Archive for August, 2013

4 Ways to Be a Better Public Speaker

You have a huge presentation coming up and you’re more than a little bit nervous. How will you make it a speech to remember? Lisa Braithwaite, public speaking coach and author of free e-book 101 Tips to Improve Your Public Speaking, offers a few pieces of advice.

Interact with the audience

The best speakers are those people who can create a relationship with their crowd. Braithwaite recommends asking questions and telling stories that are relatable and relevant to the topic at hand.

“We all grew up hearing bedtime stories; it is how we learned about the world,” she says. “We still learn that way. People enjoy hearing stories that they can apply to their own lives.”

Speak with confidence

An audience is more likely to pay attention if you act confidently. This can be difficult if you suffer from stage fright, but as Braithwaite explains, practice makes perfect.

“Find little ways to practice public speaking,” she suggests. “Go to a networking event where you will be required to stand up and give a 30 second introduction. Or do a reading at your church. Or get involved in a committee at your child’s school. Try to get used to being the center of attention.”

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Don’t wait until a few days before your speech to consider its content. Instead, Braithwaite advises public speakers send out an online survey to audience members a few weeks in advance of the event.

“A survey will help you find out what they need, want and care about and tailor your presentation to them,” she says, adding that she likes to use SurveyMonkey to send out her surveys.

Another preparation tip: If you can, always visit the space where you will be presenting ahead of time. It will help you visualize the upcoming event and make you more comfortable, day-of.

Embrace stage fright

Does your heart start to beat quickly and palms begin to sweat just before you go on stage? If so, don’t worry. Almost everyone feels this way, says Braithwaite. The best way to deal with stage fright is to embrace it as part of the process. Accept that you will feel that way, but also know that those feels are easy to manage.

“The best way to manage stage fright is by realizing that an adrenaline rush is actually a good thing,” she says. “Take athletes as an example. Many Olympic athletes feel that if they aren’t at least a little nervous ahead of their event, they won’t do very well. That proves true in business, too.” 

public speaking

8 Rules of Business Email Etiquette

email-integration-2Most of us send dozens of emails per day, some of them for personal reasons, others for professional purposes. As Rachel Wagner, certified corporate etiquette consultant, trainer and speaker, explains, there are a few important rules to live by, especially when sending a business email.

Rule #1: Always be professional

“A business email should reflect the same style as a business letter with a greeting and a closing,” she says.

Even if the message is part of a long email string, it is good to keep a professional tone, regardless of how casual the other exchanges may be.

Rule #2: Make it brief

No one likes to read a novel of an email. To keep your reader’s attention, make your email short and to the point.

“Keep your paragraphs between two and four sentences and focus on putting your points in bullets or numbering them,” Wagner suggests. “This will make things much easier to read on a screen on smart phone.”

Rule #3: Be careful when replying

Most of us feel that we get too much email in the span of a workday. Lessen the pain for others by being selective with the “reply to all” button. Only use it when necessary, Wagner recommends. Send the email to the person it is intended for, not the whole office.

Rule #4: Re-read before sending

It can be incredibly easy to send an email quickly only to go back later and realize that your grammar was incorrect or that you misspelled a few words. Avoid these mistakes by taking a few minutes to re-read your email before sending it out, she advises.

Rule #5: Respond in a timely manner

“Try to respond in no more than 24 hours—its common courtesy,” Wagner says. “If you can’t respond fully, just write a short note saying that you are working on the request and will get back to them at a specified time.”

Rule #6: Don’t forget to attach documents

If you plan to attach a document, do it as soon as you refer to the document in the email. So often people forget to attach even when they indicate an attachment, Wagner says. It pays to attach right away so you don’t have to send a second email.

Rule #7: Avoid angry emailing

“We’ve all gotten emails that have made us bristle,” she says. “I recommend writing a response and then sitting on it for several hours, even overnight before sending. Put it in your draft box, re-read it and make sure it doesn’t sound too abrasive before sending.”

Rule #8: Know when not to send an email

When dealing with sensitive, even confidential information, consider alternatives to email such as in-person meetings and phone calls.

“Not everything should be done over email,” Wagner says. “Remember that email is not private, it can be sent to other people. So if you have a lengthy message to send or something you think may be misconstrued in writing, try an alternative mode of communication to get your point across.” 

How to Read a Customer Service Resume

It is sometimes difficult to discover if an applicant is the right person for the job by looking at their resume. Obviously, this document shows the person in the best possible way and there may even be some small “puffing” or exaggerations listed on it. Here are items you need to look for:

  • resumeName: Make sure that the person uses their full name including a middle initial. This is helpful when doing web research including social media especially if the applicant has a very common name.
  • Objective: Is it specific enough and does it include the job they are applying for? Objectives like “to contribute to a growing company in anyway” is not the work of a focused person.
  • Most recent experience: Many unemployed people start their own company when they are out of a job for a long period of time. Ask if they are the owner of that company even if it does not list them as CEO.
  • Titles: Applicants have a tendency to inflate their titles to “coordinator” or “manager”. Did the Customer Service Manager really manage anyone? Was a Senior Customer Service Specialist more experienced than others on their team?
  • Accomplishments: Are they really qualified for this job? Watch for words like "led", "directed", and "created". Were they just “on the team” that did this or did they really lead the effort? For example, if the person lists that they created a social media customer service strategy, maybe they just played around on Twitter and Facebook. Watch when they quote percentages in this area. Exceeding a goal by 100% may mean something or it may just be window dressing.
  • Time gaps: Are there gaps in their resume for period of times where they did not work? Many times applicants leave out jobs on their resume where they were fired or it ended in an ugly way.
  • Education: Did they graduate with a degree or just take course work? If a school is listed with no degree, they did not graduate. Similarly, is the degree relevant to the job they are applying for?
  • Skills: Many skills listed include anything they can name or their training was so long ago, it is no longer relevant. During the interview process, test for specific customer service skills needed to be successful in this specific job.
  • References available upon request. Get these references at the first interview and ensure they are from past managers not peers.

What do you look for when reviewing customer service resumes?

Work Your Biz Wednesday: Kitchen Cabinet of Advisors

Learn how to create a "kitchen cabinet" of advisors from the Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson.

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Best Practices for Reviewing Employees

employee_reviewIf you’re like most small business owners, you dread the annual process of employee reviews. But really, you should welcome this time to talk to employees about what they’re doing right (and wrong). Done correctly, employee reviews can be a valuable tool that not only help your workers do their jobs better, but also help them feel more motivated and connected to your company.

Here are some best practices for performing employee reviews:

Set a schedule. Traditionally, reviews are done once a year, but these days, many businesses are doing reviews as often as quarterly. Frequent reviews make a lot of sense for two reasons: Business is changing more rapidly, meaning an employee’s role and duties may change more often than once a year; and Millennial employees, who make up a growing share of the work force, typically require frequent feedback to be most effective.

Create standards for employee performance. Develop a review form you will use during the process. (You can find sample review forms by searching online and adjust them to your needs.) Make sure your standards are measurable—for instance, a customer service employee might be ranked on how many calls or contacts they handle, what percentage of issues are resolved on the first contact, and how the employee is rated by customer feedback.

Get input. Anyone who directly supervises the employee should have input into the review process. You can also consider doing “360-degree” reviews. This means getting feedback from everyone who interacts with the employee, including not only supervisors but also co-workers, vendors and customers.

Get feedback from the employee. Before their reviews, have your employees complete part of their review forms allowing them to rate their own performances and share any goals for the coming review period (such as learning a new skill). This will give you an idea of how realistic they are about their own performances.

During the review, be specific about any problems that need to be resolved. If there is a major issue, develop a plan for how the employee can improve and put it in writing. Have the person sign the document and make sure he or she clearly understands the steps for improving, the time frame and what the result will be if he or she doesn’t meet the new goals (whether another warning, suspension or termination). If you are promoting employees, or if they’re getting bonuses or raises, let them know the details and when the changes take effect. Have them sign the review form and keep it in their records.  


Mondays with Mike: Negotiation Preparedness

Learn the two mental tools that will help you leverage business negotiations in your favor in this week's "Mondays with Mike" video:

The 7 Scariest Business Statistics

Running a small company can be a pretty scary business. The odds of succeeding are certainly not in the owner’s favor. Here are 7 scary statistics and what you can do to beat the odds.

  • 55% go out of business. Depending on the industry, only 45% of start ups are in business after 4 years. In the information services business, the survival rate is only 37%How to beat the odds: Focus on customers who have the pain your company solves. Stay in an industry where you have relevant experience. Watch your cash flow monthly.
  • 78% of all small businesses have no employees. Most companies in the US are just single people and can’t afford to hire additional employees. How to beat the odds: Build a company, not a job. Hire people that can to do tasks that can leverage your valuable time.
  • For every month that a company does not communicate with their customers, they lose 10% of their influence. Most companies only talk to customers when they want to sell them something. How to beat the odds: Set up a systematic marketing plan that automatically sends information of value to customers to reinforce your brand.
  • The average company loses 50% of its customers every 5 years… the cost of replacing them can be 6-7 times more expensive. Most companies are too busy trying to get new customers to come in the front door that they let existing ones leave out the back door. How to beat the odds: Provide amazing service so customers have no reason to leave.
  • Executives waste 7.8 hours each week in meetings. Small business owners have far too many meetings that are not useful to the company. How to beat the odds: Never enter a meeting without an agenda, a time limit and action items. Not sitting down will also keep the meeting shorter.
  • 91% of the customers say they’d give referrals — but no one ever asks. The  company never asks satisfied customer for their help in finding people like them. How to beat the odds: Annually, ask satisfied customers for at least one referral. It can also be put in a service contract as part of the fee!
  • Average compensation for an owner is $82,257. While this may not seem that low, remember that their average debt is almost 50% higher than the ordinary consumer. How to beat the odds: Watch gross margins and fixed expenses. Don’t forget to pay yourself along with other employees.

What is the scariest business statistic you know?


10 Must-Have Amazing Customer Service Apps

Recent additions in technology make this the new age of golden age of customer service. It’s as simple as getting the right apps to serve your customers.

  1. Brandify – Customers are talking about your company right now. This solution monitors your company’s online assets and reputation to make sure you hear all the good and bad things your customers are saying about your brand.
  1. Schedule Max – Customers don’t want to call you to schedule appointments and then wait on hold. Now they can do it online on any mobile or desktop device. It will even send them reminders of upcoming appointments. Starts at $15 a month.
  1. Live Chat – Customers often surf your website and have questions. Use this embedded chat window to know which page your customers are on and to talk to them directly when they need help. Starts at $39 per agent per month.
  1. Sage One – Manage customer projects so you know the status of each of them at a press of a button when customers ask. Starts at $29 a month.
  1. Click With Me Now – In order to offer the best customer service, you often need to share the customer’s screen. This solution does it in one click without downloading any software or registering for an account. Call it the best form of social shopping! Request a demo to get pricing.
  1. Parature for Facebook – Customers talk to you through Facebook. Parature’s cloud-based software lets you integrate a customer service center into your company’s Facebook page. This can include a self-service knowledge base, a ticket customer support system and chat. Ask for a free trial.
  1. – The explosion of communication channels has made it more difficult to monitor all the ways customers want to talk to you. From, this solution sets up one universal inbox for a multichannel strategy including Twitter, Facebook, phone, email, and chat. Prices start at $3 a month per agent.
  1. Get Satisfaction – With the Internet, other loyal customers can provide support answers to current customers (and it’s free). This solution enables you to create a customer support community where customers can share problems. Your team and other customers contribute answers to create a user-generated knowledge base. Starts at $425 a month.
  1. Help Scout – Responding to customers over and over again for the same issues can be time consuming and tedious. This solution makes it easy for the support center reps to focus online customer engagement through customizable email templates and  automated responses. Free for up to 3 users.
  1. Nextiva – A phone system used to be simple to buy since all your employees were in one location. Now with virtual employees working from home and other mobile locations, Nextiva provides a unified communication solution so your customers think you are right next door. Starts at $20 a month.

What is a customer service app that your company can’t do without?


Guidelines for Giving it Away in Business

Free-tagsWith the bad economy, rampant competition, and more products and services than consumers could ever possibly want or need available today, getting customers to know who you are, let alone purchase your offerings, can be nearly impossible.  In an attempt to get more customers, business owners often give away their products or services for free.  This can be a great tactic if it’s used in the appropriate ways, but it can also be the downfall of your business. So, here are some guidelines to know if and when it is appropriate to give your offerings away.

Practice Makes Perfect

I often advocate for entrepreneurs to get plenty of education, practice and experience prior to starting their own businesses to have the best shot at success. This can be done through internships, taking a part-time job in their industry of choice, or even reading business books. So, if you are giving away your products or services in this same spirit- to garner knowledge, feedback, references and experience (especially when first starting your business or launching a new endeavor), this can be a really beneficial tactic.

For example, if you are starting a tutoring business, it may make sense to take on a few customers for free at the beginning to test out your teaching methods before you take on paying customers.  If you are opening a new nightclub, it may make sense to do a free soft open before your official opening to increase the word of mouth and work out the bugs in your new establishment. If you are a video game developer, you may want to give away a few copies of your game before you launch to gain valuable feedback about possible problems or issues.

Practice makes perfect, so giving your offerings away, such as in the above scenarios, can really be a great tactic, as long as this is just a temporary strategy. The important aspect here is to set a limit on the amount of “free” that you give away. You can adjust this if you need more time to develop your offerings, but if you give away too much, you will be out of business before you can really even start! 

Upping Your Status

Another time when giving it away may make sense is if you gain some kind of status, credibility or can leverage the opportunity in a meaningful way. In other words, you are giving something away, but are deriving some other kind of value from it.  For example, you might give away your products or offer up your time to a well-known and established company because being associated with them will up your status or provide major exposure for your business.  You can further increase the value that you get out of this tactic by asking for something easy and specific in reciprocity for your help. The easier and clearer you make this ask, the more likely they are to go along with it.

For example, if you are giving away products to a company, ask if they can advertise your business on their website, social media pages or even in their newsletters.  If you are helping out at an event, ask if you can sell your products there or put up a banner. And to really get the most out of your efforts, you should also advertise the collaboration in your own media too.

This strategy can be helpful in getting your foot in the door, which can lead to building long term paying relationships with companies, but be very careful when you use this tactic. Make sure that the exposure or clout that you will get is really worth your time and offerings.  A lot of businesses will reach out to you for freebies with the carrot of exposure as your payment, but don’t really have much exposure to give you. You won’t benefit much from a business with a website that gets 10 hits a month, so do your research before agreeing to give it away.

Introductions and Bonuses

People are resistant to change, so they are more apt to try a new product/service if they are given a free sample. This is another method that can work to your advantage, especially if you are launching a new offering or just opening shop. This serves as an introduction in the hopes that the customer will like your offering and purchase it in the future. For example, grocery stores and cosmetic companies do this by giving away free samples of new products all of the time. 

This tactic can also be employed as a bonus of sorts- giving away a product, service or something of value for free when you purchase something else. This works as a great alternative to having a sale, and works even better if what you give away is of little or no cost to you. For example, if you have written a book, you can offer to autograph it for free when someone purchases it. Or if you have a magazine, you could offer a free online subscription when the print version is purchased.

The main thing to keep in mind when using this tactic is that the ultimate goal is to get customers to purchase from you. So, don’t give away too much or the same thing repeatedly, since it’s hard to get customers to purchase what know that they can get for free.

It’s easy to give too much away, so always keep in mind that your real goals should be focused on garnering paying customers.  Set specific benchmarks, timelines and milestones with each give-away, so that you don’t ultimately give your business away!

Do you know another guideline for give-aways in business? Please share them below.

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Nextiva's XBert

Contact an Amazing Service
Sales Expert
(800) 799-0600
Learn how Nextiva Analytics gives you unprecedented insight into your business.

Nextiva's XBert

Contact an Amazing Service
Sales Expert
(800) 799-0600
Learn how Nextiva Analytics gives you unprecedented insight into your business.

Nextiva's XBert

Contact an Amazing Service
Sales Expert
(800) 799-0600
Learn how Nextiva Analytics gives you unprecedented insight into your business.