Posts Tagged ‘Growth’


Delegate — but Don’t Abdicate — with Service Providers

7-37 Delegatiing & reviewing smallYou hire accountants, lawyers and other professionals because they have specialized knowledge that you don't have. This means that you can count on them to do their work without supervision, right? Well, not so fast.

Everyone makes occasional errors. As long as the name of your business appears on the paperwork, you have ultimate responsibility. So, whether you need to stay out of the line of sight of a possible IRS audit or you want to ensure that your advertising is accurate, you need to periodically check the work of the people that you hire to help with your business.

Here are some guidelines for checking the work of people who know their business better than you do.

Accountants Know Where the Debits Go, but You Can Still Check the Numbers

Before the advent of tax software, one accountant admitted that he knew the accounting rules in impressive detail, but he was quick to make mathematical errors. Happily, the software now eliminates mathematical errors, but entering accurate data in the right place is still largely a human effort.

While W2 earnings generally come straight from a computer, a more common area of error is the 1099 reporting of non-employee earnings. Granted, these recipients will be quick to tell you about errors, but it is far less work to get it right before you send the forms to the IRS. And, if you do have to send corrected 1099s, don't do it before you make sure the "CORRECTED" box is checked. Otherwise, these forms will start to seem like a second career.

You also want to look at the big picture and trust your intuition if you think that something is wrong. For example, if your tax forms (or even your financial statements) show earnings or profits significantly different than you expected them to be, you may not know how to dig into the financial weeds to find out if the number is accurate. But, you certainly can ask the accountant to explain it to you.

Lawyers Know the Law, but You Know the Questions

Your eyes may glaze over after reading the first sentence of a contract or other legal document, but your signature commits you to every word of legalese. Lawyers will tell you that the legalese is necessary for the sake of precision, but it certainly seems like it is intended to discourage careful review by laypeople.

So, make yourself an 8-ounce cup of espresso (or a highly-caffeinated beverage of choice), and read every word before signing. Check every number for accuracy and make sure that you understand every nuance of what you are committing to. Then, discuss your questions with your lawyer. If you don't understand the answers, insist that he or she speak to you in English.

Advertising Agencies Know How to Sell, but You Know How to Proofread

It is not uncommon to leave your company's ad campaign largely in the hands of advertising professionals. But, understand that creative people do not always do the best job with details, so don't let them release print or broadcast ads without conducting a full review.

Remember that just one character can make a huge difference. Do you really want to commit to a 100 percent discount when you intended it to be 10 percent? Or do you want customers beating a path to 2000 Orchard Street when your store is a mile away at 2000 Orchard Lane? Don't allow any ad to go out before you thoroughly check the fine points.

Software Does Things Consistently, but You Know When it's Consistently Wrong

Today's off-the-shelf software is generally pretty accurate, but it's not perfect, so you need to keep a watchful eye on the details. For example, a great way to monitor tax preparation software is to watch the results of your entries on the tax totals that are typically displayed on every screen. If you enter a known deduction and then see the taxes increase, there's something seriously wrong that you need to investigate.

When you hire a company to produce custom software for your business, you need to get involved in testing before taking it live. Make sure that the company uses test data that you provide because you can then predict the results. Even when tests run clean, you should also run the new software in parallel with your old system over an extended time period to make sure that the results are accurate to the penny.

When it Comes to Your Business, You are the Ultimate Expert

As a small business owner, you wear many hats, but you can't be an expert in every aspect of your company. Even though you cannot match the knowledge of the outside resources that you hire, they can't match your knowledge either. In the end, everything boils down to details that you can — and should — check.


Finding the Right Price Point for Your Product

7-22 Pricing Strategies smallOnce you start a business, how do you know how much to charge? If your product is priced too high, it won’t sell. If it’s priced too low, you’ll be swamped with orders, and have such a small profit margin, it wont even be worth the effort. Finding the balance is the trick.

What Goes Into Cost

Your price should:

  • Cover your costs
  • Highlight the value you provide your customers
  • Earn you a reasonable profit
  • Be competitive

There is no such thing as the perfect price. It’s all about developing a price that your customers are willing to pay, that also makes you a profit. Because remember profit is how we keep score in business. Pricing effects every aspect of business because price is used to create sales projections, establish a break-even point, and calculate profit. There are three ways to find the right price for your product:

1. Look at the competition.

Use your competitor’s price as a reference point. If your product is of a higher quality, and you can justify more benefits, then you can probably justify a higher price point. The goal must be to stay competitive. If your product is knock off, then your price point will be less.

2. Calculate the total cost of your product.
This should include your hard costs (labor, materials/inventory, packaging, shipping.) You should also include a percentage of your overhead expenses such as (legal, accounting, marketing, and administrative costs.) Once you have a all your costs then you need to determine your profit margin to calculate the final price. Depending on what you sell the profit margin could be anywhere from 30 percent to 300 percent.

3. It's all about the perception of value.

Perceived value is one of the most common factors business owners use to determine product pricing. Unfortunately, some small business owners we perceive their value to be much greater than their would-be customers, which is a great way to go out of business. The main factor that adds value to a product is the brand behind it. Lots of stores sell mixers, but if you have a Kitchen Aid mixer, you have a top of the line machine. Why is that? All mixers basically function the same.

It's all about the perception of value. The Kitchen Aid mixer has a higher perceived value.

Let me give you a quick MBA lesson:

Price = (Labor + Materials) x profit margin

What that profit margin is will depend on your industry and who you’re selling to. If you’re selling wholesale, you might double what your labor and materials cost. If you’re selling retail, it might be double what you’d charge wholesale.

Don’t Compete on Price

There’s often a pull to be the cheapest seller on the block. Resist the urge, otherwise you people will assume your products are lower quality. Someone will always be able to offer similar products cheaper than you, so this is a no-win situation.

Don’t be afraid to Charge a Premium!

People pay based on perceived value. If you are confident — and competent — and can point to great work you’ve done in the past, people absolutely will be willing to pay what you charge.

Down-the-Road Discounts

It’s easier to charge more and come down in price than to start out low and then charge more. If your prices seem to be too high for your marketplace, test out different promotions and see what price point resonates with your audience. Psychologically, you may see better results simply offering a discount occasionally than to reduce your prices across the board.

Test your Price Point

Pay attention to people’s response to your prices. If you don’t want to cut your profit margin down, consider adding more value to what they get, such as a free product, or discount on future purchases.


Say Goodbye to Background Noise with Polycom’s Acoustic Fence Technology

At Nextiva our goal is to simplify business communication, and one of our long-time partners, Polycom, shares this goal. The well-known business phone manufacturer has released revolutionary new software for their Polycom VVX series phones that change the way Nextiva customers who use Polycom phones communicate.

Polycom’s UC Software 5.3 release, which Nextiva was the first provider to support, features the new Acoustic Fence technology. What exactly is Polycom’s Acoustic Fence you may ask?  With this technology, surrounding audio is evaluated when you’re on a call using your Polycom VVX series phone, and the phone performs noise cancellation for the person on the other end so only your beautiful voice is heard. In order to take advantage of this technology, you must be using a handset or headset and be within proximity of your phone.

Call centers, busy office environments, restaurants, retail stores, medical offices, law firms, and a variety of other industries benefit from this technology. No ones likes constantly asking the person on the other end of the call to repeat themselves because the background noise is drowning out the conversation. A live band could perform in your office and the caller on the other end of the phone never has to know.

Eliminating background noise for callers has numerous benefits, including:

  • Reduce customer frustration: The person on the other end of the call hears your response the first time, rather than having to constantly ask you to repeat yourself because they can’t “hear you.”
  • Reduce call times: For call centers and busy offices reducing call time is vital to reducing wait times and assisting callers in a timely manner.
  • Increase productivity: Repeating yourself is a time suck, not to mention it can be frustrating. Having a conversation without constant interruption because of background noise and needing to repeat information increases ones productivity so they can accomplish the task at hand quicker. 

Want to see Polycom’s Acoustic Fence technology in action? Check out the video below featuring the legendary Sexy Sax Man. 

To learn more about Nextiva's cloud-based phone system, visit www.nextiva.com


The Lowdown on Small Business Bank Loans

7-15 small business loan smallStarting a small business is a costly endeavor. It’s rare that a business owner has so much cash saved that she doesn’t need any capital once the business really start rolling. One way to secure funding is through a small business bank loan. While bank loans are not easy to obtain, once you’ve been in business at least 2 years and have financial statements which show your company is growing, you can find some local bank or CDFI’s Community Development Financial Institutions that will extend you a loan.

The key to finding a loan is to seek out banks that are more likely to work with small businesses. Smaller banks move faster in terms of processing the loan, but they are much more rigid in their loan requirements and require significant collateral. That being said, if you have a relationship with a local bank,that may be the first place you want to look at for funding.

Many of the large national banks chains cannot adequately service the needs of very small businesses. In addition, the lending decisions are not made locally. Whether you decide to seek funding for a larger national bank or small one, make sure you consider the six Cs, which is the way a bank will assess your application.

1. Capacity:  This is the most important factor your bank will consider in deciding whether to advance you money. It is essentially whether you can pay back the money you borrow. Your current cash flow statements should illustrate how you can repay the loan in a timely manner.

2. Credit: Your personal credit score is a factor in your small business loan application. Banks will require you to sign a personal guarantee on a loan to share the risk. The higher your credit score, the more favorable terms you can negotiate.

3. Capital: How much money do you need and how will you use those funds? It’s important to detail exactly how much you need and what you will use that money for in your business. Keep in mind the more money you ask for, the more scrutiny your loan application will receive. Typically you can borrow 10 percent of your gross revenue.

4. Collateral: Any business owner will be asked what assets he can provide to secure the loan. For example, if you own a home, car, or other personal assets, those will be considered when a bank decides whether to grant your loan request. The more collateral you have, the more willing a financial institution may be to lend you money.

5. Character:  Simply put, this is your reputation. You will be asked for references that can speak to whether you are trustworthy and have community connections. Banks will also look at your business experience and your industry background.

6. Conditions: This refers to your loan’s terms and conditions. You need to answer the question: is it a good deal for you or the lender? Your bank wants to make sure that you are using the loan for a legitimate business purpose. As such, some lenders will require invoices from your vendors and will cut checks directly to the vendors for payment.

When you’re seeking a small business loan, it’s important to understand what all six of the Cs look like for your business before completing your loan application. Keep in mind that credit unions and nonprofits may also offer small business loans. These organizations may give smaller loans than banks, but they are often a great first step in securing financing and establishing business credit, especially if banks are not an option. 


No Business is Too Small to Automate

As a small business owner, you have limited resources, so the real question is whether you can afford to not automate. You and your employees have to wear many hats and run in many directions to keep your business running every day. Without automation, you may have to skip important steps in the interest of time — not to mention the boredom of dealing with tons of needless minutiae.

Automation does not mean that you have to spend millions on fancy equipment. Here are five affordable ways that allow you to reserve your precious human resources for the type of work that they do best.

1. Automate the Customer Connection

Nothing replaces personal contact with your customers, but that contact can be enriched if you have a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software system to store business and personal information about your business contacts. After installing a CRM system, you can receive reminders that help predict when a customer will need to place new orders, identify cross-selling opportunities and even take a personal approach by knowing the names of spouses and children before you pick up the phone.

2. Handle Common Tasks on Schedule

If your company operates in a Microsoft Windows environment (which is a client of mine), you already have Task Scheduler within the Administrative Tools of your operating system. This tool lets you run any type of software task that you now run manually based on date or time, whenever a computer starts up or based on any trigger, such as running a program to automatically generate all paperwork when a customer initiates a product return. The Task Scheduler wizard makes it easy to schedule some tasks without a great degree of technical knowledge, but others may require assistance from someone who understands more about how Windows events work.

3. Answer Basic Customer Questions Automatically

It is impossible to over-stress the importance of remaining readily available to respond personally to customer questions or concerns. Still, customers’ time is valuable. When they can quickly get answers online without picking up the phone or even sending a text message, they may see this as the best experience of all. It is easy to add a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page to your website to provide the quick answers that many customers need. To keep it fresh and helpful, keep monitoring phone calls for the questions that you receive frequently and add them to your FAQ page on a regular basis.

4. Provide Customers with Additional Online Conveniences

Naturally, retail product vendors want to offer online shopping carts that customers can use day or night without the need for human contact. But service businesses and their customers can also benefit by offering another type of convenience when they need to periodically interact to get a job done. Online collaboration tools like Microsoft Office 365 provide many ways to establish an effective working partnership between your clients and your employees.

One of the key aspects of this tool is file sharing. You retain full control over who can see your files and what they can do with them. When a number of people edit the files, the software makes sure that no one overwrites prior changes, while also ensuring that all users see the most recent changes. Even users across the globe can keep projects moving forward within their own time zones without the need to wake anyone at 3:00 in the morning.

5. Handle Repetitive and Dangerous Tasks

Just the thought of introducing robotics into a small business factory setting is likely to cloud your vision with dollar signs. But, machines that cost as little as $20,000 (plus maintenance and other necessary costs) might avoid even higher labor costs. Why pay wages for people to count and package widgets when they can be trained to perform more important and interesting tasks? Even more important, robots can take on tasks that commonly injure employees. Your workers stay safe, they have fewer days off due to injury and you even benefit with lower workers’ compensation claims experience.

Caution: Automation Can Be Addictive

Once you start achieving efficiency through automation, you will probably keep looking for more and more ways to pare down your daily operations. You can even add a single-cup brewer to automate your waiting room while providing visitors with a choice of wait-time beverages. But there is no need to join an automation addiction support group because efficiency is good for business health.


How to Make Sure You Leave Work

Analogue Clock at 10 to 10As a small business owner, it is tough to “leave work” because work can take over life. The line between being at work and not there is extremely blurred in a 24/7 Internet world. Work is no longer really a physical place, but a state of mind. This is especially true for an increasingly number of small business owners that work out of their home.

Here is how to draw the line between your work and other important things in your life.

1. Set an alarm

If you’re the type who gets lost in their work and just forgets to look at the clock, use this solution. Simply set a “warning” alarm for when you want to leave work. You can set multiple alarms—one for “wrap it up” and one for “pack up”—each with different sounds.

In addition to setting an alarm on your phone or other device, there may be external cues around your office you can use as alarms as well. For example, when the cleaning crew shows up, you know it’s time to head out!

2. Have a family member call you

Similar, yet more personal than an alarm, is a call from a family member or friend when it’s time for you to head out. If one of your main motivations for leaving work is to spend time with your significant other, friends, or children, this method is effective.

Thinking about seeing someone you care about at the end of the day isn’t always enough to make you shut down the computer. Hearing your daughter’s voice, on the other hand, may be enough motivation for you to want to get home to see her. You’ll need to coordinate this step with your friends and family.

3. Schedule an activity

Sign up for something that will force you to leave the work at a regular time each day. These activities are also a great way to stay active. If you’ve been meaning to get into shape, sign up for a gym membership. If simply having the membership isn’t enough, plan to meet a friend there or sign up for specific group classes at a given start time.

Other options are to sign up your child for a soccer team and commit to being there for the practices. You can also make a commitment to volunteer at the local food pantry or take an art class.

4. Share your goal with others

One of the best ways to reach a goal is to publicly declare it. Tell your family that your target is to be done with work by dinnertime each night. Share on Facebook and Twitter that you signed up for cycling class and your goal is to attend three times a week after work.

You won’t want to disappoint your family or your followers, so you’ll work harder to achieve those goals than if you kept them to yourself. Ask if anyone wants to join and recruit them to help keep you accountable.

5. Start small

Some small business owners just have too much to do to be able to leave work when they want to. You’re not going to go from a 14 hour work day to an 8 hour work day overnight. It’s going to be a gradual process. It will require you to delegate tasks to employees or freelancers, empower them to solve problems, and learn to say no.

Ultimately, leaving work, both mentally and physically, comes down to you starting to make one small change and then building on it.

How are you going to make sure you leave work today?


20 Quotes to Inspire Entrepreneurs

As an entrepreneur, you are most likely a glass-half-full kind of person. Without a positive attitude, it is nearly impossible to maintain the edge that you need to keep moving forward. But, no one can be happy and confident at all times. Here are some thoughts from entrepreneurs, athletes and innovators, including one from me, that can help you look at issues with a different viewpoint — and fill your goblet to the rim.

Persistence, Success and Failure

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” -Henry Ford

“Fail often so you can succeed sooner.” -Tom Kelley

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” -Michael Jordan

“Flaming enthusiasm, backed up by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success.” -Dale Carnegie

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” -Bill Gates

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” -Wayne Gretzky

Ambition and Focus

“Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine.” -Elvis Presley

“Jet pilots don’t use rear view mirrors.” -Joel H. Weldon

“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps, down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision.” -Ayn Rand

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” -Vince Lombardi

“Entrepreneurs too often make choices based on ROE– Return on Ego– vs. ROI– Return on Investment.  A particular opportunity may make you feel great, but if that opportunity is not supporting your goal, or isn’t the best way to achieve your goal quickly and efficiently, then pursue the opportunity that will.” –Carol Roth

Leadership

“A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.” -Arnold H. Glasgow

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” -John Quincy Adams

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” -Peter Drucker

Competition and Motivation

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.” -Steve Jobs

“And while the law of competition may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department.” -Andrew Carnegie

“I gave it my body and mind, but I have kept my soul.” -Phil Jackson

“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” -Theodore Roosevelt

Problem Solving

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” -Albert Einstein

“The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions.” -Peter Drucker


Using Case Studies to Grow Your Business

One of the ways to build credibility for your business is to share information about your company’s products and services from satisfied customers. Your ability to get a foot in the door with prospective customers depends in part upon how well you tell your company’s story. If you are a service business, you can’t talk about a tangible product. But what you can do is develop case studies to do that help you illustrate the results you deliver for your existing customers.

case study is in-depth profile of work you've done. This is typically written to highlight the work you’ve done on a high-profile project or client. This summary report can then be used as a one-pager in a marketing kit or on your company’s website. Here are the elements to include on a compelling case study.

Name of Client and Type of Service

Always include the name of the client you plan to profile (with their permission, of course), and select a business that will resonate with your target audience. The goal of writing case studies is to ensure that your ideal customer will hire you after reading the case study.

Also include the type of service you provided. For example, if you provided social media consulting or online marketing, include that as a sub-heading after you list the client’s name in the title. Since this will live on your website, you'll need to ask the company’s permission before publishing.  

Purpose of the Project

This is where you write about the problem the client was facing, and why you were hired to solve it. For example, was the purpose of the project to raise awareness of their company or brand? Was it to build brand awareness, generate sales or increase their online traffic?

Execution Brief

Here is where you illustrate how you solved the problem for the client. Describe in detail all the services you provided, and highlight why you chose certain strategies over others. Do not simply say you increased the number of newsletter subscribers. Be specific and note HOW you increased the subscribers.

Since this section of the case study can be long, don’t be afraid to break up the text into sections with bolded headers, or use bullets and numbers.

Share Results for the Clients

Use real numbers to illustrate the successful work you did. Don’t just say, “We doubled traffic to the website.” Instead list the before and after numbers or percentages and consider displaying those figures in charts and graphs. Using screenshots of Google Analytics information are great additions if that reflects the work you did. This section is a great way to use visuals to display the information.

Client Endorsements

One of the most effective ways to sell your products and services is with customer testimonials. Potential customers are really not that interested in your passion or belief that your work produces amazing results. Let your customers do that bragging for you. Include a few testimonials from the satisfied clients in your case study. Ask the customer to write the testimonial in a way that highlights tangible results and benefits. These words are a great way to close the case study with praise for the work you conducted. 

The addition of case studies to your website will help you tell your business story, highlight the services you provide, and illustrate results at the same time. Try if you can to get testimonials in video as well, to add to your website as well.


To Fix Your Service, Fix Your Systems

Man working with electrial componentsLet’s imagine you own a body shop.  Some of your customers start reporting (in person if you’re lucky; on Yelp if you’re not) an unsatisfactory customer interaction with one of your cashiers.  Your first impulse is to bite the young lady’s head off, but I hope you’ll hold that impulse in check and look at the situation dispassionately.  You may see something like the following:  your cashier’s disorganized, doesn’t have proper change, doesn’t have her computer turned on at the beginning of her shift–in time to serve you, the first customer who walks up to her–and can’t find a pen for you to sign the credit card slip.

What you’ll discover, in other words, is a failure of systems.  Including some or all of the following:

• Onboarding: why wasn’t she prepped on what the necessary supplies are for starting a shift?

• Training: has she been instructed in one of the workplace organization systems, perhaps 5S, which is a component of Lean Manufacturing methodology?

• Scheduling:  Was she told to show up at the minute the body shop opens rather than a more realistic 30 minutes earlier so she could both mentally and physically prepare, get her terminal switched on, get her bank ready to make change, and so forth?

• Hiring. Saying that there was a failure in hiring is sort of like saying it’s the employee’s (cashier’s) fault, but not really.  If she is wrong for this position–too shy, not detail-oriented enough, etc.–it’s not her fault, it’s the fault of the system (or hunch, in far too many companies) that is responsible for selecting her, in error, for this position.

So, when the customer service at your business goes bad, it’s almost certainly because one or more of your customer service systems are broken. (As the founder of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company has often said, if something goes wrong once, it might be the fault of the employee.  If it happens twice, it’s definitely the system.) And that’s what’s most important to understand about customer service systems: Gaps in organizational performance are almost always the result of a breakdown or lack of an appropriate Service System.

In my cashier example, it’s clear that a system needs to be developed to ensure that all supplies are stocked before each shift. This could be in the form of a small checklist or a job description that clearly defines the role of each employee. However the organization chooses to deal with the situation is fine – as long as it solves the problem for good. The absolute wrong thing to do is to yell at the cashier for not stocking the items. Not only is this demoralizing for a good employee who is trying her best, but it also doesn’t solve the problem systematically–in other words, in a sustainable manner.

So, how do you discover the systems that are missing or mis-designed? There are systems for that, but it is first and foremost dependent on building a culture where mistakes are embraced as learning opportunities, and guest complaints as opportunities for improvement. Turning every issue that comes up into a witch hunt will make your service team timid to the extent that they’re more focused on covering their, uh, assets than on providing service. You need your employees to tell you when they’ve made a mistake – so that it can be fixed in the future–systematically.




 
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