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December 2013

10 Actions to Avoid in 2014

By December 19, 2013 No Comments

This is the time of year that a lot of articles are written about what to do to get ready for 2014. Instead, this is a guide to the 10 actions to strictly avoid for next year:

  1. Avoid changing your strategy too quickly. All small business owners want to take action, but many times they make too many actions. It is critical not to change target customers, product release dates and employee compensation plans too often. It produces organizational whiplash!
  2. Avoid canceling your employee health insurance. With the delays in the Affordable Care Act, you have another year to make the decision. Check your renewal rates as well ask your broker to use the Healthcare.gov website to check those additional options.
  3. Avoid bad mouthing your competition. While this may seem like a viable marketing strategy, it almost never is. Customers want to hear what is right about your solution, not how the other guy stinks. A business culture that takes “the high road” is always more sustainable.
  4. Avoid buying more phones without a plan. Stop adding to the telecommunications chaos for your company. Ensure that all your devices are connected through a central voice over IP systems (VoIP) to have one seamless system that never loses customers.
  5. Avoid posting on social media when getting angry. While this may feel good at the time, remember those posts take on a life of their own once they are online. Write it out if you have to, but then never press the send button.
  6. Avoid growing yourself broke. Contrary to popular wisdom, growing a company too fast can actually put you out of business. Ensure you have enough cash flow to support any expansion strategy. While bigger may feel better, it is not always more profitable.
  7. Avoid bragging about your company’s achievements. In a social media world, customers really do not like people that brag. A better strategy is to highlight your customers’ many achievements!
  8. Avoid using business funds for personal use. Even during difficult times, this is a red line that should never be crossed. Keep a strict separation between funds for business expenses and your own personal needs.
  9. Avoid extending credit to customers that don’t pay their bills. Cash flow is the critical life line for your business. As a result, extend credit as a privilege, not a right. Remember, customers that do not pay on time are not valuable customers,
  10. Avoid borrowing more money when sales are shrinking. Never borrow capital when revenue is going down since you are then using that cash to only cover losses. This is also the best time to stay away from borrowing with family and friends, since the chance of successfully paying them back is very low.

What do you vow to stay away from in 2014?

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Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Writing Emails That Get Results

By December 17, 2013 No Comments

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. 

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4 Questions to Ask When Planning a Company Holiday Party

By December 13, 2013 No Comments

88a1e9184b62fcf2_shutterstock_165467636.previewIt’s the second week of December and a thought just hit you like a ton of bricks: you forgot to plan your company holiday party. Don’t panic. You still have time (and could always organize a New Year’s party in January instead). Not sure where to start? Christina Millikin, founder of Glow Event Design in San Francisco, offers four questions to ask yourself as you dive into planning.

What’s the budget?

How much are you willing to spend on this event? Be specific. “Saying you want to ‘make it nice’ means different things to different people, so it is best to start with a set budget and move backwards from there,” recommends Millikin.

Once you have a number in mind, decide what party components are most important. If securing a specific venue is high on your list, spend a good portion of your allotment there. If team-building activities are important, allocate your funds differently.

Who will be invited?  

Will this party be for your sales department or for your whole staff? Will you be inviting significant others? If you’re worried about over-extending your budget by inviting husbands and wives, hold the party during work hours. “But if you are planning it for a weeknight or a weekend, it is best to allow people’s partners to come along,” she says. “All of us work hard and spend time away from our families. You don’t want to take your staff away for another evening.”

What activities will be offered?

Many of us have been to holiday parties at restaurants where the sole activity is to hang out at the bar. Think outside the box this year by tapping into the interests of your employees. “If you have staff members who love bowling, for example, consider hosting your party at a bowling alley,” says Millikin. “Or transform your office into a casino for a night and offer prizes.”

How will alcohol be handled?  

Access to alcohol can be a little tricky at company parties. On one hand, you may want to treat your employees to a few recreational drinks, but on the other hand, you don’t want things to get out of control. “We’ve all been to parties where someone drinks too much, makes a scene and the mood is awkard the next day,” she says. “It really pays to think in advance about the temperment of your employees and how they may handle alcohol.”

Opt to offer just beer and wine or an open bar for a limited peroid of time, or forgo drinking altogether with a lunchtime party, recommends Millikin. “And always offer non-alcoholic options so as not to isolate anyone,” she offers. “Come up with a really fun mocktail and offer it as part of the menu.” 

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The Best Small Business Books of 2013

By December 12, 2013 No Comments

With Over 10,000 new business books are published each year, it’s hard to find the ones that can really benefit your small business. Here is our top list of books to read over the holidays (in alphabetical order).

  1. Adversaries into Allies by Bob Burg. We are all in the business of persuasion. This can be from landing a new customer or dealing with a difficult customer service situation. We expect resistance and a certain amount of coercion. Burg writes about how to be influential. He demonstrates a framework for building alliances at work to get things done.
  2. Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together by Pamela Slim. Running one company or having single job is rare these days. In fact, you are no longer your resume, but the results of a search engine query. Slim shows the reader how to how to find the connections among all your accomplishments, tell your story, and continually reinvent your personal brand.
  3. Breakpoint by Jeff Stibel.  A fascinating book from an entrepreneur and a neuroscientist. It talks about why the web will implode, why growth is overrated and why search will become obsolete. The good news is that Stibel says that everything you need to know about technology is already in your brain.  He believes we can learn a lot by studying other biological systems like colonies of ants.
  4. Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger. What makes a YouTube video go viral? What makes a certain product on the must purchase list? How can you make this a reality for your company? Berger teaches six principles that happen including social currency, emotion, triggers and practical value.
  5. Embrace the Chaos by Bob Miglani. The perfect book title for any small business owner which teaches to embrace uncertainty. Every entrepreneur’s life is wrought with unpredictability especially in these uncertain times. Inspired by his visit to India, Miglani talks about the lifestyle and mindset changes that need to be made to be more successful in your business by embracing the chaos and constant change.
  6. The Fall of the Alphas by Dana Ardi.  This book describes how beta personalities are taking over. While alpha personalities take charge, aggressively make decisions, and communicate with others, betas don’t communicate as harshly and cooperate with other people. Alphas intimidate, betas don’t. Alphas promote competition, while betas encourage teamwork. In this Internet-connected crowd sourced world, Ardi shows it’s about building a community rather than a cut-throat, winner-takes-all environment.
  7. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Even with social media, more business people are letting their true introverted nature shine through. Cain talks about how to create better office space to maximize the talents of both introverted and extroverted co-workers. She defines shyness, introversion and being an ambivert. This is a must read book for every small business manager.
  8. Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Hansson.  With an increasing number of employees and freelancers working remotely (or not in the office everyday), the nature of a company’s culture has radically shifted. How do you manage and build a business when the CEO only sees his employees once a year? Remote shows how to get the best from your people regardless of their location.

Nextiva Employee All Time Book Favorites:

  • All Marketers are Liars by Seth Godin
  • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Likeable Social Media by Dave Kerpen
  • The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly
  • The Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  • How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by  Malcolm Gladwell
  • Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  • The Effortless Experience by Dan Heath

What is at the top of your list this year?

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

By December 10, 2013 No Comments

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. 
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