Posts Tagged ‘business tips’


How to Establish and Sustain Your Competitive Advantage

horse racing smallNo matter what industry you’re in, I’m willing to bet it’s pretty competitive. You constantly have to be on your toes and know what the other players in your field are doing. However, it helps if you have a strong competitive advantage. This is that je ne sais quoi that makes your brand unique and attracts customers to you. If you don’t know what your competitive advantage is, this article will help you find it, as well as help you keep it.

Defining What Makes You Unique

Not sure what your competitive advantage is? Here are several examples:

  • You offer products no one else does
  • You focus on quality products
  • You offer stellar customer service
  • You charge less
  • You offer a unique experience

If you were to ask your customers why they come back to you again and again, what would they say? Don’t be shy to ask them this exact question. Sometimes you’re too close to your business to see what your advantage is, and your customers’ answers may surprise you.

Shifting Your Mindset About Your Competitors

Even if you’ve got an amazing competitive advantage, it’s important to not rest on your laurels and assume you will always be on top. It’s easy to mimic those benefits your company offers, and if you’re thriving, you should expect that other companies will do just that.

When business is booming, it’s easy to think you’ll never be anywhere but #1. When your competitors are light years behind you, or you put all your energy into one large client, you take your focus away from that competitive advantage. But you shouldn’t. Have the attitude that that advantage is something you have to fight for, every day.

Sustaining That Edge

Once you accept that your competitive advantage is something you can never take for granted, you’ve got to be diligent to stay on top of owning it. If your advantage is offering the best product on the market, make sure you’re paying attention to all other players and the quality of their products, as they’ll likely improve over time. Continue to innovate on your own product so it’s constantly evolving too.

If customer service is your strong suit, make sure your staff has continual training, and that you monitor a few calls to ensure they’re following your high-quality customer service protocol.

Remember: sustaining that competitive advantage takes effort. If it’s truly important to you to own that advantage, put energy into maintaining it every day.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Improve Employee Communication

10-28 Intergenerational communicationIs your business struggling with communication issues between different age groups at work? While the problem of intergenerational communication is nothing new (remember the “Generation Gap” of the 60s?), it’s more pronounced than ever because there are so many different generations in the work force today. As older workers put off retirement due to the past recession, your business may have Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers all on the same team.

Technology is widening the generation gap in business. When younger workers who grew up with smartphones meet up with Baby Boomers hanging on to their flip phones, sparks can fly. Boomers may feel that Millennials are rude and tactless because they’re always looking at their phones and want to “talk” via text, while Millennials feel Boomers are slow and old-fashioned because they take notes on paper and want to talk face-to-face.

How can you resolve these communication issues? Try these tips.

  • Bring generations together. Create teams with diverse age groups so employees can learn from each other and get beyond stereotypes. There’s nothing like getting to know someone to dispel your preconceptions about that age group. Believing that all older people are tech dinosaurs or all 20-somethings are text-happy social media mavens ignores each person’s reality. (In fact, one study from Cornerstone reports Gen Y (Millennials) is the generation most likely to say they’re suffering from “tech overload.”)
  • Have workers bring each other up to speed. Younger employees can show older ones how to use IM or social media. Even if they don’t need to do it for their jobs, they’ll appreciate not feeling left behind.
  • Make sure no one gets left out. Company-wide information, such as announcements or operations manuals, should be distributed in a format that all employees know how to access, such as via email. This ensures even the less tech-savvy workers get the information they need.
  • Use multiple communications tools. Mixing it up is good for everyone. Encourage employees to use the method that fits the message. That might be IM and texting sometimes, email or phone calls at other times and even walking across the office to talk to someone in person (gasp) when it’s called for.
  • Lead by example. Be a good communicator yourself—get out of your office, walk around and see what’s going on, and become familiar with multiple communications tools so you can interact with everyone on your team the way they prefer. 

Mondays with Mike: The 5 Cloud Mistakes That Will Cost You Big-Time

10-27 Business in the cloud smallI’m a cloud evangelist.  I work out of my backpack, and running my business on the could lets me work from anywhere on the planet, all while providing the highest level of customer service.  While I’m a huge fan of the cloud, I also know some folks who have underestimated the cost of converting their companies to run on the cloud.  Here are some things to avoid if you’re looking to make the leap.

  1. Thinking the cloud is free.  Sure, you may be able to find a music service that gives you access to your tunes at no charge, but if you’re looking for full functionality – the ability to collaborate, buy, sell, communicate, and store data on the cloud, you’re going to have to pay for it.  Even the simple problem of data storage may end up costing you more if you use the cloud, rather than hardware, but in exchange for the higher fee, you get the ability to access your data from anywhere.  It’s important that you accurately assess fees before you dive in, though.  Monthly subscriptions for cloud storage can add up, so you need to do your homework.
  2. Stopping at storage.  Data storage is what most folks think of when they contemplate uses for the cloud, but what many people forget is that simply storing the data doesn’t go far enough.  You may need data analysis.  You may need credit card processing.  You may need automatic backups.  Each service you add raises your prices each month.  Make sure you account for everything you’ll need.
  3. Thinking there’s one cloud.  It’s a big sky full of lots of clouds.  You may use Nextiva for your communication needs, while your accounting may be handled by QuickBooks.  Those are separate clouds, and they don’t necessarily work easily together.  Finding fixes when you need to move data from one cloud to another can be costly.  Think about it – the slide show you create on Google Drive doesn’t necessarily port perfectly to PowerPoint.  You have to find workarounds, and those cost time and money.
  4. Assuming all your apps will work on the cloud.  Quite simply, they won’t – though more do each day.  If you’re wedded to a particular accounting program or to a specific phone system, you may have trouble converting your apps to the cloud.  There are fixes – PC Anywhere and My Cloud Anywhere can help with the conversion, but you’re going to have to pay for their services.
  5. Getting locked in.  The more customized your cloud configuration is, the harder it will be to move data from cloud to cloud.  Proprietary coding and formatting differences can make it a nightmare to work among a variety of apps.  Your best bet is to be agnostic – minimize your attachment to any one proprietary system – and you’ll find it easier to move from one app to the next with a minimum of difficulty and expense.

Yes, the cloud costs money.  And yes, it can be a hassle to navigate all of the options and functionality.  But is it worth it?  Absolutely!  The ability to collaborate at a distance, maintain communication regardless of location, and exceed customer expectations from anywhere on the globe is absolutely worth it.  


Should Employees be Tipped?

10-23 Tipping SmallI stay at Marriott Hotels over 50 nights a year. I was surprised to learn that with the help of Maria Shriver, Marriott Hotels recently started a formal program to encourage guests to tip employees that clean their hotel rooms.

The campaign, called "The Envelope Please," places envelopes in 160,000 rooms in the U.S. and Canada to solicit tipping by guests. The "name of the person who cleans the room will be written on the envelope along with a message: "Our caring room attendants enjoyed making your stay warm and comfortable. Please feel free to leave a gratuity to express your appreciation for their efforts." Source 

One of the motivations behind this campaign is that these employees want an increase in their compensation. The company's assumption is that this increase should come from tips, the same way other hotel employees accomplish this. This is a surprise coming from a company like Marriott that has $13 billion a year in revenue, and $626 million in profits. Arne Sorenson, the CEO, who suggests you leave $1 or $5 a night, makes $7 million a year. Source 

Is this fair to the guest after paying hundreds of dollars a night? Should a small business support the tipping of employees through various solicitations like signs and tip jars?

Unlike the rest of the world, restaurant tipping is a large part of employees’ compensation. It allows employers to pay less than minimum wage in some states. Expected tipping is a terrible custom. It allows the employer to pay low wages and puts that burden on the customer. For example, in Chicago, a meal costs 30 percent more when tax and tip are added in. Pricing on the menu almost amounts to false advertising!

People that argue for tips will improve service. In fact, TIP stands for "to improve performance". But evidence suggests something else.

Brian Palmer of Slate writes that “Tipping does not incentivize hard work. The factors that correlate most strongly to tip size have virtually nothing to do with the quality of service. Credit card tips are larger than cash tips. Large parties with sizable bills leave disproportionately small tips. We tip servers more if they tell us their names, touch us on the arm, or draw smiley faces on our checks. Quality of service has a laughably small impact on tip size." Source

Small business owners should not encourage tips for employees. This sends a strong message that they value their employees and pay them fairly. It states that they do not ask customers for more money beyond what is charged for the service. 

If a customer wants to leave an extra tip for exceptional service let them, but the company should not expect customers to supplement employees’ wages.

When I stay at a Marriott, I expect a clean room. I shouldn't have to pay more to get one.


5 Out-of-the Box Digital Marketing Ideas

10-22 Outside the boxWhen it comes to marketing your small business, you don’t want to have the same marketing campaign as your competitor, but sometimes you simply can’t find the creative juice to develop an inspiring idea. Here, we’ve got five ideas to jumpstart your thinking and get you moving toward increased sales and floods of new customers.

1. Viral Video

If you’ve never considered creating a video, there’s never been a more affordable time to dabble in the medium. Many of your customers likely prefer video as a means to consume content, over written content. By developing a few strategic videos (try a how-to to start) you can attract a different audience from your standard one, and you can reach a wider number of people if you invest in making a killer video that people want to share.

Getting Started: John Jantsch has a great list of video editing tools that will set you off on the right foot with your video marketing. 

​​2. Infographics

If you’re heavy into blogging, remember that you don’t always have to write your content. Liven up your blog with an occasional infographic, and then see if your traffic jumped for that post. An infographic takes a dense amount of information and makes it visually appealing so that more people absorb it.

Getting Started: If you’re not design-oriented, use a tool like Piktochart to easily create visually appealing infographics.

3. Giveaway

What better way to attract people toward your brand than by giving something away? That might be some of your products, or maybe a larger prize, like an iPad. If you list your giveaway on sites dedicated to giveaways, you’ll reach people who otherwise wouldn’t have heard of your product.

Getting Started:  Set your parameters for the giveaway. How can people enter? Are there multiple ways to get entries? How many winners will you select? What’s the deadline? Where will you promote it? The more you promote it, the more entries you’ll have, and thereby more leads. 

4. Co-Marketing

Let’s say you sell peanut butter, and you know a guy who runs a jelly store. If you partner up, you can combine forces to market your products together. Maybe you offer a 25% off of jelly coupon to every customer you have, and he does the same for your peanut butter. Or you go in on online advertising together, cut your costs, and double your results.

Getting Started: Look to your local community to find possible partners. They shouldn’t compete, but should sell products that complement yours. 

5. Speaking

Speaking as an expert in your field is an excellent way to brand yourself. Choose a topic you know well (and maybe one that lends itself to people deciding they’d rather hire you to do it than do themselves), and give plenty of value in that speech. Afterward, be available for people to approach with questions.

Getting Started:  Look for conferences and trade shows in your industry, then pitch event planners on the topic you’d like to cover. After getting a few under your belt, they’ll come easier.

Always be on the lookout for opportunities to market that maybe everyone else isn’t already doing.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Does Your Customer Service Reflect Your Brand?

Barbeque: Waiter Seating Guest at TableHave you ever stopped to think about how well your company’s customer service reflects your brand? As workers on the front lines of your business, customer service employees are often the first contact customers have with your company, making their role as “brand ambassadors” crucial.

How do customer service employees convey your brand? Consider the different types of customer service you might receive at a fancy, white-tablecloth restaurant vs. a casual, ‘50s-style diner. Waiters at the fancy restaurant might be formally dressed, speak quietly and address you as “Sir.” Waitresses at the diner might chomp gum, call you “Hon” and slide into your booth to take an order. In both cases, they’re conveying the business’s brand.

Here are some aspects of customer service that can build your business brand.  

  • Uniforms: If your customer service employees interact with customers in person, uniforms are essential to building a brand. Uniforms should tie in with your business’s colors and logo, its mood (formal or informal, fashionable or functional), and the demands of the job.
  • Grooming: Along with uniforms, grooming standards reinforce your brand. If you own a hip graphic design firm or restaurant, you might want staff to show off their tattoos and nose rings. If you own a conservative accounting firm, you probably want these covered up removed during work hours. To make sure your grooming standards don’t discriminate against any category of employee, allow for work-arounds. In other words, you can’t refuse to hire someone because of tattoos, but you can require the tattoos to be covered on the job.
  • Speech: The ways your customer service representatives talk to customers says a lot about your brand. You might require a more formal conversational style, such as always addressing customers as “Ms.,” “Mr.” or “Mrs.” And saying “Please” and “You’re welcome.” Or you might be fine with employees addressing customers by their first names or using casual expressions like “Sure” and “No problem.” Either way, setting guidelines for employees to follow—such as scripts for customer service reps who deal with customers on the phone–creates a level of uniformity that reinforces your brand.
  • Assistance level: At some businesses, customer service is more of a DIY affair; at others, it’s a white-glove approach. Set standards that are in line with your brand. Should customer service reps guide customers through every step of a complicated process, or get them started and then let them finish on their own? Can an employee assist more than one customer at the same time, or must they handle one customer’s issue before interacting with the next? When transferring a customer to another phone line, should the employee stay on the line and introduce the customer to the other service rep, or just transfer the call and hang up?

When it comes to customer service, little things make a big difference in how your brand is perceived.


Mondays with Mike: 4 Marketing Fails And What You Can Learn From Them

Some marketing campaigns are more successful than others.  You might be unhappy with an ad that leaves consumers scratching their heads or that doesn’t make your product very memorable.  You may want to take a big chance – roll the dice on a new campaign that will cement your place in consumers’ minds and hearts.  As we are bombarded by more and more images, slogans, and ads, companies are having to be increasingly creative in making a lasting impression.  

 

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Be careful, though!  It’s possible not to just miss the mark, but to miss the target altogether and end up with a full-blown marketing catastrophe.  Here are a few ways in which marketing can be a huge flop – and more importantly, what you can learn from the failures of others.

  1. Unintended Consequences.  How certain was Todd Davis, CEO of Lifelock, that his company could protect the financial security and identities of its users?  Certain enough that he posted his social security number on the company’s website and even on billboards.  How big was the fail?  By last count, Davis’ identity has been stolen at least thirteen times, and to add insult to injury, the Federal Trade Commission even fined Lifelock $12 million for making false claims in its advertising.  Takeaway:  Think your ad campaign through.  Don’t set yourself up by failing to anticipate the logical outcome of your marketing strategy.
  2. Underestimated Cost.  In the early 1990s, Pepsi developed a marketing campaign designed to boost its flagging sales in the Philippines.  They printed numbers on the underside of bottle caps and ran a contest, promising to award 1 million Philippine pesos to the lucky winner with the winning number.  An error in the number selection process resulted in the wrong winning number being announced – a number that had been printed on 800,000 bottle caps.  A contest that was intended to have a $2 million in payouts ended up costing Pepsi over $10 million in legal fees and restitution.  The moral:  Run the numbers, and then run them again.  Make sure you’ve accounted for all of the costs of your campaign, even if it doesn’t go the way you’ve planned.
  3. Inability To Control Content.  Making the most of social media means that companies have to react lightning quick to comments from users who expect interaction.  The trouble, though, is that when comments are live and public, you can end up with some embarrassing or inappropriate messages on your company’s page.  Take Qantas Airlines as an example.  Despite the fact that they’d grounded their flights due to a contract dispute, they introduced a campaign inviting customers to share their dream flight experiences.  The hashtag #QantasLuxury was quickly coopted by frustrated fliers who were trying to get to a funeral or home to a pregnant partner about to deliver.  If you invite the public to participate, make sure you can control the content.
  4. Unintentionally offensive.  Motherhood – the sacred institution.  It’s associated with love, warmth, caring, and … housework?  Mr. Clean’s Mother’s Day advertisement prompted women with a catchy encouragement: “This Mother’s Day, get back to the job that really matters.”  The photo of a woman cleaning pressed all the wrong buttons with many consumers.  Make sure that the message you’re sending isn’t going to inadvertently piss your customers off.  Do a little test marketing!

It’s the splashiest, most outrageous marketing campaigns that garner the most attention.  Fortune does indeed favor the bold, but you need to ensure that your advertisements don’t end up costing you business.  Learn from the mistakes of others.

 

 

 


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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