Archive for September, 2013

Mondays with Mike: Ethical Bribes

Increase your conversion rates and sign-ups by utilizing ethical bribes to capture new leads. Author of The Pumpkin Plan, Mike Michalowicz, explains how in this week's Mondays with Mike: 

5 Ways to Improve Your Networking Skills

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

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

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!

Work Your Biz Wednesday: Getting Your Business Found Online

Melinda Emerson, the Small Biz Lady, shares several steps that you can take to ensure your business is easily accessible online.

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: The Easy Way to Keep Your Team Healthy

businesswoman eating saladWhile the full effect of the Affordable Care Act remains to be seen, there’s one smart move every small business owner can take to build a healthier workforce: Start a workplace wellness program. You’ll get healthier employees, reduced absenteeism and greater productivity—and may even see lower insurance costs as a result.

A workplace wellness program can be an official effort with solutions provided by your health insurance company; an informal arrangement where you as the boss encourage, promote and support healthier habits; or a mixture of both. Here are some ideas to get started.

Find out what your insurance offers. If you offer employees health insurance, talk to your provider to see if the plan offers wellness programs such as smoking cessation, reimbursement for gym memberships, acupuncture treatment or weight loss programs. You may even be eligible for premium discounts based on employees’ participation in such programs.

Match the program to your employees’ needs. What health issues do your employees need help with? If you have a lot of overweight employees on staff, for example, programs to encourage weight loss or exercise would be a good fit. Survey your employees to see where their interests lie—the more involved they are in creating the wellness program, the more likely they are to participate.  

Walk the walk. There’s no point in starting a wellness program if you, the boss, live on coffee and cigarettes. Set an example by making an effort to eat better and make time for relaxation and exercise in your day.

Get active. It’s easy to make the workday more active without putting on sweatpants for an hour-long workout. Try holding meetings standing up or walking (either outdoors or in the hallways), investing in a couple of standing desks for employees to use, or getting on the PA every hour to lead everyone in a group stretch or quick walk around the office.

Get expert help. Contact your local hospital, yoga studio, gym, Weight Watchers office or other health-related organization to see what outreach programs they have. Perhaps you can get the local yoga studio owner to lead a quick class, then offer discounts to employees who join the studio. You can even barter for services like this (designing the studio’s website in return for a discount on classes).

Mondays with Mike: How to Handle Impromptu Phone Calls

How do you manage aimless calls that can cut down on your productivity? Author Mike Michalowicz offers up some tips for dealing with these moments in the office in this week's "Mondays with Mike" video:

Focus on Standing Out and Filling Voids in Business

We’ve all heard of the expression “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”.  Well, that may very well be the case when it comes to flattery, but when it comes to your business, copying your competition is not only debatably unethical, it can spell d-i-s-a-s-t-e-r. Legal implications aside, with such an overcrowded marketplace filled with virtually everything that a consumer could possibly ever want or need, merely copying another business, entrepreneur or product will likely not be sufficient to capture enough market share to sustain a viable business.

When a hot new trend breaks out, a new business becomes the talk of the town or a new person is being heralded as the flavor of the week, it can be tempting to want to jump on board. But, don’t strive to be just like the hot new thing. Not only are trends fleeting, but it won’t come across as authentic. People like to buy from others that have the KLT factor (those that they know, like and trust).  And nothing screams inauthentic more than the imitation knockoff of the original.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s perfectly fine to derive inspiration from another entity. And getting inspiration from or being influenced by an already successful product, service, business, or even another entrepreneur can be a great starting point for your own business or product. And it’s also okay to compare yourself or your business to another, as long as it’s a way to clarify or explain your own offering- as in saying that your restaurant is like “a cross between Chipotle and IHOP”. This is much different than saying that your business is just like Chipotle when it’s not or creating a carbon copy of Chipotle and then putting your company name on it.

Instead of just imitating or duplicating, think about what you can do to improve upon a particular concept. Focus on how to stand out from the crowd of competition by thinking about what your own strengths are.  What else do you specifically bring to the table to enhance and elevate that initial concept that inspired you? There are so many ways that you can differentiate your offerings- from improved customer service, branding, pricing, and products offered to even extending your reach into different niches or markets. Putting your own unique stamp on a concept is a major key to having a successful endeavor.

While it’s important to think about your own strengths, talents and experiences to distinguish yourself from your competition, it’s also important to think about your customers. What customer needs are currently unfilled or underserved by your competitors?  How can you utilize your own skills to meet those needs more effectively than the competition? If you can fill those voids and resolve their issues, you will stand out even more and have a much more successful business.

Other individuals or companies may inspire you or be an influencing factor for your own offerings, but that should just be the starting off point. Focus on your own authentic voice and skill set to differentiate your business, soothe your customers’ pain points and ultimately, stand out from the competition.


What Can VoIP Do For Your Business?

How can switching to a cloud-based telephone system transform your business? Our latest infographic breaks it down for you. In addition to huge cost savings and innovative features, the cloud will keep your employees more mobile and productive than ever before!


Interested in discovering a customized cloud-based communications solution for your business? We would love to chat! Contact a Nextiva account executive at 800.799.0600.



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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.