now you’re talking! You could create a virtual network of knitters (say that 5 times fast) and grow your business from there.

Passion is a great place to start in becoming your own boss, but it’s not the only factor to consider. You also need to be able to make enough money to hit your goal, while maintaining the type of lifestyle you desire. Profit is how we keep score in business, so just make sure you are honest with yourself about whether or not your business concept can actual make money.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Are You Ignoring Your Returning Customers?

1-20-15 customer rewards smallHave you ever had this experience: You see an ad or offer for some amazing deal for a company of which you’re a longtime customer—something big, like “50% off a year’s membership.” Wow, you want to take advantage of that! But you can’t because there’s only one catch: The offer is for new customers only. “Hmph,” you think. “What am I, chopped liver?”

Many small businesses make the mistake of ignoring their biggest source of income: recurring customers. OK, maybe not “ignoring” them completely, but giving them the short end of the stick when it comes to attention, special offers and prime treatment.

It’s natural that getting new customers should be a key part of your business strategy. After all, every company needs new business in the pipeline to survive and grow. But the bulk of your time and attention should go to your existing customers. Why? Here are just a few reasons:

  • They’re already loyal customers.
  • It costs less to keep them satisfied (and buying) than it does to replace them.
  • Keep them happy and they’ll tell friends about your business.

What can you do to provide better treatment for your returning customers? Here are some ideas:

  • Hold special sales or events just for loyal customers.
  • Offer them early access to new merchandise or services.
  • Give them the chance to lock in current prices for the coming year or when they renew.
  • Use automation tools such as a CRM system to track details about your customers so you can personalize your customer service, offers and interactions. You can even greet them appropriately when they call your business!
  • Use technology that creates a record of customer service interactions so that when recurring customers contact you with problems, you can quickly access their histories.
  • Investigate loyalty programs for small businesses. There are many affordable options that integrate with your marketing, enabling more targeted outreach to returning customers.

It’s OK to create special offers and deals for new customers only—just be sure you provide equivalent or better rewards for customers who have shown their loyalty to your business. 


7 Things Successful People Never Ever Do

happiness & freedomIn a business person’s day, there is always more tasks than hours. The key to being successful is not to do more multitasking in an effort to cram more into each day. It’s not to work harder with longer hours to get everything done. What separates very successful people from the rest of the pack is not what they do, but actually what they never ever do. For example:

  1. Never hold on to the past. Successful people don’t let the future get shaped by what happened in the past. They don’t hold a grudge. They evaluate results of their success or failure, let go of it and move on within 24 hours of any event. Successful people realize that there is more opportunity in the future than the past.
  2. Never make big decisions. They never bet the company all on one action. They prevent this by making small incremental choices. Successful people test every result and then make another small decision to get to where the business needs to go.
  3. Never focus on perfection. It costs too much to achieve and there is that constant nagging feeling of failure. They would rather be done than have the job be perfect so they can learn from the results. This doesn’t mean successful people ever do a bad job, but rather, they do 100% and then move on to the next opportunity.
  4. Never do it all themselves. Successful people know that small business is truly a team sport. They know how to leverage each opportunity using other people and outside resources to accomplish their goal. Successful people realize that this is the key to building a company that is not just about them.
  5. Never say yes to every customer request. They know what their company is good at and carefully choose the problems they solve for their customers that will show the most value. As a result, they are able to honor existing commitments. In addition, successful people do not work with every interested customer and fire the ones that don’t match their culture.
  6. Never multi-task. Successful people know that multitasking only gets more things done poorly. They focus on the tactic at hand and then move on to the next one. They know how to block out common distractions like email and social media notifications.  Successful people can intensely focus for short periods of time.
  7. Never hang out with “Negative Nellies”. Successful people don’t keep company with other folks that are constantly telling them why something can’t get done. They don’t feed the neurosis of complainers who always want to say that the sky is always failing. Instead, successful people work with a team that has a can-do attitude where anything is possible.

As a successful person, what do you never ever do?


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Learn From Your Company’s Customer Service Mistakes

1-13 customer service mistake smallWhat happens at your small business when somebody makes a customer service mistake? Do you reprimand the employee and then forget about it? Big mistake. Everyone on your team, not only customer service employees, can learn valuable lessons from customer service goofs.

To gain value from errors, just as with everything else in your business, you need to create a system for doing so. Here are six steps to keep in mind.

  1. Start by writing down problems. In the heat of the moment, you may not have time to do more than quickly deal with the issue and satisfy the customer. However, you and your managers should always record what happened so you can discuss better solutions in more detail later.
  2. Set up a system for collecting customer input on an ongoing basis. This can include online reviews and ratings on external websites, comments from customers on social media, emails or letters that your business receives from customers, or comment cards in your business.
  3. Once a month, go through the information you’ve collected about customer service mistakes and problems. Note any recurring trends. For example, maybe several customers have complained about being put on hold for long wait times when they call your business to make an appointment. Clearly, this isn’t just an isolated incident.
  4. Dig deeper. Do long hold times occur on certain days or at certain times? How is your business staffed at these times? Is the issue one of inadequate staff, staff unresponsiveness, or technical issues with the phone system?
  5. Get input. Hold a monthly meeting to discuss customer service issues with your team. Depending on the size of your business and the nature of the issues, you might want to start by going over problems with key managers first and then bringing customer service employees in for a bigger meeting to discuss challenges and solutions. Involving front-line employees will often uncover issues you didn’t know about that could be solved easily. For example, adding a self-scheduling appointment app to your website could eliminate the need for customers to wait on hold at all.
  6. Don’t accuse. The group meeting is not the time to put individuals on the spot. The focus should be not on who made the mistake/s, but on what everyone can learn from them and how they can be prevented in the future. 

Mondays with Mike: What You Can Learn From Hyper-Startups

1-12 business plan smallThere are time-tested procedures for starting a business – from writing elaborate business plans to generating sales projections.  While we can learn a lot from following traditional paths, there’s a host of new entrepreneurs who start their businesses in a flash – moving from idea to implementation in a matter of hours.  These hyper-startups are volatile, flexible, and sometimes unstable, but there’s a lot we can learn from them.

  1. Reach out to customers right away.  While traditional models would have you create a prototype and run alpha and beta testing with a sample of potential customers, hyper-startups rope their customers in right away.  Using crowdfunding and crowdsourcing sites, entrepreneurs can solicit startup funds, feedback, and suggestions from end users before a product is even produced.  Bonus – when you do have a product to take to market, you’ve already established a list of potential buyers.  You’re researching and marketing all at the same time!
  2. Let your best customer find you.  Now, I’m not suggesting that you won’t need to do any marketing in order to reach customers, but what is worth pointing out is that by assuming you already know who your customer is, you may be missing out on your best customer.  Keep an open mind in terms of who will be excited about your product, and even about new or unexpected uses for your product or service.  Hyper-startups know to listen to the chatter.  Don’t limit yourself by thinking you know it all.
  3. Be mobile and be ready.  As more and more business is done on iPads, smartphones, and tablets, the speed with which a savvy entrepreneur can move from idea to income has become mindboggling.  Being ready and able to work wherever and whenever inspiration strikes makes you more effective and more efficient.  Integrating social media with your startup right away lets you make changes and share news anytime, anywhere.
  4. Ride the wave – and know when to throw in the towel.  Hyper-startups can flourish in a flash and fail just as rapidly.  Keeping abreast of trends and market shifts is essential if you’re going to make hay while the sun shines.  Not only does staying up on what’s hot keep you profitable, but it can also permit you to shape trends, in addition to reacting to them.  Encourage your customers to stay connected and keep in touch about their experiences and needs.  Not only are your vocal customers key in keeping your offerings current, but they’re also your best marketers, bringing in new fans every day.
  5. Plan for success (and prepare for failure.)  So you’ve got a brilliant idea.  Are you prepared for what you’ll do if it’s a crazy success and you have more business than you can handle?  Make sure you have a plan for how to scale up production and delivery just in case you’re a big hit.  Also, have an exit strategy, a stop-loss point at which you’ll cut your losses and move on if the startup doesn’t flourish.

Hyper-startups are inherently volatile.  They depend on the changeable desires and interests of notoriously fickle consumers who seek out the new and noteworthy.  That doesn’t mean hyper-startups are all bad.  It’s possible to make a lot of money in a very short period of time, provided you’re prepared.  Even if you choose a more traditional route to starting your company, there are elements of these rapid developers you can use to make your efforts more effective, even long-term.




 
Nextiva Logo

phone-icon Sales phone-icon Support
Nextiva is the leader in Business VoIP Services. Copyright 2015 Nextiva, All Rights Reserved,
Terms and Conditions, Privacy Policy, Patents, Sitemap