Browsing Date

September 2013

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Monitor Your Employees’ Computer Use

By September 17, 2013 No Comments

Employee-internet-monitoring-protects-employees-300x200Preventing your employees from surfing the Internet, using social media or checking personal emails at work is not realistic these days. But employee Internet use can put your business at risk in many ways. How do you maintain the delicate balance between keeping your business’s data safe, keeping your employees productive, and keeping your people happy?

  • Be proactive. Checking social networks or taking time out to watch a funny cat video or scan sports scores can actually make people more productive by functioning as a virtual “water cooler” break. But the problem arises when employees start abusing the privilege and spending too much time online. Make it clear to employees that getting their work done comes first. Don’t turn a blind eye—simply getting out of your office, walking around and noticing what employees are doing on their computers will go a long way toward keeping employees’ Internet use in check.
  • Create a policy. Security is a big issue when employees go online. Clicking on a suspicious link or opening what appears to be a legitimate attachment is easy to do, but can lead to viruses and data breaches. Start by installing adequate security software and firewalls. Regularly update software and install needed patches. However, keep in mind that the weakest link in the security chain is human nature. Set rules about opening attachments, clicking links, downloading software and other potentially harmful actions, and make sure employees know and follow them.
  • Be open. Employees will be more likely to comply with your Internet policy if they know the reasons behind it. For instance, if too many people watching streaming video is slowing down your Internet connection, people will understand the reasons for restrictions vs. just thinking you’re arbitrarily banning certain actions. Similarly, downloading software without checking with your IT person or clicking on links in emails could put your security at risk. Explain the reasons, and you’re more likely to get willing compliance.
  • Follow up. If employees are abusing the system, don’t let it slide. Address the issue with the individual employee and set consequences for the actions. Otherwise, your remaining employees will think you don’t care and you’ll see the behavior spread.

You can also install monitoring software that records employees’ keystrokes, their emails and the websites they visit on their work computers, and alerts you about potential problems—though that can seem a bit extreme. Check out the Top Ten Monitoring software programs to learn more. 


5 Ways to Improve Your Networking Skills

By September 13, 2013 No Comments

Networking1Successful entrepreneurs are master networkers. They keep business cards for years, write down names, and follow up with potential leads. They also touch base with contacts frequently just to check-in, not necessarily to solicit business. It is this diligence that leads to referrals and long-term, mutually beneficial business relationships.

Need to brush up on your networking skills? Here, Margo Geller, owner of Margo Geller and Associates, a business consultancy in Atlanta, offers her top tips for becoming a master networker.

Stick to the 70 percent rule

Networking events are a dime a dozen. The key to finding the best prospects, according to Geller, is to focus on who will attend each event. Do this by asking the event coordinator for the guest list ahead of time. If that doesn’t work, ask for the list from the last event to use as a frame of reference.

“Don’t waste time going to events unless 70 percent or more of the people in attendance will be qualified, potential, ideal clients for you,” she says. “It’s about quality, not quantity. You need to be fishing in spot ponds.”

Arrive early

Even if you know everyone on the guest list, Geller recommends arriving early to an in-person networking event. Grab your nametag and stand by the registration table to see people as they come in. That way, you will know whom to target first.

Check your feelings

Have you had a rotten day? If so, stay in the car and repeat positive affirmations to yourself before walking into a networking event, suggests Geller.

“If you are walking around an event and someone senses that you’re not in a good place, they will not be drawn to talking to you,” she says. “Make sure you feel good and look good because your internal attitude will shine through.”

Practice active listening

You’ve arrived at an event and identified the person you want to speak with. After approaching them in a pleasant manner and asking a few questions about their business, let them talk to you and listen intently. As Geller explains, it is more important to listen than to talk in networking situations.

“At the end of the conversation say that you enjoyed meeting them and ask if it would be OK if you called them tomorrow to follow up,” she says.

Run a business association or networking group

Getting involved in your local business association or networking group is the best way to establish credibility as someone people might want to do business with.

“Even better, shoot for a top position in the association,” Geller says. “People are likely to respect you if you lead the organization.” 


7 Ways to Master the Art of the Customer Follow Up

By September 12, 2013 No Comments

According to Harvard Business Review, the biggest complaint that customers have when dealing with any business is poor follow up. 56% complain that they need to either re-explain their issue when calling back. 62% report having to repeatedly contact the company to get their issues resolved. As a result, 65% are likely to speak poorly about the company and 48% of customers go on to tell 10 or more people about their bad experience.

How should a small business train their staff in the art of the follow up?

1.    Set expectations first. If you don’t set expectations, your customers will set their own. By being proactive, you can influence how they perceive their satisfaction with the eventual outcome. Be specific about what needs to be followed up on and when you will get back to them. Then, get back to the customer in the promised time frame even if there is not a resolution.

2.    Focus on after the sale. Businesses are usually great following up to get the sale, but then don’t contact the customer until they need to make the next one. This only shows that the business is interested in the sale not the success of their customer.

3.    Pre-emptive strike. If there is a time of year or a product where many customers experience problems, don’t wait for them to call you. Get on the phone or email them. Sage Solutions does this with their accounting business partners around tax time to try to anticipate problems their customers might have in their business.

4.    Remember. Special anniversaries of customers doing business with your company or other milestones is an excellent excuse to reach out to customers proactively.

5.    Be special. Reach out with a special offer and with no strings attached. Too many times, companies only make special offers to attract new customers.

6.    Get personal. People do business with those they know, like and trust. If it fits your brand, be more conversational in customer communication. Use real employee names when sending emails or leaving messages.

7.    Empower your staff to make their own decisions. After sufficient training, give your employees the power to do what is best for customers in specific cases that fall outside normal guidelines.

How often should you follow up with a customer? Jason Brick suggests asking new clients to fill out a "bug me meter." This tells the small business how often the customer wants to hear from them on a scale of 1 to 10. For example, a “10” may suggest weekly contact and a “1” may mean only contact with very specific and urgent communications.

How do you follow up with your customers?



4 Self-Imposed Business Pitfalls

By September 11, 2013 No Comments

TrapLet’s face it; running a successful business is no easy task.  From a sluggish economy and a beyond over-crowded marketplace to more and more regulations and restrictions being thrust upon the unsuspecting business owner, the barriers to business success can be overwhelming.  And while there is no shortage of hindering factors that are beyond your control, there are some pitfalls to a successful business that you yourself might be responsible for.  So, here are some common self-imposed pitfalls that you should seek to avoid in your own business.

Pitfall Number 1- Taking Your Loyal Customers for Granted: Businesses often make the mistake of focusing all of their marketing efforts and attention on chasing down new customers. They put out incredible “half price” or “buy one, get three free” deals with the fine print reading “first time customers only”. The problem with this tactic is that it completely ignores the already loyal customers that you have, in favor of hunting new ones that will likely take advantage of your one time offer and then, move on to the next one time offer from a different company. And this doesn’t exactly entice your existing customer base to want to keep patronizing your business. Not only that- it is much easier to market to and get an existing customer to purchase more from you than to try to get someone new to start purchasing from you. So, while it’s important to seek out new customers, make sure that you don’t take your existing customer base for granted in the process.

Pitfall Number 2- Ignoring the Numbers: Another key mistake that is all too common amongst business owners is a lack of focus on the financial aspects of their business. Sometimes, business owners don’t know how to prepare their own financial statements or even understand what the numbers mean, so they let this critical aspect of business fall by the wayside. But, ignoring the numbers can be a major pitfall for your business.  How can you truly know which aspects of your business are (or aren’t) working, manage your cash flow appropriately, determine which marketing strategies are working or know where your expenses need to be trimmed if you don’t know what you are looking for?  If you don’t understand the financial aspects of your business, take a class or hire an expert to do them on your behalf and show you what you need to know about.  Ultimately, it’s your business, so you need to be responsible for understanding all aspects of that business, including the numbers.

Pitfall Number 3- Recreating the Wheel: Consistency is such an important aspect of a successful business.  For example, when you go to a Chipotle virtually anywhere in the country, there may be small variations, but in general, you consistently get the same thing in terms of customer service, food items and even store set-ups because they have systems in place for every aspect of their offerings. These systems allow for a more streamlined and effective business process. But, many smaller businesses operate by recreating the wheel over and over again, without a standard set of systems and procedures in place.  This can be a dangerous pitfall for your own business. Make sure that you have a clearly defined system for every aspect of your business in place, from how you work through a specific project and how you greet your customers to how you follow-up with clients. You can write this out with a bullet-point checklist or even utilize technology if appropriate, but this will make sure that your employees know exactly what to do and that your customers are all having the same experience. It will also make it easier for new employees to know what is expected of them. These systems will free you up to work on those critical revenue-generating tasks that should be your main focus when running a business.

Pitfall Number 4- Not Charging Enough: In an effort to attract new customers or make more sales (especially with the sluggish economy that we have been experiencing for the past several years), businesses often make the mistake of trying to compete on price and thus, charge too little for their offerings. But, focusing on price rather than focusing on value is another huge pitfall for businesses.  They make the mistake of not charging enough to cover all of the business costs that are associated with the business, like overhead, salaries shipping costs, etc. And competing on price will attract bargain hunters that will shop from your competitors as soon as a cheaper price comes along. This will not allow for long-term business success. Instead, focus on providing a high level of value and attention to your customers to create customer loyalty. That loyalty is the key to having a successful business.

Avoid these 4 pitfalls and watch how much more successful your business will become!