Posts Tagged ‘business tips’


Creating a Spinoff Product Business From Your Service Business

Service providers deal in the commodity of knowledge. Your lawyer knows the intricacies of small business law. Your marketing consultant is well-versed in content marketing and social media. Your accountant knows how to minimize the hurt come tax time. All of them get paid for a transfer and application of their knowledge. But sometimes there’s an opportunity beyond providing services to create a complementary product business.

For me, as SmallBizLady, I get paid to work one-on-one with small businesses who need guidance and consultation. They pay for my knowledge and experience. But not everyone in my network can afford to hire me for a consultation. And that’s why I also offer information products at a much lower price point. People with tiny budgets can still afford to learn to be social media ninjas or become their own bosses through my books, mastermind groups and ecourses.

Catering to Two Markets: More Money for You

If you’re in a services industry, there are only so many people you can serve, especially if your prices are high. But what if you could also connect with another market, one who wants to read what you’ve learned and use it themselves to DIY whatever you’re teaching them?

What I love about having a product business is that once it’s created, I don’t have to worry about it. My products sell through my website and Amazon, and I don’t have to do anything to fulfill orders because they’re all digital products. So I’m making money on top of making money! Sound good to you?

Consider Who You’re Not Serving Currently

If you’re ready to spin off a new products business, start by considering who calls you but doesn’t end up becoming a client. What are they looking for? You’ll likely find several topics for ebooks, webinars, and courses immediately.

Do you attract a crowd of do-it-yourselfers? How can you share your knowledge to empower them to take care of specific tasks on their own? The more hands-on and detailed your instructions, the more successful your products will be.

See What’s Already Out There

You know what they say about not reinventing the wheel. Look at your competitors and see if they sell products, then figure out how you can fill a gap that isn’t currently served. Maybe you gear your content to a specific industry that you know is interested, or provide samples and templates that don’t already exist to help people.

Price Accordingly

Coming up with the perfect price point is always a challenge. You don’t want to alienate people who can’t afford your products, and you don’t want to charge so little that you don’t recuperate your expenses. Again, do some research to see what others charge and base yours on what you think you can get.

Where to Sell

Naturally, if you sell your products on your own website, you’ll get 100% of the profit, but setting up your site for ecommerce can take time and money. A quick solution is to sell on Amazon or on a digital products site like Gumroad. Yes, they’ll take a commission, but the traffic is so much better on these sites than your own, that you’ll likely make up for that chunk taken out in volume.

Adding a product business to your existing service business is the perfect balance: you provide in-real-time consulting, but you also make money while you sleep.


7 Ways to Use Social Media to Improve Your Customer Service

Your company’s social media presence is extremely important, and an essential channel to promote your brand image, but it’s not just about the content you’re posting to your company pages. The most important thing is what your customers are saying about your product/service, business and customer service. With so many different social media channels out there these days (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.), it is important to establish a presence on the channels that your customers use most so you can keep an eye on what is being said about your company. Keeping tabs on how customers feel about your business provides tremendous insight to what you’re doing right and areas of opportunity that need to be addressed.

As consumers, we’re more likely to listen and trust our peers than a company’s well-crafted message about how great they are. It is important to remember that every interaction your customers have with your business has the potential to be shared on social media. Rave reviews, as well as rants about horrible customer service, can dramatically impact your sales, brand image and ability to grow.

In today’s digital age, social media breaks down the barriers between consumers and companies. There are huge advantages of this for both sides. Companies and consumers can now have a direct dialogue that wasn’t previously possible 10 years ago. However, as with anything, this comes with a downside. If customers have a negative experience with your product/service or a member of your team, they are likely to share it online, which can create a snowball effect of negative comments about your business. This is why it is essential to provide great customer service via your company’s social media channels to mitigate negativity and promote a positive brand image. 

Here are 7 tips we follow at Nextiva that will improve your customer service via social media.

  • Engage with people who post about your company on social media. Make it a two-way conversation. This builds loyalty and goodwill.
  • Know your customers and the social media channels they’re active on. Constantly monitor these channels so you have a pulse on how your customers feel about your product/services, customer service and brand overall.
  • Be personal with your posts and responses. No one likes to receive a canned response. At Nextiva, we reply via a personal  video whenever possible.

​         Video Response

  • Address customer questions, concerns and issues as quickly as possible. Speed is everything in today’s hyper-connected digital world.

         Responding to customer questions

  • Follow-up after a customer concern or issue has been resolved. This builds trust and shows others that you follow through. 
  • Download the app version of social channels your company uses so you can post and engage with followers from anywhere, at anytime.

​           social apps

  • Set up email alerts for your social media accounts so you’re always notified when someone mentions your company.  

Have some other tips for providing great customer service via social media? Share in the comments below.


Four Ways to Grow Your Business With New Products and Services

Your small business may be successful, but you still need to modify your product or service offerings over time. At some point, customers no longer need what you’re selling and you also need to capitalize on new demands created by changing trends. Granted, it costs less to retain customers than to attract new ones, but you also still need to look for ways to get new customers in the door. In many cases, you will have a clear picture of what you need to do to freshen your product line. If you know you need a change but the ideas are not flowing, however, here are four ideas to spark your creative juices.

#1. Offer an Out-of-The Box Service that Complements Your Core Competency

A colleague recently told me that her doctor’s waiting room became filled with young clientele when they started offering piercings. With a small amount of extra training, this office drew in both existing and new patients because of the promise of sterile, medically-sound conditions.

Even better, this new service was quick and easy, so the added business did not affect the wait times of traditional patients. Plus, since kids and young adults were a large part of this demographic, adding this service attracted new patients who were happy to return to a cool doctor for more standard medical concerns as well.

#2. Go On-Demand

Quality services that your customers can get when they need them show that you care. Where “while-you-wait” services were limited to things like printing and oil changes, more businesses are jumping on the on-demand bandwagon. Medical offices now bring more patients in with appointment-free flu shots. And many lawyers now offer fixed-fee phone support for clients who need speedy legal advice for anything from a simple divorce to learning their rights in landlord disputes.

Even if instant turnaround is not an option for your area of business, quick convenience-oriented services added to your product mix (for example, perhaps a free Notary Public service) can capture the interest of many clients.

#3. Invest in Technology

Investing in technology can be a way to differentiate your business or can even be a new source of recurring revenue.  Consider what happens when a busy two-person auto insurance agency equips policyholders with a free auto accident app. With a few smart phone swipes, the stressed-out accident victims know what to say and do — including gathering and organizing evidence. The end result is a file that the policyholder sends to the agent, who then has everything needed to handle the claim more efficiently.

Similarly, a tax accountant can provide clients with a phone app that lets them quickly record expenses on the spot. Record-keeping becomes a no-brainer for the client. And, what tax accountant wouldn’t prefer a file that is compatible with tax preparation software over a receipt-filled shoebox during the busy tax season?

If you can make your customers’ lives easier or give them a reason to interact with your business, it can provide an easy boost.

#4. Get Mobile

The mantra “if you build it, they will come” no longer applies to business.  And many businesses have found that they can expand by doing the opposite—going to their customers directly.  Breaking away from the confines of your store or office is good for business.

Doctors making house calls was en vogue in the past and now, home health care is starting to become a value added premium service.  But, who else can benefit?

How many locals have never visited your big-city restaurant? A food truck can get them eating your food for the first time. It may even convince them to make the effort to visit your brick and mortar restaurant. Plus, investing in a food truck can be done at the fraction of the cost of a new location. Catering, anyone?

Wheels are not the only way to get mobile. You can also bring convenience to customers by expanding your presence at more locations — particularly during times of increased demand. So, if you sell anything from gift products to foot massages for sore shoppers’ feet, perhaps open a pop-up shop during the holidays or at intervals throughout the year to reach a new customer base.  Or better yet, consider a mobile delivery service for your store to get to the customer who doesn’t have time to get to you.

Embrace Change at Any Time

Even when your profits are soaring, always keep your mind open to new ideas. You may decide to add a small enhancement to an existing product that is showing signs of stagnating sales. Or, perhaps a client suggested something that sparked your interest. You don’t have to wait for times of desperation to beef up your product line. Change at any time keeps things fresh for customers — and for you, too.  Just make sure not to invest too much in any new offering before you test its compatibility with your customer base.


3 Benefits of Using Auto Attendants for Your Business Communication

8:7 Auto Attendant Benefits smallThere are a variety of ways to route incoming calls to specific departments, teams, groups of employees, or individuals. The most common ways to route calls is by an employee answering the phone when it rings, via a live receptionist, or through an Auto Attendant. All options will help a caller get to where they need to go eventually, but utilizing an Auto Attendant with your phone system will significantly improve the likelihood they reach the correct destination the first time. Not only does this improve the customer experience, but it also saves your company from wasting precious time that can be better spent on other tasks and projects.

So what exactly is an Auto Attendant? Think of it as a virtual receptionist. An Auto Attendant presents the caller with an audible greeting (that is customized for your business), which offers the caller options to select. Once an option has been made, the call will be redirected to the chosen destination.

Auto Attendants are an invaluable feature of cloud-based business phone systems, and we’ve highlighted three key benefits below.

Top 3 benefits of implementing an Auto Attendant at your business

1. Your own virtual receptionist:

Gone are the days of needing someone, whether a dedicated receptionist or team member, to answer the phone and route calls to the appropriate destination. With cloud-based phone systems, such as Nextiva Office®, you can program callers’ options and route calls automatically to the specified destination.  

2. Increase team productivity:

How many times has a customer called your office when they meant to call your location across town, or you answered a call that was meant for the Billing department? By understanding your customers and what they commonly call in about, you can customize your Auto Attendant to include these options and significantly reduce the amount of times your team answers a call that is not related to their job responsibilities. Reducing the amount of time wasted on these calls will increase your team’s productivity (less interruptions!).

3. Significant cost savings:

Eliminating the need for a receptionist or team member to route calls saves you significant operating costs and human resources. The money previously spent on these wages can be reallocated to other areas of your business that will propel it forward.

All Nextiva Office plans come with the Auto Attendant feature. To learn more about how Auto Attendants and other cloud-based features can improve your business communications visit www.nextiva.com.


Five Customer Trends That You Need To Be On Top Of

8-6 customer trends smallHere are five ways that customer expectations may have grown beyond what your company is providing. If you aren’t keeping up, the question becomes how quickly you can get up to speed, and the answer to this can make or break your bottom line and your survival prospects. So check out the list and see where you stand.  

1. Customers expect extended hours: hours that you’re open, hours that you provide support.  This may mean 24/7 or as close as you can get. For example: For its advertising clients, Google now not only offers support in 42 languages, it does so nearly around the clock, and offers English language support English-language support 24/5. That’s pretty good, considering we’re talking about B2B, non mission-critical support.

Customers also expect more flexibility and options during traditionally “off” hours. For example, if you’re in foodservice, consider letting customers order from either the dinner or lunch menu in the mid-afternoon, and consider offering a cold sandwich menu available late in the evening after the kitchen has closed but your bar is still open.

2. Customers expect self-service–well-designed self-service–to be an option: No matter how good your human-delivered customer service, customers expect self-service options as well. Self-service, which includes everything from web-based e-commerce to IVR (interactive voice response telephone systems) to concierge-like self-help touch-screen menus in public spaces to passengers printing their own boarding passes at home before traveling, is a powerful trend in customer service, and companies that ignore it, pursue it reluctantly, or violate the basic laws of its implementation will be left in the dust.

3. “Fast enough” isn’t, anymore:  Does your company still refer to internal documents with obsolete standards like “We strive to respond to Internet inquiries within 48 hours.  Maybe such a time frame made sense a few years ago (I actually doubt it, but maybe), but today, such a response time is the equivalent of 36 years in Internet time.  Your customer support standard needs to be response within just a few hours; after that, your customer is going to assume that you’re never going to get back to them. An intensified expectation of timeliness also applies to product and services delivery, an area where amazon.com is obviously one of the leaders. Amazon’s example, and the twitchiness that apps and the Internet itself invoke, means that your company’s traditional definition of “fast enough” probably isn’t, anymore.

4. Social consumption is now the norm. “If I don’t have a picture of it on my phone, it didn’t happen”: Lisa Holladay, branding and marketing guru at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, tells me she’s heard this sentiment lately from young customers. This means that if business isn’t building opportunities for social sharing into the customer experience, you’re missing out on a chance to delight–rather than drive away–your customers. (Ritz-Carlton does this gently with the Shareable Experiences feature in their app and their #RCMemories “Let us stay with you” campaign; for an entirely different and kind of niftily over the top approach to this, you should also check out 1888 in Sydney, aka the “instagram hotel.”)

5. Customers are looking to blur the lines between the fun and the mundane: On the one hand, there’s a new expectation that fun, adventure, even ‘danger’ can be incorporated in potentially mundane interactions. Business travel is a great example of this: More and more travelers try to integrate some adventure, some local exploration, into what are ostensibly business trips. At the other end of this blurring of leisure and business, we have mostly given up on “fully unplugging,” so it makes sense to accommodate even leisure customers’ need or desire to work and keep in touch.  For example, it makes sense that some airlines’ long-haul flights now offer a “quick dine” option so passengers can quickly get back to work without the food tray being in their way, as it makes sense for businesses of all types to offer fast, no login required wifi and other tools to their waiting, “captive” customers.


5 Tips to Keep Working While Traveling from Stressing You Out

8-5 working while traveling smallI travel a lot, both for business and pleasure. Most of the time, I’m also working while on the plane, in the hotel room, and shuttling from place to place. It can be a lot to manage, trying to focus on the client meeting or conference I’m headed to a speaking engagement, while still taking care of my to-dos and ever-growing email inbox. But, fear not. I’ve found a few strategies that help me cope. Here are 5 tips to keep working while traveling from stressing you out.

Tip 1: Get Mobile

While I always have my laptop when I travel and work, but I wouldn’t survive without my mobile wi-fi and my smartphone. With these two items, I can work from anywhere, and I avoid the expensive hotel wi-fi. These tools allow me to develop content, read and respond to emails, make calls to clients on the road. Also if I need to map my way to a meeting and I can use my laptop in the rental car, and more. These days, there’s an app for just about everything, from GateGuru, which gives me the lay of any given airport, to Yelp, which helps me find the best place to take a client to dinner.

Tip 2: Let People Know You’ll Be Unavailable

When I don’t plan to check email or work (hello, sunny beach!) I let my clients and staff know I won’t be available several weeks in advance. That lets us come up with a plan to take care of any projects before I leave for vacation, and I don’t have to check my email, concerned that someone will need to reach me while I’m trying to relax. Also be sure to use an auto responder to tell people how long you’ll be away and when you are back in the office.

Tip 3: Work Around Your Travel Schedule

I know, I know: traveling gets you off your game. Your schedule gets all whacked out when you’re on a plane for half a day, wasting hours on flight delays, and then spending odd hours at a conference. I find a new work schedule while I’m traveling. I like to get work done on the plane that doesn’t necessarily require wi-fi. But if the plane does have wi-fi, I will respond to emails too. When I’m at the hotel, I work early in the morning. I still manage to get quite a bit of work done, even though I’m breaking up my schedule.

Tip 4: Plan Travel Around Business Opportunities

I recently went on a book tour for my book, Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months. Rather than flying from one end of the country to another, I lumped my appearances into geographic proximity so that I minimized my travel and could visit several cities that were relatively close to one another. I can’t tell you how much this cut down on my stress and I snuck in a family visit and dinners with friends too. 

Tip 5: Seek Out Business Contacts

If you are going to a city for a conference, look through your LinkedIn list and see who you know in that city. Going out for coffee with a contact you’ve never met in person provides you with opportunity to help one another. It’s those serendipitous conversations, I find, that often lead to business referrals.

Traveling can be stressful, even for a veteran at it like me. Find ways to maximize your time, get work done, and still have time to relax.


Leadership for Customer Service is a Daily Sort of Thing

7-30 service team huddle smallAll over the world this morning, Ritz-Carlton employees (Ladies and Gentlemen, as they refer to themselves) are smiling and dressed to serve. But before they face a single guest, they make time for their 10-minute “lineup” meeting, a chance to align themselves for the task at hand by discussing one of their 16 central service principles, the core standards of the organization’s customer service culture. (Today the principle they are reinforcing is #8, which concerns every employee being able to grow and contribute in their job). Whether at the Ritz-Carlton Resort in Dove Mountain Arizona, at the “world’s highest hotel” in Hong Kong, at the Ritz’s suburban business hotel in Tysons Corner, Virginia, this same scene is occurring.

(And, perhaps, it should also be occurring at your company. The daily lineup is an approach that can power the service culture and growth of a company in a variety of industries. In fact, it’s a practice that I use as a customer service consultant to create dramatic and–just as important–sustainable improvements in the customer service culture of the companies that I convince to implement it–across a wide variety of industries.)

The lineup is a daily, extremely brief, huddle that your employees hold in small groups throughout your company at the same time each day (or same times, if you have more than one shift). At the lineup, you discuss a single aspect of service–for example, one of your guiding service principles, as exemplified by an encounter with a particular customer.  It doesn’t, by the way, fall upon management or a trainer to lead the lineup. On the contrary: a different employee can lead the lineup each day, thereby learning and teaching at the same time

Since lineup is a practice that was pioneered at and has been most famously practiced by the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company for three decades, I asked Diana Oreck, who helms Ritz-Carlton’s Leadership Center, what strikes her about the practice.

The daily lineup is the most important vehicle we have at Ritz-Carlton to keep the culture alive. Every single day, 365 days a year, three times a day (because there are three different shifts) we have our lineup and we cover the 16 principles [that are central to our service culture] in rotation.

If today we’re talking about Service Value No. 1, ‘I create Ritz-Carlton guests for life’ and you’re the GM in Tokyo and I am the GM in New York, we can’t go out of rotation. What’s fascinating is that within twelve hours, first our Asian colleagues, then the Europeans, and then the Americans will be hearing the same message.

One thing I want to stress is to always keep the lineup short.  It shouldn’t be longer than fifteen minutes because if it is, it’s a meeting and nobody needs another meeting in their day!

The lineup procedure gets inspiration from, yet is 180 degrees removed from, the old hospitality tradition of a check-in with staff where daily specials and other mundane updates are shared, fingernails are checked for cleanliness, and waiters have a last chance to borrow a pen and pad from a co-worker before going out to face their guests.

Here’s the thing: In today’s world the challenge of providing great service is not in such nuts and bolts, skills-and-details-related updates. (Put those on your wiki.) The challenge is that even if you start off strong with a great orientation, the daily grind will ensure that functional issues ultimately end up overwhelming company purpose. A daily standup meeting is a chance to keep your company focused on your overriding purpose and to ensure that all staff are aligned to fulfill it. It only takes a few minutes, and the difference it makes can be crucial.


Cloud Backup & Storage: Your Business at Your Fingertips

Imagine this scenario: It’s 8pm on Sunday night and you are presenting the results of a special project to your boss in a 9am meeting on Monday morning. You open up your computer after a relaxing weekend and realize you forgot to email yourself the presentation to review the material and make last minute adjustments. The file is on the desktop of your office computer, and you start to panic. If your business utilized a cloud backup and storage service, you would be able to log in to your account, download the file and get to work. The stress and anxiety you’re currently experiencing would be an emotion of the past.

Backing up and storing your files in the cloud allows you to access them from anywhere, on any device. The days of forgetting a file on your desktop will be a distant memory.

If you’ve thought about moving your files to a cloud-based storage service but haven’t committed yet, now is the time. Companies and employees now demand a more mobile and flexible work environment, and a cloud-based backup and storage service connects remote workers and allows employees to access their files from anywhere.

Not only will team projects be easier to manage, but you’ll increase team productivity and reduce time wasted sending each other files and working on old versions of presentations, projects, etc.

BENEFITS

  • Backup business data on a schedule, on-demand or automatically based on your preferences
  • Securely transfer data from one device to another or between team members
  • Share files across devices, teams, departments and locations
  • Real-time sync so any time you add a new file or save changes to data, it syncs across all of your devices
  • Give users access to read only, read and write, or full control based on their role within the team, department or company

Still not convinced? Test out Nextiva Drive for FREE and experience the benefits of our cloud backup and storage service firsthand! Visit www.nextivadrive.com to get started.  


Delegate — but Don’t Abdicate — with Service Providers

7-37 Delegatiing & reviewing smallYou hire accountants, lawyers and other professionals because they have specialized knowledge that you don't have. This means that you can count on them to do their work without supervision, right? Well, not so fast.

Everyone makes occasional errors. As long as the name of your business appears on the paperwork, you have ultimate responsibility. So, whether you need to stay out of the line of sight of a possible IRS audit or you want to ensure that your advertising is accurate, you need to periodically check the work of the people that you hire to help with your business.

Here are some guidelines for checking the work of people who know their business better than you do.

Accountants Know Where the Debits Go, but You Can Still Check the Numbers

Before the advent of tax software, one accountant admitted that he knew the accounting rules in impressive detail, but he was quick to make mathematical errors. Happily, the software now eliminates mathematical errors, but entering accurate data in the right place is still largely a human effort.

While W2 earnings generally come straight from a computer, a more common area of error is the 1099 reporting of non-employee earnings. Granted, these recipients will be quick to tell you about errors, but it is far less work to get it right before you send the forms to the IRS. And, if you do have to send corrected 1099s, don't do it before you make sure the "CORRECTED" box is checked. Otherwise, these forms will start to seem like a second career.

You also want to look at the big picture and trust your intuition if you think that something is wrong. For example, if your tax forms (or even your financial statements) show earnings or profits significantly different than you expected them to be, you may not know how to dig into the financial weeds to find out if the number is accurate. But, you certainly can ask the accountant to explain it to you.

Lawyers Know the Law, but You Know the Questions

Your eyes may glaze over after reading the first sentence of a contract or other legal document, but your signature commits you to every word of legalese. Lawyers will tell you that the legalese is necessary for the sake of precision, but it certainly seems like it is intended to discourage careful review by laypeople.

So, make yourself an 8-ounce cup of espresso (or a highly-caffeinated beverage of choice), and read every word before signing. Check every number for accuracy and make sure that you understand every nuance of what you are committing to. Then, discuss your questions with your lawyer. If you don't understand the answers, insist that he or she speak to you in English.

Advertising Agencies Know How to Sell, but You Know How to Proofread

It is not uncommon to leave your company's ad campaign largely in the hands of advertising professionals. But, understand that creative people do not always do the best job with details, so don't let them release print or broadcast ads without conducting a full review.

Remember that just one character can make a huge difference. Do you really want to commit to a 100 percent discount when you intended it to be 10 percent? Or do you want customers beating a path to 2000 Orchard Street when your store is a mile away at 2000 Orchard Lane? Don't allow any ad to go out before you thoroughly check the fine points.

Software Does Things Consistently, but You Know When it's Consistently Wrong

Today's off-the-shelf software is generally pretty accurate, but it's not perfect, so you need to keep a watchful eye on the details. For example, a great way to monitor tax preparation software is to watch the results of your entries on the tax totals that are typically displayed on every screen. If you enter a known deduction and then see the taxes increase, there's something seriously wrong that you need to investigate.

When you hire a company to produce custom software for your business, you need to get involved in testing before taking it live. Make sure that the company uses test data that you provide because you can then predict the results. Even when tests run clean, you should also run the new software in parallel with your old system over an extended time period to make sure that the results are accurate to the penny.

When it Comes to Your Business, You are the Ultimate Expert

As a small business owner, you wear many hats, but you can't be an expert in every aspect of your company. Even though you cannot match the knowledge of the outside resources that you hire, they can't match your knowledge either. In the end, everything boils down to details that you can — and should — check.




 
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