Posts Tagged ‘business tips’


News You Can Use for Small Business

Young man sitting on a sofa reading a newspaperIf you own a small business, there are a number of things that likely fall to the bottom of your “to-do” list.  However, keeping up with “the news” shouldn’t be one of them.  It may seem like a grind, but keeping abreast of certain types of news and trends is essential to business success.  Here are the best ways for you to use the news to enhance your own business.

Find Competitor and Industry Opportunities

While you don’t have to turn into a bona fide spy, you can glean insights and opportunities from your competitors and the industry. Stories about customer reactions to anything from competitors’ products and services to their websites teach you what to do — and what not to do- in your own business.

Also, competitor and industry news can lead you to explore great collaboration opportunities as well. If you make chocolate-covered pretzels and you learn that another company is introducing chocolate-covered beer, you can contact them to consider cross-selling beer and pretzel packages.

Read the News, then Make Some News

Many stories you read are bound to generate your own thoughts. What did the XYZ Company do wrong to cause a sudden reduction in sales? How does your company avoid a particular problem? Don’t let those thoughts go to waste — consider writing an article that offers valuable advice — and gives your company great PR.

The recent news about the horrendous Comcast customer service phone call went viral, and the savvy CEO of Nextiva, Tomas Gorny, capitalized on the newsworthiness of the story. He used it as the jumping-off point for a great article in Entrepreneur containing helpful customer service lessons. That article has undoubtedly helped many entrepreneurs while gaining free PR for Nextiva.

Stay on Top of Your Key Vendors

No business is an island; you count on any number of vendors or service providers to get your product or service to the public. News that your main parts vendor is moving to a lower (or even higher) grade of plastic can instantly affect your pricing decisions and many other aspects of your day-to-day operations. The sooner you know the news, the more time you have to formulate a backup plan.

Go Local

Even chiropractors and real estate companies take booths at local food fairs, so why shouldn’t your company be represented? Any event that draws the public can be a low-cost marketing tool. Whether you set up your own booth at a festival, or even if you just hand out leaflets or promotional items at a parade, you have a golden opportunity to get your company name out to the public. So, watch for news of upcoming local events and find out how you can participate.

Keep Abreast of Technology Changes, including Social Media

The social media outlets that you use to promote your business are not stagnant. They add features and change the rules in ways that can positively – or negatively – impact your business. You don’t have to learn every new feature or tool, but you do need to stay apprised of changes that will directly affect your business.

Let’s say you sell women’s lingerie. If you advertise on Facebook, their current policy says you cannot show too much skin in your images. If you learn that they have further tightened their policy, your models may have to button up. Not knowing this information up front could cost you dearly in both wasted photo shoot dollars and lack of exposure (pun entirely intended).

Find Efficient Ways to Stay Informed

You can really use the news to better your business, so find technology solutions to help you minimize the time-sink. TweetDeck or similar apps can alert you to the tweets with information on your key competitors. Similarly, Google Alerts notifies you of news stories of interest, such as industry-related stories. And, the old standby, RSS Feeds, lets you create a custom news page that you can scan quickly each day. These tools set up quickly, while generating a big return on the time investment for your small business.


How to Get Paid 7 Days Sooner in Your Small Business

One of the biggest pet peeves of small business owners is late-paying clients. We’re not running corporations, so cash flow can make or break our businesses! And when a client doesn’t pay on time, we can’t pay our own vendors. It’s a sticky situation, but with a little strategy to light a fire under your clients, you can get paid not only on time but even seven (or more) days early.

Look at Why They’re Paying Late

If you have a client who typically pays on time, one late payment may be nothing to worry about. But analyze your accounts receivables to see if you have other clients who habitually pay their invoices after your due date.

Next, look at your payment policy. Is it clear on each invoice when the payment is due? Do you let your client know at the beginning of your business relationship when payments are due? If it’s not clear to a client when you expect a payment, you can’t blame them for the problem.

If this is the case, send an email letting your clients know your payment policy. Consider sending this to all clients so those late-payers don’t feel you’re picking on them. Make it objective and simply a notification of your company policies. And make sure that due date is clear on each invoice.

You can also send a reminder a few days before the invoice is due. It’s completely understandable that your email invoice might have gotten lost in the stack of emails in your clients’ inbox.

Offer Incentive to Pay

There’s two ways to go about this: in the first, you can charge a penalty for late payments. Not everyone wants to take such a negative approach, but if you think that’s the right motivation to get your clients moving (after all, who wants to pay more if they can simply pay on time?), then try it out.

The other is to offer a discount for early payment. You’ll have to decide how much money you’re willing to part with in order to get paid on time. Many businesses offer something like a 2% discount if the invoice is paid 7 days early, or even 5% off if they pay 14 days early. Make the amount enough to motivate them to pay early.

Whichever incentive you decide to offer, mention it in the email you send about your payment policy. It’s imperative that you clearly communicate any changes to your clients, as well as give them a heads up of a few weeks or even a month before this new policy kicks in. The last thing you want to do is upset your customers.

If They’re Still Not Paying on Time…

Consider each on a case-by-case basis. Perhaps one client is having his own financial woes. In that case, set up a payment plan that works for both of you. If it’s not a financial problem that’s keeping a client from paying on time, consider whether you truly want to continue working with a problematic client like this.

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Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Motivate Holiday Workers

Woman wrapping Christmas giftsIs your small business hiring customer service, call center or retail sales employees to help you handle the upcoming holiday rush? Motivating workers who are with your company for only a short time can be challenging, especially during such a busy and stressful time of year. Here are some tips to keep your holiday employees happy—so your customers will be happy, too.

  • Make seasonal workers feel at home. No matter how busy you and your permanent employees are, it’s crucial to start temporary workers off right by making them feel like they belong in the business. Welcome them to the team and assign them a “buddy” or team leader who’ll be responsible for training them, getting them up to speed on company norms, and generally making sure they’re doing OK.
  • Provide clear directions. Start seasonal employees off slowly by teaching one task at a time and then adding on. Provide easy-to-follow checklists, “cheat” sheets and operations manuals new employees can turn to if they need memory aids to fall back on while learning their jobs.
  • Set goals. Setting measurable goals, such as how many calls customer service employees should handle per hour, lets temporary workers know how well they’re doing. Go beyond individual goals by holding contests such as departmental competitions or team challenges. This helps make stressful jobs fun, promotes bonding and motivates employees to continually improve.
  • Reward results. Giving regular rewards such as gift cards, comp time off or a 15-minute free neck massage to the seasonal employee of the day helps temporary employees feel appreciated. 
  • Be flexible. Seasonal employees are often students, parents or others who need flexible hours to fit their schedules. Be open to their needs for flexibility (within reason) and you’ll do better at retaining them.
  • Look ahead. Got a great seasonal worker? Keep the person’s contact information and stay in touch during the year. Offer perks or pay upgrades to lure the person back next year. 

Mondays with Mike: How To Get Your Entire Business Running On The Cloud In One Day

Stocksy_txpe7e51ee740B000_Small_134978A lot of business owners put off making big decisions – like transitioning their company to running on the cloud – because they fear change.  They’re reluctant to undertake a major overhaul because they know that difficulties will arise, and there will be a learning curve for their staff.

 

For the most part, they’re right.  Change is a struggle.  But it’s a struggle worth taking on.  My advice to entrepreneurs considering making the switch to a cloud-based office is to take a deep breath, get a few things in place ahead of time, and dive right in!  If you follow these steps, your transition will be smooth and will put you on the road to flexibility you’ve only dreamed of.  

 

The key to a seamless transition to the cloud is doing your homework and making a workable plan.

 

First, you want to pick your date.  There actually is a very best day for major business transitions – January 1st.  While everyone else in the world is sleeping off a hangover, you have a full day to make you changes and start working out the bugs before the world returns to work.  A new fiscal year makes record keeping easier, and since you’re likely to do little actual business, you’ll be able to focus on your transition.  Working out the kinks on a slow day lets you troubleshoot without the stress of impatient customers.

 

Next, you’ll want to make a list of all the applications and programs you use and sort them into three categories:  apps you use daily, ones you use monthly, and ones that you use occasionally or only for special purposes.  How frequently you use an app will determine exactly how you transition it.

 

For apps you use daily – word processing, phone service, accounting – you’ll ideally want to port all of your information directly – say, from QuickBooks to QuickBoooks Online.  If that’s not an option, you’ll need to find a full replacement.  Keep in mind that any replacement will have differences, and you’ll want to familiarize yourself with those differences ahead of time.  Apps you use monthly can be replaced by cloud-based alternatives, and apps that you use infrequently may not need to be cloud-based at all.  It doesn’t make sense to spend the time and money looking for alternatives for programs that you seldom use.

 

Once you have your cloud-based applications selected, you should select your test users, and I strongly recommend that you don’t rely on your IT people for this task.  You want to get a feel for how the folks who will actually be in the trenches – the ones who will have to use the new tech to do their jobs – will interact with the new programs.  Once your test users are comfortable, you’re ready to roll the cloud out to the rest of the company, using your new experts as support staff.

 

If it’s possible, you should plan to run parallel for a few weeks.  Now I know that running parallel is double the work, but if you have a problem, you’ll be glad you did it.  Keeping the old system up for a brief period ensures that your customers don’t experience any troubles getting the same great service they’re used to.

 

Finally, since your business is now cloud-based, you need to develop an emergency plan – figure out what you’ll do if something goes wrong.  Think I’m overreacting?  When Superstorm Sandy swept through my neck of the woods, I managed to keep my business running from an emergency shelter.  How?  I’d already planned and tested how my office would handle needing to work in less-than-ideal circumstances.  Knowing that if the power goes out you can still do business is key.

 

Is it a lot of work to get your business up and running on the cloud?  You bet!  Is it worth it to get flexibility and increased productivity?  Absolutely.  While making the transition in a day may not be ideal, it is possible, which demonstrates that you shouldn’t be afraid to make the leap.


7 Keys to Digital Marketing Success

Man working at his desk during the dayIf you’re new to running a business online, you might feel like you’re looking up from the bottom of a very tall mountain. There’s so much to learn, and so much competition. Sure, it can be daunting, but you’ll learn the best strategies for your business over time. But for now, here are seven strategies that will give you a little boost to get started on the right path.

1. Have a Strong Presence Online

This is probably my biggest tip from my own personal experience. When I’m not running my #SmallBizChat or blogging, I’m on Twitter, Google+, or LinkedIn chatting with contacts and sharing content. I strive to create value to small business owners, and want them to know that they can find great advice and tips from me, no matter which channel.

Decide what you’re known for and what you can help people with. Then dominate that field on every digital channel that makes sense.

2. Limit The Channels You Use

Notice in the last tip, I said to use “every digital channel that makes sense.” That does not mean you need to be on every single social media out there. Find out which ones your customers are spending time on, then settle in to roost on those. I’d say you can’t successfully manage a presence on more than three or four. Find what number and which sites you enjoy using and stick to those, even if it’s just one to begin with.

3. Read, Read, Read!

You can’t succeed as a business owner if you operate in a bubble. Sure, you know a lot about your industry, but there’s still a ton left for you to learn. And you also need to stay on top of other areas like marketing and business strategy.

Find blogs you enjoy reading and subscribe to them. Participate in LinkedIn groups so you can get access to more content on your industry. Make continuous learning part of your daily to-dos.

4. Get Your Website Right

Because your website is often a potential customer’s first interaction with your brand, you need to ensure it speaks to them. Your copy should be targeted exactly to the audience you’re trying to reach and quickly tell them that they’re in the right place for what they’re seeking.

5. Leverage SEO

Being found on search engines is imperative for the success of your digital business. Use keywords that zero in on what you offer, and that will help you rise up search engines. And if you’re a local brick-and-mortar business, such as a bakery, make sure you include the name of your city or town in those keywords.

6. Use Email to Reach Your Network

Email, too, can help you expand your business. Segment your list so that it’s divided into groups of people that make sense, such as those that have bought shoes, those that have bought women’s dresses, et cetera. You want to send a highly targeted email to each group so they feel connected with your offer, not turned off by it because it’s not relevant.

7. Be Consistent

Everything you do online has to keep being done if you stand a shot of success. Update your social media daily, or at the very least, several times a week. Blog consistently. Send your email newsletter out at the same time each month. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 6 Steps to Measuring Your Customer Service Effectiveness

Computer Lab: Support Representatives Taking CallsHow good is your small business’s customer service? You’ll never know unless you measure it. As with every other aspect of your business, tracking customer service metrics and assessing areas you can improve on will help your business grow.

  1. Set standards for customer service. Some of these standards will be easily measurable. For instance, you might set a standard to answer each call before the third ring, or resolve 90 percent of issues on the first contact with the customer. Others will be more subjective, but even for these behaviors, try to develop a clear guide to whether the employee is following the behavior. For example, if one of your standards is “Always be polite to customers,” the measurable version of this might be “Always refer to customers as ‘Sir’ or “Ma’am,” “Never interrupt a customer” or “Never raise your voice to a customer.”
  2. Take advantage of technology. There are many customer service tools, such as customer service software or call center services, that make it simple to track and measure customer service effectiveness metrics. For instance, you can measure factors such as the average time a customer spends on hold, average abandonment rates (how many customers hang up before a representative ever answers), average duration of call and average resolution time (how long before the problem is resolved or the question is answered).
  3. Go beyond the numbers. Don’t just rely on numbers—look at what’s behind them. For instance, is one employee great at getting through calls quickly, but only because he always bumps them up to the supervisor level for resolution? Make sure employees understand that speed is important, but it’s not the only factor in effective customer service. Also take time to randomly listen to customer service call recordings from time to time and give employees feedback.
  4. Act on what you learn. By tracking customer service metrics, you can spot both overall trends and individual issues, then take steps to deal with problems. For example, if you spot a trend toward longer hold times during the holiday shopping season, you could solve the issue by putting more detailed FAQs on your website to help with the issues customers are having, or hiring more customer service employees to handle the load. If you notice that one employee consistently has longer than average call duration, find out why. Maybe the employee is new and frequently has to look up information or consult a supervisor. He or she may need more training to get up to speed.
  5. Involve employees. Friendly competition, or competition with oneself, is a good thing. Let your customer service employees view and track their own metrics so they can see how well they’re doing and be motivated to improve. Hold regular meetings to keep employees informed about the team’s performance, reward results and talk about areas for improvement. More experienced employees can share tips with newer ones so everyone benefits. 

Mondays with Mike: How To Become A TED Speaker

TED-Talk-WebTED can change your life, and I’m not just talking about the insights you can glean from the brilliant ideas shared by the many speakers. I’m talking about giving a TED talk – one single engagement that will expose you, your ideas, and your brand to millions of people. It’s the biggest public speaking opportunity around, and it ain’t an easy one to land.  

I’ve given a few TEDx talks – the regional feeder program for TED, and I sat down with the curator of TEDx Hoboken, Elizabeth Barry, to get some insight into what the curators are looking for and some strategies that speakers can use to get the opportunity of giving a talk. If your goal is to give a TED talk, TEDx is the logical place to start.  

 

Let’s start with Elizabeth’s list of dos and don’ts for landing a TEDx talk:

 

DO NOT:

  • Pitch yourself or your business. TED and TEDx talks focus on ideas, rather than people.
  • Simply repeat an earlier performance. Find a fresh idea.
  • Think you’re more important than your idea.

DO:

  • Be real and be kind. You’re not the focus of the talk; your idea is.
  • Present an idea that’s original, profound, and genuinely worth spreading.
  • Bring all your passion and expertise.
  • Focus on your idea and its applications in the lives of others.  Your talk should be more than simply a story about your life. Look for an idea that can benefit your audience.

Elizabeth stressed that TED and TEDx aren’t about grandstanding. Sure, the events generate great publicity, but the goal of the project is to spread and profound ideas that make a difference in people’s lives.  

 

Once you’ve landed and given a TEDx talk, you can focus on the big fish. One thing you should keep in mind is that TED was created by a group of journalists, so your best angle is to focus on a compelling story. Additionally, you should consult the editorial calendar to make sure your great idea wasn’t covered by the previous quarter’s talks. 

 

You should absolutely promote the heck out of your TEDx video – since each view is a new (and trackable) impression, but it’s essential that you not simply try to recycle your TEDx content. Don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s your idea that’s the focus. Should you land a TED gig, it’s not simply because you’re so wonderful; it’s because you have something important to share that can enrich the lives of the audience.

 

It’s impossible to overstate how huge a TED talk will be for your career. At the time I wrote this article, 1.2 million viewers had watched a TED talk given by a young man named Cesar Kuriyama. He stood on the stage and shared the insight he’d gained from his project in which he recorded one second of video every day and edited the clips into a video that captures the absolutely ordinary images that comprise our lives. The power of his talk was in the weight of the impressions that fill our lives … the ones that we too often take for granted and forget as soon as we’ve seen them.  

 

Kuriyama shared his experience of image and memory and the complex ways that we recall the events of our lives, both good and bad. Not only has he gained astounding publicity for his projects, but he’s also touched 1.2 million people with his idea worth sharing. That’s the power of TED. It’s a worthy goal.


Life Lessons on Training Great Employees

Dog Photo SmallAll of life’s experiences can provide insight into running a small business. A good friend just drove this point home after adopting a new dog. She’s full of stories about her training challenges and as she told me her tales (or should I say, “tails?”), it was clear that the principles applied to employee training as well. You may have never trained a pet, but your own childhood memories or even your favorite TV show provide lessons that can make you a more effective employee trainer.

Keep it Positive

When my dog-training friend talks about her own childhood music training, it is easy to see the difference that positive reinforcement makes in a person’s ability and willingness to learn. She dutifully practiced piano (for a while), but her mother kept running into the room, yelling, “WRONG NOTE!” She quickly lost interest in playing piano. On the other hand, her mother’s outspoken pride in her dance abilities created a prodigy. At 13 years old, she was the youngest student in the advanced class that was generally reserved for teachers.

Positive reinforcement has real power over employees’ current and future success, so be sure to catch trainees doing something right and commend them for it. Each success breeds employee confidence, making it easier to master future tasks successfully. In fact, a well-placed compliment can feed their drive for success throughout their careers.

Also, give employees credit for contributions in front of clients, vendors and other employees.  The more that the employee knows that they are valued, the more incentivized they will be to do their best work.

Set New Employees Up for Success

Of course, it’s hard to provide positive reinforcement when the tasks are too complicated to learn, so break down new tasks into smaller components to give employees a real chance at success. Think back to the classic I Love Lucy Episode when Lucy and Ethel take jobs in a candy factory. They had about a minute of training before taking their places at a slow-moving conveyor belt to wrap chocolates. When the belt speed increased, the girls start stuffing candies into their mouths, their blouses and even their hats. They were set up to fail.

Not all jobs can be learned in five minutes —or even a week. And even relatively simple jobs cannot be performed at top speed on the first day. Break down procedures into manageable tasks so employee successes drive accuracy. Consider constructing checklists that the employee signs off on as they finish each task component. If you set them up for success, your employees will gain confidence and speed.

Use Errors as Training Opportunities

You have the power to turn trainee mistakes into lessons, rather than sources of embarrassment. My dog-training friend was happily surprised when a gentle “uh-uh,” combined with an acceptable chew toy, stopped her pup from biting an electric cord — and he avoided all cords from that point on because he learned what was wrong and what was right. Of course, saying, “uh-uh” to an employee would be patronizing, however, pointing out an error and gently correcting it makes a lot of sense.

No matter how carefully you conduct training, employees do not always know what “right” looks like until you point it out. If they pick lug bolts when filling a customer order that requests lug nuts, you have the opportunity to go beyond correcting that single error. This is the time to point out that many fasteners have similar names, so a careful review of each bin label is essential while picking each item in an order.

Be Flexible

People have differing backgrounds and a variety of learning styles; they do not all need to learn the same things in the same way. You need to be flexible enough to make training interesting and informative on an individual basis.

I know a seasoned sales rep who nearly walked out on his first day when he was herded into a room with sales newbies to watch a week’s worth of generic sales training videos. Sure, he needed to learn the company’s product line and its sales culture, but he did not need to learn what a “cold call” is. Rather than lose the company’s most valuable new hire, the sales manager personally took on his training.

Let the Student Become the Teacher

New employees have a fresh outlook and ideas that are untainted by a “we’ve always done it this way” attitude. From their first day on the job, they can ask questions or spot process incongruities that can make things unnecessarily difficult. When my friend’s dog insisted on getting his leash attached while sitting on a chair, he made the process easier — no stooping required. So, whether trainees have certain personal preferences, or if they see ways to make a process simpler or more precise, you should listen and learn.

Even seasoned business owners have new things to learn. Just as you accept suggestions from your longer-term employees, never discount the possibility that the new kid on the block has something to contribute. Everyone benefits when the student becomes the teacher.


Business Leadership Lessons from Pope Francis

From the beginning, the 266th Pope showed the world that he would somehow be different.  Pope Francis declined fancy shoes, a palace apartment, and the protected “Pope Mobile”. He said, he opted instead for more modest loafers, the Vatican guesthouse, and a bus ride.

Pope Francis’s model of leadership is one of authenticity, commitment, and understanding. He leads from a place of humility in order to serve the greater good and is an example for all leaders to follow.

Here’s what small business leaders in particular can learn from Pope Francis about leading:

  1. Master self-leadership first. Each person must be able to lead themselves before they can lead others. This self-leadership ability comes from a deep understanding of who they really are. This includes examining both their good and bad attributes. They then need to identify other people that can fill these gaps. The second step is to have courage to always be oneself. It is key to become a direct and authentic person that employees respect, admire, and want to follow.
  2. Commit to development. Never stop learning how to be a better leader. Just like every company should never become comfortable with profits or market position, a business leader should never settle on “good enough” leadership. All leaders need to look to who they can learn from inside and outside the organization. This includes not only other managers, but other individual employees.
  3. Work directly with the team. Small business leaders spend a lot of time with their customers, so they know what their problems are. In the same way, small business leaders need to work closely with their employees in order to understand their particular issues and goals to be able to match those to the company’s objectives.
  4. Lead selflessly. Effective small business leaders put their own self-interests aside in order to serve the greater mission their business has. When their interests diverge from the company’s, this is where that business begins to fail.

Pope Francis’s leadership is a reminder of what a great leader looks like. With authentic and humble leadership, every team will work harder, be more loyal and make it easier to grow a profitably company.

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What non-business leaders have you learned from?




 
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