Posts Tagged ‘Office Tips’


How to Get the Work Done and Still Go on Vacation

Stocksy_txp611ba5ef119000_Small_293786American small business owners don’t take enough vacation. In fact, the United States is the only western nation without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday. By law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation. Do they know something we don’t?

Most entrepreneurs would agree that time away from work is actually good for their productivity. Unfortunately, so many small business owners are afraid to take vacation for fear of missing something or the their company “falling apart”. However, vacation time is actually a good time to measure how well the company actually operates without you. If the company‘s success is all about you, it is actually a very dangerous situation. Assign someone take your place while you are on vacation and test what happens. Even though it is a risk, a company that runs without your daily involvement is more valuable to any buyer or shareholder.

When I go on vacation, I do come back to over 3,000 emails, but I also realize that no one died and nothing happened that I could not be resolved the next week. No matter how fast we think business moves, things will many times wait longer than you initially realized. While there may be a few missed opportunities, the time away will be worth the increased productivity when you return.

If you can’t leave work for an entire week to recharge, consider doing work every morning for an hour while on vacation. During this time, follow these strict rules:

  1. Set an out of out of office message on your email and voice mail. Do not respond to emails that can be successfully handled by others at the company or when you return. While this may be tempting, it is important not to engage in these conversations since they will lead to additional work while on vacation.
  2. Leave strict instructions with your staff. This should include not to be bothered unless they need your advice or approval to a situation that will be “irreversible” if it is resolved instead in a week. Never call into the office to see “what’s happening”.
  3. Have no major deadlines while on vacation. Don’t take work with you. Any business done during this week should be to new issues that come up while you are gone.
  4. Do not use your laptop, tablet or phone for work except during this one hour a day. If you forgot something that you think of later in the day, write it down and let it wait to be addressed until the following morning.

What tips do you have to go on vacation from work?


How to Prevent Hacking of Your Email

??????????????????????????Security is one of the biggest issues facing small businesses. With BYOD policies (Bring Your Own Device), many small businesses make easy targets for hacks that can literally cause havoc in their company. This is the result of having less sophisticated security that larger companies employ to protect themselves.

Many security breaches occur through email since they are a lot like postcards that travel over the internet. They are addressed to a person, but anyone can turn them over and read them. This is a major problem since emails often contain customer sensitive information.

When small businesses share information with their clients via email, they are liable for protecting that data. If a client sends their credit card information and someone intercepts that email, it can be used fraudulently. Not only does it reflect very poorly on the business, they may be liable

Here are a few steps small business owners should take to protect their email communication:

  1. Do not share passwords or accounts.  A lot of small businesses have a general account for communicating with customers that several people have access to. The problem is that every person can now access every message. Action to take: Increase the security of email communications by using person-specific accounts and not sharing passwords. Remember, a general account can automatically forward email to many person specific accounts if information always needs to be shared.
  2. Prevent physical access.. Leaving a computer open and unattended makes it incredibly easy for someone to walk up and read emails. Action to take: Make sure that all devices lock after not being used for 15 seconds and require a password to logon.
  3. Encrypt emails. Email encryption services, such as Enlocked, give an easy way to secure messages, allowing them to be sent safely over standard email. The service works right within an email environment. Action to take. Draft an email and address it to a user just like normal except next to the send standard button is a “send secure” button. The recipient receives the message normally, but must authenticate themselves before viewing.
  4. Use different channels. A common method for sending sensitive information, such as usernames and passwords, is send them in separate emails. Action to take: Use two separate channels; send the username via email and the password via text message. Another popular method of protection is sending password protected files. It works as a great first step, but the sender still runs into the problem of safely communicating password information.

If protecting email communications is not seen as problem in your company, you haven’t had the problem. Take the necessary steps to protect sensitive information and evaluate what works best for your small business.


Tips to Effectively Manage Remote Workers

I may not be Captain Kirk, but my extensive travel schedule makes it imperative that I meet my business responsibilities while remaining connected to my base.  Some of your employees may have the same needs.  Sales territories keep your reps far from your home office, but even local workers may need to work from home during inclement weather — or even just because they prefer wearing fuzzy slippers from 9 to 5.

Remote work can make sense, as long as your employees have the resources that they need to excel at their jobs wherever they are.  But it also takes disciplined workers and supportive managers.  Here are some tips on how to decide which employees will be effective remote workers and how to ensure that they provide professional representation for your company.

Identifying Good Remote Workers

If an employee that reminds you of Ferris Bueller or Dude Lebowski asks for the opportunity to work from home, just say no.  Self-motivated employees, on the other hand, are likely to be even more productive when they don’t spend time commuting to an office where distractions and interruptions typically exceed those that workers might find at home.

Still, employees who want to work from home need to show that they have an appropriate, interruption-free work area.  For example, they probably need to send the kids to daycare or hire a nanny.  But just as important, look for employees who already display dedication, as evidenced by the following traits:

  • They consistently meet or exceed deadlines, even if it means coming in early or staying late;
  • They take work home while still putting in a full workday, particularly when that work requires unfettered concentration;
  • They keep you informed of progress without the need to prompt them;
  • They are good problem-solvers on their own, but they know when to seek your help.

Remote Employees Must Maintain a Professional Image to the Outside World

No customer, vendor or other outside party should ever see the laundry basket in an employee’s living room and seeing the inside of a coffee shop is no better.  In other words, business contact must occur outside of the home in professional surroundings.

You work hard to develop a professional image for your business and your employees need to maintain it, no matter where they are.  I count on Regus (who, for disclosure is a client of mine, and whose services and locations I have used as a client of theirs for years), one of the largest providers of flexible workspaces in the world, for the professional image that I need. 

Using professional remote workspaces allows you to rent anything from office space to meeting rooms on an as-needed basis, but if you regularly provide remote workers with access to flexible facilities, a resource like Regus’s Businessworld card can help keep costs under control while providing a professional working environment.

Technology Creates a Bridge between Workers and Home Base

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Most remote workers use a computer in some capacity to do their jobs.  It doesn’t matter if 

they carry a company laptop back and forth between home and office or if they use their own computer — as long as they have access to the right functions.  But once you take employees out of the office, you often need additional technology such as the following to keep them connected:

  • A reliable Internet connection;
  • High-quality and secure access to your office computer network, including email, using collaboration suites like Office 365;
  • A quality phone system, like those provided by Nextiva;
  • The ability to attend interactive meetings and video conferences online.

Having appropriate technology makes it seamless for you to collaborate with your team or even your vendors from almost anywhere in the world.

Avoiding the Isolation of Remote Work Environments

I know someone who was forced to work from home during her first months with a new employer simply because her office computer did not work.  She would come in to the office for meetings, but she lamented that the delay in getting to know her co-workers made her feel alienated from the team.  Years later, after she formed a bond with the team, she started working from home several days a week.  She enjoyed her time at home, but she always felt a sense of renewal when she returned to the office.

All employees must feel a close connection to the company and their co-workers, and it is your job to make sure that happens.  By conducting regular one-on-one and department phone meetings, you provide them with vital information relevant to their daily activities, but face-to-face contact is incredibly valuable as well.  You should make it clear that you expect local employees to come to the office on a regular basis, and even workers on the other side of the country might be able to travel in for the quarterly company meeting or other major events.

Everyone would enjoy the chance to wear fuzzy slippers and PJs during their work day, but this is just one of many reasons why studies have shown remote workers to be generally happier and more productive.  Still, it is important to make sure that a remote workplace does not equate to a remote connection with the company team.  With your guidance, employees who receive this benefit will earn your trust every day — especially if those fuzzy slippers have your company logo embroidered on them.


Best Business Book to Read This Summer

I get business books in the mail every day. I sift through hundreds of them each year in an effort to  search for the best ones for small business owners to read. Here is my list every business owner should read this summer:

Duct Tape Selling - John Jantsch
Most small business owners stink at sales and marketing. From the author of the popular book, Duct Tape Marketing, comes a new book that shows how the job of the sales person has changed. Instead of ABC meaning “always be closing”, John’s ABC’s are “always be connecting”. Information on the Internet has shifted the very foundation of the sales process. Sales people no longer have to just close, but need to teach, serve and develop trust. They have to create their own expert platform, stay connected before and after the sale by curating value content for their clients.

Profit First – Mike Michalowicz
Making a profit is a huge problem for many small business owners. They don’t know how to use financial statements and pay themselves last. Mike shares a money management system that is more intuitive and beneficial than traditional GAAP accounting. Instead of focusing on sales and revenue, he focuses on profit. A must read for every entrepreneur who wants to make money.

Do/Lead-  Les McKeown
Alpha leaders are dead. There are no longer bosses and employees. In a small business, each person has the ability (and obligation) to step up and lead. Les tackles four myths that have paralyzed modern leadership and provides the tools needed to be an impactful leader including the mindset, the techniques, and how to get started.

The Etiquette Advantage in Business – Peter Post et al.
The business world is becoming too casual. Manners still have an important place. Peter and his family provide timeless “Emily Post” type advice for any business situation from dinner with the boss to the first meeting with a new client. He shows how to write persuasive emails to choosing the appropriate dress for the office.

When The Buyer Says No - Tom Hopkins and Benn Katt
Sales legend Tom Hopkins focuses on the biggest problem for most small businesses; what to do when the customer says no. In this book of strategy, the reader learns a new approach to selling called the Circle of Persuasion. Tom and Benn simplify the tricky sales process by providing a step-by-step guide with real-world examples to ultimately show how a “no” can turn into a “heck yes”.

Haunted Empire - Yukari Iwatani Kane
Want to know what Apple is like after Steve Jobs? Former Wall Street Journal reporter Yukari, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, asks “Can a great company stay great without its visionary leader?” She examines Apple in the two years since the death of Steve Jobs and provides insight into the future of this iconic company. A very fascinating read which will change your view of Apple.

Pitch Perfect – Bill McGowan
Words still matter. The right ones can make the difference between sealing the deal or losing the customer. Media professional Bill McGowan shares how to use the perfect tone to convey the right message. In the world of media, there is only one shot and Bill shows the reader how to get it right!

Start Me Up!- Ebong Eka
I have made a lot of mistakes. I wish I read this book years ago. Start Me Up! shows how many causes of new businesses failure are 100% preventable by providing strategies to avoid the four major pitfalls that they experience.

Hacking H(app)iness - John Havens
With Pharrell Williams hit, “Happy” sweeping the globe, it seems like that is the new goal of every small business professional. Hacking H(app)iness describes how to leverage personal data that is being produced by tracking activities on smart phones and computers as a way to understand what brings people happiness. He shows how the Information Age can improve our personal lives as well as our companies

Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth – Chris Brogan
Growing up, I always felt different. In his latest book, Chris makes all of us freaks feel at home. He targets those who believe they may be too different or “not the business type” and shows them how to turn it into a revolutionary business. After you read this book, sign up for his daily newsletter.

Execution IS the Strategy: How Leaders Achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time - Laura Stack
Laura emphasizes the importance of having an organization that is fast on its feet; one that can easily adjust its strategy to changing realities. Her L-E-A-D formula outlines the four keys to execution to give companies the agility they need to succeed.

And you may want to pick up my new book….

How to Get Unstuck

 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Who They Gonna Call (and How You Gonna Answer)?

Stocksy_txpba8ad81dGw4000_Small_178379Is your small business paying enough attention to incoming calls? Today, with so much focus on social media, email and online marketing, it’s easy to believe that providing customer service through live chat is all you need to do, or that customers are content to contact you by email and wait to hear back from you.

In reality, human behavior hasn’t changed—just the technology has. When customers are frustrated about something, have questions about your product or service, or are ready to buy, their first instinct is often to pick up the phone and call your business. In other words, customers who take the trouble to call you are primed—to buy, to vent, to ask questions. What’s more, if your business is involved in any kind of inbound marketing program—whether using SEO, click-to-call buttons on your website or in your ads—you’re spending good money to generate those calls from interested customers.

How callers are treated can make all the difference in whether they move to the next stage in the purchasing process, get over their anger, actually make a purchase…or get turned off of your company forever.

So how are customers and prospects treated when they call your business? Here are some questions to ask yourself.

  1. Do they get through right away? Set standards for employees to answer the phone on the second ring (third ring at the absolute latest). Make sure all employees—not just the receptionist or office manager—know it’s their responsibility to answer the phone if necessary.
  2. Are they greeted pleasantly? Do the employees who answer your phone sound excited to talk to customers—or like it’s an interruption in their busy day? Remember, customers are the ones who pay your bills, and they have plenty of options to go elsewhere.
  3. Do employees have the tools they need to help customers? Internal FAQ lists can help employees quickly find answers to questions customers may have. Make sure all employees know how to transfer calls to the proper person.
  4. When customers are on hold, can they tell? There’s nothing worse than being put on hold and hearing dead silence, so you don’t know if you’ve been cut off or should continue to wait. Use on-hold messages or music so customers know what’s going on.
  5. Are calls returned within a reasonable time? The faster you can respond to a customer’s inquiry, the more likely you are to make a sale. If you can’t answer all calls, strive to return all calls within 30 minutes—yes, 30 minutes—for best results. Outgoing voice mail messages should state how quickly customers can expect their calls to be returned.

By paying as much attention to incoming calls as you do to your social media outreach, you’ll rapidly see results—and increased sales.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Is It Time to Invest in New Employees—or Is New Technology Enough?

Do you really need to hire new employees—or would new technology serve the same purpose? According to the fifth annual Brother Small Business Survey, a whopping 72 percent of small business owners believe new technology would provide a better return on their investments than hiring new employees (28 percent) this year. No wonder nearly half (49 percent) the small business owners surveyed said investing in new technology is their top priority this year.

It’s not exactly cut and dried. If you’re confused, you aren’t the only one: 63 percent of survey respondents say they often feel “overwhelmed” by the number of tech tools available to help run their companies, and struggle to keep up with knowing what technology to buy.

What are small business owners planning to buy this year? Well, 41 percent say they’re going to invest in mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. About one-third will buy Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, 20 percent will buy social technologies and 15 percent say cloud services will be essential to their businesses this year.

So how do you know whether you should hire—or if buying new technology could fill the bill just as well? When debating new technology, ask yourself:

  • ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????What is the learning curve for this tool? Can you or your existing employees get up to speed quickly enough that the tool will quickly start providing a return on investment?
  • How much time will the tool save? If the amount of time it saves allows you or your employees to absorb the new tasks into your existing workday, that’s ideal. However, if the new technology will add hours to your workday, you may need to hire new staff to handle the load.
  • Will this tool create additional work or additional business? Sometimes a tech tool can work so well it creates more work. For instance, your new CRM system may create more work at first as you follow up more frequently with prospects and customers. However, eventually it should create new business, not just new work. When you implement a new tool, figure out the break-even point at which it’s generating enough new business to finance hiring a new employee. 

Work Your Biz Wednesday: 5 Things I’ve Learned

Happy 15th Anniversary to the Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson! Check out her list of the top 5 things she has learned over the years, and follow her on Twitter at @SmallBizLady.

From March 5-25, Melinda is giving away a prize every business day to help support your small business venture! Apply to the "15 Days of Giveaways" contest today at www.succeedasyourownboss.com!

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Keeping Your Business Organized Whether You’re a “Piler” or a “Filer”

Stocksy_txp4883eb03663000_Small_53161Take a tour of any office and you are likely to see some immaculate desks and others covered with stacks of papers.  But don’t assume that the neat desks belong to more organized people than the messy ones.  The appearance of a desk often has little to do with how well-organized a person may be (which is good news for me, given that my desk looks like a war zone…).

Your personal sense of organization may depend on something called brain hemispheric dominance.  People controlled more by the left sides of their brains tend to rely heavily on logic.  As long as you can find things when you need them, a clean desk surface typically means that you are left-brained.  If you keep piles of paper on your desktop, your right brain is probably in control.

Regardless of whether you are a “filer” or a “piler”, running a business requires you to find information quickly, successfully manage deadlines and meet all accounting and legal requirements. But fighting your natural tendencies leads to disorganization.  You need to embrace your personality type and use the following tips to develop a system that works for you.

The Pilers’ Motto– Out of Sight, Out of Mind

If you are right-brain dominant, filing important information in a drawer often amounts to losing it forever. This doesn’t mean that you are more forgetful than anyone else, but keeping items in view provides the visual cues that you need to stay organized.  Take comfort in the famous quote from Albert Einstein who said, “If a cluttered desk signs a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”  Then, use the following concepts to keep your stacks under control while easing the minds of co-workers who cannot tolerate the seeming disarray:

  • Using file folders is still important:  When a stack of labeled folders replaces a stack of loose papers on your desk, the papers look neater and corresponding information stays together.  Plus, the labels provide a better visual cue, enhancing your productivity.
  • Add visibility to the clutter: Multi-tiered vertical desktop organizers are a great way to keep folders in front of you.  They are neat, they let you see exactly what’s in them with a quick glance and they free up surface area so that you can do your work more easily.
  • Keep appearances in mind:  Face it —customers visiting your office can lose confidence in your abilities if they see you surrounded by clutter.  Not to mention that new accountant you want to hire is likely to quote you a higher rate if he or she expects to deal with excess confusion.  Use attractive systems and color coding to illustrate organizational skills.

For Filers, a Cluttered Desk Equals a Cluttered Mind

For left-brain dominant people, any excess clutter can draw focus away from the task at hand.  Your natural instinct is to create elaborate file systems organized by categories and subcategories.  You keep files on the desk only when you need them and get them out of sight as soon as you’re done.  But too much organization can affect efficiency, so keep these points in mind:

  • Avoid over-categorization: Keep information that you use at one time together.  If you need to extract 20 related file folders just to get through the day’s invoicing, you’ll lose efficiency shuffling through the paperwork — and lose key information in the process.
  • Keep related items together with color: If you can’t resist splitting items into multiple chunks, use a color coding system.  You are less likely to overlook important paperwork if you pull out all green-labeled folders when you do the daily invoicing.
  • Stay organized while away from the office: As you go on sales calls or visit vendors, important notes are likely to get lost without some organizational system.  Shop around until you find a daily planner book, an electronic organizing system or a smart phone app that lets you  organize every random thought in a way that permits you to recall it instantly when you need it.

So, pile or file away using a method that will keep you organized in a way that is consistent with your strengths and preferences.


4 Ways To Be Happier (and More Successful) Every Day

Are you happy every day? Most days? Not very often? Happiness is a tricky topic, especially for small business owners. Many entrepreneurs feel that happiness comes only after a business has reached a benchmark, but as Elaine Suess, leadership and talent management coach for Beyondbeing Coaching & Consulting in Cincinnati, explains, success before happiness is a misconception.

“Science has proven that it is the other way around,” she says. “Happiness comes first and it helps our brains work more productively to then be successful.”

Need help boosting your feelings of happiness? Take note of the following recommendations.

Meditate at your desk

Meditation has been proven to increase feelings of happiness. Try doing it for two to 10 minutes at your desk by taking deep breaths and focusing on clearing your mind. “Anything that creates more of an open space in your mind makes room for innovation, kindness and curiosity,” says Suess, adding that it is best to sit up straight with your feet on the ground and just letting go of whatever enters your mind, “without judgment.”

Practice being a “hero”

Suess says it is important to prepare yourself for positive thoughts. One way to do this is by assuming a “hero pose” before going into a big meeting or a stressful work situation. “The hero pose is the same gesture people make when they cross a finish line and lift up their arms,” she says. “Strategically making use of that one pose helps increase testosterone and decrease cortisol, the chemical related to stress.”

In addition, try taking an exercise break in the middle of your day. If you don’t have a gym at your office, consider walking around your building or parking lot. The movement will help you produce feelings of happiness.

Be grateful

Spend time every day thinking about what you are grateful for. Consider writing down three specific things that you are grateful for and continuing that practice. Your focus on being grateful will train your brain to look at the positive aspects of your life, says Suess.

Positively review your day

On your way home from work, instead of rehashing mess-ups or aggravating situations, try to focus on the positive things that happened in your day. “Think about what went well,” she suggests. “We all have a tendency to focus on our problems and wanting to fix those problems, but if we train ourselves to amplify what is going right in our lives, it will make us more effective, more positive and increase happiness.” 

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