Posts Tagged ‘Small Business’


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.


Mondays with Mike: Win Customers With Your Authenticity

6-15 Be Authentic smallEven though I’m not an accountant, I understand just how important effective accounting and accountants are to running my business successfully.  A few years ago, I attended an accounting conference, and I’ll admit it:  I wasn’t very excited about it.  I hire accountants because that’s not where my natural talents lie.

But there I was, armed with a gallon of high-octane coffee, committed to sitting through what I predicted would be a boring presentation.  The featured speaker stepped up to the podium, and I nearly groaned out loud.  He was everything I was afraid he’d be:  boring suit and matching monotone voice, with a heaping helping of a snooze-worthy Powerpoint.  Making numbers interesting ain’t easy, and this guy didn’t even try.

I made it through the presentation without falling asleep and drooling on my neighbor, and I hightailed it out of the seminar, glad to be gone.  You can imagine my dismay when I attended a friend’s barbecue a few weeks later and literally bumped into the accountant speaker.  Since we were face-to-face (and because he recognized me,) I was stuck.  While I was thinking of excuses to escape, he surprised me, though.

He was actually funny.  He was relaxed, dressed casually, and he was really interesting.  It was like it had been his boring clone making the presentations, because this guy was nothing like he’d been the first time we’d met.  We were laughing about a joke he’d told when he said something that simply stunned me.  He said, “Man, I hate having to be all professional at work.  I wish I could make money just by being myself.”

I’m pretty sure I spaced out for a moment as I though about the weight of what he’d just said.  He had no idea that he was more compelling, more appealing, and even seemed more trustworthy when he was being himself.  By putting on a false front in an attempt to appear professional, the accountant was making himself fit a mold that not only wasn’t comfortable for him, but was also unappealing to his clients.

I left that barbecue with two important takeaways.  First of all, that guy is now my accountant – the very best I’ve ever had.  Secondly, I realized just how important it is to be brave enough to be our authentic selves.  In fact, it’s when we give ourselves permission to let our real personalities emerge that we’re most likely to find clients who really connect with us, our values, and our big-picture goals.

Now I’m not advising that folks stop showering or litter their sales pitches with dirty jokes, but what I am advising is that we stop trying to pretend to be someone we’re not.  Let your creativity peek out.  Give your quirky sense of humor a chance to brighten your sales presentations.  Will everyone get your off-the-wall jokes?  Probably not.  But the ones who do are more likely to end up as customers for life.

I’m reminded of the wise Dr. Seuss’ timeless advice:  “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.”  Let your authentic self shine through, and you’ll find your best, most loyal customers.


7 Things Small Businesses Do To Lose Online Customers

6-10 online shopping smallRunning a small business isn’t easy. Finding and keeping customers is even more difficult. If you don’t make it really simple to buy from you online, shoppers will go elsewhere for their next purchase. There are specific bad behaviors to avoid with the shopping experience on your website.

Here are seven things small businesses do to lose online customers.

1. You Have Confusing Information on Your Site.

As an entrepreneur, time is often your most precious commodity. If you don’t regularly review what’s on your website, you might be turning away potential customers with misinformation or simply old data.

If your newest blog post, for example, was written over a year ago, that’s a turnoff. If your products don’t have a sales page or enough detail to help shoppers make an informed decision about buying them, they won’t.

Remedy:

Periodically review all your web copy. Update it on an annual basis at minimum, and make sure it’s always accurate.

2.  No Contact Information.

Spam is a definite concern when posting your email address online, but there are alternatives that will make it easy for customers to reach you via email while keeping your inbox spam-free. Instead of burying your email address on a never-visited page, post a phone number and set up a contact form for customers to use to reach you.

Use FAQ page to help answer many of the questions people have before they hit submit on that contact form. Being helpful is always good customer service!

Remedy:

Ensure your contact information is clear and easy to locate. Offer multiple ways for customers to contact you (email, chat, phone, social media).

3.   You Don’t Answer Email in a Timely Manner.

Have you even sent an email trying to get help and no one every got back to you? Sure you have, but don't have that happening in your business. Don't set up an info@xxx.com email account no one checks. Time is money when people are shopping online.

It might have been acceptable for you to respond to a customer’s email within 24-48 hours several years ago, but now every minute counts in your response time. As in: the sooner, the better. Taking even a day could lose you serious business.

Remedy:

If your inbox is overflowing, consider hiring a customer service rep or social media virtual assistant to help field some of those emails.

4.  You Use Social Media Inconsistently.

Social media can be a game changer for small business owners…but only if you use it regularly. If you aren’t making an effort to update your profiles at least once a day, potential customers will not know you exist. A steady stream of fresh content, on the other hand, can pique people’s interest and lead them back to your website, which is your best opportunity to generate a sale. 

Remedy:

Focus on only one social media site to engage prospect customers. Update your social media account daily. Dedicate a few minutes each day to the effort.

5.   You Don’t Engage with Potential Customers with Email.

You need to make sure you have at least three ways to capture a potential customers email address when they come to your site, so even if they don't buy that day you can nurture the relationship. Use email to building your brand to attract future customers, share helpful information to a build a like, know and trust relationship with your prospects.

Remedy:

Use email marketing to engage potential customers by demonstrating your ability to anticipate their needs, and offer help.                                                                                            

6.  You Share Too Many Promotional Updates on Social.

One of the best ways to create a relationship with a potential customer is to provide assistanceOf course, you want to bolster your connection with your audience, but it is critical to provide value first especially in social media. Don't start selling relentlessly as soon as you start using social media, Instead, share informational tidbits in the guise of links, tweets and conversations to build community with potential customers. Make it about them and not about you.

Remedy:

Use the 4:1 ratio. For every four useful, informational updates, post one promotional one.


How to Get Large Corporations as Your Customers

Big and small goldfishA dream: I have been named by Google as their exclusive supplier of educational content for all their small business resellers.

To have a large and respected corporation like Google as a customer is a small business owner’s dream. It typically brings with it a steady revenue source as well as brand prestige and recognition. This is not as unrealistic as it sounds. In fact, a driving growth factor for many small businesses is a large company as a major customer.

Getting large companies to be your customer is a common way to grow rapidly. Here are the steps to take:

  1. List the targeted large corporations. These should be ones that have a demonstrated need that your business can solve. They should have a record of buying your types of products or services from small businesses.
  2. Find the right person inside the company. Many times there is an employee that has specific responsibilities for using vendors that are small businesses or ones that are minority or women owned status. If this corporation does a large amount of work with local, state of federal governments, they may even have requirement to do a certain amount of business with your size or type of company.
  3. Find someone to help. Ask your professional and social network for introductions to people they know inside the targeted large corporations. Almost any contact will do in order to get past the traditional company gate keepers.
  4. Find a program. The SBA has specific programs designed to help small businesses get sales from the federal government. Many Chamber of Commerces also have mentor programs to link up local small business with large corporate headquarters in their area.

The influx of revenue from a large corporation can bring dangers to the small business. Here are the big ones to avoid:

1. Cash flow crunch. Many corporations negotiate longer payment terms and small businesses accept them. Be aware of the cash flow problems this can cause by paying for cost of goods or services well in advance of payments from this customer. Do the math in a cash flow statement to measure the exposure.

2. Over expansion to meet short term demand. Large corporations can boost a small businesses sales quickly but they can change course and leave just as fast. Get written longer term commitments for any major investment of capital to meet their demand.

3. Revenue concentration in one customer. Many growing businesses have at least one customer that is 25% or 50% of their revenue. This can be a precarious position for any company. Seek customer diversity as an ongoing goal.

Tell me your story on how a large corporation drove the growth of your business.


Local Resources that Can Help Your Small Business Succeed

Posted on by Carol Roth

5-1 Local Resources smallSometimes, the best source of information for your small business is right in your own back yard. In fact, thanks to the Internet, great resources from around the country can come directly to your desktop. Here are six benefits that you can reap with local resources.

1. Networking

Finding new clients is critical to any business, but getting to know people within your industry can be just as important. This is how you can gain new ideas and find ways to solve problems. 

Opportunities for networking are as varied as the types of businesses they support, so you need to do your own research to find a network that fits your needs. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce can help at a national level, but most businesses benefit more with support from a local chapter. In fact, a search for “Chamber of Commerce” is likely to instantly display links to your local chapters, since your cookies probably reveal where you are.

Don’t automatically discount organizations that charge dues, such as industry associations. Their programs can provide a phenomenal professional experience and the like-minded people you meet can become lifelong friends and associates. Before paying the dues, you can try them out by attending a meeting to assess their potential value for your business.

2. Government Contracting Assistance

It may seem impossible for a small business to gain a government contract, but there are many online resources that can help you find leads and even provide the guidance that can make the proposal process seem less overwhelming. Check out these sites:

  • Not just for women: Check out the Women’s Business Development Center, where a search for “government contractor” provides a wealth of information that works for women — and men, too.
  • Contractor registration and education: You can register for government contracting from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) site, go to their government contracting classroom, and more. Just click the Contracting link from the home page to get started.
  • Advice to meet your needs:  Between the links to everything from government contractor training to information about Federal Tax ID numbers — and the articles of interest at the bottom of the page — you can spend lots of time at About.com, but it will be worth the effort.

3. Access to Capital

Of course, a great way to gain a high-level view of this topic is to take a few minutes to look at the video posted at my Business Unplugged ™ blog. That being said, a number of other resources can also provide great tips:

  • The SBA (again): Don’t expect the SBA Small Business Loans pages to hand you money directly, but they provide a guarantee that can encourage lenders to extend loans and can point you to a network of lenders. Check out their advice, as well.
  • Online business publications: Online business publications like Entrepreneur provide high-level advice on raising capital, while letting you drill down to the details that interest you.
  • Networking groups:  Your local chamber or industry organization, as discussed above, can also put you in touch with various traditional and alternative lenders in your area.

4. Mentoring

You may have an amazing skillset after working for years within your industry, but that doesn’t mean that you know everything about starting and running a business. Why not turn to someone who has a track record of business success? That’s what SCORE is all about.

The website alone provides valuable information, as well as access to online and local workshops. But, entrepreneurs at all stages of business can also schedule personal meetings with volunteers- all of whom are former business executives- at more than 300 locations across the U.S.  SCORE provides excellent assistance to help you grow your business and it’s entirely free.

5. Ongoing Education

Many companies are committed to helping small businesses succeed. For example, Nextiva has a fantastic blog and resources for small business success. Constant Contact offers a free program called Small Business Innovation Loft, along with many other resources. And, if you’re looking to get up to speed on technology, Microsoft partners with a variety of organizations, such as local Chambers of Commerce, through their Microsoft Community Connections programs, to provide you resources and information to help you keep pace with changes in business and technology.   They also provide information via articles and videos on their website.  Look into these and other brand’s resources that are available both locally and online.

6. Local Government Offices

Your local government often has a strong dedication to helping your business do well. In Chicago, for example, the Office of the City Treasurer website provides amazing resources, such as contests, expos, education and a resource guide that leads businesses to other information and the Mayor’s Office runs a Small Business Center that helps you streamline permitting and has launched a Small Business Initiative. Don’t forget about these local resources that are available to help you succeed.

It Takes a Village to Run a Small Business

Actually, that’s a bit tongue-in-cheek — small business owners have the ultimate responsibility for running their own businesses. But, you don’t have to go it alone. There are many free and low-cost resources to help guide you along the way, many of which are right in your own backyard.


How to Manage Hyper Growth in Your Business

Posted on by Barry Moltz

4-30 business growth smallEvery small business owner likes speed. They want to rapidly add sales and people to create a large company to show they are successful. But this type of hyper growth can get many small businesses into trouble since they lack the money, the skills or the infrastructure to support it. As a result, they can eventually grow themselves right out of business.  

The key is to manage these three components of growth. Here is how to do it:

Get more cash: Growing companies eat cash. Expenses always lag sales revenue and cash payments from customers. Increasing sales typically means more inventory which equates to bigger cash investments. It also means adding people expenses before they produce revenue. Accounts receivable also goes up as customers pay after the company is required to pay for their cost of sales vendors. To understand this equation, a cash flow statement is critical. Learn how the company’s cash varies with its growth. Produce a pro-forma cash flow statement to predict what it will be in the future as expenses and revenue grow. This is difficult to do, so ask for assistance from your accountant or another financial resource. There are many analytical tools that can also help. (source)

Hire skilled people. As the company grows, the small business owner will need more experienced people. Entry level employees that are trained will no longer learn fast enough. Higher skilled team members will cost more money to hire. As a result, invest in one critical hire at a time and make sure that they are successful before adding the next key person. Even experienced people will take time to become effective in their new job. This is important not only from a productivity aspect, but from a company cultural fit. Rapidly hiring of people will shift the company culture and the small business owner needs to ensure it goes in the desired direction.

Improve infrastructure. Fast growing companies need bigger and more sophisticated infrastructures because of the increased number of customers that are serviced. This could mean more office space, better operational software or additional support services like IT and HR. Fortunately, team members can now effectively work remotely which minimizes the need for additional office space. Software as a Service (SaaS) allows companies to easily ramp to use the most sophisticated applications. Freelancers are easy to identify for support other support services using sites like Odesk or Elance.

Remember that sales growth does not always mean success unless it is supported by more cash, better people, and an improved infrastructure.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Don’t Let Technology Destroy Your Humanity

4-14 automated customer service smallWhen it comes to customer service, how much automation is too much? For a small business owner, using technology to automate customer service assistance—such as enabling customers to schedule appointments online or request quotes online—saves time and money.

However, it’s important to think about customer service not only from a business standpoint, but also from your customers’ point of view as human beings.

A friend of mine recently had two experiences in medical offices that illustrate this point. When she visited her doctor’s office, she was surprised to see that the entire check-in process had been automated. She signed in on a clipboard next to a sign saying “Check In Here” with an arrow pointing to a computer terminal. The touchscreen guided her to update and confirm address, insurance and other information. The receptionist and two nurses sitting a few feet away never even bothered to glance up.

My friend admitted that while she understood the motivation behind the change, it bothered her a bit. “When you’re about to put on one of those skimpy exam gowns and bare your all to the doctor, it would be nice if someone at least said ‘Hello’ first,” she grumbled. She left the office feeling awfully dissatisfied with the customer service. 

A few weeks later, the same friend went to get some tests done at another medical office. This time, she was given an iPad to check in on, but it was a totally different experience. First, she was greeted by a genuinely friendly receptionist, who handed her the iPad, showed her how to get started, walked her over to a seat, and checked on her a few minutes later to make sure she wasn’t having any problems. What a world of difference! My friend left feeling delighted with the new technology—and feeling positive about the medical office.

Whenever you’re making technological changes to your customer service, keep in mind that…

…Different generations have different expectations. My friend is 50, but a 20-something customer might have loved the concept of the no-human-contact medical office. Seniors, for whom doctor’s appointments are often one of their only social outlets, would likely hate it. In general, younger people love self-service, while older people feel slighted by it.

….Your industry matters, too. A high-touch or social-oriented business like a beauty salon or restaurant may benefit from more of a personal touch in customer service.

…Customers’ emotional state matters. Customers who are stressed about a decision or problem may prefer to talk to a live person; those who just need some basic information may be happy to get it from a FAQ list. If you offer financial consulting or tax preparation, you’re likely to be dealing with the former. If you sell shoelaces, you can probably get away with the latter.

The lesson: When it comes to customer service, don’t let your technology get in the way of your humanity. 


How to Ensure that Email Doesn’t Suck the Life Out of Your Business

4-10 to many emails smallRemember when email was fun?  We used to delight in hearing those three little words, “You’ve got mail”.  But nowadays, email has become one of the biggest time sucks in business.

Unless you hone your habits, email (and texting, for that matter) can consume countless hours of your business day. Here are four habits that can help you retain control of your inbox and focus more time growing your business.

1. Follow the Touch Once Rule

This rule dates back to the olden days, when the U.S. Postal Service delivered mountains of envelopes every day. The key to efficiency was to open the envelope, look at the contents, and then immediately take action. The junk mail went into the recycling bin, while the important things either got passed on to someone else or, at the very least, into the to-do bin for immediate action.

Email is no different, except that you don’t have to deal with envelopes. If a message requires action, take that action right now, forward it to the proper person or put it on your electronic calendar or to-do list. Everything else goes into your email trash bin.

2. Make “Safe” Unsubscribe Your Best Friend

This recommendation comes with a warning: done incorrectly, you could actually become buried in spam, when it only came up to your knees before you started unsubscribing. Many spammers initially take a guess at your email address. Once your unsubscribe message confirms that address, they pass it along to other spammers.

Still, using the unsubscribe link in a message from a reputable business can substantially cut down the number of email messages that you receive every day. For the rest of them, just mark them as spam to get them out of your inbox and into the junk mail folder, where they belong.

3. Stay True to Your Own Schedule

As a small business owner, you have to tread a fine line between remaining committed to your daily schedule and being responsive to customer needs. But you’re not an emergency room doctor — even business crises can wait an hour or two before gaining your time and attention.

Some people absolutely want to know first thing in the morning if anything requires immediate attention. If your curiosity is so strong that it prevents you from meeting your obligations, you may need to take a look before you start your day. Most people become more efficient, however, when they hold off on the email until later in the day.

Regardless of when you take that first peek, further email activity should be scheduled into your day. Your planned activities are just as important (probably more so) than constantly checking the mail. Limit the number of times that you check email to avoid interrupting other scheduled work. And you probably should turn off the audio and visual email notifications to avoid temptation.

4. Recognize that Not Every Message Requires a Reply

Every conversation has to end at some point and you don’t always have to get the last word. Once the back-and-forth stops being productive, it has gone on too long. So, when customer messages tell you that the problem is solved — or just say “thank you,” maybe they’ll be even more appreciative if you do not respond.

There are civil ways to stop the madness. For example, if you need to keep someone informed, just tell them that your message is for information only and no response is necessary. And if you use an auto-responder that replies to all incoming email, make sure that it politely states that you will respond only when a response is required.

While good email habits are a must, do not waste time trying to achieve perfection (aka achieving “inbox zero”). Even with good email habits, you’ll probably never completely empty your inbox — the cyber world just doesn’t work that way. Your true goal should be to avoid losing important communications while gaining back valuable time. With any luck, your email recipients will follow your example until good email habits abound across the world.


How to Hire an Attorney for Your Small Business

Lawyer handing over legal document at  a meeting in a cafeEvery business needs the services of an attorney. Having access to one can help you navigate complex areas like patents, trademarks, copyrights, and contracts. They can also help you choose the best business structure for your company and create employment contracts and nondisclosure agreements, if you need them. Some attorneys specialize in helping small businesses and can be reasonably priced, even for the smallest budget.

Start by Identifying What You Need

Beyond identifying the areas you need legal expertise in, you’ll also need to determine what type of lawyer you need. Some can help with general small business tasks, while others specialize in trademarks, patents, and copyrights. If there’s a specialist for what you need, seek him out. You wouldn’t go to a general practitioner if you had orthopedic issues.

If you have no need for copyrights or any complex legal advice, you can probably get by taking care of your needs on your legal questions with a general small business attorney. If, on the other hand, you want to patent your intellectual property or need several different complex contracts drafted, you’re better off hiring a professional with that expertise.

Ask Your Network for Referrals

Before you do an internet search for an attorney, see if anyone you know is acquainted with a small business lawyer. A referral can go a long way toward helping you find the right person for the job, and it will cut down on the time you spend vetting different options.

If no one you know can refer a lawyer, check with your local SCORE or Small Business Development Center to see what leads they can offer. You might even find one that partners with the local bar association to offer pro bono advice to startups!

Do Some Research

Once you’ve got your shortlist of possible attorneys to work with, dig into their qualifications online. You can review each one’s credentials on your state bar’s website or here. You want to ensure that your attorney is licensed and admitted to practice before the courts in your state. It may also be helpful to see if he has ever been reprimanded or involved in illegal activities (red flag).

Interview Your Top Three Choices

Starting a relationship with a lawyer is something you want to do carefully, because the right fit could make for a long and fruitful relationship. Always ask for business references (and check them), as well as questions like these:

  • Do I need to provide a large retainer to get started
  • What is your fee schedule for routine and non-routine services?
  • Will you provide itemized bills?
  • What is your typical response time?
  • What is the best way to reach you?
  • Have you worked with any businesses in my industry?
  • Can you give me an example of how you have helped clients secure business opportunities?
  • Can I call you on any legal problem?

Not only should the right lawyer give you satisfactory answers to these questions, but you should get a good feeling from her. You need to be able to trust your attorney with your business, so it’s important you listen to your gut in the interview.




 
Nextiva Logo

phone-icon Sales phone-icon Support
Nextiva
Nextiva is the leader in Business VoIP Services. Copyright 2015 Nextiva, All Rights Reserved,
Terms and Conditions Privacy Policy Patents Sitemap