Posts Tagged ‘Communication’


4 Tips for Building Your Network Before You Start Your Business

Many would-be entrepreneurs think they’ve got to wait until they start a business to begin building a network of contacts and potential customers. Not so. 90 percent of all small business owners get business from referrals, so the sooner you start — both online and off — the sooner you can forge connections with people that will help you create a sustainable business. You also want to position yourself as a resource so that you can make connections that are meaningful. So don’t wait to start networking! Get started today.

Tip 1: Find Your Industry Peers Locally

?????????????????????????????????Depending on how large a city you live in, there may be networking or support groups for businesses in your industry. If that’s the case, begin your networking efforts there immediately. Join professional organizations or simply attend a few meetings so you can get to know the big (and small) players in the space where you want to do business.

How this will help you: Networking in person helps you assess what types of businesses you’ll be competing against, as well as provide ideas for how you can better serve your target audience. You can look for strategic partnerships. If you plan to only offer Service A, you can find others who offer Services B, C, and D, and by working together, you can reach more customers. And finally, you can find a mentor who can provide you with guidance through your journey into entrepreneurship.

Tip 2: Start Getting Social Online

Social media provides you with the fabulous opportunity to brand yourself and your soon-to-be business. You can create profiles for yourself now and start sharing content that will make you known in your field, before you even have a website for your company. Start by following people that fit the mold for the types of customers you’ll want for your business, and you’ll have an instant audience when you do launch.

How this will help you: Once you start your business, you’ll need an audience for your content. Social media is the ticket to getting more readers for your blog posts — and thereby more customers on your site. And being known as a thought leader will also net you plenty of followers.

Tip 3: Attend Conferences

Another spot rife with networking opportunity is industry conferences or local business events and workshops. Wherever people in your industry — or for that matter, your ideal customers — gather, you want to be there too. Collect business cards. Run your idea by people. Just get your name out there.

How this will help you: Not only do conferences provide great learning opportunities, but you can observe your competition closely. You can also bounce your business idea off of other people to see if it’s even got viability. You may find you need to tweak your strategy before you launch — by getting feedback from others now, you save the time and money of not launching a bad idea.

Tip 4: Join LinkedIn Groups

An even more specific social networking strategy, especially useful if you’re relatively new to an industry or owning a business, is to participate in LinkedIn groups that cater to that niche. Just like with other types of networking, LinkedIn provides access to smart folks who can give you ideas for your business, as well as let you get feedback from them before you start yours.

How this will help you: There’s plenty to learn from others, if you’re open to it. Read the articles and discussions, jump in where appropriate, and take plenty of notes. You’ll need them for your business.

Networking opportunities are abound, if you know where to look. It’s better to start your relationship-building now while you’ve got the time, because once you launch that business, you’re going to be really busy!


Good, Better, Best: How to Be the Best Leader for Your Small Business

Stocksy_txp4741dc94fC8000_Small_17003Like it or not, as a small business owner, one of your primary roles (if you’ve got employees, that is), is that of leader. If you haven’t had a lot of experience in the past in leading people, you might need a few pointers for polishing your skills. Not to worry: even if you’re not a born leader, it’s something you can improve with a bit of effort and education. And don’t be afraid to sign up for a leadership course.

The Qualities of a Great Leader

While everyone’s got their own opinion about what makes for killer leadership skills, most can’t argue that the following are qualities that can help you manage others with grace:

  • Solid listening & communication skills
  • Striving to help employees succeed
  • Empowering employees to make decisions
  • Striving for self-improvement
  • Learning from mistakes

How many of these qualities do you possess? If you need a brush-up, here are tips for expanding your abilities on each point:

  • Listening & Communication: Let your employees speak without you interrupting them. Pause before responding, and really consider what they’ve said.
  • Help Employees Succeed: If an employee comes to you with a problem, don’t just listen; act. Show him that you keep your word by making change to help him overcome his obstacle.
  • Empower Employees: Show your staff that you trust them to make decisions without your constant approval. They’ll blossom if you let them.
  • Self-Improvement: Realize that good leaders never assume they’ve reached the top, and keep striving to better their skills.
  • Learn from Mistakes: Just like anyone, you’re fallible, so rather than try to deny your errors, take them as valuable lessons.

Why You Should Strive to Be a Great Leader

Do you really need to improve your leadership skills? If you care about keeping your staff happy (and at your company), you should care. As Eric Jackson quotes the old saying in this Forbes article, people quit their bosses, not their jobs. Do you really want to be the reason you keep losing good talent?

Your staff looks to you for guidance on how to conduct themselves, as well as how your company is run. A good leader inspires her staff, not makes them cower under their desks.

Owning Your Leadership Style

If you’ve been to business school or any kind of leadership training, you might be familiar with Lewin’s Three Leadership Styles. These date back to 1939, and while others have been identified since then, these styles of leadership still ring true today:

  • Autocratic: You make decisions on your own without the input of your team, and your word is law. You’re not open to suggestions from your staff, which may make them fearful of you, and may cause employees to be difficult to motivate or keep on board.
  • Democratic: You involve staff members in key decisions, though you still have the final word. Employees feel more vested in the company when they are encouraged by you to provide input.
  • Laissez-faire: This style of leadership isn’t always effective. You put the responsibility of decision-making in the hands of your employees, which may cause your team to feel confused and without strong guidance, since that’s not a laissez-faire leader’s strong suit.

Each of these leadership types (as well as others) has its benefits and drawbacks. The key is understanding which comes naturally to you, as well as which your staff responds best to. For example, if you identify with the autocratic style, but your staff seems afraid to come to you with ideas or issues, try on the democratic hat for a week or two and see if results change. It’s better to align yourself with your staff’s needs than stick to what’s easiest for you.

The better the leader you are, the happier your employees will be. And a small business with happy employees makes for a successful company.


5 Ways to Make Money Through Text Messaging for Your Small Business

???????????????????????????????It’s nearly impossible to go anywhere without seeing people using their smartphones to text, talk, use apps, or surf the web. More than 90 percent of the U.S. population has mobile phones, and those individuals spend 19 hours per day with the device at arm’s length (some even more!). If you’re not using text messaging as part of your marketing and business development plan, you’re missing out on serious opportunity to connect with your customers and increase sales.

Text messages are one of the most-read methods of communication, with a 97 percent open rate (that’s much higher than the average email gets). And 85 percent of text messages are read within 15 minutes of receipt. This is a boon if you’re trying to get people’s attention right now. Here’s a look at how you can leverage text messages to make money for your small business.

  1. Get permission first.  You must make sure that your customers want to hear from you via text message, or you’ll risk suffering a huge backlash and potentially losing customers.
  2. Use text messaging as a relationship building tool. Like with any type of business development venture, don’t immediately start using a text messaging strategy to sell products and services. Instead texting should first be a way to build relationships with current customers and prospects. Send out useful information that customers will want, such as appointment reminders or coupons. Just remember not to send text messages too frequently or you’ll risk irritating people.
  3. Use text messaging to support existing marketing and sales efforts. One of the best ways to use text messaging is to present special offers, which lead customers to buy in the store or online. For example, if your business has a sale on a Monday, a text message can be sent Sunday afternoon to remind customers about this opportunity to shop and save.​​Starbucks will often send out text messages to customers reminding them to use their “treat receipt” (morning coffee receipt) to buy an afternoon drink at a discounted price. The “treat receipt” is an existing sales strategy, and adding the text messaging component helps to encourage customers to come back for a second purchase on the same day.
  4. Develop exclusive mobile content. You want customers to pay attention to the text messages you send. As such, don’t simply promote the same discounts and offers you send in email and your website. Create specific offers such as a 20 percent discount using a text message code. This will train the buyer not to ignore your texts.
  5. Find the right service provider. This is an important step in order to deploy a text messaging strategy for your business. There are text messaging platforms available for iPhones and Android devices that allow geo-tracking, which shows the geographic location of the mobile device holder. This is important if you plan to send text offers to customers who are near your business.

A text messaging strategy is a critical part of business development and marketing in today’s multi-channel marketing world. Remember to use texting to form relationships before going straight for the sale, and think about a strategy before sending your first message. 


Does Business Etiquette Still Matter?

?????????????In recent years, business has become very casual. Gone are the work days of suits, stationary, big titles, corner offices, secretaries, and power lunches. Small business is now done through email, video chats, texting, meet ups, social media and casual attire.

However, etiquette still matters in business and can be a competitive advantage for you. Here is how:

Attire: How you look still matters. While John T. Molloy’s classic “Dress for Success” maybe outdated, someone who is dressed too sloppy or casual will still not be trusted as a person that is dressed as well as their customer. Appropriate attire choices also must made for video chats unless you want to show your customer your workout outfit.

Writing: Since so much of communication is done in short informal manner, there is greater chance of miscommunication. Being able to write effective email communications is still an important skill and requires increased practice. This can be done by sending an email to a customer and then following up immediately by phone to make sure that they understood exactly what you wrote.

Dining: A lot can be learned by having a meal with a business associate. People can win or lose a deal, promotion or job based on their table manners. This doesn’t necessarily mean using the right fork, but still includes RSVPs, keeping your napkin on your lap, elbows off the table, and chewing with your mouth closed. Not sure of your habits? Have a friend take note at your next lunch.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device): More companies are not issuing smart phones, but instead are having employees bring their own smart phones.  As a result, personal and business data are mixing on the same device. It is critical to set the rules in advance as to what type of access the employer has for inspection of that device and whether it can be wiped cleaned when that employee leaves.

Travel: More small companies are doing business in different countries.  They need to be aware of various business and dining customs, business hierarchies, displays of affection and alcohol use. Important customs vary by country and culture.

Social Networking: Many small business owners and employees have separate social media sites for business and personal use. However, their brand image on both sites need to be consistent since customers will do a web search that will cover all of them. Personal and professional lives can no longer be practically separated.

Also remember that different generations will prefer different etiquette so this will add to its overall complexity. A great guide for the small business owner is the 2014 version of Emily Post’s “The Etiquette Business Advantage

What business etiquette is most important to you?


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Keys to Success in a Family Business

Stocksy_txp9b4a083fTr5000_Small_64619Did you know that 70 percent of family businesses never make it to the second generation? How can you avoid your family business becoming that kind of sad statistic? The key to keeping a family business surviving—and thriving—is communication. Here are five keys to good communication in your family-owned business.

  1. Pay attention. Is someone making a lot of bitter comments, showing up to work late (or not at all), or otherwise acting out? Keeping your eyes and ears open to what’s going on around you can nip communication problems in the bud.
  2. Address issues openly. Rightly or wrongly, many families “communicate” (or don’t) by sweeping things under the rug or denying that problems exist. When this kind of miscommunication infects the workplace, it can destroy your business. No matter how tough it is, make it a point to bring up problems before they fester.
  3. Keep it all in the family. Family business conflicts should be addressed openly, but that doesn’t mean they should be discussed in front of non-family employees. Call a family meeting or hold a one-on-one with the individual involved to hash out the problem before you involve non-family workers.
  4. Never assume. Because people are family, you may assume they will respond to things in certain ways or assign certain behaviors to them. (“Susan always gets offended by little things.”) Try to get beyond the “roles” that siblings, parents or other family members play in the family (the smart one, the peacemaker) and focus on the roles they play in the business. Give your family employees the same respect you’d give non-family employees and don’t attribute feelings to them without actually asking them how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking.
  5. Air the grievances. Let each family member get their feelings out in the open, even if you feel that one person is obviously right and the other wrong. An outside advisor, such as a family business consultant, your board of advisors or even a family therapist, can be helpful in mediating family business issues impartially. (It’s important, though, to make sure all family business members agree on who the outside advisor/s should be—ideally, before any problems arise.)

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How Do Your Employees Really Feel About the 24/7 Workplace?

Is your small business using technologies that enable employees to stay connected to work even outside of work hours? If so, are you concerned your employees might feel overloaded by the need to check in with work when they’re off the clock?

Well, stop worrying. According to a recent Gallup Poll of full-time U.S. employees, nearly 80 percent of them feel somewhat or very positive about being able to use computers and/or mobile devices to stay connected to their jobs outside of normal working hours.

???????????????????????????????????A cynic would say perhaps one reason so many people feel good about being able to check in with work after-hours is that most of them don’t actually do it. About one-third (36 percent) frequently connect with work online after-hours, while 64 percent admit to doing so occasionally, rarely or not at all. (Apparently, they just like knowing the option is available.)

However, don’t be so cynical just yet. The study also reveals that 86 percent of those who regularly check in with work of their own accord, and 81 percent of those whose employers require them to do so, think it’s a positive development.

Of course, employees like being able to connect with their jobs outside regular working hours because it enables them to do things like attend their children’s school functions, take time off or work flexible hours. But work-life balance can quickly tip out of balance, as every small business owner knows from experience.

How can you ensure that the ability to work after-hours continues to have an upside for your team? Here are 3 tips:

  • Pay attention. If you notice employees seem like they’re starting to burn out, grumble or complain, assess what’s going wrong. Sometimes the ability to check in 24/7 can lead to a compulsion to do so.
  • Encourage downtime. Make sure employees have “disconnect” time to recharge their personal batteries by unplugging from their devices. Model this behavior yourself.
  • Pull back. Even if you require employees to be available and check in after normal work hours, try to set reasonable limits. For example, you could say that employees must be available up until 10 p.m and after 7 a.m. Even if employees have to be available 24/7, try staggering that responsibility so everyone gets some days off. 

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Writing Emails That Get Results

Business-EmailDo you ever get frustrated when your emails seem to be ignored? If people don’t answer your emails, don’t respond fast enough or don’t understand what you write, maybe the problem is your emails. Here are five tips to help you write better emails—ones your recipients will read and act on.

1. Use a clear subject line. Your subject line should be brief but attention-getting so recipients quickly understand what the email is about. Stay away from vague subject lines like “Question” “Hi” or "1 more thing.” It’s much more useful to the recipient if you clearly label the email. Writing subject lines like, “Quick Question on Winston Project,” “Smith Proposal Attached” or “[Mutual friend] referred me to you” are all good ways to get attention while letting the recipient know what to expect.

2. Keep it short. Who wants to page down through a multi-paragraph email—especially these days when more and more people are reading their email on smartphones? Keep your email as brief as possible (ideally, no more than 5 sentences). Use line spaces between sentences so the email is a fast, easy read. If you must convey something complex, consider whether it would be better in an attachment instead of in the email, or whether you need to actually talk to the person face-to-face or by phone.

3. New topic, new email. Don’t piggyback a new topic onto an existing email chain. If the chain titled “December Sales Meeting” morphs into a discussion of redesigning your business website, people are going to get confused. When a new topic arises, start a new email chain. Also, avoid discussing more than one topic per email. Your emails are more likely to get read if you send several brief emails on different topics than one long email that covers six things.

4. Include a call to action. Just like in an ad or on your website, if you want the reader to take action, come out and say so. Include a time frame or deadline, and any contact information the reader may need to respond. For example:

Hi Steve,

Are you available for a conference call next week to discuss the next step in the Acme project? It should only take 30 minutes.

I am available M-W between 9am-noon EST, Thursday 9-5 EST and Friday 2-5pm EST.

Please call or email and let me know your availability.

Thank you,

Joe Smith

(contact information)

5. Follow up. Don’t be a pest who emails daily, but if a few days go by without a response, it’s wise to follow up either by email or phone to make sure the person got your email. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 4 Ways to Communicate With Your Customers

virtual businessDo you have a “virtual assistant” like Siri on your mobile phone? The other day I read a fascinating article about the future of this technology. In the not-so-distant future, it seems, our devices, apps and GPS could be so seamlessly integrated that they will read our calendars and constantly send us reminders and notifications of events and opportunities. For instance they’ll be able to remind us we have a dentist appointment, and then when we’re there, alert us that the bakery next door has fresh-baked cookies on special.

However, there’s a fine line between customer communication that’s welcomed and customer communication that is considered intrusive. (Envisioning that future, my initial “Oooh, that would be cool” response rapidly turned into the reality of how annoying a constant barrage of dings, pings and flashes from my smartphone would be.)

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to communicate with your customers today. The key is to pick and choose which ones make the most sense for your business and for your customers. Here are some options to consider:

  1. Email: Studies continue to show that while it may not have the “hip factor” of social media, email is one of the most effective marketing methods for both B2B and B2C companies. One reason it works so well is just about everyone has email these days—from Millennials to seniors. For greatest success, be sure you use opt-in email, don’t email too frequently, and include calls to action in each email.
  2. Direct mail: Good old-fashioned direct mail (postcards, flyers and letters) works for many businesses, especially those that target a local customer base or cater to older consumers who still like to receive mail. In an era where most marketing is done digitally, sending mail can actually help your business stand out. Save on postage by using postcards or distributing fliers door-to-door.
  3. Social media: There are so many social media options out there it can quickly get overwhelming. However, one key to social media success is being consistent, so if you’re just starting out with social, start small focusing on one or two social networks. Facebook is pretty much a given for B2C companies, but Pinterest and Twitter can also work well. For B2B, focus on LinkedIn and Twitter. Post regularly, use lots of photos, keep it interesting and useful, and monitor your results. If one social channel isn’t paying off, dial it back and try another.
  4. Phone: When it comes to customer service, the ability to speak to a live person, when necessary, is pretty much essential. Plus, in these times when so much customer support is self-serve, automated or requires people to wade through thousands of posts on message boards, having live phone assistance can really set your business apart. However, the phone is also an ideal way to communicate via cold calls, follow-up calls or to build relationships with prospects if your company has a long sales cycle.

With so many options for communication, there’s no excuse not to stay in touch with your customers today. 


Two-Step Guide to Successful Crisis Communication

Author Charles R. Swindoll famously once said, “Life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.” This quote is especially powerful when applied to a business in crisis. As Steven B. Fink, president and CEO of Lexicon Communications Corp. and author of Crisis Communications: The Definitive Guide to Managing the Message, explains, every entrepreneur should expect to experience a crisis at some point.

“Crisis is inevitable; it’s a question of when not if,” he says.

Here, Fink offers steps to successfully handle any crisis that comes your way.

Step 1: Identify potential problems & build a crisis management team

Business owners are smart to spend time trying to identify the roots of potential problems before they arise. Fink recommends doing this by creating a dedicated crisis management team of four to five people in the company. The team should be based on position, not specific employee (for example, the director of public relations and COO will always sit on the team).

Once a team is established, task them in talking with employees about problems they’ve come across. Maybe a few staffers have received complaints about customer service, or a product has been returned more than once. Instruct your crisis management team to meet at least once a month to discuss these problems and how to solve them before they escalate into something larger, suggests Fink.

In addition, this team should be tasked with developing a plan when/if a full-blown crisis happens and communicate those steps to employees on a regular basis.

Step 2: Break the story honestly & first

“Be honest, candid and forthcoming with all of your constituents—your customers, stakeholders and your investors,” Fink recommends. “The worst thing a company can do is stonewall or not offer a comment or lie.”

It can be hard to admit the truth at times, especially when the problem is embarrassing or potentially damaging to your business. But, as Fink points out, customers will be much more forgiving if a company owns up to its mistakes than if it hides under a rug.

Importantly, Fink suggests business owners should immediately make public (via channels most used by customers—TV, email, Twitter, newspapers, Facebook, LinkedIn) the crisis, even before the media gets wind of it, if possible. This is critically important because as the breaker of the news you will be in control of the discussion, not put on the defensive.

“If you don’t come forth right away, the vacuum you create by a lack of informed response will allow your opposition to spread what tales they want to about you,” he says.

When announcing/breaking the news of your crisis, state the facts of the situation and the measures you and your company are taking to solve the problem. Circle back with an update when the issue has been resolved.

crisis_communication

 




 
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