Posts Tagged ‘Growth’


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.


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.


Mondays with Mike: How To Get Your Entire Business Running On The Cloud In One Day

Stocksy_txpe7e51ee740B000_Small_134978A lot of business owners put off making big decisions – like transitioning their company to running on the cloud – because they fear change.  They’re reluctant to undertake a major overhaul because they know that difficulties will arise, and there will be a learning curve for their staff.

 

For the most part, they’re right.  Change is a struggle.  But it’s a struggle worth taking on.  My advice to entrepreneurs considering making the switch to a cloud-based office is to take a deep breath, get a few things in place ahead of time, and dive right in!  If you follow these steps, your transition will be smooth and will put you on the road to flexibility you’ve only dreamed of.  

 

The key to a seamless transition to the cloud is doing your homework and making a workable plan.

 

First, you want to pick your date.  There actually is a very best day for major business transitions – January 1st.  While everyone else in the world is sleeping off a hangover, you have a full day to make you changes and start working out the bugs before the world returns to work.  A new fiscal year makes record keeping easier, and since you’re likely to do little actual business, you’ll be able to focus on your transition.  Working out the kinks on a slow day lets you troubleshoot without the stress of impatient customers.

 

Next, you’ll want to make a list of all the applications and programs you use and sort them into three categories:  apps you use daily, ones you use monthly, and ones that you use occasionally or only for special purposes.  How frequently you use an app will determine exactly how you transition it.

 

For apps you use daily – word processing, phone service, accounting – you’ll ideally want to port all of your information directly – say, from QuickBooks to QuickBoooks Online.  If that’s not an option, you’ll need to find a full replacement.  Keep in mind that any replacement will have differences, and you’ll want to familiarize yourself with those differences ahead of time.  Apps you use monthly can be replaced by cloud-based alternatives, and apps that you use infrequently may not need to be cloud-based at all.  It doesn’t make sense to spend the time and money looking for alternatives for programs that you seldom use.

 

Once you have your cloud-based applications selected, you should select your test users, and I strongly recommend that you don’t rely on your IT people for this task.  You want to get a feel for how the folks who will actually be in the trenches – the ones who will have to use the new tech to do their jobs – will interact with the new programs.  Once your test users are comfortable, you’re ready to roll the cloud out to the rest of the company, using your new experts as support staff.

 

If it’s possible, you should plan to run parallel for a few weeks.  Now I know that running parallel is double the work, but if you have a problem, you’ll be glad you did it.  Keeping the old system up for a brief period ensures that your customers don’t experience any troubles getting the same great service they’re used to.

 

Finally, since your business is now cloud-based, you need to develop an emergency plan – figure out what you’ll do if something goes wrong.  Think I’m overreacting?  When Superstorm Sandy swept through my neck of the woods, I managed to keep my business running from an emergency shelter.  How?  I’d already planned and tested how my office would handle needing to work in less-than-ideal circumstances.  Knowing that if the power goes out you can still do business is key.

 

Is it a lot of work to get your business up and running on the cloud?  You bet!  Is it worth it to get flexibility and increased productivity?  Absolutely.  While making the transition in a day may not be ideal, it is possible, which demonstrates that you shouldn’t be afraid to make the leap.


Business Leadership Lessons from Pope Francis

From the beginning, the 266th Pope showed the world that he would somehow be different.  Pope Francis declined fancy shoes, a palace apartment, and the protected “Pope Mobile”. He said, he opted instead for more modest loafers, the Vatican guesthouse, and a bus ride.

Pope Francis’s model of leadership is one of authenticity, commitment, and understanding. He leads from a place of humility in order to serve the greater good and is an example for all leaders to follow.

Here’s what small business leaders in particular can learn from Pope Francis about leading:

  1. Master self-leadership first. Each person must be able to lead themselves before they can lead others. This self-leadership ability comes from a deep understanding of who they really are. This includes examining both their good and bad attributes. They then need to identify other people that can fill these gaps. The second step is to have courage to always be oneself. It is key to become a direct and authentic person that employees respect, admire, and want to follow.
  2. Commit to development. Never stop learning how to be a better leader. Just like every company should never become comfortable with profits or market position, a business leader should never settle on “good enough” leadership. All leaders need to look to who they can learn from inside and outside the organization. This includes not only other managers, but other individual employees.
  3. Work directly with the team. Small business leaders spend a lot of time with their customers, so they know what their problems are. In the same way, small business leaders need to work closely with their employees in order to understand their particular issues and goals to be able to match those to the company’s objectives.
  4. Lead selflessly. Effective small business leaders put their own self-interests aside in order to serve the greater mission their business has. When their interests diverge from the company’s, this is where that business begins to fail.

Pope Francis’s leadership is a reminder of what a great leader looks like. With authentic and humble leadership, every team will work harder, be more loyal and make it easier to grow a profitably company.

VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCE

What non-business leaders have you learned from?


Building A Customer Experience that is (and isn’t) “Just Like Home”

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

A secret to creating a great customer experience is to get in the homebuilding business.  As in: You’re creating an environment/product/process/service that “feels like home” to your customer.

Now, if you think about it, customers don’t actually want the place they do business with to “be like home”– dirty dishes in the sink, deferred maintenance up the yin yang.  So I use this “home” term advisedly and with some apprehension.  What I mean by “like home” is an experience that is like being a kid in the home of a caring parent: your preferences are attended to (there’s food in the fridge that is to your taste), you’re missed when you leave and sincerely welcomed back when you return, the maintenance is done without you even noticing.  This is what “just like home” means to a customer and what can turn a customer into a loyalist and ambassador for your brand.

There’s a lot involved in creating a true loyalty-building, “homelike” situation for your customers. But I hope the homebuilding metaphor, which is supported by research done at the Ritz-Carlton, will give you a place to start. When you conclude an interaction with your customer, let her know that it matters to you that she come back soon (I’m assuming here that you’re not a surgeon or an undertaker). And when that customer returns to your business after an extended absence, let her know that she’s been missed. And, work on fulfilling, in that great phrase of The Ritz-Carlton, “even the unexpressed wishes” of your customers, as if you know them like they live here.  Customers shouldn’t have to draw you a diagram to get across what they want from you. Figure it out yourself by really getting to know them.  It’ll be worth it.

Technology can make homebuilding easier

Child's house drawing (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Child’s house drawing (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Technology can make homebuilding and homekeeping simpler and better. For example, custom-tailored, automated anticipatory messaging helps you respond in advance (‘‘pre-spond,’’ I suppose) to customer needs and would have been impossible before the digital communications revolution. Anticipatory design, used so well by companies like Apple and Google, can help simplify your customer’s life. Well-designed ‘‘My 

Account’’ and other self-service technology has made it so that many customers are willing, even eager, to do much of the work for you to keep track of their preferences and other details—information that, in turn, makes anticipatory customer service easier to pull off. Customers will let you know how to improve more directly than before if you keep your ear to today’s available electronic listening channels, thus facilitating a much quicker feedback loop for future anticipatory service.

And, once you delight your customers with anticipatory customer service, they can spread the word much more quickly via social media than was ever possible in the past.

People who help people

But technology is almost never the entire story.  A kid raised by a kiosk would hardly get the warm home feeling I’m aiming for here.  The fact that an actual human cares (mom, or dad, or both) makes all the difference.  In the world of commerce, it’s more or less the same: Automated, fake friendliness will never have the same emotional power for a customer as knowing that she’s coming back to the place where the people themselves care about her and remember her.  Absolutely, those people should be using technology to keep track of credit card numbers so the customer doesn’t have to dig out the card and recite that number a second time.  Absolutely, a business should offer technology that lets the customer update her home address correctly, rather than forcing the customer to laboriously dictate it to a clerk who most likely will mis-enter it.  But the human service provider still needs to care, sincerely and visibly, for the magic to truly work. 


Mondays with Mike: How To Prep Your Business For Sale In 90 Days (Or Less!)

I know a thing or two about selling businesses.  I’ve done it both hard way, and the easy way, and it’s not hard to figure out which way I prefer.  Even if you plan on turning your company into a legacy that your children will run after you’re gone, the best time to get your business ready to sell is today!  Before you ever want or need to sell your business – that’s when you should start.  Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Identify strategic buyers.  Strategic buyers are those who want your business for some reason other than just your company’s revenue.  They may want your customers, your intellectual property, or even your employees.  If you can identify these buyers, you can learn which of your assets are most desirable – and you can protect them.
  2. Resolve any legal troubles.  Buyers won’t want to touch a business that has lawsuits or liens against it, so you need to clear up any old business and get your company in the clear. 
  3. ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Focus on profitability, rather than debt.  Businesses are often valued by a multiple of their profit, so you’re better off directing extra revenue toward measures that make you more profitable.  Paying down debt with your extra money doesn’t add nearly as much to your value.
  4. Protect your key employees’ positions.  We all have those staff members who are critical to our survival, and it’s smart to make a plan for what you’d do if one of them left.  Whether your discreetly cross-train employees or keep a list of potential new hires, you want to make sure that if one of your key employees leaves, that your business goes on as usual.
  5. Get out of the office.  Not only is your business more valuable if it can run in your absence, but you also need to be out in the marketplace as the face of your company.  You need to continue running your business as if you’re going to hand it down to your children, and that means cementing relationships with important clients and maintaining your market share.  Don’t slack off!
  6. Cut costs.  You’ll boost your selling price if your company is lean, efficient, and profitable.  Make sure you trim unnecessary expenses and eliminate anything that doesn’t directly contribute to the health of your company.
  7. Work with a business broker or investment banker.  You’ll want to make sure your business is ready to sell when you tackle this step, but you’ll often find that brokers have a stable of businesses looking to acquire others.  Not only can you sell your company more quickly, but a broker can also help you get top dollar for it.
  8. Be hard to get.  If you appear to be desperate to sell, your value diminishes.  Cultivate a field of buyers and watch your price go up.  You want buyers to have competition in order to ensure that you get every penny you’re worth.
  9. Keep it quiet.  The news that you’re looking to sell your company can potentially frighten off employees and even deter new clients from signing on with you.  You want your business to continue to grow and flourish … just in case a sale falls through.

The time you spend preparing your business will give you one additional benefit other than just getting you ready to sell, and it’s actually a huge one.  Your business will be healthier.  Much of the advice I’ve listed here is stuff you should be doing anyway – measures that make your business more efficient and profitable, in addition to making it more attractive to buyers.  


Understanding When It’s Time to Develop a Board for Your Small Business

?????????????????????????????????????As your business grows, you may seek additional input and support from others outside of your company. If you’ve reached that point, it might be beneficial for you to consider starting a Board. Whether it’s an Advisory Board or a Board of Directors, having the experience and insight of a well-rounded group of individuals can help you take your small business to heights you couldn’t have realized on your own.

The Difference Between the Two

There are two kinds of Boards you can consider developing: an Advisory Board or a Board of Directors. An Advisory Board includes a panel of people that have experience that can help guide you to making decisions for your company. A Board of Directors takes that one step further and has the power to vote on those decisions. If you incorporate your business, you’re required to have a Board of Directors, though you may not hold more than the required number of meetings. If you have shareholders you’ll also need a Board of Directors, as they’re the body that act in the interest of the shareholders.

How to Cultivate a Fabulous Board

Whichever type of Board you want to develop, here are a few ground rules to get started.

Start by determining what you hope to achieve with your Board. We’ve already covered the situations where you’re required to set up a Board of Directors, but if you want an Advisory Board (and you can certainly have both), you need a purpose and direction. Maybe you want to take your private company public, and want the right people on your team to guide you to success. Or maybe you want to enter a new industry that you know little about. Having experts in that field on your Board can help you navigate that transition.

Next, get the right people on board. (Pun. Get it?) Aim to find people with experience different than the rest of your Advisory Board or Board of Directors so you have a balanced panel. For example, you might invite one accountant to help with the financial side, one industry expert, a marketer, and a strategist. If you can find a well-known industry leader willing to participate, that’ll be great PR for your company.

You want to set expectations early so that potential members know what’s expected of them. How often will you meet? Will they be required to participate in email or phone call conversations between in-person meetings?

Then, set compensation. Board members are often shareholders, so they get compensated partially or completely in stock. For Advisory Board members, you might only pay for meals in meetings, or you might offer a stipend for their time. Remember: they are giving you some of their valuable time, so consider a fair and appealing compensation plan.

Developing Relationships Over Time

You may only meet with your Board once a quarter or once a year, so make sure to maintain communications throughout the year so they feel in touch with your business. Send a monthly newsletter updating them on what’s happening at your company. Check in with a phone call or coffee date occasionally. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help them. It’s important to make this a reciprocal relationship so they want to stay on your Board for years to come.


Everything That’s Wrong With Your Company’s Plan (and How to Fix It)

Stocksy_txp9b06d560GD8000_Small_276711Wondering why your business revenue is going in the wrong direction? It all goes back to that foundation you first created for your company — or sometimes didn’t create — and how solid it was front the start. Everything since then should be built on top of that foundation, that plan. Without a strong and clear strategic plan, your business may flounder, and you may make a lot of costly mistakes along the way.

The following are some of the most common problems I’ve seen business owners have with regards to their business plan.

1. It’s Nonexistent

Maybe you never slowed down enough to actually write a business plan for the strategic growth of your company in its early days.  Perhaps that’s because you didn’t think you needed one, were overwhelmed at the idea of writing one, or didn’t know where to begin.

How to Fix It: Better late than never. Start today with a fresh business plan or strategic plan on where your company is and where you want to take it. Start with free software such as www.enloop.com

2. It’s Ginormous (and Therefore Useless)

Back in business school, you were taught that business plans had to be thick tomes, 40 pages plus. They needed to be all-inclusive and leave no stone unturned. Fortunately, that rarely applies to small businesses (unless perhaps you are seeking funding from investors), and what you’ve got is overkill. It’s so overwhelming, you never actually take it out to review it. So what’s the point of having it if you don’t use it?

How to Fix It: Try a simpler plan. You may be the only person who ever reads your strategic plan, and that’s okay. But you want it to be readable and comprehensible, and that starts with simplicity. Stick to the basics, and don’t strive for length. Just get to the point.

3. You Never Look at It

Maybe you developed a fantastic business plan…5 years ago. Likely a few things have changed since then. A plan should be a living, working document that you regularly review (try for 2-4 times a year) and modify as needed.

How to Fix It: Blow the dust off that thing and take a look at what you’ve got. Probably the structure can stay the same, but if you’ve pivoted in your product offerings or otherwise changed company goals, those need to be reflected in the business plan.

4. It’s Not Actionable

Maybe you stuffed your plan with $10 words and filled it with fluff. You read it and don’t have a clue about what to do next.

How to Fix It: Amend that plan with action items. If you established a goal of becoming a $1 million company, set up steps for how you can make that a reality. These need to be achievable and measurable steps so that the next time you review your strategic plan you can actually see how far (or not) you’ve come toward achieving those goals.

Having a manageable and updated business plan or strategic plan is what keeps your business on track toward achieving those goals you’ve set for yourself. So keep it simple, keep it updated, and keep it nearby so you can refer to it regularly.


How You Can Grow Your Small Business to 7 Figures

Stocksy_txp1c8dcf91CD8000_Small_201077So many entrepreneurs I meet think too small. They’re concerned about paying today’s bills, and give little thought to where they’d like to take their business down the road. That’s an obstacle to success, but one that can be overcome with a little planning and strategy. But the most important thing to making more money is to believe that you can. So let’s get started! It’s time to stop struggling and start thriving in your business.

First, Visualize What You Want to Achieve?

Don’t be afraid to unleash your imagination here. Think big! Would you like to run a $5 million company? Sell it in five years and then retire and travel the world? You can’t hope to grow to any level of success if you don’t first establish what your goals are.

Write these goals down and develop a vision board. No matter how pie-in-the-sky they seem at first, if you think it, it can happen. It’s not your job to judge your desires, just to record them. Seeing these goals on paper or a poster will help you get the right mindset to start believing in those goals.

Next, Figure Out How to Get There

You wouldn’t leave for a major road trip without a map. It’s the same as a business owner. You need a plan for how you’ll get to the destination (those goals you set). It may be overwhelming right now to consider becoming a $5 million company, but if you break that goal down into smaller ones, you’ll actually be able to achieve them.

Maybe the first step is to hire a salesperson or expand the area you service. These are small and simple tasks. Continue your list of action items that will help you reach your goal, and assign timeframes to them. You could even list tasks to complete each quarter to lead you to your goal.

Find One Thing You Do Really Well

This might be a superior product. Or your insanely fast delivery time. Whatever that characteristic that makes you different (and better) than the competition, own it. And use it in your marketing material. You want people to know what makes your company unique from the second they discover you.

Hire the Right People

Few solopreneurs are able to reach that 7-figure goal without a little help. And there’s no shame in hiring people who are smarter than you! Find professionals who can complement your skill set with other qualities, and hire help to fill in the gaps with those tasks you simply don’t have the bandwidth to do yourself.

Another note on hiring: it’s important that you create a company culture that makes all your staff — whether they’re full-time or freelance — feel like part of something bigger than themselves. They’re going to be key in helping you hit those 7-figures, so make sure your company is inviting and that they want to work hard for you for years to come.

Refine Your Sales Process

The smoother your sales process is — and any other process in your company, for that matter — the more sales you can make. Automate what you can, from letting people easily make purchases online or sending an email after a purchase, and put personal attention where needed. This is where having sales staff can make a huge difference. You want every single customer to feel like he has the support and access he needs should he have questions or want help.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Success doesn’t happen when you keep doing the same thing over and over. It happens when you pay attention to what’s working and do more of it, and cull what’s not working. Be constantly diligent to ensure that you’re firing on all cylinders and moving closer to that 7-figure goal.




 
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