Posts Tagged ‘business tips’


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. 


Mondays with Mike: 6 Creative Ways To Make Sales Internationally (Even If You Think You Can’t)

11-3 International competition smallAs the marketplace expands to cover more and more of the globe, you’re going to realize your competition may not just be the guy across the street.  It might be a guy in Mexico or China.  The big difference in having competition in another country is that you can’t simply focus on defensive measures to preserve your business.  You must start thinking about offense – what you can do to increase your market share by expanding your client base.

Say you own a little pizza shop.  Now I’m not going to pretend that it’s a good idea to figure out ways to deliver pizzas to China, but what I am telling you is that you can find a way to market yourself overseas.  Here’s how you can make it work:

  1. Convert your offering to information.  Pizzas don’t travel well, but books and videos do!  Whether you create a series of videos sharing your tips and secrets on running a small business, or whether you create a recipe book based on your Italian grandmother’s recipes, one of the best ways to cultivate business all over the globe is by creating a unique product that’s easily marketable online.
  2. Embrace the power of Skype.  While you may not be able to shake the hands of the folks buying your new recipe book in other countries, what you can do is have a small bookshop conduct a Q&A Skype session for the people buying your book.  You can use Skype to meet your fans and give them a personal connection to you and your brand.
  3. Leverage your culture.  The US has cultural capital, and there’s no reason not to cash in on it!  Establish yourself as a uniquely American business (with a plan that will work in other countries as well.)  If you’re selling your business model and sharing coaching tips, you can even promote cross-cultural awareness by encouraging your new international contacts to share the difficulties and successes they face in other countries.
  4. Play up the pen pal effect.  So you’re helping other businesses get on their feet … why not send them a little piece of your home country?  Receiving fun mail is increasingly uncommon.  Just think about how excited your international customers would be to get a handwritten letter from you.  Whether you reach out to bookstores selling your wares, or whether you ship a personalized thank you to people working on establishing a business that’s modeled after yours, your contact will make your brand memorable.
  5. Find a way to handle other currencies.  Whether you use PayPal or one of the other services that facilitates money transfers among different currencies, make sure you’re prepped so pesos and euros don’t keep you from completing sales.  Being able to work with other currencies lets you reach far more clients.
  6. Establish a local presence.  Once you get a foothold in another country, it’s important to signal your appreciation for and dedication to that business.  Whether you schedule personal appearances or establish a local bank account, consider getting more deeply involved in those communities who support your business.

It’s a big old world out there, and there are more potential customers every day.  Think big.  Think global.  Find some way to package your business for an international audience, and you’ll reap the benefits.


Make Your Business the Quadruple-Threat of Customer Service

10-31 customer service  smallWhile advertising can be a good way to bring new people to your business, the customer experience is what brings them back. Gaining each new customer costs an estimated four to ten times more than retaining repeat customers, depending on the type of business. So, while you need both, you can get a lot of mileage out of taking good care of your existing customers, getting them to buy more frequently from you and to spread the news about your business to other potential customers.

Below are a few great ways to make your business a quadruple-threat of customer service:

Create an Enjoyable Customer Experience

Do you like clothes shopping? Many people that I know wish they could avoid the hassle by hiring a personal shopper. Recently, a friend told me about Von Maur, describing the experience as “like the rich people shop.” As soon as you start shopping, someone offers assistance without pressure and then, reserves a roomy, clean dressing room for you when you’re ready. You do not bump into other shoppers and the restrooms are so beautiful that you want to throw a party in them. Add their no-interest credit cards to the mix and you have a truly enjoyable customer experience.

Von Maur figured out how to remove the drudgery out of shopping and make customers feel like Julia Roberts in the Pretty Woman shopping scene (the second one, not the first). Trader Joe’s is another great example.  While grocery shopping isn’t usually considered “fun”, Trader Joe’s breaks the mold. While I enjoy their mix of unusual products, their customer service keeps me coming back. When you ask an associate where an item is located, they actually escort you to the exact placement instead of pointing out into space. They also engage you in dialogues when you check out about new products

Regardless of your business type, you can take a page from Von Maur and Trader Joe’s. If your consulting services require long meetings with your client, bring in their favorite treats and coffee, even if you have to carry them to the customer’s site. Or, if your sandwich store sports long lines (a nice problem to have), serve a free mini-cup of your home-made soup while your customers wait. These small gestures can pay big dividends.

Trade on Service

When you have a legend about your business’s amazing service, like Nordstrom does with its famed “taking the tire back” story, you know that you provide an exceptional service.  Nordstom’s well-deserved reputation comes from making product returns effortless, without question and, perhaps most important, without guilt. Customers perceive Nordstrom as a company that is willing to do anything for them. If you take good care of customer issues, you cultivate loyal customers and earn valuable word-of-mouth advertising.

Other companies that have done well with this are Nextiva and its Amazing Service promise and CVS’s 100 percent satisfaction guarantee. They represent businesses that put their customers first, with guaranteed service that goes above and beyond that to ensure that customers have a fantastic experience interacting with the company.

Your customers will look forward to buying from you when you stand solidly behind your product or service. Make customer support accessible and guilt-free. Offer friendly and helpful phone support representatives, and make sure that your website prominently displays a customer support link. Then, remember that “the customer is always right” still holds true. You may have shipped the un-plated cap screws that they originally ordered, but if they now say that they wanted plated ones, accept the return without question and get the right product in their hands quickly. Particularly in a challenging economic environment, customers are less willing to risk their hard-earned cash. If they know you back up your products or services no matter what, you reduce their risks and open their wallets- not just once, but over and over again.

Make it Right

Every business will have times when, despite best efforts, a customer is let down.  However, businesses aren’t made on being mistake-free; rather, they are made by how they respond to customer issues.  If there’s an unhappy customer, whether they complain directly or online through social media or review sites, take swift action.  You can quickly turn a ranting customer into a raving fan by making it right.

Create a Personal Relationship

You may not care if restaurant servers know your name, but you probably feel like a celebrity, however, when they remember that chocolate lava cake is your favorite dessert — and they bring a free one to your table just for being a frequent customer. While big businesses offer coupons and other generic loyalty rewards, small businesses have the luxury of developing truly personal relationships with their customers and gaining loyalty for their efforts.

I know a freelancer who took copious notes every time she worked for a new company. When she returned the next time, the employees were impressed when she remembered their names and the company’s unique processes and procedures. In her clients’ eyes, she was part of their team and they asked for her every time they needed help.

Personal relationships with your customers make you a part of their circle of friends.  With technology, it is easier than ever to keep notes on your customers’ preferences and use that to enhance your relationship. When you make customers feel important and cared-for, they will turn to you first for their needs.

Employ the quadruple-threat strategy to make your business a valuable partner to your customers and with focus, this can help you to grow exponentially.


Top 10 Ways to Spy on Competitors (Legally)

Young Man Using Binoculars in Rockway Beach“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” -Sun-Tzu, Chinese general

Knowing about your competition has always been important in the world of business. With the Internet, this marketing intelligence has never been easier to find out, but it does take discipline and planning. By doing this type of research, you can find where your competitors are strong (so you can copy it) or weak (so you can exploit it).

Here are actions that can be done today:

  1. Follow them. Sign up for their company newsletter or mailing list. Like and follow their company pages and their personal executive profiles on Facebook and Twitter. In fact, create a special group for your competitors on these tools so it will be easier to identify what they are posting.
  2. Mystery shop. The best way to understand what your competitor sells and the customer experience they provide is to actually buy their product or service. An actual buying experience will show how good their communication is with their customers. Analyze what their product looks like when it is delivered. Explore their post-sales support to see if there are things that can be adapted for your company.
  3. Ask a question. Do this through many different communication channels like email, Twitter, Facebook, phone and their web site. Examine their quickness of response and how complete their knowledge is when answering customer inquiries.
  4. Call with a complaint. How do they respond? Do they follow up to completion or do you need to keep explaining the issues over and over again?

Here are online tools that can help:

  1. Explore ad monitoring tools. Find out where your competitors are advertising and which keywords they are targeting. Tools like AdBeat, AdGooRoo and Moat will help find out what ads and keywords competitors are using.
  2. Find their backlinks. Backlinks are still an important element in organic search engine ranking. Use tools like Moz’s Onsite Explorer and Majestic Site Explorer to find the backlinks that your competitors have on their site. There may be an opportunity to link your site to the same backlink or use them for customer referral sources.
  3. Track their website traffic. Your competitor’s sources of traffic can be an important comparison. Use tools like Alexa or Similarweb to get the information you need.
  4. Find out what customers are saying. While, it is critical to find out what customers are talking about on the web, it is equally as important to understand what they are saying about your competitors. Put your competitors name in tools like Google Alerts and Talkwalker and it will send you an email anytime a new comment about them gets posted on the web. Social Mention and Topsy can also be used for one time searches about competitors overall positive or negative sentiment analysis.
  5. Determine their social media presence. See how your competitor is doing on Facebook. Use tools like Fan Page Karma to find out their reach. A similar process can be done on Twitter with Follower Wonk.
  6. Track their technology. Determine what platform and add ins your competitor uses and where they can be vulnerable. Use Builtwith to find this out.
  7. Explore web site content changes. Want to know if when your competitor changes their website? Use Copernic to track updates or particular keywords.

Remember, assume everything is public these days. Whatever spying you are doing on your competitors, they are probably doing the same on you!




 
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