Posts Tagged ‘business tips’


Mondays with Mike: 7 Ways To Banish Spam

12-8 spam smallI used to hear people complaining about telemarketers who always seemed to call at dinnertime.  Fortunately, we don’t get as many phone calls from people trying to sell us something, but those calls have been replaced by a plague of junk email – spam.  It clutters up our inboxes and can prevent us from seeing all of the important email that needs our attention.  Worse yet, some spam contains viruses that can infect our computers. 

Never fear, though.  These 7 steps will help you eliminate spam permanently!

  1. Use Gmail.  It’s simple.  Gmail is the best email service in terms of automatically blocking spam.  It sorts known spam producing addresses into your spam folder without your having to lift a finger, and it also lets you identify senders you want sent to that folder in the future.  Gmail also sorts promotional emails – ones with offers you may actually want to see – into a Promotions folder, keeping your inbox reserved for more important emails.
  2. Unsubscribe.  It may take you a few minutes and you may have to go through a couple of steps, but reputable companies will respect your unsubscribe request.  Just make sure you unsubscribe from all of the emails each sender generates.  Some companies make it a little tricky to completely unsubscribe, so take your time and make sure you do it right. 
  3. Blacklist spammers.  Blacklists permanently block emails from particular domains, servers, and senders, and if you use a blacklist, you’ll never hear from the senders on your list again.
  4. Use a spam filter.  You’d be surprised how many people complain about junk mail and don’t bother to use a filter.  Mailwasher Pro and SPAMfighter Pro are both great products that give you flexible and comprehensive protection
  5. Report spam.  If you take just a few seconds to mark unwanted messages for Gmail, your email service will work behind the scenes to make everyone’s email experience more efficient and pleasant.  Think of it as one way to make the world a better place.
  6. Use your own filters.  This step is more involved and requires a little more work, but it’s very effective if you’re really plagued by persistent spam.  You list addresses from which you no longer want to see mail, and those messages get shifted to your spam file.  When you’re using custom filters, it’s a good idea to scan your spam file periodically, just in case messages you do want to see end up there by mistake.
  7.  Change your email address.  This step is a pain, but it’s the last resort for folks whose emails have been hacked or otherwise compromised and who simply can’t eradicate all of their spam.  You have to notify all the people you correspond with, and you’re likely to end up missing some messages from lazy folks who don’t change your address in their contacts, but you will be able to start fresh without any spam, at least when you first open the account.  Practicing good email hygiene can help you protect the new account from the spam buildup you had in your old account.

Don’t let a cluttered inbox frustrate you for a minute longer.  A few simple steps can clear out the clutter and make your email far more efficient and secure.


Don’t Avoid Failure, Just Fail Properly

12-5 Failure smallTruman Capote once said, “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”  However, based on the way that we learn as youngsters, the thought of failure may leave a bad taste in your mouth. 

In school, we were taught that failing something results in a red mark on the paper and perhaps a timeout with a dunce cap in the corner.  However, failure is a critical component of long-term success.  If you aren’t willing to take risks and try new things, you won’t be able to truly take your business to the next level.   

Remember, there are many hugely successful entrepreneurs that tried a few different things before hitting it big.

While it’s important to embrace failure, there are three things that you should know about the right way to fail.  You need to fail quickly, fail cheaply and never fail the same way twice.

Fail Quickly. While it’s important to try new things (and as the proverb goes, “try, try again”) investing a lifetime before achieving success amounts to a lifetime of lost years.

If you invest too much time in getting to the point of determining success or failure, it can be demoralizing.  It can also allow your competition to surpass you by leaps and bounds.

Set a reasonable time frame up front to decide how much time you need to assess whether you are on the right path.  If you don’t meet that time frame (or a revised time frame, based on achieving interim milestones), it’s time for a new strategy.

Also, knowing when to tweak, accept less or give up is a vital part of embarking on a new project or venture. Whenever you hit a bump, you need to reassess:

  • Are you seriously off-track or can you make adjustments to get back on the road?
  • Can you still succeed even if you don’t meet all of your original expectations?
  • If you have to spend more time or money to avoid failure, can you afford the extra expenditures while staying on top of your current business operations?
  • Or, is it time to walk away?

Remember that a lengthy failure robs you of other opportunities. Unless you can afford the opportunity cost, break lengthy, big risk ventures into smaller steps, or find other ways to realize failure sooner rather than later.

Fail Cheaply. Too many entrepreneurs start with a grand idea that has a grand budget attached to it.  However, investing too much money in one idea or path can create substantial setbacks if your first go-round doesn’t work.  It may deplete your funds to try again, or worse, impair your personal finances in a way that is detrimental to your long-term financial (and possibly mental) health. 

You don’t want to risk the farm on one idea, so keep the scope of your initial experiments affordable. Do you dream of becoming a restaurateur? Consider starting with a food truck. Are you determined to double your consulting clientele within a year? Retaining contract-to-hire consultants may reduce employment costs until your company’s growth is a certainty.

Failing cheaply allows you to recover more easily, both financially and emotionally, from any failures.

Never Fail the Same Way Twice. Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting different results. Failure can teach lessons that you would not learn in any other way. However, when you don’t learn from those lessons, you can run your business into a downward spiral.

Let’s say that you left your production line at a standstill because you tried saving money by buying cheaper parts. Figure out exactly what went wrong. Saving money is a worthy goal, but not without properly vetting suppliers. Or, maybe the supplier offered higher grades than you chose. Higher-quality materials might still have saved you money. Learn exactly what failed and you will do better the next time.

Most importantly, take the time to truly understand the real reasons behind the failures, so that you don’t end up repeating them again.

Vision and time heal many wounds and can be the foundation for success. When a 3M scientist unintentionally developed a moderately-tacky adhesive rather than a stronger one, he failed at the assigned task. Years later, the use for that adhesive became apparent. The end product was Post-it® Notes —a virtual necessity in people’s lives now.

Don’t invest more to perpetuate a failure, but keep the experience in your mind. Some form of yesterday’s failure can become tomorrow’s triumph.


Does the “Internet of Things” Really Matter to Small Business?

12-4 the internet of things small

One of the biggest buzz words for this past year was “The Internet of Things” (IoT). This is the convergence of the digital and virtual world with the physical one. Even before IoT, there are already 16B devices attached to the Internet. (Remember, there are only 7B people on the planet.)

Today, an increasing number of wearable and home devices are being integrated to the Internet like Fitbits on the wrists, Nests in the home and crockpots in the kitchen. Oral B even has a toothbrush that is Bluetooth connected to the Internet to track brushing. More recently, Apple unveiled a HealthKit app that allows its iPhone users to track personal health and fitness data. They also announced HomeKit that will allow users to control “smart devices” in their home like garage doors, lights and security cameras.  The introduction of the Amazon Echo, an in-home personal assistant will definitely raise the profile of this category.

While Pew Research says IoT’s full implementation is still about 5 to 10 years away, a new study by Gartner predicts that entrepreneurs will drive the growth of IoT in the next five years. So where can small business owners start?

1.     Manufacturing at the beginning. Barbara Edson, General Manager of IoT at Microsoft says this sector will lead the way.  She believes it will happen through monitoring their equipment performance instantly and securely in real time. This will lead to better service to customers and an increased profit for the company.

2.     Analyzing big data. While IoT can be a big advantage in allowing sensors to track business assets, it will help analyze what the data really means and how it fits into the operation of the business. The key is to make the data received intelligent and actionable for a business. Used correctly, it will allow the measuring of key KPIs more easily and objectively.

3.     Enhancing the customer experience. With most things being a commodity, the customer experience is the future of marketing and loyalty. A company needs to use IoT to improve the experience for the customer. Intuitive and natural experiences from all devices can help make this happen.

4.     Focus on your things. Forget about the hype, Microsoft recommends to focus on IoT that are key to your business. Forget the hype of everything else.

How are you integrating IoT into your business for the future?


5 Funding Options for Small Businesses

12-3 Small biz funding smallWhen it comes to financing your small business, you need options that will help you grow your business. Sometimes you can’t do that when you bootstrap on your own. Whether you’re launching a business or ready to take an established business to the next level, you have options. Browse the following five funding options and see which one’s best for your biz.

1. Traditional Small Business Loan

Whether you need $5,000 or $100,000, a small business loan backed by the SBA might be what you’re looking for. You can apply for an SBA loan through your existing bank, or through other organizations that provide small business resources in your city. Some organizations cater to specific niches such as women and minorities (check out your local Women Business Development Center or the Minority Business Development Agency). Business loans have a lifespan of several years — typically you have five to seven years to pay the loan back at the agreed-upon interest rate and payment schedule.

2. Line of Credit

If you’ve been in business two years or more with positive cash flow, a line of credit could be what you need. This is an especially good option if you’re simply looking to have working capital available (so you can pay your vendors and staff while waiting for slow-paying clients to pay their invoices.) You can pull from the line of credit when you need the money, and can even use a debit card for transactions from that account. But be warned, interest accrues daily, so you won’t have years to pay it back. It’s a solid option if you need a cash injection now, and can repay it promptly.

3. Investors

Another financing option is to seek investment from venture capitalists or angel investors. In exchange for the cash, you’ll give up a percent of the ownership of your company. That can be a perk, since you’ll get the advice and insight of someone who knows your industry and can make suggestions for improvement, but that can also be a drawback if you like having total control over your business decisions.

If you go the investment route, position yourself to get a “yes” by putting yourself in the investors’ shoes. What would be appealing about your company? What makes it a strong financial investment?

4. Crowdfunding

Not only can crowdfunding get your cash flowing for expansion, but it can also help you attract new customers and rabid fans. Using sites like Kickstarter, you develop a crowdfunding campaign to tell your brand’s story as well as explain what you want the money for. The site will take a percent of what you raise, as long as you hit your target amount. (If you set your goal for $20,000 but only raise $18,000, you’ll get nothing).

A well-strategized crowdfunding campaign can result in everyday people supporting your company through donations. In return, you give them perks, such as early access to your product, samples, t-shirts, or interactions with your brand. That’s a small price to pay for such a great financial resource!

5. Credit Cards

While not ideal for funding a small business, credit cards do serve a purpose. For one, they’re easy to use and provide instant payment to your vendors or purchases you need to make. They can also help you build up credit under your business’ name. Do your homework. Make sure you use a credit card with great rewards or cash back on purchases. Just be wary of charging more than you can pay off in a reasonable amount of time. Those credit card fees can rack up over time!


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Why the Holidays are a Great Time to Call Your Customers

12-2 making a phone call smallWhen you think about the holiday season, you probably think about family, fun and feasting. But did you ever stop to think that the holidays are also a great time to reach out and call your small business customers?

There are several reasons why now is an ideal time to contact customers by phone.

  • The holiday season is a time for celebrating relationships, and talking in person can help reinforce and cement your business relationships.
  • With many businesses short-staffed during the holidays, decision-makers who normally don’t answer the phone may be a lot easier to reach.
  • While rank-and-file workers typically take time off, C-level execs are more likely to be working, frequently coming in early or staying late to take advantage of the quiet office and uninterrupted time to focus.
  • At many companies, budgets need to be spent before the year ends, so there might be money available for projects you might normally have trouble selling.
  • Other companies are planning their budgets for next year, making now a good time to get on their radar.

So how can you make your “reach out and touch” customer calls successful? Try these four tips:

  1. Make a list. Use your CRM system or other customer data to identify potentially most lucrative customers. For example, you might check who purchased from you this time last year or whose fiscal year is about to end.
  2. Set a goal. Calling is a numbers game, so it’s important not to get discouraged. Set a goal to call a certain number of customers per day, and just power through.
  3. Be prepared. Know what you’re going to say in advance so you don’t waste the customer’s time. Yes, small talk greases the wheels, especially this time of year, but people are also busy.
  4. It’s not all about the sale. These calls aren’t focused on making an immediate sale (though that would be nice), but on enhancing your relationship with the customer and finding new ways to serve him or her. Explore their needs for the coming year, what they’d like to do differently and how you can help them achieve their 2015 goals. Ending up with a firm commitment to talk in 2015 is a good start.

Mondays with Mike: Why A One-Star Review Can Be Good For Your Business

Yelp ReviewsIn the olden days, you might have had to pick up a phone book or ask a neighbor if you wanted a recommendation for a business – whether it was a restaurant in an unfamiliar city or a contractor to fix something around your house.  Now, though, it’s possible to find reviews of nearly any business online.  That means consumers have access to more information than ever before about your company and the quality of service it provides.  That’s a great thing!

But bad reviews are inevitable.  What do you do when you see a lousy review about your company?  How you handle customer complaints is critical in terms of managing the public perception of your business, and what you do depends on what sort of review you’ve been given. 

There are basically two types of bad reviews:  ones that are unjustified, either from jealous competitors or from customers without legitimate gripes who would have been impossible to please, and then there are the legitimate complaints.  How you react is different for each instance. 

Say you’re a roofing contractor, and you periodically check out your reviews online (which EVERY business should be doing.)  You discover that one of the recent reviews complains of costs going over budget and construction deadlines missed – things you absolutely know aren’t true.  It could be that your competition is making up stories to win business away from you.  It could be that a customer mixed up the name of your business and posted a review for the wrong company. 

Whatever the case, though, you must address the complaint.  Since the review is posted publicly, I suggest replying to the review and asking the customer to get in contact with you so you can resolve the problem.  If time passes and there’s no response, then publicly state that you don’t see a record of the transaction, and you can only conclude that an honest mistake was made in posting the review. 

Your goal in addressing unjustified reviews should be to convey to prospective customers that you’re a reasonable, honest, and conscientious business owner, and you take criticism seriously.

Likewise, if you see a legitimate complaint – that your restaurant gave slow service on a particular Friday night – then you should step up publicly and apologize for any inconvenience and offer some way to make it up to the customer if you feel it’s appropriate.  If prospective diners see that you offered to buy a round of drinks to make up for the fact that you were short staffed, they’re going to understand that you’re serious about customer satisfaction.  Apologize when appropriate and make it right.

A lousy review is not the end of the world.  Every thriving business has them.  The good news is consumers are increasingly savvy about review analysis.  They look for authentic reviews – which won’t all be positive – and they look to see how business owners react when they’re criticized.  Flipping out, accusing customers of being unreasonable, or making excuses for less-than-ideal customer service is NOT the way to respond to criticism.  Be deliberate.  Be fair, and above all, be vigilant about responding.   


Why You Need a Google Alias Now

11-28 hiding behind a mask smallGoogle has become another social media tool that allows its Google Plus clients to use something other than their real name. These aliases or pseudonyms can be a nickname or just a series of letters. When Google launched their social tool a few years back, they wanted people to build a network based on people with real names. They recently ditched this idea in their terms of service in favor of a growing trend for any creative ID to act as a name similar to those used on Twitter and Youtube. However, there are limits to how many times a user can change their name in a given period of time.

If authenticity is so important online, why would a business person want to use an alias?

  1. Get greater separation between personal and online life. Despite popular practices, not everything should be shared online. Many business people have opinions that they want to post that should not be associated with their business (and for good reasons).
  2. Prevent stalkers. There are a lot of weird and predatory people surfing the Internet. An alias gives more privacy which is a difficult commodity in an Internet connected world. It provides a barrier to actually meeting these crazy people in real life. Any pseudonym can be deleted and recreated in a different form at any time.
  3. Prevents work colleagues on viewing personal work or opinions online. Personal views may conflict with business employees or customers. It allows this body of work new opinions posted under an alias not to be viewed through the filter of a real known person.
  4. Aliases bring a new start. Anyone can create an online alter ego. This can be an outlet for creativity and exploration. Different personas can also cover a variety of niche areas without conflict.

Be careful. There are drawbacks of an alias which include:

  1. Adds stress to life. Constantly mentally separating to be an alias can be time consuming. This is especially true if it becomes more popular than the real life version of the person.
  2. The temptation of less accountability. Hiding behind an alias will tempt many business people to say and do things that they would not with their real identities. This can cause real life regret. Caution should still be used because no one should assume that an alias will never be connected to the real person.
  3. More conflicts. People may be put off when they find you are the alias for a pseudonym that they despise. Steve Colbert says he is playing a character on The Colbert Report and has a difficult time being viewed as himself.
  4. Changing perceptions. Once an alias becomes well established, it's hard to transfer that online capital to a real person. When Amber Osborne wanted to come out from behind her alias "blue haired Miss Destructo " persona,  there were many challenges. Some people did not want to view her as anything else except her alias. Think about the stereotyping of actors for certain roles like William Shatner as the iconic Captain Kirk and James Gandolfini as mob boss Tony Soprano.

Have you created a personal alias separate from the business? What has been the results?


How to Plan Your Holiday Vacation While Keeping Your Business Running

11-26 holiday vacation small The holiday season is upon us, and with that comes vacation time for many entrepreneurs. If you’re on the fence about shutting down your business while you go over the river and through the woods because you’re worried you’ll miss out on sales or opportunities, keep reading. You absolutely can take a vacation while keeping your business alive. Here’s how:

Tip 1: Start Planning Early

If you know you’ll be out between Christmas and New Year’s, plan for your vacation now. Let your clients know you’ll be out, and if they need any work done, to inform you now so you can get it done early. Clear your plate of work so that you can walk out the door confident that you didn’t leave any activities undone. This will also help you transition back to work on your return, and keep you from having to face a giant pile of work after such a relaxing vacation.

Tip 2: Put Someone in Charge

If your company will continue to operate in your absence, find a replacement for you for the week. At the minimum, you need a point of contact you can include in your vacation email autoresponder so that if people who email you need immediate help, they can get it. I always give a few points of contact in my autoresponder so that the appropriate person can help my clients.

Make sure the person you put in charge is confident in “being you” while you’re out. Go over any protocols or questions they have, and discourage them from contacting you unless it’s a true emergency. Empower them to make decisions in your absence.

Tip 3: Schedule Your Marketing

What I love about marketing tools these days is how you can schedule your social media updates and blog posts in advance. No one even needs to know you’re not working! Carve out time from your busy schedule to get your social media updates scheduled in your absence, as well as to write a few posts to go live while you’re out.

Tip 4: Tie Up Loose Ends

Do you have bills due while you’re out? Meetings you’re supposed to attend? Make sure everything is squared away so you don’t disappoint anyone who expects to meet with you (and don’t miss due dates for bills!). The more details you pay attention to now, the more refreshed you can return to the office after the holidays.

Tip 5: Relax. Your Business will be Fine

More than all the tactical, this is the hardest for many business owners. They are convinced that their businesses will fall apart if they’re not there. But the truth is, your business can handle it. Whether you’re a solopreneur or you have a capable team, if you’ve let clients know you’ll be out and done your part to clear your plate, you can relax and enjoy your time off.

And given that many other people take vacations at the end of the year, rest assured that there will be no crises while you’re out!


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Be Productive During the Holidays

Mother and Daughter Making Christmas Cookies for SantaAre you one of those small business owners whose holiday wish would be for “more hours in the day”? Even if you’re usually a model of efficiency, the holidays—with their hectic schedules, family visitors and employee vacation days—can throw everything off.

How can you stay productive and still enjoy the holidays? Try these tips.

Plan ahead. Let employees know how far ahead of time they should put in requests for time off. Employee scheduling software tools can make things simpler, especially if you run a business like a retail store or service provider that gets slammed this time of year. And be prepared for employees to call in sick at the last minute—that’s simply what happens this time of year, so have a backup plan in mind.

Prioritize. Both in your personal and your work lives, it’s important to know which battles to fight. If you’ll save time, money and sanity by sending e-cards this year instead of mailing 200 paper cards to your client list, do it! If you always knit scarves for family gifts but this year a huge project is getting in the way, take a break from the tradition to do something simpler. Know what you aren’t willing to compromise on, and stick to that decision.

Hand it off. You can delegate almost anything these days. Try services like TaskRabbit to handle time-consuming chores like running to the post office or picking up your drycleaning. Holding a family gathering? Hire a cleaning service and get the meal catered or at the very least, have your groceries delivered instead of heading to the store. The concept works for business, too—if your staff is overloaded, call a temporary help agency, enlist a teenage relative home from college to help out for a few days, or connect with a virtual assistant.

Tap technology. Use mobile devices, apps and cloud services to access your business files, data and documents wherever you are so you can get work done wherever you are. Devising templates, auto-responses and keyboard shortcuts lets you create files or reply to inquiries quickly so you’re not reinventing the wheel every time.




 
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