Posts Tagged ‘business tips’


Don’t Do This! 5 Mistakes You Can Avoid When Handling Your Staff

I’ve hired and fired enough people to know what works and what doesn’t in terms of managing staff.  When you’re dealing with people, things can be unpredictable, but I’ve learned a few lessons that always hold true.  Here’s my top list of things you should NOT do when you’re dealing with your staff.

  1. Expect the same dedication you bring to the office.  Your company is your baby.  It’s your dream, your vision, and your potential payoff.  Your staff – even the most vibrant, engaged employees – are in it for the paycheck.  They don’t stand to gain as much as you do if you succeed, and they don’t see the same value you do in sacrificing their energy, free time, and income.  If you expect your staff to give up their lives in service of your vision, you’re asking too much, and you’re certain to be disappointed.  Be realistic about what you can expect from your staff.
  2. Give a lofty title to a rookie.  In the absence of tons of free money, entrepreneurs sometimes have to be creative when it comes to rewarding their staff.  Don’t attempt to compensate your staff by giving them titles they haven’t earned.  If you hire on an admin to handle your corporate Facebook and Twitter account and put “Chief Marketing Officer” on the new business card, you’re setting yourself up for problems.  If your new Chief Marketing Officer learns that his title usually comes with a much higher salary out in the marketplace, he’s likely to become disgruntled and feel like he’s undercompensated.  Give your staff authentic titles.
  3. Not handling reviews on time.  Your employees know their start dates, and you should too.  Not only do formal, regular reviews give you a chance to address any problems, but they also give your staff valuable feedback on what they’re doing right.  Don’t overlook an opportunity to praise your staff.
  4. Train and pray.  It’s expensive to hire and fire staff, and one of the most commonly made mistakes in the way business owners handle their staff is to skimp on the training.  If you send an employee out with inadequate training, not only are you running the risk of disappointing your customers, but you’re also fostering uncertainty in your new hire.  Let your staff know that you care enough about them and your clients to train and support new hires properly.
  5. Messing up the first day.  Your new hire starts forming an impression of you and your company the second they walk through the door on the first day on the new job.  You can either impress your new employee with business cards, formal, supportive training, and a schedule for the first day, or you can put them in a corner and let them fill out paperwork.  Start your staff off right – thoughtfully, deliberately, and with a warm welcome that lets your employees know you’re glad they’re there.

Hiring and firing employees is time consuming and can be very costly.  When you add in the immeasurable value of great staff, you’ll realize right away that making a conscious effort to handle your staff properly will pay dividends.  You’ll be able to retain great staff and continue to give your customers great value, and you’ll also free yourself up to develop new business, rather than dealing with staff troubles.

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Improving Customer Service? Try These 4 Tech Tools

11-21 tech customer service toolsCustomer service can make or break a business, especially in an era of online reviews and social media. One post about a bad experience with your company can linger online for years, scaring away business and harming the professional reputation you’ve worked so hard to build.

But technology can help businesses, too. A wide variety of tools are available to help businesses manage their customer service, automating processes to prevent calls from falling through the cracks. Here are four tools that can put your business in control of all of its interactions with customers.

Ticketing System

Whether a business is handling an occasional call for assistance or hundreds of support requests each day, a ticketing system can help bring it all together. Each call that comes in creates a new ticket that remains open until the issue is resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. The call is routed to the right support representative and escalated as necessary, with each employee logging notes as they work to help the customer. By regularly extracting reports on tickets, a business can pinpoint trends, including specific issues with a product or service, giving it the opportunity to fix those issues.

Live Chat

As your business grows, your website will receive multiple visits each day from customers interested in learning more about your product. The ability to initiate a chat to ask questions can make a big difference to both new visitors and current customers, some of whom feel more comfortable chatting through an online interface than picking up the phone to call. This technology has evolved even further in recent years to allow businesses to initiate a chat with every guest who visits. As a user clicks around your site, an invitation to chat (usually phrased as “How may I help you today?”) can be sent, with the customer opting to either close it or engage in a conversation.

Virtual Call Center

Cloud technology allows businesses to set up an affordable customer service desk online. Representatives no longer have to drive into an office each day to gather in clusters of cubicles. With a virtual call center, each customer service representatives can login from any internet-connected device to begin accepting calls, freeing up businesses to hire employees to work from home. With reporting and call management features, virtual call centers also provide ongoing insight into call volume trends for resource planning purposes.

Google Alerts

When a customer has an issue with a product or service your business provides, he can easily blast it across the internet before you’re even aware of it. By setting up Google Alerts for any mention of your brand, you’ll know immediately when you’ve been mentioned on social media or online review sites, giving you the opportunity to engage in damage control before the problem spirals out of control.

Quality customer service is essential to a business’s ongoing success. Thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to implement and manage high-quality customer service desks. With many of these features coming with built-in reporting tools, you’ll have insight into your customers that will help drive future business decisions, improving your efficiency and keeping you in better contact with the consumers you’re serving.


Go Find the Thin Places in Your Business

Wide avenue with trees on each side forming a shaded tunnel.When was the last time you felt inspired and then fundamentally changed your view of the business world?

In the hustle and thickness of every day, it is rare to have a transformational experience. Most small business owners see their days as a list of to-do’s they must check off. Typically this provides nothing more than a sigh of relief or a sense of frustration at the conclusion of every day.

This is one reason why taking scheduled breaks to recharge from the daily routine is so important. It can thrust you into places where you can have new experiences and gain totally different perspectives. These are called thin places.

Characteristics of a Thin Place

According to Eric Weiner, cultural traveler and writer for the New York Times, thin places can be charming, enchanting, and awe-inspiring. They can be calming, yet stir feelings and emotions. Time passes pleasantly in these places, without feeling a need to track it. They are places where one can’t help but marvel at beauty, efficiency, and the power of everything. Thin places are where wisdom just sits. They prompt you to ponder rare and new thoughts. They help you make thought associations that have alluded you.

In his article, Weiner explains that thin places are not necessarily tranquil, beautiful, or fun. They usually aren’t places like Disney World or an awards dinner. Thin places are where there is not agenda. They can be natural places like the Sonoran Desert or the ocean. They can be man-made parks or city squares. For some people, thin places can even be an airport or a local bookstore.

Purpose of Thin Places
Thin places give people new perspectives. They don’t necessarily provide “spiritual breakthroughs”, but they do change the way one sees the world. They disorient, confuse, and transform. People leave as different, yet perhaps more authentically themselves, after encountering a thin place. They see themselves and their business from a different place.

How to Get to Thin Places
Usually, thin places are just stumbled upon. In order to increase the likelihood of encountering thinness, you must start by having no preconceived notions. Thinking you will walk out with a brilliant idea or revelation will probably mean disappointment. There are no guidebooks to take you there since thin places are not the same for everyone. Each person must discover what thinness looks like to them.

Whether you are traveling the world or a local neighborhood, be open to new places and experiences that don’t exist inside your office or your company. It’s not so much the place itself as it is how you feel in that place. You must find the places where you feel thin – where you feel really you.

My thin place is at Wallace Desert Gardens in Scottsdale. Where are yours?


The Power of the Press Release

11-19 press release smallAs a small business owner, you need as many tools in your marketing arsenal as possible. Press releases are an excellent resource for helping you reach more people online as well as attract the attention of journalists and bloggers. But you don’t need to hire a public relations professional to start leveraging press releases. Here’s your guide to getting started.

Focus on the Angle

Press releases, by their very nature, focus on news. They’re not promotional articles or advertising. So if you’re going to write one, you need a news angle. That might be that you just opened your shop downtown, or that you recently secured your first government contract. Ask yourself this: would this fit in my local newspaper? If not, you don’t have a topic for your first press release.

This is especially important when you reach out to journalists to cover your story. They don’t care how great you think your company is; they want stories that their readers are interested in. So keep your focus on relevant news, and you’ll be fine.

Consider Your Channels

There are websites that focus solely on distributing press releases online. These are great for getting your news out there on many sites, as well as getting links back to your website. The more places your press release is found, the more opportunity for potential customers, as well as journalists and bloggers, to stumble upon it.

Another option you have is to send that press release directly to journalists you think might be interested in your news. Start locally; you’ll have a better shot of making it in your local daily newspaper than on the front page of New York Times.

Keep Your Timing in Mind

If your news happens in two weeks, you need to start pitching journalists now, and ask them to honor the embargo of 2 weeks (that just means they won’t leak your news until your specified date). While journalists and bloggers will need more lead time to write the story, online press release distribution services don’t, and many can publish your release within a few hours of submission. Chart out your timing before you need your news announced so you avoid last minute time crunches that could ruin your carefully-timed news announcement.

Watch Those Metrics

One of the purposes of using press releases online is to attract website visitors. Once you’ve published a press release or have gotten mentioned in online media, check your analytics after a few days to see if this coverage resulted in a boost in traffic. See where the traffic is coming from; one site that publishes press releases might send more than another, and this is important for your overall marketing and PR strategy.

One press release won’t result in dozens of new customers, but a steady cadence might. Only publish releases if you’ve got something newsworthy, but do build them into the bigger picture.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: What Do Customers Want From Your Customer Service?

Woman working in restaurant taking payment from customerGood customer service makes life better for your customers—but it also makes your profits better. Need confirmation of that claim? Check out the results from the latest Global Customer Service Barometer by American Express.

Customers today don’t feel very positive about customer service in general. Maybe that’s why those who do get good service really appreciate it. Nearly three-fourths (74 percent) of consumers surveyed say they have spent more with a company because they had a history of positive customer service experiences with that business. On average, customers are willing to spend 14 percent more with companies that provide good service.

Good customer service not only boosts your sales with current customers, it’s a major factor in landing new customers. More than four in 10 (42 percent) say a recommendation from a friend or family member is likely to get them to do business with a new company. What’s more, 34 percent say such a recommendation is even more influential than sales or promotions.

On the flip side, last year six out of 10 consumers say they had an experience where they planned to buy something from a business, but changed their minds after a poor customer service experience. And 37 percent of respondents say they only give a business one chance to mess up before they switch to the competition.

While nearly half of consumers tell people about good customer service—and they tell an average of eight people—a whopping 95 percent of shoppers tell others about bad customer service experiences. Even worse, customers who have negative experiences tell twice as many people as those who have positive experiences.

So what constitutes good customer service? It’s pretty easy to do: To exceed U.S. consumers’ expectations, simply deliver the value you promise at the right price. While that’s the most important factor in customer service, consumers also say “ease of doing business” and “personalized service” factor in to good customer service.

When it comes to interaction with customer service reps, consumers overwhelmingly agree that good service means being able to provide satisfactory answers to their questions (86 percent) or connect them with someone who can (78 percent).

Beyond these basics, customers value efficiency (they want their transactions handled quickly and competently) and empowerment (they want employees who are able to make decisions on their own). 


Mondays with Mike: Why Pivoting Can Kill Your Business

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If you’re anything like me, you’re perpetually trying to improve your business.  I read a lot of material produced by other entrepreneurs to make sure I stay on top of trends and the most current research that can help me be a better business owner.  My companies are my babies, and I want to be a good parent.

We have to be wary consumers of entrepreneurial advice, though, and there’s one trend that is particularly troubling to me because it eats away at the core reasons you and I had for starting our companies in the first place.  Pivoting can be lethal to your business, and here’s why.

Pivoting, explained simply, is finding out what your customers want and altering your product until you satisfy your customers.  Now in theory, trying to please your customers doesn’t sound like a bad thing, right?  Here’s the problem, though:  assuming that you started your business because you had a philosophy and a product that you believed in, pivoting can end up being nothing more than incremental steps that carry you further and further from your vision.

In fact, not only can pivoting move you away from your vision, but it can also do real harm to your bottom line. 

I’ll share a story that illustrates how dangerous pivoting can be:  When I wrote my first book, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, I thought I knew exactly who my target audience was.  I was absolutely certain that my readers would be male, recent college graduates.  I’d created marketing plans with that reader in mind, and I was shocked when I didn’t see immediate sales to my expected demographic.  I’d missed my mark, and for whatever reason, my book wasn’t selling as well as I’d hoped … at least not to the people I thought it would.

As it turned out – before I could revise the book and re-release it, hoping to get the readers I’d hoped for – I discovered my book did have a market – a really good one.  It just wasn’t what I expected.  I was shocked when I started getting feedback from middle aged women who were telling me how valuable they’d found my insights.  I did have natural readership – one who identified with and valued my methods – and if I’d revised my book to chase after another set of readers, I’d have lost the ones I had.  Had I pivoted … altered my product … I’d have missed out on the customer that already existed – for the product I really believed in.

So pivoting can not only mean that you’ll miss out on the natural customers who want what you’re producing, but there’s also a principle at the core of pivoting that’s a problem.  You’ll see advice about producing a minimum viable product (MVP) to test market customer reception.  The problem with MVPs is that they’re necessarily watered down, poorer quality offerings than what you’d produce if you were really going all in with a product launch.  It’s my position that if you’re truly invested in a product you believe is a unique, high quality offering, then you’ll find your customers.  Putting out a lousy representation in order to test the waters will ultimately damage your brand and dilute the effect you’re trying to create in the marketplace.

My advice when it comes to pivoting – or any other entrepreneurial trend – is to remember why you started your business in the first place.  Any trend or new concept that moves you away from your vision for your company deserves closer scrutiny and a skeptical eye.  Finding your authentic customers and then earning and keeping their confidence is a much sounder course than shifting your direction in search of an easier road.


3 Tech Tools That Make Your Small Business Seem Much Larger

11-13 shadowBusinesses no longer are forced to lease office space and hire multiple employees to start and grow. Thanks to the many technology tools that are available today, even a one-person startup operating out of a home office can interact with clients and customers. Best of all, these tools are often affordable, utilizing the devices an entrepreneur already has.

By choosing the right selection of tools, a professional can grow slowly, giving customers the impression the business is located in a large multi-story business suite. Here are three great technologies that can turn your small enterprise into a complex business, complete with customer service representatives and administrative assistants.

VoIP Call Forwarding

As a small business owner, your cell phone is your lifeline. Today’s cloud-enabled VoIP phone systems offer a wide variety of features to facilitate communication as you grow. Using an online interface or a desk phone, a business can forward calls as needed throughout the day.

As a business adds employees, additional users can be added, with calls being routed to employees whether they’re at home, in the office, or traveling from one meeting to the next. These systems can also be set to ring multiple phones at once, so a professional can have a desk phone, cell phone, and home phone ring simultaneously to ensure no call is ever missed.

Cloud Services

Cloud service providers have served as the great equalizer in the business world, giving SMBs access to technologies traditionally only available to larger businesses. Companies pay a monthly fee for access to software, file and application hosting, and web hosting from any device. Cloud services providers employ some of the best IT professionals to provide the highest level of security and reliability.

In addition to providing storage and software functionality, the cloud has also made it possible for businesses to rethink the traditional approach to getting work completed. Instead of committing to a full-time employee with salary and benefits, a business owner can contract with an online virtual assistant to help manage tasks, as well as graphic designers, application developers, marketing professionals, and other workers. This work can be done on a paid-per-job basis, with workers potentially living on the other side of the world.

Billing and Payment Solutions

Invoicing is an essential part of any growing business. During the process of building and growing a startup, an entrepreneur doesn’t have the time to dedicate to sending invoices, collecting payments, and tracking funds. Automated solutions give business owners the opportunity to automate the process, saving time and preventing costly errors.

Newer solutions also offer the opportunity of setting up a portal through which clients and vendors can view and pay invoices, as well as view the status of pending payments. These tools cut down on the number of phone calls for information and give a business an even more professional, big business appearance.

Technology has opened up many possibilities for businesses, including giving small businesses the ability to appear much larger. By setting up the right infrastructure from the beginning, an SMB can give itself a competitive edge in its field.


Why Dentists Can Predict the Next Economic Downturn

11-13 Dentists and economy smallDental appointments actually say a lot about the state of the US economy and can predict its future health. According to a recent Businessweek article, patient visits per scheduled follow-ups, ratio of actual to projected fees for dental service, potential monthly revenue from suggested treatments, and accounts receivable per practice are all factors that gauge consumer confidence and have reliably predicted the direction of the economy for the last seven years.

Using these metrics, where is the economy heading in 2015? According to the dental index numbers, things may be pretty bleak.

Patients aren’t coming back. For starters, August 2014 saw a dip in the number of follow-up dental visits patients kept. Dips also occurred 11 months before the 2008 recession and again in 2009 amid the recession. This would indicate a downward turn in the economy sometime in the middle of next year.

Patients are not getting supplemental dental maintenance. Patients are rejecting services that supplement a traditional hygiene appointment, such as x-rays and more complicated maintenance because of cost. These numbers, which have stayed relatively constant over the past four years, are currently fluctuating and more closely resembling the 2007-2009 timeframe during the Great Recession.

Patients aren’t accepting treatments. There is also a growing gap between the number of treatments dentists are planning to perform and the number of treatments patients are accepting to have done. History has shown that this gap occurs just before the economy takes a turn for the worse.

Patients aren’t paying on time. Accounts receivables of dental offices are larger when the economy dips because patients and insurers are slower to pay. Accounts receivables are up 22 percent since last year and are close to 2008 levels.

Every small business owner should look at customer behavior inside their own business as pre-recession indicators. Are existing customers not coming back as often? Are they buying less than they used to? Are they not buying into suggestions of products and services? Have they stopped paying on time? This is quite common throughout a pre-recession economy and small businesses need to be especially wary of how this affects their cash flow.

Indicators such as the dental index may be the key to helping the US economy prevent a cavity!


Developing a Quality Employee Review Process

10-12 employee reviewIt’s in your own best interest to nurture your staff and make sure they’re productive and thriving at your company. After all, turnover costs you money, in searching for a new hire and training him, so you’re better off making sure the staff you have is optimized. One way to do that is to set up an employee review process that not only helps you, but also helps your team understand your expectations and strive to meet them.

Set Them Up Regularly

You can adhere to the typical once-a-year employee review schedule…or you can meet more often, like two or three times a year. More frequent (and more informal) reviews can keep your employees on track to goals, and leave less time in between reviews so they stay motivated.

Think about your timing: is December really the best time for your reviews, given that half the staff is out of the office, and you’re time-crunched getting work done before the end of the year? Instead, schedule them based on their hire date so you don’t have dozens of reviews to get through in a single month.

Establish Goals Together

As I said, your review process should benefit you and your employee. Discuss goals together that each individual staff member can strive for. Perhaps you’d like to see one turn out two extra reports a week. That’s a reasonable goal.

Or if he’s angling for a promotion, make a list of goals he needs to accomplish in order for you to consider him for that promotion. This makes getting a promotion very black and white: if he can’t successfully accomplish the list, he won’t be eligible for something he wants.

Provide Constructive Criticism

This isn’t a time to sugarcoat your honest assessment of an employee’s work. Nor is it an opportunity to berate someone if they haven’t lived up to your expectations. Emotions shouldn’t be in the review process.

Find ways to constructively tell an employee about something you want him to work on. For example, if you find his work as of late to not be the quality it used to be, you could say:

“A few months ago, you were delivering top-notch work, and I was so impressed. But lately it feels like you haven’t been putting in that same effort. Is there a reason why?”

This approach does several things. First, it puts him at ease, because you start off with an honest compliment. It also opens the door for further conversation. Maybe he recently had a baby, and his lack of sleep is attributing to his lower quality work. Or maybe he didn’t feel you appreciated his efforts, so he slacked off a bit. Taking the right approach can mean the difference between you putting your employee up in arms and actually getting to the bottom of what’s changed.

Develop Metrics

The only way you’ll be able to measure where your employee is next year is if you first set up a baseline to measure against. Consider it your report card. Pick the areas that are most important to you (timeliness, quality work, motivation are a few examples) and give him a number, 1-10, for each. Then next year you can compare the new numbers to the previous ones and see if there has been an improvement.

Staying in touch with your staff this way helps you avoid potential loss of productivity and keeps your staff better, now that they know your expectations.




 
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