Posts Tagged ‘business tips’


5 Things to do to Prep Your E-Commerce Site for the Holidays

It’s crazy how the end of the year seems to speed up, isn’t it? One minute we’re enjoying fireworks on the Fourth of July, and the next…it’s Christmas. For most people, this just means it’s time to start thinking about buying presents, but if you run an e-commerce store, it means a lot more planning. Don’t procrastinate until November to get your holiday marketing and sales strategies in place. Get started today.

1. Decide on Your Marketing Campaigns

No, it’s not too early to brainstorm on what this holiday season’s marketing campaign will look like. You’ll need ample time to plan out your social media and blogging calendar, as well as purchase advertising and tweak your SEO keywords.

Look at past campaigns and assess what worked and what didn’t. Then use that information to develop an even smarter campaign to reach new and existing customers this year.

2. Get Your Email List in Order

Even if you’re regularly using email to market to your customers, you need to get a game plan for the holidays. If you use a sophisticated ecommerce system, you should be able to pull the email addresses of the customers that bought from you last holiday season. Start a new list of past holiday customers to send promotions to. They already know the quality of your products, and you’ll make it easy for them to buy again from you this year.

3. Plan for a Bump Up in Inventory

The last thing you want is to run out of a product in the middle of the busiest shopping time of the year. So budget to increase your orders with your suppliers, and even find backup suppliers in case the companies you typically work with can’t keep up with demand. See if you can negotiate a lower per-unit price if you boost your order size.

4. Recruit Holiday Help

You should consider bringing on additional hands to help you fulfill orders and answer customer service calls for Q4. Start looking now. You need time before the holidays to recruit and train your temp staff to ensure that they’re on top of their game when sales start escalating in late November.

5. Plan Promotions

Will you take advantage of Black Friday or Cyber Monday? What about Free Shipping Day, which falls on December 18 this year? These are all easy opportunities to build promotions around, so set up a calendar, select the days you want to pump up promotions for, then plan out your emails and social media updates for each.

Speaking of social media, make sure you’ll have time to manage your accounts, if you’re the person who usually does so. If you let your social networks fall to the wayside last year, consider hiring a freelancer or part-time marketing assistant to help with it this year. After all, retailers have seen as much as 66% of Black Friday sales as a result of social media shares, so you want to capitalize on that this year!

The sooner you start planning and working on your holiday sales strategy, the smoother it’ll go at the end of the year.

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Ten Common And Dangerous Customer Service Mistakes

????????????????????????????????????????????Here are ten common but hazardous customer service mistakes.   All fixable (which keeps me in business), but each tragic in its own little, or not so little, way.

1. Burning your customers (and therefore yourself) because something bad happened once, or even never.  Not taking checks, for instance, because one time someone bounced one.

2. Forgetting it’s not just what you do, it’s also how you do it, specifically, it’s the language you use.   Language needs to be gentle, kind, and brand appropriate—without sounding stilted. And language includes getting the “words without words” right at your company as well: yielding the right of way to customers, never having your back to a guest, and so on

3. Failing the “cues to quality” test: customers in every setting pick up cues to quality from the darnedest places. Typos in your signs, dirty shoelaces on your nurses—this stuff matters.

4. Getting everything right except the beginning and the ending—the two most important moments as far as a customer’s memory is concerned. 

5. Hiring the wrong people and expecting that you'll be able to provide good customer service anyway. 

6. Hiring the right people but then failing to give them power: power to help customers in ways you haven’t thought of, power to design their tasks differently, power to do their best for you.

7. Treating your employees like dirt and expecting them to treat their customers like gold. You get a lot better results (not to mention karma) by emulating institutions like the Ritz-Carlton with its central operating philosophy of  putting employees and customers first: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

8. Refusing to say you're sorry.

9. Saying you’re sorry in a way that makes it obvious that you aren’t, really. 

10. Being late, being misleading about timetables, being insensitive to the timing issues and pacing preferences and expectations of your customers.  Remember: a perfect product, delivered late, is a defect.


How to Handle the Bad Boys (and Girls) in Your Company

Do you have a Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson working at your business? These are the incredibly talented employees whose behavior is destructive to the culture of your company. They may be the top salesperson that never comes to work on time. It may be the most senior employee that is always bad mouthing the customers. While you pretend that these standouts and your business can coexist, they are in fact destroying your company from the inside out. What makes it worse, every other employee knows it and, in fact, it affects their own performance.

Remember that you teach what you tolerate. By allowing their behavior, you are sending the message they are special and that the rules do not apply to them. Your short term thinking further encourages their harmful behavior. The sooner that the business owner realizes the overall effect, the faster the company can move forward.

To be proactive, here are the steps to take today:

  1. Envision a company without them. Imagining your business without these star players is scary. But think of how all the performances of the other team members will improve without them.
  2. Counsel them. They will be surprised when you first approach them that their behavior is detrimental to the rest of the team since you have tolerated it for so long. They will think that their performance more than makes up for any other bad behavior. Instead, review exactly what you expect and how you will monitor their future behavior. Most likely, they will agree to try to change.
  3. Hold them accountable for their behavior. Since change is difficult, the star employee needs to be monitored on an ongoing basis. Each time they exhibit the bad behavior again, review the change you expect. Repeat on an ongoing basis.
  4. Fire them (if necessary). In reality, few of these star employees will be able to change and in most cases, they will need to be fired. Be prepared to have to replace this person and have the timing fit when it is optimal for the company. Use documentation that you have monitored to complete the separation process.
  5. Share with the team. Tell the team why the star employee was let go and what the plan is to move forward without them. Most of them will applaud your decision and will work harder to help with the transition.

Who are the bad boys and girls inside your company?

Businessmen at Work


5 Steps to Starting Your First Business

Woman Running Up the StairsIf you’ve been considering starting a business for some time, stop letting your fears and worries keep from making it a reality. Sure, it will require plenty of work and quite a lot of stress initially, but the payoff, both financially and spiritually, will be well worth the journey. Not sure where to begin? Here are the first five steps to starting your first business.

Step 1: Develop Your Viable Business Idea

Before you fall in love with an idea for your business that no one will actually buy into, do a little research to first see what the market is interested in, what other companies you’ll be competing against, and how you can come into a crowded market with something unique.

  • Conduct surveys and focus groups to understand how people perceive your business idea
  • Look at your competitors. What are their strengths? What areas are they leaving wide open for you?
  • Determine your unique selling proposition. Will you be the cheapest? Best quality? Unique in some other way?

Step 2: Take Care of Branding

Now that you know what you will sell, get your branding in place. This is an area I don’t recommend trying to DIY unless you happen to be a phenomenal designer. Work with a graphic designer with experience creating professional logos, as well as one who can develop a website that will attract new customers. Realize, too, that branding goes far beyond just your visual representation, and will include every message you put out to the world.

  • Look at other logos and take notes on what you like (and don’t)
  • Decide what’s critical to include on your website, and what’s extra
  • Provide as much input as possible on the branding process so that your expectations are met

Step 3: Get Your Plans in Place

You wouldn’t step into the forest without a map, so why would you start a business without a plan? You’ll need both a business and a marketing plan, though neither have to be gigantic, in-depth documents. Your documents are designed to guide you and to establish the direction you want to take. Your business plan should be an overview of your company, what you want to sell, and your approach to the business. Your marketing plan should encompass who your customers are, the different channels you’ll use to reach them, and strategies for each.

  • Use your business plan as a guidance for the future, but don’t be afraid to tweak it every few months
  • Determine how much you can afford to spend on marketing before you decide on the channels you’ll use
  • Keep these documents handy where you can review them regularly

Step 4: Test It All Out

If you will be operating as an ecommerce site, ask friends or colleagues to play around on your site to ensure everything works well. Pay special attention to the checkout process, as it needs to be as simple and streamlined as possible. If you’ll be running a brick-and-mortar retail, make sure your staff is well-trained on your point of sale system, and that everything is running smoothly.

  • Click all links on your site to ensure they go where they should
  • Minimize the checkout process to just 1-2 pages
  • Hold a soft launch event in your store to test run how everything will go

Step 5: Just Do It

Waiting around for the perfect moment to open the (real or virtual) doors on your business is futile. Just jump in! There will be mistakes, so note them quickly, learn from them, and make changes for the better. Aim to create a big splash around your grand opening.

  • Notify local press about your grand opening and invite them for a tour
  • Offer special discounts your first days open
  • Amp up your social media efforts with your launch

You’ll never be flawless when you open your business (or later, either!) so consider it a learning process that will continue to help you evolve as a business owner.


Mondays with Mike: The 8 Female Values Every Male Leader Needs

Stocksy_txpc96af066We9000_Small_285956I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some spectacularly smart and strong women throughout my career, and I’m frequently reminded of the values that these women have displayed – things I’m working hard to implement in my own business.  Whether you believe that gender differences are the result of nature or of nurture, don’t miss out on the lessons you can learn from successful women.

  1. Self-worth derives from community service.  Some men tend to be trophy hunters – racking up accomplishments and money in an attempt to demonstrate their value to the world.  Women tend to see their relationship to their community – and the vital ways in which they are connected to their community – as the hallmark of success.  Keeping in mind that we are part of our community and that it is our interconnectedness that makes and keeps us relevant and necessary can help us focus on strengthening ties rather than creating distance.
  2. Presentation matters.  Women have been judged by their appearances to a much greater degree than men have, and it’s worth remembering that we only get one chance to make a first impression.  Make sure that you present yourself as organized, neat, and capable … every time.  And hey – stylish doesn’t hurt either!
  3. Balance work and home.  While no one gets it perfect every day, women tend to make the effort to flourish in their careers, while still making time to spend time with their families.  It’s important to maintain the vital support of our home lives – the support that will actually help us succeed in business.  Don’t devote all of your time to your career at the expense of your partner and your family.
  4. Tolerate pain.  Running a successful business is hard work – much like the labor that precedes a delivery.  Women are masters as gritting their teeth, settling in for the long haul, and getting the job done.  Growing a business is a struggle, and it’s never painless.  Entrepreneurs can’t afford to be wimps!
  5. Multitask.  Women tend to be much more adept than men at juggling multiple tasks efficiently.  While there is something to be said for a single-minded focus, sometimes concentrating on just one task is a luxury we don’t have.  When you’re faced with many things all competing for your attention, observe some women working on multiple tasks and see if you can improve your multitasking abilities.
  6. Ask for help.  We joke about the man who will drive around forever and never stop to ask for directions, but the joke hits close to home for some men.  Realizing that you’re not an expert in everything and that asking for help is actually a sign of strength lets you avail yourself of the expertise that’s all around you.  You don’t have to be the best at every task that keeps your business running, and asking employees or mentors for advice or assistance shows your confidence in them.
  7. Use social skills.  Women are master networkers.  They use their ties to the community as a powerful asset, and nurturing those connections will put you in contact with more clients and more collaborators.
  8. Collaborate.  As fields become increasingly specialized, we’re going to find more tasks that require us to collaborate with other experts.  If you’re focused on producing the very best products and services, that goal will nearly always be more easily achieved by collaboration.  Look around you for folks who can make you better.

In listing these values that I’ve seen in so many successful women, I’m not guy-bashing.  I work hard to keep an open mind about techniques for improving my abilities to run my businesses, and I’ve learned that success had no gender.  It’s available to us all.


How David Can Win Against Goliath Competition

Many communities argue against big companies like Wal-Mart moving into their areas because they believe that these big corporations will eradicate local mom and pop stores. Granted, big, burly businesses can intimidate their smaller counterparts. But David brought a slingshot and a bag of stones to the battle. Then, he found a hole in Goliath’s armor and brought him down with a single stone. The “David’s” in the small business world are small but limber. By recognizing the holes in large competitors’ armor, you can turn your business into an effective slingshot that earns its own piece of the pie.

Smaller Can Be Better

????????????????????????????By necessity, most large companies require vast amounts of red tape to do anything out of the norm (and often, things within the norm too). They may have more employees, but each one performs a specific task, following the company rules every step of the way. In other words, procedures, overhead and red tape all mark major holes in the big business armor.

Your small business is nimble. It can turn on a dime to respond to unique customer needs. You can shuffle your priority list to place a last-minute rush consulting project at the top of your list. You can even personally drive an emergency widget order after receiving a call to your cell phone from a frantic customer on Sunday. You are in complete control of the level of service that you provide. Your hands are not bound by red tape and that allows you to provide superior service.

Offer Value Over Low Prices

Small businesses can recognize and embrace the difference between low price and value in your customers’ eyes. Behemoth competitors like the big box stores and large banks may offer better prices, but low cost is not the best way to compete, especially for attracting loyal customers who aren’t swayed to switch companies based on the latest and greatest discount.

Customers will pay more for superior service and products. For example, you can provide additional value by offering products made in the US, beautifully packaged products, services with enhanced customer service support and more.  You, as a small business owner, are uniquely able to compete on value.

Own Your Special Niche

Why would anyone want to open a coffee shop that competes with Starbucks, a company that clearly does no wrong anywhere in the world? Not so fast: in 2000, Starbucks closed 61 of the 84 stores they opened in Australia because they failed to compete with the small independent shops! They could not adjust to local market demand.

Starbucks may offer everything related to coffee, but their in-store drinks and atmosphere currently do not match the experience of the smaller shops. Like the Italian model (a country that boasts no Starbuck stores, by the way), the Australian independents offer quality over quantity — a niche that local customers want.

As a small business owner, you have the luxury of getting to know what your customers really want. Whether you provide green products or services, custom-fit the clothes sold in your store or even drive customers home on a rainy day, you can craft a differentiated selling point. Make sure that potential customers know the qualities that make your business unique and that existing customers love those points of differentiation so that they can spread the word.

Form Alliances with Other Small Businesses

Goliath competitors may have the resources to offer a full range of goods or services that you find hard to match, but you don’t have to go it alone. Networking is a powerful tool that can address the convenient, cost-effective solutions that busy customers need.

Your print shop may offer high-quality, reasonably-priced services, but perhaps it does not sport the excess real estate that allows big bruiser shops to warehouse customer brochures — often for a hefty price. But you can negotiate storage discounts with a local facility so that you can handle your customer’s printing and storage needs at a lower combined price than the competition offers.

Alliances definitely help you give customers the full services that they need. But they can also expand your customer base through referrals from your small business network. One call to your local Chamber of Commerce is a great way to set out on the road to valuable alliances.

There’s Room for Everyone

As a small business owner, you don’t need to fear major competitors. There’s plenty of room in the marketplace to provide business opportunities for businesses of all sizes. By identifying the holes in their armor and taking advantage of your unique strengths, you can carve out your own business success, even if Goliath & Associates is right across the street.


Building A Customer Experience that is (and isn’t) “Just Like Home”

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.

A secret to creating a great customer experience is to get in the homebuilding business.  As in: You’re creating an environment/product/process/service that “feels like home” to your customer.

Now, if you think about it, customers don’t actually want the place they do business with to “be like home”– dirty dishes in the sink, deferred maintenance up the yin yang.  So I use this “home” term advisedly and with some apprehension.  What I mean by “like home” is an experience that is like being a kid in the home of a caring parent: your preferences are attended to (there’s food in the fridge that is to your taste), you’re missed when you leave and sincerely welcomed back when you return, the maintenance is done without you even noticing.  This is what “just like home” means to a customer and what can turn a customer into a loyalist and ambassador for your brand.

There’s a lot involved in creating a true loyalty-building, “homelike” situation for your customers. But I hope the homebuilding metaphor, which is supported by research done at the Ritz-Carlton, will give you a place to start. When you conclude an interaction with your customer, let her know that it matters to you that she come back soon (I’m assuming here that you’re not a surgeon or an undertaker). And when that customer returns to your business after an extended absence, let her know that she’s been missed. And, work on fulfilling, in that great phrase of The Ritz-Carlton, “even the unexpressed wishes” of your customers, as if you know them like they live here.  Customers shouldn’t have to draw you a diagram to get across what they want from you. Figure it out yourself by really getting to know them.  It’ll be worth it.

Technology can make homebuilding easier

Child's house drawing (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Child’s house drawing (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Technology can make homebuilding and homekeeping simpler and better. For example, custom-tailored, automated anticipatory messaging helps you respond in advance (‘‘pre-spond,’’ I suppose) to customer needs and would have been impossible before the digital communications revolution. Anticipatory design, used so well by companies like Apple and Google, can help simplify your customer’s life. Well-designed ‘‘My 

Account’’ and other self-service technology has made it so that many customers are willing, even eager, to do much of the work for you to keep track of their preferences and other details—information that, in turn, makes anticipatory customer service easier to pull off. Customers will let you know how to improve more directly than before if you keep your ear to today’s available electronic listening channels, thus facilitating a much quicker feedback loop for future anticipatory service.

And, once you delight your customers with anticipatory customer service, they can spread the word much more quickly via social media than was ever possible in the past.

People who help people

But technology is almost never the entire story.  A kid raised by a kiosk would hardly get the warm home feeling I’m aiming for here.  The fact that an actual human cares (mom, or dad, or both) makes all the difference.  In the world of commerce, it’s more or less the same: Automated, fake friendliness will never have the same emotional power for a customer as knowing that she’s coming back to the place where the people themselves care about her and remember her.  Absolutely, those people should be using technology to keep track of credit card numbers so the customer doesn’t have to dig out the card and recite that number a second time.  Absolutely, a business should offer technology that lets the customer update her home address correctly, rather than forcing the customer to laboriously dictate it to a clerk who most likely will mis-enter it.  But the human service provider still needs to care, sincerely and visibly, for the magic to truly work. 


Mondays with Mike: How To Prep Your Business For Sale In 90 Days (Or Less!)

I know a thing or two about selling businesses.  I’ve done it both hard way, and the easy way, and it’s not hard to figure out which way I prefer.  Even if you plan on turning your company into a legacy that your children will run after you’re gone, the best time to get your business ready to sell is today!  Before you ever want or need to sell your business – that’s when you should start.  Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Identify strategic buyers.  Strategic buyers are those who want your business for some reason other than just your company’s revenue.  They may want your customers, your intellectual property, or even your employees.  If you can identify these buyers, you can learn which of your assets are most desirable – and you can protect them.
  2. Resolve any legal troubles.  Buyers won’t want to touch a business that has lawsuits or liens against it, so you need to clear up any old business and get your company in the clear. 
  3. ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Focus on profitability, rather than debt.  Businesses are often valued by a multiple of their profit, so you’re better off directing extra revenue toward measures that make you more profitable.  Paying down debt with your extra money doesn’t add nearly as much to your value.
  4. Protect your key employees’ positions.  We all have those staff members who are critical to our survival, and it’s smart to make a plan for what you’d do if one of them left.  Whether your discreetly cross-train employees or keep a list of potential new hires, you want to make sure that if one of your key employees leaves, that your business goes on as usual.
  5. Get out of the office.  Not only is your business more valuable if it can run in your absence, but you also need to be out in the marketplace as the face of your company.  You need to continue running your business as if you’re going to hand it down to your children, and that means cementing relationships with important clients and maintaining your market share.  Don’t slack off!
  6. Cut costs.  You’ll boost your selling price if your company is lean, efficient, and profitable.  Make sure you trim unnecessary expenses and eliminate anything that doesn’t directly contribute to the health of your company.
  7. Work with a business broker or investment banker.  You’ll want to make sure your business is ready to sell when you tackle this step, but you’ll often find that brokers have a stable of businesses looking to acquire others.  Not only can you sell your company more quickly, but a broker can also help you get top dollar for it.
  8. Be hard to get.  If you appear to be desperate to sell, your value diminishes.  Cultivate a field of buyers and watch your price go up.  You want buyers to have competition in order to ensure that you get every penny you’re worth.
  9. Keep it quiet.  The news that you’re looking to sell your company can potentially frighten off employees and even deter new clients from signing on with you.  You want your business to continue to grow and flourish … just in case a sale falls through.

The time you spend preparing your business will give you one additional benefit other than just getting you ready to sell, and it’s actually a huge one.  Your business will be healthier.  Much of the advice I’ve listed here is stuff you should be doing anyway – measures that make your business more efficient and profitable, in addition to making it more attractive to buyers.  


The Four Elements of Satisfactory Customer Service

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.

Before an organization can even think about delighting customers, it needs to be able to consistently deliver what it takes in order to satisfy customers.

Satisfying a customer is dependent on:

Smiley-faced warehouse equipment (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Smiley-faced warehouse equipment (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

1. A “perfect product or service

…perfect being defined as “designed and tested to perform perfectly within circumstances you can reasonably foresee.”  (Not the snowstorm of the century, not the city-wide lockdown in Boston during the marathon terror manhunt.  But reasonably foreseeable.)

2. Caring delivery

…no product is perfect in if it’s presented to the customer in a way that doesn’t appear to be “caring” to the intended recipient. No matter how delicious the food, no matter how safe the jet travel, if it’s presented in a way that doesn’t show care for the customer, it’s not going to be a hit.

3. Timely delivery

…a perfect product or service, delivered on a timetable that doesn’t match your customer’s expectations, is a defect. And customer expectations in the area of time have recently ramped up astoundingly.  Factors that range from amazon.com to the smartphone revolution to global competition to customers with complicated work schedules have led to a ramping up of what customers expect in terms of timeliness in nearly industry.

4. An effective problem resolution process

…because you will, sometimes, be late/uncaring/imperfect. An effective and complete problem resolution process is covered here.

****

Beyond satisfaction: building brand ambassadors

A satisfactory product or service, delivered successfully time after time, is a lot of work to pull off. And it’s important to be able to deliver satisfaction over and over and over.  The only problem is, nobody ever shouted “Yeehaw, that was a really satisfactory experience I just had with your company.”  It’s nothing to holler about or to jump on to Twitter to describe.  To bring your service up to the level beyond satisfaction, where customers are engaged, loyal, advocating for you, requires something else.  Stay tuned—we’ll talk about it next article.




 
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