Archive for December, 2013

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. 

4 Questions to Ask When Planning a Company Holiday Party

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.” 

The Best Small Business Books of 2013

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.

‚ÄčNextiva 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?


Work Your Biz Wednesday: Make Your Business Recommendable

Are you taking advantage of referrals to get new customers? Find out how to make your business more recommendable to boost your positive word of mouth from The Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson.

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. 

7 Steps to the Creating an Effective Performance Improvement Plan

Imagine this scenario: Every day you find yourself getting more and more aggravated with a certain employee. You tell him or her to do something and they consistently under deliver, thereby requiring someone else (oftentimes you) to pick up the slack. You are sick of it and seriously considering firing this person.

Before you write out a pink slip, it might be worthwhile to create a performance improvement plan (or PIP) for your troubled employee. With a little concrete nudging, they may just turn into the employee you always wished for.

Here’s how to get started:

Step #1: Look at yourself

Take a moment to think about the direction that you’ve given your employee. Have you taken the time to clearly define his or her job description?

“In your mind, you may want them to increase sales by 30 percent, but if you’ve never told them that, it really isn’t their fault that they are under delivering,” says Roberta Matuson, HR consultant and author of the new book Talent Magnetism: How to Build a Workplace That Attracts and Keeps the Best.

On the flipside, have you strapped your employee with unattainable expectations? Asking someone to double revenues on a product that isn’t doing well in the first place may be unrealistic and could cause serious frustration on the part of your employee, says Matuson. It might be time to alter your expectations.

Step #2: Consider the potential usefulness of a PIP

Performance improvement plans take time to construct and implement; you want your time to be well spent. Consider this: is it possible for your employee to do what you want?

“If you have an employee who you want to be nicer to customers and being nice is truly not in their nature, it might be best not to do with an improvement plan,” Matuson says. “It might be best to just part ways.”

Step #3: Write down specific objectives

When coming up with the verbiage for a performance improvement plan, be as specific as possible. Don’t assume anything is common sense. Matuson gives the example of asking your employee to turn in a report every Monday morning.

“You need to tell them that the report should be there by 10 a.m. on the dot,” she says. “Otherwise, it might come in at 11:59 a.m. and you may find yourself frustrated.”

Step #4: Get feedback from your employee

Schedule a meeting with your employee to discuss the PIP. Bring your notes (and specific expectations) to the meeting and ask for your staffer’s feedback. Ask them to be honest with you. Can they achieve your expectations? What concerns do they have? Try to be as non-threatening as possible in the meeting to help them open up and express any concerns they may have.

Step #5: Explain punishments for un-met plans

“As hard as this can be, you need to be forthright and tell them that if they can’t meet the objectives laid out in the plan, you will need to end the working relationship,” Matuson says. “They need to know how serious this is.”

Step #6: Get it in writing

It may take a few drafts, but once you have your agreed-upon PIP down on paper, make sure that you and your employee sign and date the page. You and your employee will be more likely to stick to something if it is in writing.

Step #7: Follow-up

The best thing you can do as a manager is to touch base with your employee during the plan’s duration. Check in on a daily or weekly basis, Matuson recommends. That way, he or she will feel supported throughout the process and be able to ask you questions along the way.


3 Ways To Ask For Help – and Get It!

One major commonality that I see amongst many entrepreneurs and business owners is a real independent spirit. That spirit of independence is one of the main reasons that they seek to start their own businesses in the first place. And many feel like they have something to prove and fall prey to the misconception that going it alone is a sign of strength. They are determined to achieve their business success all on their own, without any outside assistance from anyone.

But, it’s nearly impossible to have a successful business without some degree of help, as no single person can wear every hat and do every task that needs to be done in the best and most efficient way possible. The true mark of a successful entrepreneur is identifying where help is needed in your business and finding the appropriate person to assist you. I know that this can be a big challenge for you independent spirits out there, so here are three tips to make it a bit easier to get the appropriate help for your business:

Tip #1: Don’t Make Others Read Your Mind

Unless the help that you are seeking is of the psychic variety, don’t expect anyone to read your mind and offer up assistance on your behalf!  People are usually more than willing to pitch in, but if they don’t know what you need, it’s very tough for them to extend that helping hand. When you need help, reach out to everyone that you know, be it your social media contacts, professional networks, alumni associations, or even family connections and more.  Don’t fall into the trap of turning someone down or saying “I don’t know…” when some offers help to you. Make sure that you can clearly define what support you seek from someone who’s willing to help you out and don’t be afraid to ask.

2013-12-02_1023Tip #2: Keep it Simple

Keep it as simple as you can when seeking a helping hand.  Ask for assistance with one specific task- not ten.  Others are really busy with their own businesses and lives, so if you provide too many options or include too much detail in your ask, you most likely won’t get any help. Ask for one particular favor or aspect of help from each person and keep it as specific to their area of expertise as possible.

For instance, if you are looking for marketing help, ask for a reference from someone who has strong connections in that field. And be as precise as you can with what you need.  Rather than saying that you are seeking marketing assistance, explain the price range, time frame that you are looking for and that the marketing service should specialize in marketing your type of business. It won’t do you any good to get online marketing service providers if you are looking to market on local radio. You are much more likely to get what you want if you explain your needs thoroughly.

 And don’t include unnecessary road blocks! Outline what you need assistance with as clearly and concisely as possible. Do everything that you can to make someone else’s assistance as easy as it can be. Don’t include any unnecessary information, links or steps for someone else to do.  If you do have to include guidance, keep it as streamlined as you can to ease the burden on providing aid for you. Remember- they’re doing you a favor!

 Tip #3: Don’t Overstep Any Boundaries

Be reasonable! Don’t overstep any relationship boundaries, like asking to borrow money from someone that your friend just introduced you to.  And don’t take advantage of someone’s generosity. Many are more than willing to lend a hand or two, but if you ask for too much or need help too often, they may not be as willing to assist you in the future. So, only ask for assistance when you truly need it and be sure to help them in return. Show your sincere gratitude and thanks.  Others are much more willing to help out when they feel like their efforts are acknowledged and appreciated.

 Do you know any other tips regarding seeking and getting help for your business?  Please share them below.

Work Your Biz Wednesday: 5 Ways to Promote Your Small Biz

If you're the owner of a small business, you are juggling dozens of responsibilities! This week's Work Your Biz Wednesday from The Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson, offers 5 ways that you can promote your small business while on-the-go.

Top 10 Nextiva FAQs

fawThe Nextiva Support Team loves chatting on the phone with customers every day to help answer questions and set up devices. We researched your most frequently asked questions and compiled a list of the top 10.

Save time by finding answers to these popular topics below, or access all of our tips and videos on the Nextiva online Support Center.

  1. How do I log in to the NextOS portal?
  2. How do I use my auto attendant?
  3. How do I program custom on-hold music?
  4. How do I set up a 3-way conference call?
  5. How do I resolve a dropped call?
  6. How do I adjust my billing information?
  7. How do I send faxes using vFAX?
  8. How do I log in to my vFAX account?
  9. How do I adjust my vFAX billing information?

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