Posts Tagged ‘Growth’


6 Ways to Fix What’s Broken in Your Business

When you’ve been in business a while, it’s sometimes easier to bury your head in the sand than to deal with the issues at hand. You’re not doing your business any favors, however.  Look at these 6 scenarios, see what you can relate to, and take action to make positive changes for your company.  These are 6 ways to fix what’s broken in your business.

8-26 broken business small1. You Have Staffing Issues

One situation is that you’re a solopreneur and need help, but you can’t quite afford to hire a full-time employee. In this case, consider hiring a freelancer (great for design or marketing help), an intern (though you’ll have to do some hand-holding), or a part-time employee to fill the need. Consider hiremymom.com, to find a great stay-at-home mom great to get back into the workforce.

If your problem is more with the staff you have (especially true for those of you who hire teenagers), it’s time to firm up your discipline. Create an employee handbook to ensure that everyone knows what’s expected of them. If they’re unwilling to follow the rules, tell them to hit the road.

2. Cash Flow is a Problem

If you are biting your nails until your clients pay you so you can pay your team or your vendors, you have a cash flow problem. Sometimes, clients pay late, but you need to make sure you have a contingency plan. Here are a few strategies.

First, you can enforce either a late fee or offer an early discount for your invoices. The idea is that those late paying clients will be motivated — either to save money by paying early or to pay on time to avoid a late payment fee. Another idea is to take out a line of credit so that you can access cash when you need it, then pay it back when you get paid.

3. You Don’t Have Time to Market Your Business

You’re too busy dealing with those staffing and cash flow issues to hop on social media and update your profiles or write any new blog content. With only a trickle of customers coming through your door, marketing should be a priority.  Consider hiring a consultant or freelancer to take over some of your marketing efforts. You can pay a flat monthly rate or per article, and it may be more affordable than you’d imagine to hire a professional. The important thing is to get those customers coming back in, and then that expense won’t even matter.

4. You Haven’t Put Money Back into Your Business

As soon as you’ve paid everyone, you take out your cut. But your computer is on its last leg, you need to reorder inventory, and your business insurance is pats due. You feel like there’s just not enough money to go around. While paying yourself is critical, it’s just as important to reinvest in your business. Set aside a percentage of your profits — say, 20% — so that when you need to buy a computer or software, you’ve got the funds.

5. Your Yelp Reviews are Going Downhill

It started with a nasty review on Yelp months ago that you ignored, and now it’s snowballed. It seems like every other review is negative, and you don’t know what to do about it. It’s hurting your business. First, take action. Ignoring a bad review is like bleeding in shark-infested waters. Even if things aren’t so bad at your business, potential customers will move on after reading the negative review. But examine the complaints in those reviews. They might give you the opportunity to straighten up an attitudinal employee or polish your product.

6. You’re a Workaholic

If you’re working on the weekends, every weekend, please stop. I get it; sometimes you just need more time to get things done. But remember that you need downtime in the evenings and on weekends to recharge your battery. Otherwise you will burn out and eventually hate your business.  If you must work after hours, set a timer so you don’t end up eating an entire day that you should have been spending with your family. Set rules for yourself so you don’t check your email when you should be doing something more relaxing.


Starting Small: Why It Might Be Your Best Bet for Business Success

8-19 business growth smallWhile you may have a large-scale idea for a new business, sometimes it’s better to take just a small segment of your plan and focus on starting your business on a small level. If this is your first business, you may want to target an endeavor that will help you build skills without wiping out your nest egg. A business that can succeed on a small level gives you great training wheels for building the experience, knowledge, and competency you’ll need to take your company to the next level. Here are several reasons why it might be your best bet  to start small for business success.

1. You’ll Save Money

Starting with a narrow scope of business means you can run it out of your extra bedroom or den. You won’t have to rent office space or furnish a suite. There are even tax incentives or deductions you can take to save money as you build your business on the small side. If you do need specialized space for your endeavor, you can investigate subleasing space from other entrepreneurs, which reduces costs.

2. You’ll Need Less Capital to Get Started

Bootstrapping is an effective strategy that allows you to grow into your business and keep initial financial outlays on the low end. Instead of stressing over technology requirements and phone systems, you can concentrate on creating your sales funnel or refining your product. The fancy phone system can come later (if at all). A lean business structure keeps you flexible and focused.

3. Learn as You Go

When you base your business on a hobby, you can start by making a handful of products, selling them, then growing when you’re ready. As your business takes off, you can educate yourself in other areas of running a business, creating a formal business structure, managing employees, and meeting regulatory requirements.

4. You Can Start Today

If you set your sights on a small enterprise, the barriers are lower and you can get going more quickly. You don’t need a huge infrastructure, massive staff, or complete line of products to get started. You have no excuse for not starting your business today.

5. Your Sweat Equity is Valuable

By doing everything yourself, you learn all that's needed to keep your company going. Of course, it’s great to hire out those things that you are not able to do, but if you have direct knowhow those experiences inform your executive decisions down the road. It will also help you make better decisions that impact your customers. While financial investment is necessary to building a business, your sweat equity is just as necessary to growing your endeavor. 

6. It’s Simpler to Run

Smaller companies are lean machines and often have higher profit margins because they are simpler to run. There are fewer costs associated with overhead and administrative requirements with a small-scale business, and you can reassess market changes frequently and pivot when necessary. When big jobs come through, you can team with other small companies or hire contractors to deal with the workflow if it’s more than you can handle.

Slow and steady wins the race. Start small. Test the market. Grow with intention. Sample the cheese before you bet the farm on your idea. When it comes to small business success, the truth is: scaled-down, slower growth companies do just as well as their big sisters.


6 Customer Service Trends You Need to Know About

A lot has changed in the business world since 2007, but perhaps what’s changed the most is how rapidly customer service expectations have risen. As customers evolve, your customer service has to keep pace. Just how are customers’ expectations changing? Customer2020, a new study from Accenture, has some insights every business owner should know about.

  1. They want it now. Accenture dubs today’s consumer the “Nonstop Customer”—which should give you a clue as to what type of service they expect. Customers don’t just want rapid resolution and minimal hassle—they expect it. If your business doesn’t deliver, they’ll move on to your competitor. Slightly more than half of consumers polled say they have become more impatient with the buying process since last year; two-thirds say they turn to online channels for customer service because they’re seeking speed and convenience.
  2. They have more options. Not only are consumers today more impatient, but they also have more places to go if they’re not happy with your customer service. Two-thirds report that the number of companies or brands they consider when making a purchase has increased significantly compared to 10 years ago.
  3. They care about what others have to say. Word-of-mouth has always been important to growing a business—but never more so than today. Last year, Accenture reported that 78 percent of consumers used at least one online channel when prospecting. Today, 88 percent do, which means they have many more opportunities to hear good (or bad) things about your customer service. More than half of respondents say they rely “much more” on other people’s experiences or reviews when making a purchase decision than they did 10 years ago. If bad word-of-mouth about your service spreads, either offline or online, you’ve got to turn it around.
  4. They’re itching to switch. Consumer loyalty isn’t quite a thing of the past, but it’s definitely become much harder to come by. Two-thirds of respondents say they have switched providers in at least one industry as a result of poor customer service. Six in 10 say they are more likely to switch providers now than they were 10 years ago.
  5. They want you to fix it the first time. Of those respondents who switched providers because of poor service, over 80 percent say the original company could have kept their business if their issue had been resolved the first time they contacted the company about it. In fact, first-contact resolution has been consumers’ number-one source of frustration for the past five years of the study—which suggests that companies aren’t getting much better at it.
  6. They still like human contact. While some consumers have “gone digital,” seeking to interact with customer service via online channels at every opportunity, many others of all ages still prefer traditional channels for resolving issues. To keep everyone happy (isn’t that the whole point of customer service?), your best bet is to provide a wide variety of ways for customers to resolve service problems.

By incorporating these six trends into your customer service systems, you’ll be able to step ahead of the pack and provide the kind of service today’s customers expect. 


Is a Cloud-Based Phone System Right for You?

Many businesses are beginning to realize that in addition to the economic advantages, cloud-based phone systems are more powerful than traditional phone lines. Cloud-based phone systems, often called VoIP, leverage broadband Internet connections instead of the standard phone line. The technology transforms voice singals in to a digital form that can travel over the Internet, which enables a low-cost but powerful way to make and receive phone calls from a variety of devices. Is a cloud-based phone system right for your business? Read through the infographic below to learn more about the business advantages of cloud-based communications solutions. 

Cloud-Based Phone System Infographic


To Win the Hearts of Today’s Consumer, Stand for Something and Mean It

A business that wants to win the hearts of today’s consumers benefits from standing for something and meaning it.  “Meaning it” is key: Customers are always on the lookout for corporate hypocrisy. One test for gauging an organization’s trustworthiness is whether it engages in greenwashing, the practice of merely paying lip service to environmental issues. Greenwashing is considered bad enough on its own, but customers also feel it likely to indicate hypocrisy at the company concerning other ethical issues as well. These knocks include the more general phenomenon called “causewashing,” where companies put up a façade of sympathetic labor practices, community involvement, ethical dealings with vendors, humane treatment of animals and more. One millennial I interviewed told me, “People my age are especially attuned to and adept at figuring out if a company is being pro-people or pro-environment in its marketing, and anti-peopleor anti-environment in its actions.”

With social media ubiquitous and “inside information” a Google search away, an organization can’t hope to hide its hypocrisy for long. A causewashing company, or any company that appears to differ between its words and its deeds, can find itself flayed online before it knows what happened. When Lululemon showed reluctance to take responsibility for a see-through yoga-pants debacle, it turned off customers, who had previously considered the company a paragon of New Age virtue, to the tune of a massive drop in share price. You’d do better as a company to emulate Starbucks and strive for honest marketing practices, walking the talk of your corporate philosophy. The coffee giant spends more than it needs to spend on coffee beans to buy only the most ethically sourced beans. It also famously shells out (heh) more on employee compensation by insisting on giving health insurance to every part-time worker, not just to the company’s full-timers

Transparency is a corporate attribute that today’s customers particularly value. And transparency is inherently an attribute that a business can’t superficially slap atop its brand. “I look for total transparency in a company I buy from—or, for that matter, work for,” says Adriana Dunn, a customer behavior and marketing expert and a youthful consumer herself. “I want to know what’s behind the brand.” Two brands that Dunn singled out for making transparency a cornerstone of their business practices are Everlane and Honest by. Everlane offers designer goods with transparent pricing and sourcing: Vendor practices, markup, and materials and production processes are laid out online for all to see. Honest by sells luxury brands with complete sourcing transparency. Its openness corresponds to its lengthy ethical statement, so lengthy in fact that I'm not going to strain your eyesight reprinting it here.

This phenomenon is significant, and extends to all demographics.   Three years ago, a study of consumer habits confirmed that shoppers are becoming “more deliberate and purposeful” in their purchasing decisions, and another study showed that 87% of consumers in the United States believe that companies should value the interests of society at least as much as strict business interests.  Today, with the rise of millennials (born circa 1980-2000) as customers, this commitment to values-based purchasing is becoming more pronounced than ever.  So getting ahead of the curve is key. 


Creating a Spinoff Product Business From Your Service Business

Service providers deal in the commodity of knowledge. Your lawyer knows the intricacies of small business law. Your marketing consultant is well-versed in content marketing and social media. Your accountant knows how to minimize the hurt come tax time. All of them get paid for a transfer and application of their knowledge. But sometimes there’s an opportunity beyond providing services to create a complementary product business.

For me, as SmallBizLady, I get paid to work one-on-one with small businesses who need guidance and consultation. They pay for my knowledge and experience. But not everyone in my network can afford to hire me for a consultation. And that’s why I also offer information products at a much lower price point. People with tiny budgets can still afford to learn to be social media ninjas or become their own bosses through my books, mastermind groups and ecourses.

Catering to Two Markets: More Money for You

If you’re in a services industry, there are only so many people you can serve, especially if your prices are high. But what if you could also connect with another market, one who wants to read what you’ve learned and use it themselves to DIY whatever you’re teaching them?

What I love about having a product business is that once it’s created, I don’t have to worry about it. My products sell through my website and Amazon, and I don’t have to do anything to fulfill orders because they’re all digital products. So I’m making money on top of making money! Sound good to you?

Consider Who You’re Not Serving Currently

If you’re ready to spin off a new products business, start by considering who calls you but doesn’t end up becoming a client. What are they looking for? You’ll likely find several topics for ebooks, webinars, and courses immediately.

Do you attract a crowd of do-it-yourselfers? How can you share your knowledge to empower them to take care of specific tasks on their own? The more hands-on and detailed your instructions, the more successful your products will be.

See What’s Already Out There

You know what they say about not reinventing the wheel. Look at your competitors and see if they sell products, then figure out how you can fill a gap that isn’t currently served. Maybe you gear your content to a specific industry that you know is interested, or provide samples and templates that don’t already exist to help people.

Price Accordingly

Coming up with the perfect price point is always a challenge. You don’t want to alienate people who can’t afford your products, and you don’t want to charge so little that you don’t recuperate your expenses. Again, do some research to see what others charge and base yours on what you think you can get.

Where to Sell

Naturally, if you sell your products on your own website, you’ll get 100% of the profit, but setting up your site for ecommerce can take time and money. A quick solution is to sell on Amazon or on a digital products site like Gumroad. Yes, they’ll take a commission, but the traffic is so much better on these sites than your own, that you’ll likely make up for that chunk taken out in volume.

Adding a product business to your existing service business is the perfect balance: you provide in-real-time consulting, but you also make money while you sleep.


Four Ways to Grow Your Business With New Products and Services

Your small business may be successful, but you still need to modify your product or service offerings over time. At some point, customers no longer need what you’re selling and you also need to capitalize on new demands created by changing trends. Granted, it costs less to retain customers than to attract new ones, but you also still need to look for ways to get new customers in the door. In many cases, you will have a clear picture of what you need to do to freshen your product line. If you know you need a change but the ideas are not flowing, however, here are four ideas to spark your creative juices.

#1. Offer an Out-of-The Box Service that Complements Your Core Competency

A colleague recently told me that her doctor’s waiting room became filled with young clientele when they started offering piercings. With a small amount of extra training, this office drew in both existing and new patients because of the promise of sterile, medically-sound conditions.

Even better, this new service was quick and easy, so the added business did not affect the wait times of traditional patients. Plus, since kids and young adults were a large part of this demographic, adding this service attracted new patients who were happy to return to a cool doctor for more standard medical concerns as well.

#2. Go On-Demand

Quality services that your customers can get when they need them show that you care. Where “while-you-wait” services were limited to things like printing and oil changes, more businesses are jumping on the on-demand bandwagon. Medical offices now bring more patients in with appointment-free flu shots. And many lawyers now offer fixed-fee phone support for clients who need speedy legal advice for anything from a simple divorce to learning their rights in landlord disputes.

Even if instant turnaround is not an option for your area of business, quick convenience-oriented services added to your product mix (for example, perhaps a free Notary Public service) can capture the interest of many clients.

#3. Invest in Technology

Investing in technology can be a way to differentiate your business or can even be a new source of recurring revenue.  Consider what happens when a busy two-person auto insurance agency equips policyholders with a free auto accident app. With a few smart phone swipes, the stressed-out accident victims know what to say and do — including gathering and organizing evidence. The end result is a file that the policyholder sends to the agent, who then has everything needed to handle the claim more efficiently.

Similarly, a tax accountant can provide clients with a phone app that lets them quickly record expenses on the spot. Record-keeping becomes a no-brainer for the client. And, what tax accountant wouldn’t prefer a file that is compatible with tax preparation software over a receipt-filled shoebox during the busy tax season?

If you can make your customers’ lives easier or give them a reason to interact with your business, it can provide an easy boost.

#4. Get Mobile

The mantra “if you build it, they will come” no longer applies to business.  And many businesses have found that they can expand by doing the opposite—going to their customers directly.  Breaking away from the confines of your store or office is good for business.

Doctors making house calls was en vogue in the past and now, home health care is starting to become a value added premium service.  But, who else can benefit?

How many locals have never visited your big-city restaurant? A food truck can get them eating your food for the first time. It may even convince them to make the effort to visit your brick and mortar restaurant. Plus, investing in a food truck can be done at the fraction of the cost of a new location. Catering, anyone?

Wheels are not the only way to get mobile. You can also bring convenience to customers by expanding your presence at more locations — particularly during times of increased demand. So, if you sell anything from gift products to foot massages for sore shoppers’ feet, perhaps open a pop-up shop during the holidays or at intervals throughout the year to reach a new customer base.  Or better yet, consider a mobile delivery service for your store to get to the customer who doesn’t have time to get to you.

Embrace Change at Any Time

Even when your profits are soaring, always keep your mind open to new ideas. You may decide to add a small enhancement to an existing product that is showing signs of stagnating sales. Or, perhaps a client suggested something that sparked your interest. You don’t have to wait for times of desperation to beef up your product line. Change at any time keeps things fresh for customers — and for you, too.  Just make sure not to invest too much in any new offering before you test its compatibility with your customer base.


3 Benefits of Using Auto Attendants for Your Business Communication

8:7 Auto Attendant Benefits smallThere are a variety of ways to route incoming calls to specific departments, teams, groups of employees, or individuals. The most common ways to route calls is by an employee answering the phone when it rings, via a live receptionist, or through an Auto Attendant. All options will help a caller get to where they need to go eventually, but utilizing an Auto Attendant with your phone system will significantly improve the likelihood they reach the correct destination the first time. Not only does this improve the customer experience, but it also saves your company from wasting precious time that can be better spent on other tasks and projects.

So what exactly is an Auto Attendant? Think of it as a virtual receptionist. An Auto Attendant presents the caller with an audible greeting (that is customized for your business), which offers the caller options to select. Once an option has been made, the call will be redirected to the chosen destination.

Auto Attendants are an invaluable feature of cloud-based business phone systems, and we’ve highlighted three key benefits below.

Top 3 benefits of implementing an Auto Attendant at your business

1. Your own virtual receptionist:

Gone are the days of needing someone, whether a dedicated receptionist or team member, to answer the phone and route calls to the appropriate destination. With cloud-based phone systems, such as Nextiva Office®, you can program callers’ options and route calls automatically to the specified destination.  

2. Increase team productivity:

How many times has a customer called your office when they meant to call your location across town, or you answered a call that was meant for the Billing department? By understanding your customers and what they commonly call in about, you can customize your Auto Attendant to include these options and significantly reduce the amount of times your team answers a call that is not related to their job responsibilities. Reducing the amount of time wasted on these calls will increase your team’s productivity (less interruptions!).

3. Significant cost savings:

Eliminating the need for a receptionist or team member to route calls saves you significant operating costs and human resources. The money previously spent on these wages can be reallocated to other areas of your business that will propel it forward.

All Nextiva Office plans come with the Auto Attendant feature. To learn more about how Auto Attendants and other cloud-based features can improve your business communications visit www.nextiva.com.


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.




 
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