Posts Tagged ‘Small Business’


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Why the Holidays are a Great Time to Call Your Customers

12-2 making a phone call smallWhen you think about the holiday season, you probably think about family, fun and feasting. But did you ever stop to think that the holidays are also a great time to reach out and call your small business customers?

There are several reasons why now is an ideal time to contact customers by phone.

  • The holiday season is a time for celebrating relationships, and talking in person can help reinforce and cement your business relationships.
  • With many businesses short-staffed during the holidays, decision-makers who normally don’t answer the phone may be a lot easier to reach.
  • While rank-and-file workers typically take time off, C-level execs are more likely to be working, frequently coming in early or staying late to take advantage of the quiet office and uninterrupted time to focus.
  • At many companies, budgets need to be spent before the year ends, so there might be money available for projects you might normally have trouble selling.
  • Other companies are planning their budgets for next year, making now a good time to get on their radar.

So how can you make your “reach out and touch” customer calls successful? Try these four tips:

  1. Make a list. Use your CRM system or other customer data to identify potentially most lucrative customers. For example, you might check who purchased from you this time last year or whose fiscal year is about to end.
  2. Set a goal. Calling is a numbers game, so it’s important not to get discouraged. Set a goal to call a certain number of customers per day, and just power through.
  3. Be prepared. Know what you’re going to say in advance so you don’t waste the customer’s time. Yes, small talk greases the wheels, especially this time of year, but people are also busy.
  4. It’s not all about the sale. These calls aren’t focused on making an immediate sale (though that would be nice), but on enhancing your relationship with the customer and finding new ways to serve him or her. Explore their needs for the coming year, what they’d like to do differently and how you can help them achieve their 2015 goals. Ending up with a firm commitment to talk in 2015 is a good start.

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.


How to Get Paid 7 Days Sooner in Your Small Business

One of the biggest pet peeves of small business owners is late-paying clients. We’re not running corporations, so cash flow can make or break our businesses! And when a client doesn’t pay on time, we can’t pay our own vendors. It’s a sticky situation, but with a little strategy to light a fire under your clients, you can get paid not only on time but even seven (or more) days early.

Look at Why They’re Paying Late

If you have a client who typically pays on time, one late payment may be nothing to worry about. But analyze your accounts receivables to see if you have other clients who habitually pay their invoices after your due date.

Next, look at your payment policy. Is it clear on each invoice when the payment is due? Do you let your client know at the beginning of your business relationship when payments are due? If it’s not clear to a client when you expect a payment, you can’t blame them for the problem.

If this is the case, send an email letting your clients know your payment policy. Consider sending this to all clients so those late-payers don’t feel you’re picking on them. Make it objective and simply a notification of your company policies. And make sure that due date is clear on each invoice.

You can also send a reminder a few days before the invoice is due. It’s completely understandable that your email invoice might have gotten lost in the stack of emails in your clients’ inbox.

Offer Incentive to Pay

There’s two ways to go about this: in the first, you can charge a penalty for late payments. Not everyone wants to take such a negative approach, but if you think that’s the right motivation to get your clients moving (after all, who wants to pay more if they can simply pay on time?), then try it out.

The other is to offer a discount for early payment. You’ll have to decide how much money you’re willing to part with in order to get paid on time. Many businesses offer something like a 2% discount if the invoice is paid 7 days early, or even 5% off if they pay 14 days early. Make the amount enough to motivate them to pay early.

Whichever incentive you decide to offer, mention it in the email you send about your payment policy. It’s imperative that you clearly communicate any changes to your clients, as well as give them a heads up of a few weeks or even a month before this new policy kicks in. The last thing you want to do is upset your customers.

If They’re Still Not Paying on Time…

Consider each on a case-by-case basis. Perhaps one client is having his own financial woes. In that case, set up a payment plan that works for both of you. If it’s not a financial problem that’s keeping a client from paying on time, consider whether you truly want to continue working with a problematic client like this.

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Life Lessons on Training Great Employees

Dog Photo SmallAll of life’s experiences can provide insight into running a small business. A good friend just drove this point home after adopting a new dog. She’s full of stories about her training challenges and as she told me her tales (or should I say, “tails?”), it was clear that the principles applied to employee training as well. You may have never trained a pet, but your own childhood memories or even your favorite TV show provide lessons that can make you a more effective employee trainer.

Keep it Positive

When my dog-training friend talks about her own childhood music training, it is easy to see the difference that positive reinforcement makes in a person’s ability and willingness to learn. She dutifully practiced piano (for a while), but her mother kept running into the room, yelling, “WRONG NOTE!” She quickly lost interest in playing piano. On the other hand, her mother’s outspoken pride in her dance abilities created a prodigy. At 13 years old, she was the youngest student in the advanced class that was generally reserved for teachers.

Positive reinforcement has real power over employees’ current and future success, so be sure to catch trainees doing something right and commend them for it. Each success breeds employee confidence, making it easier to master future tasks successfully. In fact, a well-placed compliment can feed their drive for success throughout their careers.

Also, give employees credit for contributions in front of clients, vendors and other employees.  The more that the employee knows that they are valued, the more incentivized they will be to do their best work.

Set New Employees Up for Success

Of course, it’s hard to provide positive reinforcement when the tasks are too complicated to learn, so break down new tasks into smaller components to give employees a real chance at success. Think back to the classic I Love Lucy Episode when Lucy and Ethel take jobs in a candy factory. They had about a minute of training before taking their places at a slow-moving conveyor belt to wrap chocolates. When the belt speed increased, the girls start stuffing candies into their mouths, their blouses and even their hats. They were set up to fail.

Not all jobs can be learned in five minutes —or even a week. And even relatively simple jobs cannot be performed at top speed on the first day. Break down procedures into manageable tasks so employee successes drive accuracy. Consider constructing checklists that the employee signs off on as they finish each task component. If you set them up for success, your employees will gain confidence and speed.

Use Errors as Training Opportunities

You have the power to turn trainee mistakes into lessons, rather than sources of embarrassment. My dog-training friend was happily surprised when a gentle “uh-uh,” combined with an acceptable chew toy, stopped her pup from biting an electric cord — and he avoided all cords from that point on because he learned what was wrong and what was right. Of course, saying, “uh-uh” to an employee would be patronizing, however, pointing out an error and gently correcting it makes a lot of sense.

No matter how carefully you conduct training, employees do not always know what “right” looks like until you point it out. If they pick lug bolts when filling a customer order that requests lug nuts, you have the opportunity to go beyond correcting that single error. This is the time to point out that many fasteners have similar names, so a careful review of each bin label is essential while picking each item in an order.

Be Flexible

People have differing backgrounds and a variety of learning styles; they do not all need to learn the same things in the same way. You need to be flexible enough to make training interesting and informative on an individual basis.

I know a seasoned sales rep who nearly walked out on his first day when he was herded into a room with sales newbies to watch a week’s worth of generic sales training videos. Sure, he needed to learn the company’s product line and its sales culture, but he did not need to learn what a “cold call” is. Rather than lose the company’s most valuable new hire, the sales manager personally took on his training.

Let the Student Become the Teacher

New employees have a fresh outlook and ideas that are untainted by a “we’ve always done it this way” attitude. From their first day on the job, they can ask questions or spot process incongruities that can make things unnecessarily difficult. When my friend’s dog insisted on getting his leash attached while sitting on a chair, he made the process easier — no stooping required. So, whether trainees have certain personal preferences, or if they see ways to make a process simpler or more precise, you should listen and learn.

Even seasoned business owners have new things to learn. Just as you accept suggestions from your longer-term employees, never discount the possibility that the new kid on the block has something to contribute. Everyone benefits when the student becomes the teacher.


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.

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What non-business leaders have you learned from?


How David Can Win Against Goliath Competition

Many communities argue against big companies like Wal-Mart moving into their areas because they believe that these big corporations will eradicate local mom and pop stores. Granted, big, burly businesses can intimidate their smaller counterparts. But David brought a slingshot and a bag of stones to the battle. Then, he found a hole in Goliath’s armor and brought him down with a single stone. The “David’s” in the small business world are small but limber. By recognizing the holes in large competitors’ armor, you can turn your business into an effective slingshot that earns its own piece of the pie.

Smaller Can Be Better

????????????????????????????By necessity, most large companies require vast amounts of red tape to do anything out of the norm (and often, things within the norm too). They may have more employees, but each one performs a specific task, following the company rules every step of the way. In other words, procedures, overhead and red tape all mark major holes in the big business armor.

Your small business is nimble. It can turn on a dime to respond to unique customer needs. You can shuffle your priority list to place a last-minute rush consulting project at the top of your list. You can even personally drive an emergency widget order after receiving a call to your cell phone from a frantic customer on Sunday. You are in complete control of the level of service that you provide. Your hands are not bound by red tape and that allows you to provide superior service.

Offer Value Over Low Prices

Small businesses can recognize and embrace the difference between low price and value in your customers’ eyes. Behemoth competitors like the big box stores and large banks may offer better prices, but low cost is not the best way to compete, especially for attracting loyal customers who aren’t swayed to switch companies based on the latest and greatest discount.

Customers will pay more for superior service and products. For example, you can provide additional value by offering products made in the US, beautifully packaged products, services with enhanced customer service support and more.  You, as a small business owner, are uniquely able to compete on value.

Own Your Special Niche

Why would anyone want to open a coffee shop that competes with Starbucks, a company that clearly does no wrong anywhere in the world? Not so fast: in 2000, Starbucks closed 61 of the 84 stores they opened in Australia because they failed to compete with the small independent shops! They could not adjust to local market demand.

Starbucks may offer everything related to coffee, but their in-store drinks and atmosphere currently do not match the experience of the smaller shops. Like the Italian model (a country that boasts no Starbuck stores, by the way), the Australian independents offer quality over quantity — a niche that local customers want.

As a small business owner, you have the luxury of getting to know what your customers really want. Whether you provide green products or services, custom-fit the clothes sold in your store or even drive customers home on a rainy day, you can craft a differentiated selling point. Make sure that potential customers know the qualities that make your business unique and that existing customers love those points of differentiation so that they can spread the word.

Form Alliances with Other Small Businesses

Goliath competitors may have the resources to offer a full range of goods or services that you find hard to match, but you don’t have to go it alone. Networking is a powerful tool that can address the convenient, cost-effective solutions that busy customers need.

Your print shop may offer high-quality, reasonably-priced services, but perhaps it does not sport the excess real estate that allows big bruiser shops to warehouse customer brochures — often for a hefty price. But you can negotiate storage discounts with a local facility so that you can handle your customer’s printing and storage needs at a lower combined price than the competition offers.

Alliances definitely help you give customers the full services that they need. But they can also expand your customer base through referrals from your small business network. One call to your local Chamber of Commerce is a great way to set out on the road to valuable alliances.

There’s Room for Everyone

As a small business owner, you don’t need to fear major competitors. There’s plenty of room in the marketplace to provide business opportunities for businesses of all sizes. By identifying the holes in their armor and taking advantage of your unique strengths, you can carve out your own business success, even if Goliath & Associates is right across the street.


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.  


What Is the Ice Bucket Challenge for Small Business Owners?

Doing_the_ALS_Ice_Bucket_Challenge_(14927191426)Have you taken the “Ice Bucket Challenge”? It challenges friends to put a bucket of ice over their head or donate $100 to the ALS Association. The rules state that within 24 hours of being challenged, participants need to video record themselves by accepting the challenge followed by pouring a bucket of ice over their head. The participant then challenges others on that video. As a result of this viral phenomenon, the ALS Association has received $31.5 million in donations during the past month. 

What would the small business version of the Ice Bucket Challenge? Consider these for yourself:

“The Cash Flow” Challenge: You only have $1000 in the bank on Monday to keep running your business until Friday. Help to beat this challenge: Learn how to read a cash flow statement every month so there are no surprises.  If cash is low, isolate the expenses that need to absolutely be paid or it will drive you out of business. Be direct to vendors and employees about when they can expect to be paid.

“The Customer Satisfaction” Challenge: Your top customer is dissatisfied and is threatening to leave your business. Help to beat this challenge: Listen fully to what the customer has to say. Ask them what the best solution to the problem is. Follow through to a resolution and report back to them on the results.

“The Key Employee Left” Challenge: A key employee just quit and now you have to replace them in 24 hours. Where do you look to replace them? Help to beat this challenge: Always ensure that your employees are cross trained so if one leaves, another can do that job for at least a short time.

“The New Version of Your Product Doesn’t Work” Challenge: You announced a new product, but the latest test show it does not work. You have thousands on backorder. Help to beat this challenge: Isolate what is wrong with the product and what can it be fixed in a reasonable amount of time. Take any other functionality out and notify backorder customers when a product can be shipped.

“The 16 Hours of Work Needs to Get Done in 24 Hours” Challenge: You have a huge pile of work to get done today that will take a lot longer than you have. Help to beat this challenge: First decide what not to do. How will it really affect the business if the work was done tomorrow instead of today? What two things must get done today that are critical to the company?

What would your small business challenge be?


How to Lower Your Bounce Rate on Your Small Business Website

???????You have a beautifully designed website. Check. Targeted keywords on the website. Check. You have a way to capture email addresses on your website. Check. So why aren’t you getting more customers from your small business website? You might have a decent flow of people visiting your site, but if they’re not converting to sales, it’s time to look at the reasons why. Start by examining your bounce rate.

What the Heck is a Bounce Rate?

Just like a shiny rubber ball, your bounce rate happens when people land on your site and then quickly bounce away. You can find your bounce rate by looking at your Google Analytics once e month. The technical definition for bounce rate: the percent of people who leave your site after visiting just one page. The higher the bounce rate, the more people are leaving rather than looking around. The average bounce rate is 50%. Here’s an illustration:

  1. Someone searches for something they’re looking for online.
  2. Your site shows up in those search results. They click your link.
  3. They land on your home page, don’t see what they expected, then leave.

So the question is: why are they not finding what they want? Why do they leave before even exploring your site? Typically there are a few reasons for this.

1. Your Design is Unappealing

While you wouldn’t expect a visitor to your site to hold bad design against you, first impressions really do matter. And if your website hasn’t been updated for 5 years, or is cluttered with ads or popups, there’s not much you can do to convince people to stay, even if your products are amazing.

Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for this: get a new design! Website design has come way down in pricing, and there are even templates and platforms you can customize and manage yourself.

2. Poor Keywords

Let’s say the name of your company is Red Ball Marketing. You don’t actually sell red balls, but people still land on your site looking to buy red balls. You’re probably not willing to change your company name, but you can put more effort into appearing in search results for better keywords. You should know your top 6 keywords. If you haven’t really put much thought into your keywords, you’ll get a mix of traffic of people looking for lots of things, but not really what you sell.

Figure out the top keywords your audience is searching for and make sure you use them throughout your site, especially in your blog titles and static pages. For your marketing company, that would be terms like:

  • Content marketing
  • Marketing firm
  • Marketing for small business

If you continue to work to build your presence online with those keywords, as well as blogging, you should start to move up those search results and attract people who are looking for what you’re selling.

3. You Lack Calls to Action

Now that search engines have led leads to your website, it’s your job to make them drink the koolaid. If your home page lacks any call to action, how will visitors know what you want them to do? Consider your call to action your instructions for visitors to your site. Do you want them to:

  • Buy from you?
  • Get a free quote?
  • Subscribe to your newsletter?
  • Download a free ebook?

Then let them know! Make your call to action bold, colored differently from surrounding text, and simple to follow.

Your website holds the potential to convert visitors into customers. But you’ve got to ensure you’re targeting the right people with your content and keywords, and that your site is an inviting place to shop. Then you can lower that bounce rate and increase sales!




 
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