Posts Tagged ‘business tips’


Why Dentists Can Predict the Next Economic Downturn

11-13 Dentists and economy smallDental appointments actually say a lot about the state of the US economy and can predict its future health. According to a recent Businessweek article, patient visits per scheduled follow-ups, ratio of actual to projected fees for dental service, potential monthly revenue from suggested treatments, and accounts receivable per practice are all factors that gauge consumer confidence and have reliably predicted the direction of the economy for the last seven years.

Using these metrics, where is the economy heading in 2015? According to the dental index numbers, things may be pretty bleak.

Patients aren’t coming back. For starters, August 2014 saw a dip in the number of follow-up dental visits patients kept. Dips also occurred 11 months before the 2008 recession and again in 2009 amid the recession. This would indicate a downward turn in the economy sometime in the middle of next year.

Patients are not getting supplemental dental maintenance. Patients are rejecting services that supplement a traditional hygiene appointment, such as x-rays and more complicated maintenance because of cost. These numbers, which have stayed relatively constant over the past four years, are currently fluctuating and more closely resembling the 2007-2009 timeframe during the Great Recession.

Patients aren’t accepting treatments. There is also a growing gap between the number of treatments dentists are planning to perform and the number of treatments patients are accepting to have done. History has shown that this gap occurs just before the economy takes a turn for the worse.

Patients aren’t paying on time. Accounts receivables of dental offices are larger when the economy dips because patients and insurers are slower to pay. Accounts receivables are up 22 percent since last year and are close to 2008 levels.

Every small business owner should look at customer behavior inside their own business as pre-recession indicators. Are existing customers not coming back as often? Are they buying less than they used to? Are they not buying into suggestions of products and services? Have they stopped paying on time? This is quite common throughout a pre-recession economy and small businesses need to be especially wary of how this affects their cash flow.

Indicators such as the dental index may be the key to helping the US economy prevent a cavity!


Developing a Quality Employee Review Process

10-12 employee reviewIt’s in your own best interest to nurture your staff and make sure they’re productive and thriving at your company. After all, turnover costs you money, in searching for a new hire and training him, so you’re better off making sure the staff you have is optimized. One way to do that is to set up an employee review process that not only helps you, but also helps your team understand your expectations and strive to meet them.

Set Them Up Regularly

You can adhere to the typical once-a-year employee review schedule…or you can meet more often, like two or three times a year. More frequent (and more informal) reviews can keep your employees on track to goals, and leave less time in between reviews so they stay motivated.

Think about your timing: is December really the best time for your reviews, given that half the staff is out of the office, and you’re time-crunched getting work done before the end of the year? Instead, schedule them based on their hire date so you don’t have dozens of reviews to get through in a single month.

Establish Goals Together

As I said, your review process should benefit you and your employee. Discuss goals together that each individual staff member can strive for. Perhaps you’d like to see one turn out two extra reports a week. That’s a reasonable goal.

Or if he’s angling for a promotion, make a list of goals he needs to accomplish in order for you to consider him for that promotion. This makes getting a promotion very black and white: if he can’t successfully accomplish the list, he won’t be eligible for something he wants.

Provide Constructive Criticism

This isn’t a time to sugarcoat your honest assessment of an employee’s work. Nor is it an opportunity to berate someone if they haven’t lived up to your expectations. Emotions shouldn’t be in the review process.

Find ways to constructively tell an employee about something you want him to work on. For example, if you find his work as of late to not be the quality it used to be, you could say:

“A few months ago, you were delivering top-notch work, and I was so impressed. But lately it feels like you haven’t been putting in that same effort. Is there a reason why?”

This approach does several things. First, it puts him at ease, because you start off with an honest compliment. It also opens the door for further conversation. Maybe he recently had a baby, and his lack of sleep is attributing to his lower quality work. Or maybe he didn’t feel you appreciated his efforts, so he slacked off a bit. Taking the right approach can mean the difference between you putting your employee up in arms and actually getting to the bottom of what’s changed.

Develop Metrics

The only way you’ll be able to measure where your employee is next year is if you first set up a baseline to measure against. Consider it your report card. Pick the areas that are most important to you (timeliness, quality work, motivation are a few examples) and give him a number, 1-10, for each. Then next year you can compare the new numbers to the previous ones and see if there has been an improvement.

Staying in touch with your staff this way helps you avoid potential loss of productivity and keeps your staff better, now that they know your expectations.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Plan Now for a Smashing Holiday Party

New Year: Woman Having Fun On New Year'sAre you planning a holiday party for employees at your small business this year? Last year a whopping 96 percent of companies held holiday parties, according to a just-released survey—nearly an all-time high.

Even if you haven’t held a holiday party for the past several years due to budget cuts or other financial concerns, there are several reasons you might want to restart the tradition this year.

  1. To boost morale: This is the most popular motivation for company holiday parties, according to the survey.
  2. To celebrate a good year: If your business did well this year, why not thank the people responsible—your employees—with a party?
  3. To project optimism for the coming year: Even if you’re not actually feeling that optimistic about 2015, canceling the holiday party can send the wrong message to employees and customers, while carrying on with the carryings-on conveys confidence in your business’s future. 

Here are some ideas for a holiday party that’s fun and memorable for everyone.

  • Make a splash with a company party outside the office. Sure, a potluck party at work saves money, but let’s face it: It’s kind of boring. A festive dinner at a local hotel or restaurant, on the other hand, gets everyone in the holiday spirit and makes them feel like you’re treating them. (If you really need to budget, you can keep costs down by hosting a luncheon instead, or holding a cocktail party with hors d’oeuvres and beverages instead of a sit-down meal.)
  • Include significant others. If you don’t have many other staff events during the year, allowing employees to bring their spouses or significant others to the party helps build bonds. Plus, involving employees’ families in the celebration helps them feel more invested in the business.
  • Plan activities. A holiday party can quickly devolve into everyone chatting in their same little cliques. To get your staff mingling, include some creative events like a dance contest or limbo, Secret Santa gifting or White Elephant exchange. The goal: Get everyone laughing!
  • Speak your piece. As the business owner, be sure you take some time to acknowledge your staff not just by funding the party, but also by taking the microphone to thank everyone for their hard work, acting as master of ceremonies for the activities, or handing out awards—either silly or serious—to employees. 

Mondays with Mike: 9 Unique Ways To Use The Cloud

11-10 Business in the cloud smallI was an early adopter of the cloud for my business, simply because I need to be able to work, collaborate, and stay in contact with my staff and clients regardless of where I am.  I’ve become a cheerleader for the cloud because of the unprecedented flexibility I’ve grown accustomed to.  Thinking about converting your business to the cloud?  Wondering how it can benefit your company?  Read on for nine unique ways the cloud can boost your business.

  1. Bids and proposals.  Though having all of your apps on the cloud lets you work while you travel, sometimes it’s just impossible to make an important presentation in person.  One of my favorite remedies is to create a dedicated web page for a particular prospective client and review it – including editing the page – while I’m on the phone or a video call with the client.  It’s the next best thing to being there in person, and it’s incredibly efficient to end a meeting with a document containing everything you’ve negotiated.
  2. Video.  I’m not talking about cute cat videos, here.  I’m talking about high quality videos that let you reach out and create detailed, specific impressions on prospective clients.  Don’t get caught in the YouTube or Vimeo trap.  There are other players like LongTail Video that will let you create infinitely customizable, slick, professional videos that show off your company’s unique offerings.
  3. Printing and scanning.  Your sales rep takes an order, sends the packing slip to the printer in the warehouse and the invoice to the printer in the billing department.  Can’t get more efficient than instant order processing and billing facilitated by cloud-based apps in real time.
  4. Capturing your thoughts.  Evernote is a classic app for recording notes, pics, links, music – anything you don’t want to forget.  Another new fave of mine is Writer by Big Huge Labs.  It gives me a distraction-free interface that’s perfect when I’m working on a chapter in my latest book or when I’m jotting down article ideas. 
  5. Phone systems.  Using a Private Box Exchange system lets me and my staff route our calls from our office extensions to our mobile phones.  That way when a client calls my New Jersey office, the call reaches me instantly, no matter where in the world I am.  It’s invisible tech that lets my clients reach me reliably, whether I’m in Italy or Istanbul.
  6. Tech support.  Gone are the days when you have to physically hand over your laptop to your IT support person.  Now, regardless of my physical location, our virtual network lets me give my tech guy access to fix any problems that arise while I’m out in the field. 
  7. Music storage and access.  I’ll admit that this use is more personal, but having access to virtually any song ever written makes travel so much more pleasant.  Whether you use Google Music’s free service or whether you’re a paid subscriber to Pandora, it’s never been easier to access great music from anywhere on the planet.
  8. Language translation.  As more business is done internationally, the need for reliable, convenient translation apps grows.  The abundance and improving quality of both paid and free translation apps means that you can reach more customers than ever.Real world navigation.  Whether you use a separate device or one of the many smartphone apps, getting to where you need to be has never been easier.  My favorite recent development – integration of Waze (crowdsourced, real-time traffic information) with Google maps.  Now you can get your route, complete with detailed, audible directions and you get Waze’s notifications about road hazards, police presence, and traffic reports.

Every day brings another reason to convert your business to the cloud and free yourself to reach more clients, work more efficiently, and operate more cost effectively.


5 Tips to Increase Employee Efficiency

11-7 money is time smallTime is money may be a cliché, but it’s also a universal truth in business. Your employees’ efficiency directly impacts productivity, which, in turn, affects profits. As a business owner, maintaining hawk-like vigilance on employees’ on-the-job procedures can make a notable difference to your bottom line. Here are some areas that may need improvement.

Reduce Quality Checks While Increasing Accuracy

High-quality products and services are the cornerstone of every business, so you naturally want top-level accuracy in every process. But sometimes, too much checking can actually reduce accuracy. Double-checking every point in a 10-step process, for example, can place employees so close to the process that they don’t see the errors. Even if you can’t wait until step 10 to look for errors, you can establish the one or two touch points (including the last step) in the process where errors are likely to be most apparent. End result: reduced time with more errors found.

Identify and Address Bottlenecks

From making sandwiches during the lunch hour rush to developing custom software, business tasks often resemble assembly lines. If you find one or more employees sitting idle, you have a bottleneck. But fixing a bottleneck is not as simple as speeding up the preceding processes or even re-distributing the workload. You need to figure out precisely what’s broken before you can fix it.

Shadowing workers or videotaping them is great if they work in a prison laundry facility, but spying makes most employees nervous, often creating more inefficiency. You’re the boss. Between you and the process supervisors, you probably already know every step in the process. You need to create a visual image of the process, so that you can step back to see the big picture.

Sticky notes are a great way to draw a flowchart of the steps. You don’t even have to use your conference room wall any more —they now make special easel pads just for this purpose. If you see that one person performs all of the laborious tasks, work redistribution is a possible solution. Or, perhaps just changing the order of the steps will get the work flowing more efficiently.

As you formulate solutions, keep your sticky note chart up-to-date so that everyone involved has a clear idea of the new procedures. And don’t throw out that flowchart. The new workflow may create new bottlenecks that require adjustment.

Incentivize Increased Productivity

You can choose between a carrot and a stick to achieve the efficiency levels that your business needs to survive and grow. A rewards-based system encourages more productivity while keeping employees interested and happy. Here are a few incentive programs to consider:

  • Contests where employees earn anything from framed award certificates to gift cards create friendly competition and team spirit;
  • Privileges like flex-time or even telecommuting options (if appropriate) can help keep employees happy and productive; and/or
  • Sharing the rewards of increased productivity creates a win-win situation. If greater efficiency translates to a great bottom line, top-notch employees deserve to share in the profits via salary increases or bonuses.

Make sure that you increase productivity without losing quality. The goal is to encourage employees to go above and beyond the basic requirements of their jobs. As an extra bonus, you will have a list of likely candidates for promotion when higher-level jobs become available in the company.

Hire a Professional

Small business owners are often too close to daily operations to pinpoint why productivity is low. If you can’t see the forest for the trees, an efficiency consultant may help find the answers. Experienced consultants have an uncanny ability to hone in on issues that you cannot see. Plus, they are more attuned to effective technology and other solutions, so you won’t have to resort to a trial-and-error approach. By getting it right the first time, you can see a return on the consulting fees more quickly than you might expect.

Make “We’ve Always Done it This Way” a Banished Phrase

Your employees do the job every day. But they won’t offer suggestions if they believe the company motto is “we’ve always done it this way.” Invite their input by making it clear that “we’re flexible” is your true credo.

Flexibility does not mean that you should say “yes” to inappropriate suggestions, but you don’t need to reject suggestions outright, either. Rather, initiate a brainstorming session. Your different viewpoints can work synergistically to unearth a more effective process.  Plus, you can always initiate trial periods for a new set of tactics before fully committing to change.

No one wants to waste time performing unnecessary steps or take too long to produce the final product or service. The tedium alone can sap workers’ interest and spirit. As you work together to improve every process, you make the work more engaging while enhancing employee investment in the outcome. Team spirit creates a high-energy environment that makes everyone look forward to going to work. 


How Tech Tools Can Bring Your Remote Workers into the Office

Woman working from homeThe internet has made it possible for businesses to work with talented professionals located on the other side of the world. Instead of filling an office with employees, you can either hire salaried employees or contract workers who work directly from their own home. Even your field workers no longer have a need to come into the office every day, freeing them up to go directly from their homes to their daily calls without stopping by your building.

The move toward remote workers has presented a challenge for businesses, however. Keeping all team members involved in day-to-day activities is difficult when only some of those employees are on site. Fortunately, the same technology that allows you to work with employees wherever they are can also keep them actively involved in your team.

Instant Access

At one time, it might have been easy for remote workers to feel disconnected but the many technologies available today have changed that. In fact, in one study 80 percent of respondents said they felt more connected to their co-workers while working offsite. Those who had access to unified communications reported a higher feeling of inclusion than those who solely communicated by videoconference or phone. Using tools like private group chat, instant messaging, and project management solutions, a business can facilitate conversation between employees whether they’re in the office, working from home, or on the road.

Social Collaboration

Both consumers and marketers utilize social media to communicate with friends, family, and customers. That same technology can be employed privately within an enterprise to encourage ongoing communication between team members. Using enterprise-level collaboration tools, teams can brainstorm ideas, post project status updates, share and work together on files, and even post polls to vote for the best location for this year’s Christmas party. Since information can be updated on an ongoing basis using smartphones or PCs, these collaboration tools are often more effective than in-person meetings or videoconferences.

Electronic Staff Meetings

The growing popularity of telework is redefining the traditional staff meeting concept. Instead of gathering teams around a table once a week, entrepreneurs must rely on email and phone chats for status updates. For businesses with multiple remote workers, video-based staff meetings eventually become more effective. Many of these tools now include the ability to share your screen for conducting presentations or updating spreadsheets while the rest of the team adds their thoughts. Consider hooking up to a projector in your conference room so that on-site employees can interact with those who are attending by phone for a more team-building experience.

With more businesses using remote workers, it’s important to find ways to find ways to encourage team member communication. With so many collaboration tools available for enterprises, business leaders can set up a way for employees to work together, even when they’re separated by many miles. If it’s possible to occasionally get all remote workers together for retreats or conferences, business should, but technology makes it possible to simulate a face-to-face meeting without incurring travel expenses.


How to Guarantee More Engagement for Your Blog

11-6 Blogging for business - small“If you build it, they will come”- from the movie, “Field of Dreams”

You just finished writing an insightful piece for your company’s blog that may change the industry. Now, all that has to be done is post it and people will write hundreds of reactions, right? No, this is wrong. The “just because you build it” strategy, doesn’t mean users will find the website and react to it.

Instead, here are seven surefire techniques to get more engagement for your posts:

  1. Be relevant, controversial or entertaining. Don’t be like your competitors. Post content that people want to read that can’t be found other places on the web. Have a point of view that will challenge readers and push them to respond. This is one place where a “me too” strategy does not work.
  2. Be regular. Post at least weekly. The more that users know there will be new content on a web site, the more likely they are to read it on a regular basis. This is the only way to build a sustained following that will make users comfortable enough for commenting on the blog posts.
  3. Be visual. People would much rather see a picture or watch a two minute video than read a long detailed article. Use numbers in titles and throughout the articles to attract users looking for simple solutions. The numbers 5 and 7 are most popular with readers.
  4. Be an easy read. Don’t construct posts that are dense with text. Make it simple to pick out the relevant points so a user can respond even if they did not read the entire post in detail. Use subheads, numbers and bolding to hook the reader.
  5. Add links. Don’t let users leave the company blog by clicking through on links. Ensure that all outside links open in a separate browser window so users can easily come back to your page. Also, include internal web links that will refer to other content on your blog to generate additional traffic for older posts.
  6. Share. Utilize share buttons for Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Google Plus on the company blog page. Test that the actual “share” includes a short description and relevant picture. Post notifications from your business handle about the content. This needs to be posted more than one time, but without repeating the same title. Take different angles of the article to use as headlines when posting again on various social media platforms.
  7. Watch style and grammar. No one wants to read a post that has spelling errors or language syntax problems. It also reflects very badly on the brand. The reader will ask themselves: If they can’t spell correctly, can I trust them to solve my problem? Broken links will also frustrate the user. If you can’t get an additional person to review the post then read it aloud and click through on all links to find any errors. Tools can be used to periodically find broken links on the company web site. http://www.wpuniversity.com/blog/5-tools-find-broken-links

How do you get users to interact with your blog content?


8 Useful Websites to Help You Find, Hire, and Train Your Next Employee

Someone using LinkedIn on an iPadIf you’ve never hired an employee — or if you find the task tedious — never fear! There are websites and tools designed to make the work so much easier. Here are my picks for the best websites out there for everything related to hiring. Not only will you save time and money on the recruitment process, but you’ll also find the most talented candidates out there.

1. LinkedIn

I’d be remiss if I didn’t start my list out with this giant. Not only does LinkedIn help you browse the profiles of qualified professionals in your area, but you can even post your job there. The applications that come through LinkedIn tend to be more qualified than some of the job boards out there.

2. HireVue

Not every company is hiring locally. If you’re expanding your virtual team, HireVue can help you with the interview process. You can “meet” face-to-face via webcam and record your interview so you can go back and review it with colleagues later. Can’t do that in real time!

3. Niche Job Boards

Sure, you can post your job on Monster and CareerBuilder, but those are pretty generic in the job seekers they attract. Instead, look for job boards that focus on your industry, like Dice for technology or Hoojobs for PR. The more niched the job board, the better the quality of applications you will receive.

4. Elance

If you just need a freelancer and not a full-time employee, Elance is a great place to look for one. Browse categories like marketing, writing, or IT, or post your job and let professionals come to you.

5. Social Media

Your social profiles are also great places to put the word out that you’re hiring. You can also use them to search for people talking about your industry and scout them out as potential job candidates.

6. Your Website

It should be obvious, but with so many other places to post jobs, many businesses forget to use what’s right under their noses: their company website. Here you can post your job description (for free) and link to it from your social profiles.

7. Grovo

While you’ll need to do some training on-site, if you want your new employees to learn specific software systems, Grovo is a great place to do so. There are tutorials on how to use platforms like Hootsuite, HubSpot, and Basecamp, and you can get reports to see where your employees are thriving and where they need more help.

8. Litmos

If you’d rather create your own training courses, Litmos provides the platform to do so. With this tool, you record the videos and set up the training materials. Then your staff can access them from anywhere.

With so many tools available to help the hiring process along, your job as a small business owner is a breeze.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Customer Service Trends for the Holidays

Modern Christamas gifts box presents on brown paperThe holiday shopping season is almost here, and if your small business hopes to come out on top in the furious competition for holiday sales, you’d best take notice of these holiday shopping trends for 2014 and what they mean to your customer service.

Online shopping takes center stage.

Customers are using the Internet not only to shop for gifts, but also to research holiday purchases even when the final purchase is made in a brick-and-mortar store.

What you can do: Whether you sell products online, in a physical store or both, your digital presence is crucial. Use customer service tools such as live chat to engage with prospects browsing on your website. Prominently put contact information such as your toll-free customer service number/s on every page of your website. Post your store’s address, phone number and hours of operation clearly so your website drives customers to your store.  

Time is of the essence.

Consumers are busier than ever; a recent holiday shopping survey found that’s one reason they’re going online to “pre-plan” their spending. Waste their time and you risk turning them off your business permanently.

What you can do: Make sure your customer service staff, from order takers or call center employees to front-line retail clerks, is adequate to handle peak demand. Also ensure your network is working properly so customers shopping or researching online don’t experience delays. If you have an ecommerce site, offer multiple options for getting help fast—from call-in numbers to FAQs and popup live chat windows.

Money is tight.

More than 80 percent of consumers plan to spend the same as or less than they did last year. Consumers say price is their top consideration when deciding where to shop.

What you can do: Help customers make smart choices focused on value. As a small business, you may not be able to offer rock-bottom prices. Here’s where your customer service team comes in, by offering expertise and guidance to explain why your products are worth their cost and helping customers decide between various options.

Shoppers have lots of alternatives.

The average consumer will visit two to three stores and/or websites before making a holiday purchase. Online, the competition is just a click away.

What you can do: Providing stellar customer service is essential. Make sure your customer service team is trained, empowered and energized to provide the best possible shopping experience. If you don’t already have a loyalty program, implement one now to reward loyal customers. 




 
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