Browsing Date

January 2014

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Encourage Online Reviews

By January 21, 2014 No Comments

Have you ever been in the mood for a certain type of food and hopped on Yelp to look for a new restaurant to try? Then you know that online ratings and reviews from customers are key to driving new customers to your business and growing your sales. The more reviews you have, the more trustworthy your business will appear to be. But too many small business owners aren’t doing all they can to get customers to post online reviews. As a result, they have few or no reviews and get passed over in favor of businesses with more feedback.

How can you encourage customers to leave reviews? Encourage is the key word here, because actively soliciting or requesting reviews is frowned on by review sites, and providing incentives such as discounts or freebies in exchange for reviews can get you in trouble. Try these steps instead:

  1. Give them a sign. Posting signage in your store, restaurant or office is a simple and subtle way to remind customers that your business is on review sites and that you’d love a review. For example, Yelp has downloadable “Find us on Yelp” banners you can print out as signage for your store window or point-of-sale counter.
  2. Provide postsale reminders. Your store receipts or restaurant checks could say: “Like us? Review us on [list the review sites where you have a presence].” An ecommerce company can send follow-up emails after the sale to make sure the customer was satisfied and include a reminder that your business is on review sites.
  3. Spread the word. Put icons for the review sites where you have a presence in your print marketing materials, on your website (you can use the downloadable Yelp banners there), in your email signature and anywhere else you can think of.
  4. Make it easy. Everyone’s more inclined to write a review if it’s not a big hassle, so if your site says, “Like us? Review us on Yelp,” make sure there’s a clickable link so they can do so in a minute.

Whatever you do about online reviews, there’s one big “don’t:” Don’t fake them or have friends and family write them because you’re worried you don’t have enough. Use the tips above to grow your online review status organically. 



Mondays with Mike: The Four Steps of Ripple Innovation

By January 20, 2014 No Comments

Sand_ripplesWe’ve all been there.  You know – that period in your business when it all feels stale and tired.  When you feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, waking up to the same old thing.  You know you need to shake things up, but you’re not sure where to start.  You could hire some know-it-all consultant and pay them to provide you with a band-aid that’s a temporary fix.  You could hold yet another brainstorming meeting and leave with the same five ideas you got last year.

But I suggest that you approach this revitalization project differently.  Find a problem in your business that you need to solve.  Whether it’s a need to cut costs, bring in new customers, streamline a process – whatever your challenge, articulate it and try using ripple innovation to solve your problem in a novel way.

  1. Ripple 1: Find the solution inside your company.  We’re often blind to potential solutions because we’re victims of rigid thinking.  Try applying fixes from one area of your business to another.  For example, ask your customer service reps for suggestions about how to improve they ways in which you bring in prospective clients.  Get your sales reps to share input about ways in which IT can be improved.  Share expertise among departments and you’ll come up with fresh perspectives.
  2. Ripple 2: Find the solution inside your industry.  Check out your competition.  Say you run a commercial cleaning business.  Take a look at your competitors’ ads if you’re looking to bring in new business.  Find out where other companies buy their cleaning supplies and see if you can get a better deal in exchange for a contract.  See what other companies are doing right and adapt their practices to improve your own business.
  3. Ripple 3: Find the solution in any industry.  Broaden your perspective and look at the ways in which other businesses face challenges and present solutions.  Look at companies who have all the customers they can handle and are making money hand over fist and see what you can learn from them.  The ice cream shop around the corner that always has long lines….maybe their Facebook page gives customers a heads up on new flavors and daily specials.  The automotive repair shop that has customers waiting for an appointment because of their outstanding guarantee of services….they’ve actively managed and promoted word-of-mouth by rewarding customers for referrals.  You can translate these lessons to your industry as well! 
  4. Ripple 4: Find the solution in nature.  Coming up with nothing fresh?  Take a look at the world around you, and you’ll discover that nature is the ultimate innovator and inventor.  If you’re having trouble retaining new employees despite the fact that you’re paying great wages, maybe you need to look at the ways in which animals protect their young and provide a longer, more nurturing training period so that your staff feels more confident and capable when you finally launch them on their own.

The big lesson in ripple innovation is that you’ll benefit from broadening your perspective and learning about why solutions work and how you can adapt the principles of those solutions to solve your particular problems.  


5 Ways to Boost Your Cash Flow Right Now

By January 17, 2014 No Comments

2014-01-13_1019During the 1992 presidential election, there was a sign that was reportedly hung by James Carville, Bill Clinton’s campaign manager in their Little Rock Office that simple stated “It’s the economy, stupid”. This was a reminder to everyone that worked there that the only thing that the national race was about was the economy. That year, I started my third business after failing in two others. This time, I made my own sign and tacked it up in my office. It read: “It’s cash flow, stupid”. It became my daily reminder and mantra. Starting out in my first business in 1980′s, I thought that the only thing that mattered was to sell my product to whoever would buy it. I reasoned that if you make sales, you eventually make money. This worked great until customers didn’t pay me on time or at the same rate as my business expenses grew. Unfortunately, even if my customers did not pay their bills when they were due, my employees and vendors still wanted to get paid on time. What I realized is that sales do not pay bills, cash does.

Collecting the cash from sales means everything. It is the gasoline that makes your business engine work. Without cash, your business literally suffocates. Most businesses fail because they run out of cash leaked through losses or other poor management practices.

How to improve your cash flow in your own business:

  1. Open the bank monthly statements. Check to see if you have more or less cash when comparing the beginning month and end of month balances. If the end of the month cash balance is higher, the company is cash flow positive. If the end of month balance is lower than at the beginning of the month, the company is cash flow negative.
  2. Learn to read the cash flow statements. Don’t outsource the math. By definition, cash flow is typically your monthly profit, plus the change in accounts payable, the change in accounts receivable, and the change in inventory. The higher this number is monthly, the healthier your company will be.
  3. Collect accounts receivable faster. The sooner a customer pays, the higher the cash flow. The Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) for your business should never be more than 133% of your invoice terms. Don’t extend credit to a customer that has not proven they can pay in a timely fashion. Remember that credit is a privilege, not a right. Better yet, get your customers to pay with credit card or prepay your services.
  4. Get longer terms from vendors. Extended credit from your vendors will boost your cash. Always pay within the agreed period of time. However, if you have 30 day terms, try to get 45 days by building up a reliable track record.
  5. Selling inventory faster and keeping your inventory levels lower.  Buying inventory only to sit for months on your shelf waiting for customer orders can take a lot of cash out of the business. Track your inventory carefully. Know what sells quickly and what never moves off the shelf. Know how long your customers will wait for a product and still be satisfied. This will determine the setting of reorder points (when a product is reordered to be put into inventory) and the reorder quantities (how much is reordered).

What have you done in your business to boost your cash?


5 New Years Resolutions Small Business Owners Should Keep

By January 16, 2014 No Comments

By now you’ve probably made a list of New Year's resolutions and already crossed a few off your list. And it’s still January. Don’t worry; you aren’t alone. Only about 8 percent of us keep our resolutions every year, according to the University of Scranton.

Defy that depressing statistic this year by sticking to these five resolutions from small business expert Lauri Flaquer.

#1. Embrace change

Don’t be afraid to change things up this year. “Look at your opportunities to grow and look at what needs to stay the same,” recommends Flaquer, owner of Saltar Solutions, a business consultancy in St. Paul, Minn. “Invite change and growth will follow.”

#2. Evaluate your performance

How good of a job are you doing? Not sure? “Many managers live in their own little worlds and are not always able to see things the same way outsiders see them,” she says. Put together a group of people whom can interdepedently tell you the truth about how things are going and considering asking your employees for 360-degree reviews.

#3. Make work fun

“Strive to be a company that your employees rave to their friends about,” says Flaquer. Focus on upcoming holidays—like Mardi Gras—and spring for a cake, beads and masks for the whole office, she recommends. Or host a monthly birthday party.

“It really doesn’t have to cost a lot of money,” she says. “I know a company that has a barbecue every Tuesday where one person brings in all the food for the department. Each person has to bring in food about four times a year, but they get to eat for free during every other Tuesday.”

#4. Clear clutter

You know that piece of inventory that has been sitting in the corner of the break room for the last two years? Get rid of it and don’t look back. If you haven’t used it, you don’t need it. The same goes for the mountains of vendor magazines piled up in your file cabinet, collecting dust.

Parting ways with your office clutter will make you feel better. “Clutter holds you back from having new ideas, fresh thinking and getting around your workspace,” she says. “Task your employees with clearing how their workspaces, too. Everyone will breathe a huge sigh of relief.”

#5. Join a mastermind group

A mastermind group is a collection of people that get together to discuss a business topic and look for solutions to problems. Flaquer recommends small business owners either create their own group with other local business owners or join one online.

“Look for a group of people who are more successful than you,” she says. “Those are the people who will push your forward and help you achieve your goals.”



Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Getting Organized Using Project Management Software

By January 14, 2014 No Comments

91c5acd957b95442_Organize_Your_Desk.previewWas one of your New Year’s resolutions to be more organized in your business? If you work with a lot of freelancers, outside contractors and vendors in addition to your in-house employees, you know that managing all of the deadlines, data and scheduling involved can get confusing. Project management software can help you get it all under control.

Basecamp and Zoho Projects are two project management tools I’ve used and like, but there are plenty of others out there to investigate as well. Begin by figuring out what you need from a project management tool and whether you want to replace, or simply augment, your existing systems. For example, do you need to schedule and assign tasks, then track completion? Do you need to collaborate on documents and projects online? Do you need to track employees’ or freelancers’ time and billable hours? There are tools that can do some or all of this.

As you research different project management tools, keep these factors in mind:

Size: How many people will be using the tool, including both in-house staff and outside contractors, vendors or clients? Choose something that can grow with your business, but isn’t too big or cumbersome for your current needs.

Ease of use: Some tools are very simple while others are more complex and allow for a greater level of detail. If a tool is too complex for you and your team to learn easily, you probably won’t use it—so be realistic.

Cost: Most project management tools are either free, offer free trials or have free versions with lesser options. Don’t assume you can get away with a free option, though—if you need more than the free tools provide, make room for it in your budget.

Security: Sharing company data can get risky, so make sure the project management tool you select has the controls you need for security, such as enabling you to set different levels of access or permission. You don’t want a client viewing sensitive internal documents by accident.

Of course, the most important step in making project management work is getting everyone trained on the tool and ensuring they actually use it. Don’t let people slip back to old ways or do a mish-mosh of old and new. Set an example by using the new tool yourself and getting everyone on board.