Posts Tagged ‘Tuesday Tip’

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Start a Customer E-Newsletter

customer-experience-digitalDo you want to remind customers of your business, encourage them to interact with you and provide useful information to help make their lives better? You can accomplish all of these goals and more with a customer e-newsletter.

Starting an e-newsletter for your customers may sound intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. There are many email marketing services that provide design templates you can use to create your newsletter, send it out for you, and provide tools and analytics you can use to measure results. Plus, email marketing services stay up-to-date on the latest laws regarding email marketing and spam, which can help ensure your business isn’t running afoul of FTC regulations.

Your e-newsletter should contain a mix of useful information to help your customers and special offers from your business. You don’t want it to be solely promotional, but you also want it to inspire customers to click through to your website, visit your store or otherwise engage with your business. For instance, if you own an ecommerce site that sells gardening supplies, you could send a monthly email newsletter with do-it-yourself tips on gardening activities like preparing your yard for winter, along with timely offers such as discounts on seasonal supplies. Also be sure to include links to your social media accounts so customers can follow you on social media.

How often should you send an email newsletter? The key is regularity—if your schedule is sporadic, customers may think you’ve gone out of business or are not professional. A monthly newsletter is a good starting point for most small businesses. If that’s too much, consider starting quarterly, or if you have more bandwidth, try biweekly or weekly. Monitor your readers’ unsubscribes to make sure you’re not sending too often.

Once you’ve got your email newsletter going, be sure to promote it everywhere you can with links to sign up on the home page of your website, in your marketing materials, on your social media accounts and at the end of your email signature. 

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Is Your Small Business Website Boomer- and Senior-Friendly?

woman-at-computerYour small business could be missing out on a key target market with money to spend because your website isn’t suited to their needs. A recent poll by McAfee of Internet users age 50 and up—that is, baby boomers and seniors—found this group is nearly equivalent to Millennials in their reliance on the Internet.

Users aged 50 and up in the study spend an average of five hours a day online—and specifically, those aged 50 to 61 spend an average of 5 hours and 42 minutes a day online. Those figures are just slightly less than the time Millennials spend online. And even those aged 62 to 75 spend an average of four hours and 36 minutes a day online!

About 90 percent of users in this age group have bought things online, 80 percent have done online banking and more than three-fourths have paid bills online.

To make sure your business website provides the best possible customer experience for these users:

  • Use larger fonts or provide options to enlarge the font (some users may not know how to do this with their browsers).
  • Avoid hard-to-read color combinations like white or light type on a dark background or light-colored type on a white background.
  • Make it functional. Put plenty of white space around buttons or tabs so it’s easy to click in the right place. This is especially important on the mobile versions of your website.
  • Provide options to talk to a real person. Many seniors still like speaking to customer service on the phone, so make sure this is a choice on your website and display your phone number prominently on the top of every page.
  • Keep it simple. Busy designs can overwhelm older users who still aren’t totally Internet-savvy. Make your site design as simple as possible so it’s easy to see how to take relevant actions like checking out, contacting you for more information, or getting directions to your location. Simple design will not only appeal to boomers, but also to most of your customers. 

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Writing Emails That Get Results

Business-EmailDo you ever get frustrated when your emails seem to be ignored? If people don’t answer your emails, don’t respond fast enough or don’t understand what you write, maybe the problem is your emails. Here are five tips to help you write better emails—ones your recipients will read and act on.

1. Use a clear subject line. Your subject line should be brief but attention-getting so recipients quickly understand what the email is about. Stay away from vague subject lines like “Question” “Hi” or "1 more thing.” It’s much more useful to the recipient if you clearly label the email. Writing subject lines like, “Quick Question on Winston Project,” “Smith Proposal Attached” or “[Mutual friend] referred me to you” are all good ways to get attention while letting the recipient know what to expect.

2. Keep it short. Who wants to page down through a multi-paragraph email—especially these days when more and more people are reading their email on smartphones? Keep your email as brief as possible (ideally, no more than 5 sentences). Use line spaces between sentences so the email is a fast, easy read. If you must convey something complex, consider whether it would be better in an attachment instead of in the email, or whether you need to actually talk to the person face-to-face or by phone.

3. New topic, new email. Don’t piggyback a new topic onto an existing email chain. If the chain titled “December Sales Meeting” morphs into a discussion of redesigning your business website, people are going to get confused. When a new topic arises, start a new email chain. Also, avoid discussing more than one topic per email. Your emails are more likely to get read if you send several brief emails on different topics than one long email that covers six things.

4. Include a call to action. Just like in an ad or on your website, if you want the reader to take action, come out and say so. Include a time frame or deadline, and any contact information the reader may need to respond. For example:

Hi Steve,

Are you available for a conference call next week to discuss the next step in the Acme project? It should only take 30 minutes.

I am available M-W between 9am-noon EST, Thursday 9-5 EST and Friday 2-5pm EST.

Please call or email and let me know your availability.

Thank you,

Joe Smith

(contact information)

5. Follow up. Don’t be a pest who emails daily, but if a few days go by without a response, it’s wise to follow up either by email or phone to make sure the person got your email. 

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 3 Ways to Keep Your Office Flu-Free This Winter

It’s that time of year—the time when hacking coughs, sneezes and nose-blowing ring through every small business. How can you keep your employees healthy (and productivity high) during cold and flu season? Here are three tips.

  1. Encourage sick employees to stay home. The benefits of having a sick employee come in to handle his or her work are far outweighed by the risk that the person will infect the rest of the staff. However, if employees feel penalized for staying home, they won’t do so. One study found that staying home just one day when sick reduces the chance of co-workers’ catching the flu by 25 percent; staying home two days cuts the risk by 40 percent. If employees are worried they’ll get overloaded with work while they’re out, try letting them work from home. At the same time, don’t require employees to work (even at home) if they truly need to rest.
  2. FluOffice_m_0926Keep it clean. Colds and flu spread in winter because people are more likely to spend time inside in an enclosed environment. Keep that environment as germ-free as you can by making sure your office is properly maintained. Keep disinfectant sprays on hand and regularly spray down door handles, break room surfaces, bathroom faucets and anything else that lots of people touch all day. If your staff shares tech tools like tablet computers, handheld bar-code scanners, desktop computers, cash registers or headsets, make sure you have the appropriate cleaners and cloths to disinfect these surfaces at the beginning of each shift or when people trade off their equipment. Also keep tissues and lots of hand sanitizer on hand—consider having some available in every room.
  3. Encourage healthy habits. Post signs in the restrooms and break room reminding employees to wash their hands with soap. Also post signs reminding employees to clean equipment that is shared. If your business offers health insurance that covers flu vaccines, encourage employees to get vaccinated. Since many people don’t want to make a special trip to the doctor’s to do this, see if your insurer offers any type of mobile vaccination clinic. Some medical providers will come out to businesses and provide flu shots for a fee. Even as a small business, you may be able to band with other local businesses to get this service or piggyback on a bigger company in your office building that is bringing in a flu shot clinic. 

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 6 Last-Minute Ways to Get Your Team in the Holiday Spirit

canstockphotDos-and-Donts-for-company-holiday-party-1024x661It’s too late to plan a company holiday party—you and your staff have been too busy to deal with it, and now all the venues you wanted are booked up and the caterers are busy. No worries: Here are 6 last-minute ideas you can still pull together in time to celebrate the season with your team.

  1. Volunteer. Celebrate the season by giving back to your community. Does your business already have a local charity or community group you work with? Do you or your employees have favorite causes that you love to help out? If so, find out what these organizations are doing and what they need help with this time of year. If not, check your local newspapers’ listings or talk to your chamber of commerce, Lions, Kiwanis or Rotary club to find out how you can help. Also think outside the box: Homeless shelters often have more volunteers than they can handle at Thanksgiving or Christmas, but charities such as animal shelters or battered women’s centers may be less swamped.
  2. Eat and be merry. Have a potluck lunch at your business where everyone brings in a traditional holiday dish. Or get creative: Have staff members bring in food from their family heritage, set a theme like Mexican or Cajun cuisine, or do a dessert bake-off where everyone brings in a sweet treat (bonus: You’re sure to have leftovers people can take home). Be sure to decorate festively and plan for appropriately themed music and silly games. Put an enthusiastic employee or employee committee in charge, give them a budget and see what they come up with.
  3. Secret Santa. There’s still time to put together a Secret Santa exchange. Keep it affordable (under $20 or even $10) so no one feels put upon. You can make it more fun by doing a Secret Santa grab where everyone gets three chances to “steal” a gift from someone else.
  4. Holiday contests. Hold an ugly holiday sweater or holiday costume contest where everyone dresses up. Offer prizes for the winner/s such as gift cards to local retailers or restaurants. Or have a cubicle decorating contest to see who can come up with the most over-the-top desk décor.
  5. Take time off. If you don’t have time to plan an event, chances are your employees are as stressed out and overloaded as you are. If your business schedule allows, consider giving everyone an afternoon off with pay. They’ll appreciate some extra time to get their holiday shopping done or just catch up on all the obligations of this time of year.
  6. See you next year. Instead of stressing about not having a holiday party, why not plan a New Year’s celebration? Rates for venues and caterers are likely to be lower after the holidays, and you’ll have more options available to you. Plus, you and your team will be more relaxed once the holiday rush is over. Bonus: In addition to looking back at the past year, a post-New Year’s party gives you a reason to look ahead and get everyone psyched up about the plans you’ve got for even greater business success in 2014.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Use Free Shipping to Make the Holiday Sale

Want to provide great customer service this holiday season (and boost your sales in the bargain)? As we head into Black Friday/Small Business Saturday/Cyber Monday and the rest of the holiday shopping season, one of the biggest motivators you can offer online shoppers is free shipping. Most major retailers offer some form of free shipping on their websites, so providing the same can help level the playing field with your bigger competitors.

Are you worried about free shipping eating into your profits? Of course, you’ll need to run the numbers and figure out what types of purchases you can safely offer free shipping for. Here are 3 ways to have the best of both worlds by providing free shipping without destroying your margins:

  1. Offer free shipping after a certain minimum purchase level is reached, such as $25, $50 or $100. You can vary the levels on different days, or send different offers to different customers based on their past purchasing behaviors. Shoppers will usually spend more than they intended in order to get the free shipping.
  2. Offer free shipping during a certain time frame. On highly competitive days, such as Black Friday or Cyber Monday, you may need to offer free shipping just to stay in the game. (You can still set a minimum order level so you don’t end up shipping $1.95 products for free.)
  3. Offer free shipping for VIPs or members. Consider how successful Amazon has been with its Amazon Prime membership, where customers pay an annual fee to get everything shipped free. You could set up a similar program—either have customers pay an annual fee, or offer free shipping to customers whose annual purchasing stays above a certain threshold.

Make sure you clearly display cut-off dates and times for any free shipping promotions, as well as the “fine print” such as minimum order needed. Doing so will alleviate any customer frustration by preventing customers from loading up a shopping cart only to find they can’t get the items shipped free by the desired date.

Maximize your free shipping marketing potential by participating in Free Shipping Day December 18. Participating merchants guarantee free shipping by Christmas for orders placed on this day. You can learn more and sign up to be a participating merchant at the Free Shipping Day site. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Correct a Problem Employee

It’s the part of our jobs every small business owner hates: dealing with problem employees. Whatever the reason (whether you dislike confrontation or worry about getting sued) you can’t ignore employee problems, or they will just get bigger and potentially threaten your entire business. Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to protect your business legally, while also correcting the employee’s poor behavior.

The moment you hire your first employee you need to create a written employee policy that documents your rules and expectations for the workplace. It should also state what actions (such as theft) would be grounds for dismissal. Have all employees read and sign a copy.

When a problem does arise, start by getting the facts. Talk to other employees to see what’s going on and document the issues as objectively as possible.

Then it’s time to talk to the person. To stay on the right side of the law when it comes to discipline, you should have a progressive discipline policy that gives employees opportunities to correct their behaviors. Start with a discussion of the issue and a verbal warning, and set a date by which the behavior needs to be corrected.

The goal is to work out problems and hopefully keep the employee on board. Work with him or her to create a plan for how to improve. Getting the employee’s input makes him or her more invested in the outcome.

If the behavior still doesn’t improve, escalate your discipline to a written warning, which documents the problem and its duration, specifies how long the employee has to correct the problem and details what will happen if it’s still not fixed. You and the employee should both sign this.

Depending on your employee policies, how severe the issue is and whether the employee is really trying to improve or not, you may do multiple written warnings before (in the worst case) terminating an employee. However, by implementing progressive discipline early and correctly, hopefully you never come to that point.

If you have any doubts or questions about discipline and termination, be sure to consult with an attorney who is familiar with your state’s employment laws.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Do You Know Your Independent Contractors From Your Employees?

independent_contractor_or_employeeStates are cracking down on companies that misclassify their employees as independent contractors, Bloomberg reports. Labeling someone an independent contractor means companies don’t have to withhold or pay income taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes, or unemployment taxes. But revenue-hungry states are looking more closely into worker classification in an effort to get tax payments from employers.

Of course, many misclassifications happen due to honest error, because the line dividing employee from independent contractor is often hazy. Here are the guidelines you need to know.

In general, the IRS considers someone an independent contractor if your business has the right to control or direct only the result of the work you hire them to do, but not what will be done and how it will be done. The IRS bases the determination on three criteria:

  1. Behavioral. Is the work actually done on your premises? Do you provide the equipment or tools needed to do the work? Do you instruct the person on a daily basis? If so, they are more likely an employee. On the other hand, if the person works at his or her office, using his or her equipment and deciding how the work will be done, they’re more likely an independent contractor.
  2. Financial. Does the person buy the equipment or tools to do the work? Does he or she handle the expenses involved (such as buying supplies or paying a phone bill), or do you reimburse the person? Do you pay the person a salary or do you pay per project? Are you the person’s sole source of income or does he or she do the same type of work for other clients?
  3. Relationship. Do you have a contract with the person? If so, does it specify a beginning and ending date for the relationship, or focus on a specific project to be delivered? If so, the person is more likely to be an independent contractor. Do you provide benefits to the person, such as life or health insurance or paid time off? If so, the person is more likely to be an employee.

Clearly, there are lots of gray areas here. If you have doubts about how to classify someone, talk to your accountant and if you are still uncertain, file Form SS-8, Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding, with the IRS. They’ll determine the worker’s status, which can take up to six months, but will put your mind at ease. 

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Thank Your Military and Veteran Customers This Veteran’s Day

veterans_day1Veteran’s Day is next week, and if your small business numbers veterans as customers (or wants to attract them), here are some ideas for ways your small business can cater to, thank and help veterans.

  • Give a freebie. Lots of national restaurant chains provide free meals for veterans on Veterans’ Day. Consider offering something free to veterans, whether a meal, drink, haircut, car wash or downloadable ebook from your website. It’s even better if the freebie is something that a veteran might share (like a meal, where he or she might bring friends or family who will buy their own meals).
  • Give a discount. Post a special promo code on your website, social media and in your store that veterans, active-duty military or military families can use to get discounts that day.
  • Volunteer for veterans. Take the day off with your employees and volunteer at a local organization that helps military veterans or active-duty military families. Contact your local Veterans Administration to find organizations in your area.
  • Donate to veterans. Announce that you will put a portion of your sales for the day, or all profits from a certain item or items that day, toward a military cause. Visit Charity Navigator and review their list of veterans’ organizations to make sure the group is reputable.
  • Provide a free consultation to active-duty military, military veterans and families. A business such as a personal trainer, home remodeler or accountant can benefit by offering free consultations to help a veteran decide if he or she wants to pursue your services.
  • Celebrate veterans. Create an e-card customers can send to thank veterans for their service. The card should also offer a discount for veterans and military who buy from you. Share the e-card on your website and social media and encourage customers to pass it on. Check out this list of sites to create free e-cards.  
  • Hold a Veterans’ Day sale. You don’t have to limit your offerings to veterans—copy the big retailers and hold a Veterans’ Day sale. Consider offering special extra discounts to veterans, active duty military, military families or even customers who bring a military member or veteran with them.
  • Alert the media. Be sure to let local newspapers, radio stations, cable news and bloggers know about what you’re doing for the military members, families and veterans in your community.
  • Start planning now for next year. Advertising in military newspapers and on military websites is a great way to reach active-duty military and families, but you’ll likely need more than a week to place your ad, so while it might be too late for this year, it’s not too early to start now and plan even more veteran outreach for 2014. 

Nextiva Logo

phone-icon(800) 799-0600 Sales phone-icon(800) 285-7995 Support
Nextiva is the leader in Business VoIP Services. Copyright 2014 Nextiva, All Rights Reserved,
Terms and Conditions, Privacy Policy, Sitemap