Browsing Date

April 2014

Mondays with Mike: Sure-Fire Techniques For Cutting Costs

By April 21, 2014 No Comments

Every entrepreneur knows that minimizing expenses is essential to maximizing profit, but we don’t always know how to go about cutting costs – especially for big ticket items.  The longer I’m in business, the more I realize that paying full price for something is rarely necessary.  Here’s my list of tactics to avoid spending more than you have to:

  1. Buy generic.  Whether you’re talking about antibiotics or office equipment, insisting on a brand name will nearly always cost you more.  Shopping based on reviews, rather than name recognition will get you better quality for a better price.
  2. Borrow.  Look around your office, and I guarantee you’ll find a piece of equipment that you don’t use very often.  Whether it’s a box truck that you use twice a year, or whether it’s a fancy printer/scanner/copier that you only use to do your quarterly newsletters, examine your purchases and find someone to lend you the big-ticket items that you only need infrequently.
  3. Lease.  For seriously big-ticket expenses, especially those that you only plan to keep for a short while, or will incur significant maintenance charges, you should consider whether a lease is a good option.  If you must have a late model car, but you don’t need to put lots of miles on it, then a lease may be ideal.  Large office equipment can be cheaper to lease than purchase as well.
  4. ??????????????????????????????????????????Be patient.  We often don’t realize it, but a lot of purchases are made because of emotional, rather than practical reasons.  If you force yourself to sleep on a decision, you’re taking emotions out of the equation, and you’ll find that you frequently choose not to buy after all.  Make yourself wait, and you’ll inevitably save money.
  5. Barter.  Trading your unique skill set for talents you don’t possess is one of the best ways to save money – and strengthen community ties as well.  Trading your pizza shop’s delicious fare for business card printing services can benefit everyone involved with very little outlay of cash.  While you used to be limited to your immediate community to make bartering practical, there are now websites like TradeAway and BarterOnly that facilitate trading using sitewide credits so that you don’t have to find someone who needs exactly what you have to offer in order to get what you’re looking for.
  6. Buy used.  Products start depreciating as soon as you purchase them, and finding lightly used alternatives can save you a boatload.  If you’re savvy, you can often even find products that are still under warranty, and you may even find ones that are sold with an extended warranty that protects your investment. 
  7. Share.  Whether it’s infrequently used equipment or facilities like break rooms in your office space, if you look hard enough, you’ll find that you and other businesses are spending far more than you should on things you don’t use very often.  Working with folks in close proximity and finding the ways in which you’ve duplicated purchases can clue you in to options for making more efficient use of items you can share.  Think about negotiating a lease at a lower rate for shared restrooms on your floor, rather than several individual ones, or sharing a microwave or refrigerator with your neighbors in the office building.

I’ve always admired entrepreneurs who find innovative ways to spend less, and I constantly strive to be a better penny pincher when I can.  I don’t advocate cutting corners or sacrificing quality where it matters, but I do suggest taking a look at your business and identifying areas where you’re spending more than you have to.

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Why Scary Sells

By April 17, 2014 No Comments

??????????????????????????????????????????????????Can you scare customers into buying your product? Fear can actually sell as much as sex or desire since it will trigger people to take action.

According to Lea Dunn of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business, when people feel alone and afraid, they form an emotional attachment to the brands around them. She states that in this heightened state, consumers are more likely to remember those products and think of them favorably. Dunn says this happens because fear induces a need for human connections and if there are no people present, products fill the gap. She believes this emotional attachment happens because people think the product actually “shared” that experience with them.

In works in many sales situations. Behavioral psychologist Dr. Wyatt Woodsmall said that “If you can find out what people’s worst nightmare is, camp out inside their nightmare…[they’ll] do anything…to get out of that situation.”

News broadcasts have peddled fear for years. An insider rallying cry of the media has always been, "If it bleeds, it leads".  Famous brands use fear all the time to sell their products. For example, L’Oreal’s tag line of “Because I’m Worth It” confronts self-loathing among women. FedEx’s “Absolutely, Positively Overnight” addresses the fear of missing a deadline. Nike’s “Just Do It” takes aim at missing out because the consumer is afraid.

Fortunately, you don't need to rob prospects to sell them a home security system. Here is how to scare customers into buying:

  • FUD. When I was at IBM in the 1980s, they told us that “no one ever got fired for buying IBM.” This concept helped because I had to sell against competitors whose products seemed technologically similar to ours but always much cheaper. I frequently used a technique that was called “FUD” (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) to direct the decision maker to buy IBM.  In my sales calls, I recounted all the things that could go wrong if he chose a competitor. Fortunately, the decision maker many times chose IBM, despite the fact that we were more expensive, because we were perceived as the low-risk alternative.
  • Deadlines. Consumers are afraid of missing a deadline. This could be an expiration date of an offer, a holiday calendar deadline or other imposed cutoff date. Dates will push consumers to take action. Note the surge of people signing up for insurance to comply with the Affordable Care Act on March 31.
  • VIP. Consumers want to be a part of “a club” that not everyone get into. Put of a gate and watch how many people want to get in. This is exactly what many buyers’ clubs like Costco do with their small membership fees. The marketing message is that the consumer will miss out on some incredible deals if they are not a member.

Fear-based marketing does not have to be all gloomy. Articulate the negative to what prospects are currently doing and provide a solution to alleviate that fear.

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Protect Yourself from Heartbleed

By April 16, 2014 No Comments

HeartbleedSecurity researchers recently released details of a security threat, nicknamed “Heartbleed,” that exploits a vulnerability in certain versions of Open SSL, a free software toolkit used for encryption of user data such as passwords, credit card numbers and other personal information. Unlike a conventional security breach that allows hackers to break into a site and download usernames and passwords, this bug potentially allows an attacker to access tiny chunks of data as they flow through or are stored in a server’s memory.

Nextiva accounts were not affected by the Heartbleed Bug. However, all Internet users are likely to be affected directly or indirectly. OpenSSL is the most popular open source cryptographic library that is used to encrypt traffic on the Internet. Your free email account, company ecommerce site, social media pages, and even government sites could be using a vulnerable OpenSSL.

We recommend that you test your server for Heartbleed and change all of your account passwords. Mashable provided a helpful breakdown of which password updates you should focus on first.

For additional information about the Heartbleed bug, visit heartbleed.com.

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Nextiva Tuesday Tip: The Truth About Negative Online Reviews

By April 15, 2014 No Comments

?????????????????????????????Are you in denial about negative online reviews of your business? I know plenty of small business owners who don’t list their companies on review sites like Yelp! Others are listed, but never bother to check their listing to see what kinds of reviews their businesses are getting.

While I can understand the impulse to hide your head in the sand when it comes to online reviews, here are four reasons why playing ostrich isn’t a good thing.

  1. Your potential customers are reading online reviews, so you should be, too. A whopping 79 percent of U.S. adult Internet users check online reviews sometimes or always before they buy something, a survey by YouGov reports. Just 7 percent never do. Online reviews have become essential to both online and offline shoppers, so if you aren’t checking them, you’re in the dark about how customers view your business.
  2. The reality probably isn’t as bad as you fear it is. Yes, we’ve all heard horror stories about bad reviews going viral. However, the YouGov survey says Internet users are far more likely to post good or mixed reviews than negative ones. Just 21 percent say they’ve ever left a bad review, compared to 54 percent who have left a good one and 59 percent who have left a mixed one.
  3. Even the negative reviewers aren’t out to get you. Tales of vengeful competitors posting bad reviews of small businesses get a lot of attention in the media. In reality, though, 88 percent of reviewers who write bad reviews do so to prevent other customers from having a bad experience, not out of vengeance. About one-fourth leave bad reviews to help get over their anger, while 21 percent do so hoping the business will take steps to remedy the problem they’re complaining about.
  4. Which leads to the fourth and most important reason not to ignore negative reviews: Bad reviews are a valuable tool for growing your business. Negative reviews show you what you’re doing wrong (or what the customer perceives as wrong, which is pretty much the same thing). They offer a chance to make it right and then share what you’ve done with the world. If you can convince an unsatisfied customer you care about their experience and you’ve got their best interests at heart, you just might earn a customer for life—one who will evangelize your business to their friends, family and online connections.

Did you ever think so many positive things could come out of one negative online review?

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Mondays with Mike: Secret Weapons – Contractors You Can’t Live Without

By April 14, 2014 No Comments

Mad_Men_season_5_cast_photoThe traditional office, staffed with full-time employees with full-time benefits is a relic from Mad Men days.  Most of us have to move quickly and operate on razor-thin margins that make it impossible to afford a complement of workers waiting for something to do.  It’s become far more feasible and profitable to assemble a team of contractors – specialists in their niches – who are on call, command high rates for their expertise, and appreciate the flexibility of working when they want to. 

What’s essential is that you assemble your contractors ahead of time – locate, vet, and create a relationship before you need them for big projects so you don’t have to scramble last minute.  Here are the people you should look for:

  1. Web Designer – There’s really no good excuse for a lousy website.  Most people will encounter your company on the web, and you want to put your best foot forward.  Finding a web designer who designs your site and stays on call to give you the ability to adapt your website to particular client needs or conditions is key. 
  2. Web Administrator – As more of us move our businesses online, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of web security and web reliability.  This position is perhaps the most important contractor you’ll hire, because they’ll literally have the keys to your online kingdom.  When there’s a problem with your system, you want immediate availability from your administrator.
  3. Core Competency – Find extra local talent in your field and keep them ready for when you have big jobs that require you to be able to scale up rapidly.  Whether you’re a chef who needs catering staff for special events or you’re an accountant who needs additional help at tax time, doing the legwork ahead of time can give you a competitive edge when it comes to winning new clients in a clutch situation.
  4. Writer – We may not want to own up to it, but most of us aren’t great writers.  As important as our written messages are, it’s worth locating a skilled wordsmith to polish our prose.  Weigh your options:  you could spend all day working on a company newsletter (and hope no one catches the grammatical mistakes,) or you can call your professional writer, share the details, and get to work doing what you do best while your writer pens a perfect account of what’s current in your company.
  5. Translator – If you don’t need one now, odds are very good that you will before long.  The broadening global marketplace means that if you’re not working with clients in other countries, then you’re probably missing opportunities.  Identify the languages that are most likely to be relevant in your field and line up translators before you start losing jobs because you’re not fluent in Mandarin or Spanish.
  6. Administrative Assistant – This position is your key, backup, catch-all.  Whether you need timely follow-up on a new marketing campaign, or whether your full-time admin needs help handling the seasonal rush in your field, it’s wise to find a good admin to be at the ready.

So where do you find these folks?  You’ll be shocked at how many resources are out there.  Freelance websites like Elance and ODesk connect you with contractors all over the world in a variety of niches, and community-based sites like Craigslist or Patch can connect you with local talent.  The keys to successfully working with contractors are these:  first, get them lined up and vetted – with a small project to start – before you have a critical need for their services.   Second, always pay them promptly and treat them like gold.  You want that contractor to always be happy to get your call and eager to get to work on your next project. 

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