Posts Tagged ‘business tips’


How to Have Smarter Social Media Management

12-24 social media mgmt smallYou’d love to spend dozens of hours per week curating lovingly crafted social media posts about your industry, but as a small business owner, you don't have the revenue — or the time — to justify that level of focus on your social media activity. We all know how crucial it is to have a presence on social media networks, but setting up and maintaining those accounts takes time, money, and effort that you probably don’t have. What can you do to engage your customers, if this is your situation? With as little as an hour a week, you can enter the social media arena and establish your footing to launch your social media presence.

1. Develop your plan.

Give yourself a short period of time to do some research. Feel free to spread it out over a few weeks if you need to, but look at your competitor’s social media presence then look at social profiles of companies or brands you admire.

Compare and contrast and, using those notes, define what you would like to accomplish with your social media presence. Determine how your use of social media will further those goals. Feel free to be selective as to which social media sites you will use, after all, you only have a small window of time to do your social media work, so each punch has to pack a wallop.

2. Use a social media management tool.

A good social media management tool is worth its weight in gold. I use sproutsocial.com and Hootsuite.com These tools allow you to do much of your social media management on one screen and keeping everything under one umbrella so that you spend your time on the active part of social media rather than the passive.

Your social media management tools should allow you to post across sites, schedule posts for a later time, find content to share, and alert you to any conversations that may need your voice. Avail yourself of all these abilities and you will see your efforts rewarded. It may take you a while to find a system that works, but keep at it until you have method that makes it easy to post.

3. Have a schedule.

Using your time wisely is critical if you only have a brief period to dedicate to social media. It is easy to go down the “click” hole and emerge at the other side with a few good links and not much else. Create a schedule for your social media time and stick to it religiously.

You might find it easier to work on your social media management in a one-hour block one day per week, or you might find it better to spread out that time over a few days. Look ahead in the calendar and see if there are times where it might pay off to concentrate your efforts. Some companies might look for popular trade shows or conventions that raise their industry into the view of popular cultures.

4. Pay attention.

You never know what will trigger a connection, so pay attention to what you come across as you go through your day. A post may be inspired overhearing a conversation at the Post Office, something you heard on the radio, or even a magazine headline at the checkout counter. Our world is increasingly interconnected, so pay attention to those moments that inspire you in your social updates.

A little concentrated effort can go a long way with social media. Focus your attention on what you want to accomplish, do it, then move on.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 3 Simple Ways to Connect With Customers Online

12-23 Online customers smallIf you sell a product or service that requires some time and persuasion to sell—like custom furniture, personal training or landscaping services—getting customers to buy isn’t as easy as getting customers to your website and having them click on the “shop now” link.

However, smart use of Internet marketing can get customers to interact with your company so that they learn more about your products or services and get interested in buying. Here are three ideas.

1. Learn from customer surveys. Customer surveys can not only gauge customer satisfaction, but also tell you a lot about what products and services customers are interested in. Each time you make a sale, send an email to your current customers asking them to take a customer satisfaction survey. At the end of each survey, include an option for customers to tell you what they’d like to see more of from your business or what they’d like to buy that your company doesn’t currently offer. Also ask if they’d like to be contacted by your company and/or are willing to share their contact information.

Suppose a customer of your landscaping company says they’d like to see you also provide patio covers, a product you don’t currently offer. Save the contact information and, if your company does start offering that product, you can contact those customers to let them know and provide more information.

2. Offer price quotes or estimates. A lot of customers who don’t want to call a company and engage with a salesperson because they fear getting stuck with someone pushy may be willing to fill out forms online to get estimates or quotes. For example, if you sell personal training services, you could send prospects an email offering a free online fitness assessment, or advertise this on the top of your website. The link would go to a page on your website where customers fill in a form with information about their current fitness level, their health and fitness goals, how much time they have available to work out, and so on. Of course, they’d also provide contact information.

Based on the information they check off on the form, your website could then offer prospects different levels of service, such as intensive “boot camp” training, moderate training, group training or once-a-week training, at different price points. This menu should include both click-to-buy options and click-to-call options (for the customer who now wants to talk to a salesperson).

3. Provide valuable information. Webinars, e-books or other informational offerings aren’t just for B2B companies. They can offer useful information to consumers, too. For example, a custom furniture company could hold a webinar on how to decorate a home or create an e-book on maximizing living space. The information you provide shouldn’t be a hard sell, but it should subtly show prospects the value of the product or service you offer.

For instance, a custom furniture company’s webinar could talk about making the most of a small living space. At the end it should include a link to learn more about building custom furniture to fit your needs. Prospects could either click-to-call and speak to a live representative, or click to fill out an online form and be contacted later.

By using these three methods, you’ll not only make more sales to your prospects, you’ll also learn more about what they want—and isn’t that the foundation of good customer service.


Mondays with Mike: What’s In A Name? 8 Tips For Finding The Perfect Name

12-22 Hello my name is smallWe all know those iconic product names – the ones that speak for entire categories:  Kleenex.™  Coke.™  Even Cronut,™ for those of you looking at more recent examples.  Names are powerful, and while some entrepreneurs luck into great names, there are steps you can take to improve your chances of selecting the perfect name, one that conveys your unique attributes.

  1. Avoid sound-alikes.  If you’re entering a category with some high-profile leaders, you’re better off avoiding confusion by selecting a name that is distinctly different.  If you’re starting a delivery company, picking a name like YewPS not only begs for mixups, but it also sets you up for trade name infringement problems.  Be unique!
  2. Use mnemonics.  Yellowtail, the huge wine brand from Australia is the perfect example of a name that leverages mnemonics.  Not only is the kangaroo on the label associated with the continent of origin, but the color coded labels also make it easy for consumers to pick up the variety they want from a sea of choices.
  3. Tell a story.  Whether humble or grand, every company has a story to tell.  Look at Ralph Lauren’s logo.  The polo player tells the tale of privilege and cultural capital.  The polo player’s inclusion in the logo associates the brand name with a desirable, iconic story, a story that translates to millions of dollars every year.
  4. Make it easy to spell.  As more and more consumers turn to online resources to find products and companies, it becomes increasingly more important that prospective customers be able to spell your name.  Choose a name that’s easy to spell, and you’re making your business easy to find.
  5. Make it easy to pronounce.  If you can trust anyone on this point, you can trust me, Mike Michalowicz.  My name is my brand, and since I’m kinda stuck with what my parents gave me, I’ve made light of it – including the pronunciation (mi-KAL-o-wits, in case you’re curious) everywhere I can.
  6. Embed a secret in your logo.  Once you find the arrow in the FedEx logo, or the people holding chips in the Tostitos logo, you’ll find yourself showing your friends, and you’ll notice it every time you see a truck or a bag of chips.  Giving your customers cool little secrets to share helps pull them in as marketers of your brand.
  7. Change the spelling.  Now you want to be careful here, but a misspelled brand name CAN be the key to success.  Krispy Kreme.  Chick-Fil-A.  Tumblr.  Froot Loops.  Liquid Plumr.  The list could go on for miles.  These names are memorable, partly because of their unconventional spelling.  The caution here is that you not stray so far from the correct spelling that you make it hard for customers to find you.
  8. Make your name a verb.  You know you’ve made it when people start using your brand name as a verb.  You can Skype your friends.  You Google something when you want to know the answer.  Even if you use a different search engine, you know what it means to Google something.  Category leaders with memorable names can end up standing for all the other companies in their field.

Of all the business decisions entrepreneurs face, selecting a name is one of the most important.  Your company or product name is your brand, your identity, and your statement to the world.  Make sure you select it wisely.


The New Leaderboard: How Gamification Can Motivate Your Team

12-19 leaderboard smallIn traditional sales environments, managers would often keep leaderboards as a visual representation of employee performance. Achieving the top spot on the leaderboard gives employees something to aspire to, igniting the spirit of competition among team members.

As the business world has become increasingly mobile, however, it’s less common to have all employees in the same physical location. This eliminates the possibility of a traditional leaderboard, but the benefits of such a visual tool still remain. For businesses with multiple workers, an automated leaderboard is a great way to motivate employees and achieve better results. For that reason, gamification is growing in popularity among sales teams across the country. There are a variety of uses for gamification in an organization. Here are three ways this tool can be put to use in your small business.

Time and Attendance

Showing up for work every day should be a given, but as many business owners know, reliability can be a real problem for some employees. Perhaps taking a lesson from schools that issue certificates for consistent attendance, some software providers are incorporating gamification into their HR efforts. Kronos’s Workforce Central 7 has a points-based rewards system that provides positive reinforcement for activities like perfect attendance, timely approval of timecards, bonuses for overtime, and more.

Customer Support

Many companies are finding ways to improve customer support processes. However, healthcare company OmniCare learned through experience that gamification should be customized to the type of employees. After unsuccessfully deploying a leaderboard with cash rewards for its helpdesk, the company realized that its technology-oriented workers felt overly watched instead of motivated. After adjusting the program to one that more adequately motivated its helpdesk employees—one that issued challenges and gave non-cash rewards—OmniCare saw a dramatic improvement in its helpdesk performance.

Sales

Gamification is perhaps most popular in sales departments, since companies so often rely on sales teams to bring in revenue. Sales tools like Hoopla, Ambition.com, FantasySalesTeam.com, and Salesforce’s Work.com offer incentives to employees through performance rewards, leaderboards, and countdown clocks. Like Work.com, Ambition.com, and FantasySalesTeam.com, Hoopla can be incorporated into Salesforce and handled along with a manager’s other responsibilities. Rewards aren’t simply badges and virtual awards, either. Businesses can build in real rewards like gift cards to make hosting contests easier for managers.

Before choosing a gamification program, however, it’s important that businesses understand which incentives appeal to the team members in question. In 2012, Gartner documented this issue, predicting that by 2014, 80 percent of all gamification programs would fail due to poor design. This hasn’t happened, however, due in part to the evolution of Big Data. Businesses are interested in measuring performance and improving operations and gamification is a way to incentivize employees to do things differently.

How can gamification be used in your organization? Only you know. But there are many tools available to help you reach out to your employees and make them excited to come to work each day. One of the best things about gamification is that it challenges employees and makes work fun, which tends to get better results than repeated staff meetings to remind workers of their objectives.


How to Get Customers to Buy from Your Facebook Page

12-19 Facebook sales  smallMillions of small businesses have Facebook pages, but most have no idea how to use them to make sales. The page may have hundreds, maybe even thousands of “likes”, but without sales to match, it is not very valuable.

How can a small business turn virtual “likes” turn into real purchases? Here is where to start:

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Post about Products and Services

Facebook is primarily about engaging with customers and forming a relationship with them by posting educating articles, photos and videos that relate to the company’s brand.  However, no business can expect to make sales if they never post about their actual products and services. Don’t always feel the need to disguise a sales pitch. Sometimes a direct message is the best way to catch a prospect’s attention and convert a sale.

2. Tell a Fun Story

Tell a story that includes the product. Connecting a company’s product or service to “fun” will always get more engagement. The best example is the BlendTec’s “Will It Blend” series. It’s not only funny, but it made people want to buy the blender. Post a preview of the story on the Facebook page, and link it to the full version on the website to make purchase conversion simpler.

3. Connect Online and In-store Activities

An integrated approach to online and offline marketing will drive likes and engagement as well as more visits to a physical store location. These types of posts can influence fans and consumers at the beginning of their purchasing cycle. Make sure what is featured in the store for this month is reflected on social media. Make parallel online announcements when sales on products and discounts are offered in-store

4. Offer Exclusive Deals to Facebook Fans

Another way to encourage purchase activity is to provide products that are available exclusively to Facebook fans. This could include special limited editions or new product launches that are offered to them first.

5. Offer a Subscription Tab

Add a tab on the company’s page that makes a free offer if the visitor “likes” the page and signs up for a mailing list. This way, that Facebook friend can be converted to an email address which can be marketed to through traditional online campaigns.

6. Learn from Facebook Insights

Small businesses need to learn about who visits their page and which content is most popular.  Use the “Insights” tab of the company’s Facebook page on a regular basis. Insights makes it easy to monitor what’s working and what’s not effective. It provides information on the people who like the page and are engaged with the posts. It also enables the tracking of competitive pages for comparison on a weekly basis.

7. Provide an Incentive for Fans to Share Their Experiences

According to Hubspot, ninety percent of people on social media trust and believe recommendations from both strangers and friends. Harness this power by encouraging fans to submit photos with their newly purchased products along with reviews, advice and where to find it. Spark discussions between customers about the service they received.  Use discounts or bonuses to customers who post on Facebook after their purchase.

Companies can also use traditional Facebook advertising to boost posts for increased customer engagement.

What tactics does your business use to convert Facebook “likes” to purchases?


Four Crazy HR Ideas To Ignore – And Six Guiding Principles To Follow

Boutique: Owner with Help Wanted SignWrongheaded, even crazy, HR advice tends to be delivered emphatically, as if passed down from Moses, but that doesn’t make it any truer for the delivery.

Misinformation–myths–about how to hire (or “select," which is the term I prefer) and treat employees can destroy your attempts at building a rich and sustainable corporate culture and can make a hash of your leadership. Here are four of them in particular that I urge you to reject:

1. Snappy but utterly insane advice like “hire slowly, fire quickly.” Try this sometime. Or better, don’t. "Hire slowly" certainly has its good points, but "fire quickly" applied to those who aren't immediately successful means you're throwing away human potential in a way that is completely cruel:  a blip on a resume and wasted resources for your company, not to mention the shockwaves felt by those left un-fired.  In my experience great companies certainly don't ignore the failures of initially unsuccessful employees, but they engage in the more difficult "coach quickly," "make adjustments quickly," and "amp up the training" rather than the kneejerkish "fire quickly."

2. Advice like, Go on your gut.”  If people went on their guts, they wouldn’t hire, well, let’s see:  people of different ethnicities, people of different ages, people of different religious backgrounds, single people for the CEO job. And no way in Helsinki would they hire tattooed, pierced, possibly hoodied Millennials, no matter how great their potential.

3. Advice like, “Turnover is inevitable.  You can manage this fact, but you’ll never transform it.”  (This is especially dangerous advice to take as gospel when employing younger workers (millennials), since it fits with the generational assumption — to some extent true — that millennials don’t expect to work with you forever.  If you consider anyone disposable, you increase the chances they'll live up to/down to your expectations. )

4. Advice like, You can’t work successfully with a union:”  Clearly, people who say this ignore companies like Southwest Airlines — the most unionized airline in a unionized industry—who have great employee relations, with management actually striving to learn from the “other side” at each negotiation, Fairmont Hotels, Host Marriott… The incoming workforce of Millennials, by the way, are the most pro-union generation in quite some time.  Even if it is largely theoretical for them, the anti-union rhetoric isn’t going to win you points with them.

Six Guiding Principles 

Fortunately, there are tested approaches, antithetical to all this idiocy, that help companies thrive every day, while the naysayers nay. The model I use in my corporate culture consulting draws not only from my own experience but from the model of superior service-focused companies like Mayo Clinic, Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, USAA Insurance, Marriott, Auberge Resorts and others, as well as the work of a few true visionaries in the field include the creators of the Ritz-Carlton Hotels And Resorts and the work of Brad Black of HUMANeX Ventures.

1. Hiring — “selecting” – employees has to be systematic. Your approach to whom you select to work in your company, and in which position you place them, needs to be based on science, not on hunches, politics, whims.

[Quick Refresher: Here, speaking broadly, are the underlying personality traits that make for a great customer-facing employee. They spell “WETCO”):

• W is for Warmth: Simple human kindness
• E is for Empathy: The ability to sense what another person is feeling
• T is for Teamwork: An inclination toward ‘‘Let’s work together to make this happen’’ and against ‘‘I’d rather do it all myself"
• C is for Conscientiousness: Detail orientation, including an ability and willingness to follow through to completion
• O is for Optimism: The ability to bounce back and to not internalize challenges. Optimism is a necessity in customer-facing positions.

Similarly, your approach to getting recruits from whom to choose needs to be relentlessly systematic: As Brad Black puts it, "ABS: Always Be Scouting";This allows you ultimately to be able to choose from perhaps the top 1% rather than forced to make do with the top 10% of those who apply.

2. You need an integrated approach to employee development: Great hiring is never enough. In everything else related to employees, you need to be systematic. You need a system of HR. Not just in hiring, but in reviewing your talent for advancement (and lateral moves): you need an integrated approach

3. Go overboard with the onboard:  Onboarding—orientation and the first weeks of employment— matters.  Make sure employees are welcomed, and oriented by a power in the organization, and onboarded by the team they will be working with.

4. Employees need design input and performance leeway: Employees need to have input into the design of, and leeway in the  performance of, their work — and you as an employer need them to have this input and leeway.  (Fill this in with info from high-tech high-touch on both a) design input and b) autonomy

5. Employees need a purpose to their work – and you as a leader need them to have a purpose, in order to get the most out of them.

6. Employees are an asset, not just an expense. Don’t just hire and then try to minimize turnover.  Select and then maximize potential of your asset.  It requires more forethought and dedication, but ultimately it's vastly more effective and sustainable.


5 Tax To-Dos to Wrap Up Before Year’s End

12-17 Business-Taxes smallThis time of year zooms by, and before you know it, it will be January. Waiting until then to get your business tax affairs in order can put you in a time crunch at the start of the year, so get started now to ensure you’re ready for 2015. Here are five things you can do now to ensure you get off to a great start on New Year’s.

1. Make Sure Your Corporation is Compliant

If you’re incorporated, it’s imperative that you remain compliant. That means you’ll need to file your Statement of Information and update any information that has changed in the last year for your corporation. You should receive notification of when your paperwork is due, but it’s a wise idea to keep that due date on your calendar to ensure you don’t miss it.

2. Pull Together Your Accounting Records

If you are one of those business owners who had been putting off doing financial statements all year, you are out of time. In addition to your receipts, you also want to make sure you have all your invoices, bank statements, credit card statements, and your records from anyone you pay online pulled together so that a bookkeeper or tax professional can help you get you accounting records in order.

3. Prepare Your Profit and Loss Statement

While you’ll need to wait until the year has ended to actually run your profit and loss statement for tax purposes, you can start the preparation by logging into your accounting software and making sure all your expenses are appropriately categorized. Match them up to tax categories to ensure that, come tax time, it’s easier to get a clear picture of what you’ve spent and what you’ve earned.

4. Examine Your Budgets

Remember those budgets you set at the start of this year? Now’s the time to see where you stand with your budget projections versus what you actually spent. If, for example, you still have money in your marketing budget, decide how you can spend what’s left in a way that will best help your company before the year closes out. If you’ve got a surplus, consider sharing the wealth with your staff as a holiday bonus, or spending it on a party to celebrate all their hard work throughout the year.

5. Get Your Tax Form Information Ready

Again, you’ll have to wait until the year’s up to file, print, and mail tax forms to your employees and contractors, but you can still get everything lined up. January 31 is the deadline for sending out W2 forms to your staff, so you won’t have much time to take care of them once 2015 rolls around.

Additionally, you should decide now whether you want to DIY your own business taxes or hire a tax professional to help you before the March 2015 deadline. If you’re a solopreneur, you may be able to handle doing your own taxes, but if you have a more complex business, it is worth it to get professional help.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Recovering From a Customer Service Slip

12-16 customer service mistake smallHow your small business recovers from a customer service slipup is one of the most important aspects of good customer service. Why? Because one bad customer service experience runs the risk of running your good reputation—even with loyal customers.

Let me share an example. This holiday shopping season, I seem to be encountering an unusually high number of shipping problems with my online shopping. Recently, I realized that one of the online retailers I normally rely on hadn’t shipped an order placed more than a week ago. This made me nervous: In the past, everything I’ve ordered from them has shipped within two days.

Despite years of history with this retailer, and their standout performance all the rest of the time with something like 20 orders a year, I was so annoyed that immediately, their sterling reputation with me was in jeopardy. Here’s what happened next—and what they did (and didn’t) do right.

I contacted the retailer to find out what was going on.

Wrong: Their customer service contact information was difficult to find. I wanted to talk to—or at least email or chat online with—a live person. For a while, I was panicked that this was one of those sites where that was impossible.

Right: When I did find the contact info, I was pleased the company offered email, phone and chat customer service. You should always offer the widest possible number of options for people to contact you; not every customer is the same. I picked chat.

I started a chat with the company.

Right: I immediately got a response, as well as a notification that there might be longer than normal wait times due to high volume. I understood; it’s the holidays. Always let customers know what to expect—it eases their stress, and eliminates unnecessary anger in dealing with you.

During the chat I got distracted multitasking and stopped responding to the customer service rep. (That was a goof on my part!)

Right: She politely asked me several times if I was still there, then politely told me she would need to end the chat since I hadn’t responded for 10 minutes.

Mortified, I started a new chat, copying the text of the old chat into the window and apologizing for dropping the ball.

Right: The next customer service rep smoothly picked up where the previous one had left off. Realizing I was a flake, he asked me if I could stay on the chat for three minutes.

Right: He told me there was a problem with my order that was keeping it from shipping. He fixed the problem and sent me a detailed status report of my order with the new delivery time.

Wrong: I should have received notification that my order was “stuck” in the system. What if I hadn’t remembered the order until it was too late to get it in time? Develop systems for your business ensures this type of error doesn’t happen. Depending on the size and nature of your business, you can set up automated systems, or use simple manual systems like a checklist employees must go over before shipping an order.

Right: To make up for the delay, the customer service rep gave me next-day shipping for free. I was already pretty happy that the problem was solved, but this “something extra” made me fall in love with the company all over again. Always recognize when you have caused a customer to feel stressed, and take steps to not only fix it, but make up for it.

How do you handle customer service slipups in your business? 


Mondays with Mike: Secure Your Data On The Cloud

12-15 Secure cloud data smallI’ll be honest.  One of my biggest concerns about converting my business to run on the Cloud was the security of my information.  And lest you think I’m unduly concerned, you should know that I used to work in computer forensics.  My background in retrieving information that people most definitely didn’t want recovered has taught me one lasting lesson: absolutely everything you do on your computer leaves a record – even if you try to eradicate it.

So I know a thing or two about how information is stored, recovered, shared, and protected.  I knew that data security was a potential problem when I moved all of my apps and programs to the Cloud.  It turns out that if you’re going to work on the Cloud, your information is vulnerable – simple as that.  What you can do, though, is take some steps to protect your valuable files.

First, for files you store online, consider encrypting or encapsulating particularly sensitive information.  It turns out that one of the biggest companies for online storage was opening files in order to extract information for a preview function.  Dropbox neither asked nor disclosed that user files were being accessed, but when a few users employed a program that notified them when files were opened, the practice came to light.  Now Dropbox didn’t have an ulterior motive, but clients who thought their materials were completely private and inaccessible were, well, wrong.  Encrypted and encapsulated files are safer.

But even if you take steps to protect the information you store online, what about your personal device when you’re accessing those files?  Even if you take the smart step of password protecting your computer, if you walk away while you’re signed in, the documents you’ve opened – or the sites you’ve saved passwords for – are vulnerable.  Make sure you take steps to protect the individual devices used by you and your staff when you access sensitive information.

Another big vulnerability arises when we access information stored on the Cloud while we’re using public wi-fi.  You stop, grab a latte at Starbucks, and you check an email, review and edit a proposal from a colleague, and you get back on the road.  The problem is if you’re not taking practical steps like disabling automatic file sharing or using a VPN (Virtual Private Network,) then you’re making it far easier for unscrupulous folks to access your data via a shared, public network.

The last really big hole in your cloud defenses is your email, and that’s no small thing.  We correspond about sensitive information every day, and here’s the thing about email:  you can practice good password hygiene – changing it regularly, not using your dog’s name or your birthday – but there’s no foolproof way to ensure that email is secure both on your end, and on your recipient’s end.  You should be careful about your email security, but here’s the best advice I can give:  never, ever put anything in an email that you wouldn’t want plastered on a billboard.  It’s simply impossible to protect everything from everyone, whether it’s someone inside our outside your company.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Now don’t take all of these warnings and recommendations as another excuse to delay converting your business to run on the Cloud.  The Cloud’s not going away, and in fact, it’s more common and more useful every day.  Best practice is to go in with your eyes open and with a plan to protect the information that’s most vulnerable and most valuable.    




 
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