Posts Tagged ‘Team Building’


Mondays with Mike: Secret Weapons – Contractors You Can’t Live Without

Mad_Men_season_5_cast_photoThe traditional office, staffed with full-time employees with full-time benefits is a relic from Mad Men days.  Most of us have to move quickly and operate on razor-thin margins that make it impossible to afford a complement of workers waiting for something to do.  It’s become far more feasible and profitable to assemble a team of contractors – specialists in their niches – who are on call, command high rates for their expertise, and appreciate the flexibility of working when they want to. 

What’s essential is that you assemble your contractors ahead of time – locate, vet, and create a relationship before you need them for big projects so you don’t have to scramble last minute.  Here are the people you should look for:

  1. Web Designer – There’s really no good excuse for a lousy website.  Most people will encounter your company on the web, and you want to put your best foot forward.  Finding a web designer who designs your site and stays on call to give you the ability to adapt your website to particular client needs or conditions is key. 
  2. Web Administrator – As more of us move our businesses online, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of web security and web reliability.  This position is perhaps the most important contractor you’ll hire, because they’ll literally have the keys to your online kingdom.  When there’s a problem with your system, you want immediate availability from your administrator.
  3. Core Competency – Find extra local talent in your field and keep them ready for when you have big jobs that require you to be able to scale up rapidly.  Whether you’re a chef who needs catering staff for special events or you’re an accountant who needs additional help at tax time, doing the legwork ahead of time can give you a competitive edge when it comes to winning new clients in a clutch situation.
  4. Writer – We may not want to own up to it, but most of us aren’t great writers.  As important as our written messages are, it’s worth locating a skilled wordsmith to polish our prose.  Weigh your options:  you could spend all day working on a company newsletter (and hope no one catches the grammatical mistakes,) or you can call your professional writer, share the details, and get to work doing what you do best while your writer pens a perfect account of what’s current in your company.
  5. Translator – If you don’t need one now, odds are very good that you will before long.  The broadening global marketplace means that if you’re not working with clients in other countries, then you’re probably missing opportunities.  Identify the languages that are most likely to be relevant in your field and line up translators before you start losing jobs because you’re not fluent in Mandarin or Spanish.
  6. Administrative Assistant – This position is your key, backup, catch-all.  Whether you need timely follow-up on a new marketing campaign, or whether your full-time admin needs help handling the seasonal rush in your field, it’s wise to find a good admin to be at the ready.

So where do you find these folks?  You’ll be shocked at how many resources are out there.  Freelance websites like Elance and ODesk connect you with contractors all over the world in a variety of niches, and community-based sites like Craigslist or Patch can connect you with local talent.  The keys to successfully working with contractors are these:  first, get them lined up and vetted – with a small project to start – before you have a critical need for their services.   Second, always pay them promptly and treat them like gold.  You want that contractor to always be happy to get your call and eager to get to work on your next project. 


20 Team Building Ideas for Your Company

The Nextiva team has discovered that some of our best brainstorming sessions and bonding moments happen outside of the office. It’s sometimes easier to toss around ideas and let your personality shine when you’re not restricted to the agenda and formality of an office meeting. Here are some ways to let your employees break out of the workplace and enjoy each other’s company:

1. Dave & Buster’s – In addition to arcade games, billiards, and bowling, D&B’s offers their own Team Building Packages to help customize your event.

Cost: $$$

2. On-Site Fitness Sessions – Schedule a trainer to come by your office at lunchtime and utilize an open area to teach yoga, aerobics, or Zumba to your employees.

Cost: $$

3. Flag Football – Nextiva holds an annual flag football game each January before the NFL Super Bowl, and the winning team gets a trophy (and bragging rights) for the remainder of the year.

Cost: $

Check out our 2014 Amazing Super Bowl game here:

4. Lunch & Learn – Cater a yummy lunch for your employees to enjoy while you train them on new products or skills, host a guest speaker, or do a simple arts & crafts project.

Cost: $$

5. Scavenger Hunt – Plan a small scavenger hunt around the office, or go all out and send groups of employees around the city on a day-long adventure.

Cost: $

6. Adventure Course – Find an outdoor adventure course near your town and plan a day trip that can include rope courses, rappelling, zip lines, and more.

Cost: $$$$

7. Local Sporting Events – Choose a local sporting event and hold a tailgating party in the parking lot for employees (and their families!) before the game.

Cost: $$$

8. Field Trips – Tour a location that is relevant to your company, or just let your team play hooky for the day to see a movie, go to the zoo, or visit a museum.

Cost: $$-$$$

9. Contests – The Nextiva Sales Team holds monthly contests, allowing team members who meet their personal goal to partake in silly rewards like shaving their manager’s head or throwing a pie in an exec’s face.

Cost: $

10. BBQ – Reserve a pavilion at a local park and invite your team to enjoy burgers, sand volleyball and bag toss. Add to the fun by including employees’ family members and children’s activites!

Cost: $$$

11. Book Club – Each month, pick a business book (these are our faves!) or a popular novel for your employees to read. Once a week, get together during lunch and share your opinions and ideas.

Cost: $

12. Potluck Lunches – Celebrate wacky holidays (our design team had a Pi Day Potluck this year!) with a group lunch that lets everyone contribute their signature dish.

Cost: $

13. Happy Hour – The Nextiva team encourages cross-departmental mingling by inviting a few people from each department to a weekly happy hour each Thursday.

Cost: $$

14. Volunteer – Reach out to the Red Cross or a local philanthropic organization to find volunteer opportunities in your area. Your employees will improve their leadership skills and feel a real sense of purpose at the end of the day!

Cost: $

15. Holiday Parties – It can be a low-key event in the office, or a lavish evening with food and entertainment. Nextiva holds a January Kickoff Party that includes dinner and drinks, and we’ve also featured a DJ, caricaturists, photo booth, flame throwers, magicians, and more!

Cost: $$$$

Get a peek inside of Nextiva’s 2014 Kickoff Party:

16. Sports sponsorships – Encourage employees to sign up for coed softball or volleyball leagues at a park or rec center and sponsor their team. Bonus: add your logo to their t-shirts for some cheap marketing!

Cost: $$

17. Charity events – Pay employee registration for 5K runs or half marathons and a celebratory brunch after the race.

Cost: $$

18. 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament – A casual tournament at a local park or gym on a weekend afternoon can be a great stress reliever.

Cost: $

19. BowlingLucky Strike in downtown Phoenix is a favorite for the Nextiva Marketing team! Most bowling alleys will offer special promotions for large groups.

Cost: $$$

20. Go Kart Racing – A favorite activity for the Nextiva Sales Team, it will let your employees experience speed and exhilaration while getting a little competitive.

Cost: $$$

Check out our most recent event at Octane Raceway in Scottsdale, Arizona:


The Small Business Advantage to Snagging the Best Employees

One of my contacts worked for a young, growing company that paid top dollar for software engineers in preparation for the day that they would be needed to meet client demand.  When she expressed concern about the overspending, one partner told her that if she was in charge, the company would be defunct in a year.  Six months later, their doors closed forever.

That partner was not wrong in recognizing the need for exceptionally-skilled workers.  The error was in seeing spending as the only way to attract and keep the best talent.  Large corporations may have ready cash to pay top wages and benefits, but small business owners can attract and keep the finest employees through their entrepreneurial spirit.  Here are some great ways to get your workers involved in your business vision and develop a relationship that few big businesses can match.

Offer Creative Compensation

Economic downturns may create a buyer’s market for hiring, but that doesn’t mean that the most skilled applicants will agree to take a position that offers substandard incentives.  You may not have the funds to pay a top salary when making an offer — or even when it’s time for an annual review.  But as a small business, your company can offer achievement-based bonuses that can really motivate your employees while increasing your revenues.  So, when certain sales reps are responsible for accelerated sales or when engineers enhance a product to make it more attractive to the marketplace, make sure that they receive their fair share of the profits.

Encourage Active Involvement in the Company

Choosing to work for a small company carries certain inherent risks, but it also offers benefits that cannot be matched by working for a huge organization.  When you welcome and act on employee ideas and suggestions, your employees become partners who recognize their unique value to the company as they work alongside you to realize shared goals.

Make sure to listen to their feedback and acknowledge them too- the value of these soft incentives is highly underrated—not to mention easy for small business owners to embrace.

Give Employees the Power to Spread Their Wings

I know a writer who worked for many small software businesses, enlisting her full creativity to develop low-cost, but award-winning manuals.  When she moved to a large company, she vehemently complained that she no longer wrote documentation, so much as manufactured it in accordance with strict, detailed procedures.  She didn’t last long in this position.

Big businesses need to put their employees in specific boxes and keep them there to get their allotted portion of the job done.  As a business owner, you know that one of the greatest rewards comes with seeing a project through from beginning to final results.  Employees can feel that same sense of satisfaction and accomplishment — if you empower them to take on this type of challenge.  As they stretch their abilities, be available to provide upfront and ongoing guidance as needed, but give them latitude to do it their way.  As their abilities grow from new experiences, their investment in the company’s interests will grow as well.

Praise in Public

??????????????????????????????????????A job well done deserves praise and your employees never mind being called to your office to receive your personal kudos.  But when employees receive your commendations at a company meeting or in front of a customer who benefitted from their hard work, they clearly see their true value.  Naturally, public praise helps inspire all employees, but it also lets your customers recognize how the depth of your products and services helps them get the attention and consideration they deserve.

Promote from Within

When a key position opens up in your company, always look first to the members of the team that work hard for you every day.  Granted, some positions require very specific educational requirements not available in your organization, such as a degree in accounting.  But remember that your staff members already have a solid foundation and a deeper understanding of your company culture and how things work.  You probably have to spend time and effort training employees in new concepts and procedures.  Or, they may need to take a class or two to obtain additional knowledge.  But you can’t teach loyalty and dedication, and these traits grow even more when you reward them with advancement.

No large company can match the excitement employees experience going in to a job where they know that they make a vital difference every day.  As their efforts help grow your business, make sure you help them continue to grow as well.  


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Get the Most From a Temporary Employee

??????????????????????????????????Are you using (or considering) temporary employees in your small business? Last year we told you why hiring temps can be a smart way to staff up without the hassles of hiring permanent employees. These tips will help you get the most out of your temporary employee relationships.

Welcome temporary employees on board. Too many temporary employees are met with blank stares when they arrive at a new job, then essentially ignored for the duration of their employment. Just as with any new employee, your temporary workers should receive a warm welcome to your business. (This is especially important if you think you may eventually want to hire the temp full-time.) It’s a good idea to match the temp with an employee on staff who can show him or her the ropes of company culture. Talk to your full-time employees about the importance of making sure they help the temp fit in.

Provide adequate orientation and training. Sure, a temp will come to you with knowledge of a skill, such as how to use Excel spreadsheets, code websites or operate a certain type of machinery. But that doesn’t mean he or she knows how the particular job he or she is doing at your company works. No matter how impatient you are for the temp to get to work immediately, spend some time orienting temps as to where their job fits in within the company, what the goals of the job are, and how to perform the specific duties of the job. It will be time well spent.

Take care of the proper paperwork. Just because a temporary agency is handling the temp’s payroll doesn’t mean you’re off the hook legally. Temporary employees can still file claims against your company if they feel discriminated against, harassed or if you are breaking wage and hour laws. Make sure each temporary employee reviews your employee handbook and signs a document that he or she has read and understood it. Also review your contract with the temporary agency carefully so you know what forms you need to have the temp complete, what records you’re required to keep about the person’s employment, and how long you need to maintain them after he or she leaves. By dotting all the i’s and crossing your t’s, you’ll protect yourself and your business. 


Work Your Biz Wednesday: Resources for Women

Whether you're a woman just starting out in a new business or you're established and looking to grow, it's important to educate yourself about any resources that can help your small business.


How to Launch a Philanthropic Program Within Your Company

The concept of corporate social responsibility, or CSR, is incredibly popular in large companies where deep budgets allow employees time off to participate in community-oriented projects. But what about small businesses? Without big budgets, is it possible for the little guys to make an impact?

“Absolutely, yes,” says Lauri Flaquer, small business expert and owner of Saltar Solutions, a business consultancy in St. Paul, Minnesota. “In fact, I’ve been seeing a ton of small businesses develop their own philanthropic programs as of late.”

Interested in getting involved in your community? If so, here are some helpful steps to get you started.

Poll your employees

You want your company to get involved, but you aren’t sure where to allocate your resources. Chances are good that some of your employees may already volunteer or give to specific charities in their off time, so start by involving them in the development of your CSR program.

“Ask your employees what organizations they think the company should give to or volunteer with. Then, task those who are passionate with giving a presentation on their pet causes and ask the group to vote,” recommends Flaquer.

Be choosy

Don’t have any takers for a charity presentation? Find your own non-profit to support. Flaquer recommends looking at organizations that are somehow connected the mission of your company.  “If you own a water filtration business, for example, try supporting a charity that promotes clean water,” she says. “Or if you are in the publishing industry, maybe join a non-profit that prevents the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.”

Do your homework. Flaquer recommends checking with the IRS to make sure the organization is a 501c3 (tax code for non-profit) and with the Better Business Bureau to research on its reputation in the community.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????Schedule volunteer time strategically

Too busy to volunteer? Flaquer recommends scheduling volunteer days (or hours) when your business is in a lull. “If your organization is cyclical, choose a time when it isn’t all that busy,” she suggests.

Transform a volunteering activity into a team building activity. Instead of renting an expensive hall and calling a catering company, opt to spend a day out of the office, cleaning a local park. Then spring for some pizza at nearby picnic tables. The event will end up costing you less and your employees will probably enjoy it more, too.

Set boundaries early

“When you are volunteering your time, it is easy for that time to take over your full-time job because you feel so good about helping others,” Flaquer says. “I recommend that before you start your program, set out exactly how much time you and your company will spend giving back, how much money you will spend and how many resources you will.

“Those guidelines will help you feel good about the impact you are making, but also help you keep an eye on your core business.” 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Steps to Creating a More Harmonious Workplace

Is conflict between employees hurting your business? While disagreements and ill will between team members may seem like minor issues not worth the boss’s while, in reality employee conflicts can damage everything from morale and productivity to customer service and your business’s image. Don’t sweep employee conflict under the rug—take these steps to defuse it.

  1. Pay attention. Many small business owners get so occupied with their own duties they ignore employee relationships. Spend some time every day walking around your workplace and seeing how people are doing. In addition to verbal interaction, pay attention to facial expressions and body language, and you’ll quickly notice when employees aren’t getting along. If you’re truly clueless and not a “people person,” enlist a key employee or manager to keep a finger on the pulse of the office mood and let you know when problems are brewing.
  2. Investigate. To keep problems from festering, start by finding out what’s going on. Meet with each of the employees involved to get their side of the story and find out what they think the problem is.
  3. Mediate. Once you have both sides’ input, get the affected employees together to discuss the problem and what can be done. Keep the discussion business-focused rather than personal by explaining how their attitudes are negatively affecting other employees and the business. Then ask them to come up with solutions for the issue. Your role is to mediate and guide the discussion into fruitful areas.
  4. Set consequences. Once you come up with solutions, develop next steps that each employee is to take, set a date to follow up on the issue, and create consequences if the problem isn’t resolved. For instance, explain that relating positively to others is part of their annual reviews, and failing to do so could lead to further discipline or cause them to miss out on a promotion.
  5. Be prepared. Part of your employee handbook (you do have one, right?) should specify how employee conflicts are handled and the consequences if they are not resolved. Having a plan in place protects your business in case an employee ever files a lawsuit claiming that your workplace was a negative work environment where harassment was allowed to fester. 

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Delegation Tips for Delegation Haters

Generally speaking, small business owners aren’t the biggest fans of delegating. And it is easy to understand why. Most of them built their companies from the ground up and worry that the addition of a new person may disrupt their business environment and possibly scare away clients. But as Roberta Matuson, HR consultant and author of the new book Talent Magnetism: How to Build a Workplace That Attracts and Keeps the Best, explains, delegation is essential to building a business.

“You will never succeed as a business owner unless you let go,” she says. Here are a few of her top delegation tips for business owners who hate to delegate.

Tap into your network

Talk to fellow businesspeople in your area to get the names of possible candidates. If you are new to your city, Matuson recommends joining the local Chamber of Commerce or contacting a nearby college and posting ads on an alumni job board.

Start with small tasks

Now that you’ve hired your first employee (or contract assistant), it is time to give him or her a few job assignments. “Start by giving them tasks that you are confident they can accomplish,” she recommends. “And allow them to do those tasks the way they want. Accept the fact that your way may not be the best way in all situations.”

?????????????????????????????????????????????Focus on training

Don’t expect your new hire to know how to do everything, even if he or she has a lot of experience. You may do things differently in your business, so it is important to provide specific training.  “Give them what they need,” recommends Matuson. “You can’t throw something into someone’s lap and expect them to learn how to do it by osmosis. Give them the tools and then get out of their way.”

Be careful what you delegate

You may want to hold on to major tasks like entertaining a new client at a dinner or attending a conference call that helps close a sale. “Delegate the things that are weighing you down so you can be free to do what you need to grow you business,” she says. “An important meeting may better be suited for you, not your assistant.”

Don’t micromanage

Many of us have had experiences working for micromanagers—experiences that most likely didn’t last long (because you quit). Stop yourself from being too overbearing with your new employee by checking in semi-frequently. “There isn’t a rule of thumb for how often you should check in, but I’d say it is best to see how they are doing once per week,” says Matuson. “Every day can be a bit much.” 


Mondays with Mike: What You Can Learn from Marketing Masters

Whether or not we like it, we all have to market ourselves and our businesses.  Fortunately, we have a wealth of lessons we can learn from the marketing geniuses who have provided us with a variety of techniques that can help you find new clients and transform them into loyal repeat customers.

  1. Have the people making it, use it.  Walt Disney, perhaps the greatest marketing genius of all time, demonstrated the effectiveness of this practice in Disney World.  Both corporate and park employees rode every ride over and over until they fine tuned every detail – even down to the simulated fireflies in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.  If your team experiences your services as a customer, they’ll have greater insight into what customers want.
  2. Multi-level marketing.  Mary Kay Ash gave the world much more than just pink Cadillacs.  She also gave us the model for successful marketing based on direct sales to friends and family and valuable rewards for achievement and recruitment.  She painted the glass ceiling pink and turned it into a stepping stone to the next level.
  3. Design matters.  Steve Jobs didn’t create the only technology for accomplishing tasks; he created the coolest technology for accomplishing tasks.  Never underestimate the appeal of sleek, snazzy packaging coupled with ease of use.
  4. The huge promise.  Tim Ferriss taught us that consumers will snap up products even if they know that the unrealistic claims about them aren’t entirely possible.  Get rich by working 4 hours a week.  Get fit by exercising four hours a month.  We know it aint’ gonna happen, but we buy it anyway, and we may still reap rewards – even if they’re not exactly what was promised.  Ferriss showed us that it’s okay to aim for the stars and settle for hitting the moon.
  5. MarketingNever stop testing.  David Ogilvy is the father of modern advertising and an early proponent of split testing.  His method of testing – creating two postcards in a direct mailing campaign and tracking each card’s success – provides the perfect model for ensuring that your large advertising campaigns yield results.
  6. Be the best at one thing.  Michael Phelps is the poster boy for singleminded dedication and the astonishing results it can yield.  Focus on your strengths and your passion, and your results will surprise you.
  7. Word of mouth matters.  Conrad Gessner is our representative from the wayback files for this example.  Gessner was a sixteenth century botanist who penned a poem about tulips that contributed to the European craze for the flowers, ultimately resulting in people with more money than sense who were willing to part with astronomical sums of money ($1M in today’s equivalent) for a single tulip bulb.  Make it desirable, and people will want to purchase it.
  8. Be remarkable.  Seth Godin has spent his career being different.  He’s proven that a purple cow (his term for a remarkable product) is the key to standing out in a crowded marketplace.  He’s also shown that it’s possible to generate revenue while still giving back to his community.

I’m a big fan of learning from the best.  These marketing mavens can teach you volumes.  




 
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