Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


Why Your Email Signature Matters

The single marketing message that any business person sends the most every day is in their email signature. This is why it is critical to use only the information that reflects the company’s brand and further builds a relationship with the recipient.

The essentials

Name, title, company, email address, web site URL, phone number and social media links where you are active. Include your email address since many times it is not included in the header of the reply.

Forget these closing salutations

I am not a fan of legal disclosures since it adds unnecessary length to the email especially since it  probably will be opened on a smart phone. I question the legal effectiveness even if these are used. I also do not believe in using motivational sayings unless it is part of your brand.

Stay away from silly closing salutations like “Blue skies” or “Cheers”. Now I am not an ogre, but these are not always appropriate. Consider that you just told someone in an email they did not get the job and then close with “Cheers”. This does not help your ongoing reputation or brand. I am also not sure what “Regards” means. Is this “Best regards” or “Kind Regards”? I also don’t like “Sincerely” because it always seems patronizing. Also forget “Reach for the Stars”, “Peace Out”, “Your Boy”, “Your Girl”, or “Your Compatriot”.

Use these closing salutations

Think of something that is more closely tied to your brand. I use “here’s to getting unstuck and moving…forward”. If a branded one does not work, use old standbys like “Hope this helps”, “Thank You”, “Much Appreciated”, “Let me know where I can help”

Other email signatures that work

  • The brand tag line with a link to more explanation like a video
  • Use a company logo or a very small photo
  • “Here is recent recognition we received! Thank you!” with a link
  • “Come see us at _______________ (upcoming event)” with a link
  • “We are growing! Know someone that would make a good ___________ for our company”
  • “We were recently honored to be featured in _______________” with a link

Remember, the email signature should be changed no more than every quarter so it can make multiple impressions on the recipients.

Overall, keep it short and in plain text with no animations (except for a photo or logo). Remember, most will be opened on a mobile device. Test out what looks good on various devices, but also on different web browsers and on Gmail and Yahoo mail.

What is in your email signature?


Should You be Using Online Video on Your Website?

Now, more than ever, companies are developing their websites with the visitor experience in mind. Competing for website traffic has become a battle of who can provide easily-digested, engaging content at the fastest speed.

This is where the unsung hero of the 21st century comes in—online video. Once a tedious and expensive process, video has become the preferred avenue to reach consumers. The reason for this is that videos are easily understood and less intimidating than a page full of text. Videos are capable of transmitting an incredible amount of information in a short time span. The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” should be updated to “a video is worth a thousand words” to align with today’s fast-paced world were consumers lose interest in a matter of seconds.

When is the right time to consider online video?  

Truthfully, now is the time to consider using online video on your website and social media channels. Present-day technological advancements have made posting videos a lot more convenient, not to mention affordable.

Why is now the perfect time?

Production Costs

From a production standpoint, video creation has never been so affordable and simple. If you have a smart phone, you most likely have a HD or even 4k UltraHD video camera right in the palm of your hand. Some sound equipment, editing software, and a few lights might have a small initial cost, but they will make a huge impact on the quality of videos you can produce. Countless additional tools are available if you’d like to take it up a notch. Professional-grade cameras can now be purchased for less than $2,000.

Distribution/Online Hosting

Now that you know how simple and inexpensive making videos can be, you may be wondering, “how do I actually get the videos on my website?” Todays online video hosts, such as YouTube and Vimeo, will host your videos for free.

Think of each hosting site as your own personal film theatre. You simply insert your embed code created from the hosting site, and put it in the code for the desired location on your website.

Trackability/Advanced Metrics

Online video puts even more power in your hands. You get access to advanced metrics that will show you how many of your website visitors clicked and watched a specific video. This provides tremendous insight in to the behavior of your online visitors, such as the type of videos they find engaging. You should use the analytics your videos provide to influence future video creation and improve the visitor experience.

If you consider how revolutionary email was, wait until you see the impact video will have on your business.


4 Ways to Decide if You Should Re-hire Former Employees

There was a time when few individuals would consider taking a new job with a former employee and few companies would consider re-hiring former employees. Things have changed. When the economic downturn forced employers to cut back on headcount, they had to reluctantly let go of many valued workers. Even in today's somewhat tepid recovery, those same businesses now need to ramp up to meet increasing customer demand. It's natural to consider re-hiring individuals who worked for you in the past (known as "boomerang" employees).

Regardless of whether employees originally resigned or if you made the decision to let them go, re-hiring someone who knows your company culture can have merit in many situations. To some degree, you can trust your gut when making this decision. Still, taking a consistent, analytical approach can help improve the outcome. Here are four things to consider when you try to assess if a boomerang will come back to save you — or smack you in the head.

1. Assess the Reasons Behind the Original Separation

At some point in their lives, most people make mistakes. But, as Winston Churchill said, "To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often." In other words, the people you laid off two years ago because they displayed poor judgment in their work may have learned from their mistakes. They may, in fact, have become exactly the employees you need now. And, the same holds true in reverse; if they initially left voluntarily with complaints about the company, changes to themselves or to your company can make conditions ideal for a second try.

So, regardless of who initiated the original exit, don't say "no” without considering the underlying reasons. Give boomerang applicants the opportunity to explain what they learned — and how you can benefit from their return to your company

2. Understand that Previous Company Experience May or May Not Help

Re-hiring former employees has some natural advantages. They're easy to find for recruitment purposes, they already know many associates and they understand the company culture. For many boomerang employees, onboarding is not required; they hit the ground running on the first day of re-employment.

On the other hand, things may have changed in your business since they last worked for you. Of course, those things may actually make your company more attractive when they take a second look. And, don't forget that boomerang employees also go through changes after their initial exit. Did experience from prior jobs make them even more valuable than they were originally? Or, did they witness a miraculous world of employment in the outside world that your small business can never hope to match? Only open and honest interview discussions can help you and the applicant predict the likelihood of future success.

3. Consider the Effects on Co-Worker Morale

Unless your business is small enough to employ just a handful of people, it can be difficult to predict whether or not your existing workforce will greet a boomerang employee with a hearty welcome, a mistrustful shun, or something in between.

The anticipated reaction of other employees is certainly no reason to avoid re-hiring a former worker, but it is most definitely a reason to avoid blindsiding your current staff. It's up to you whether you want to involve them in this hiring decision, but you definitely need to make them aware of the situation — and what you expect them to do (and not do) once the employee begins work.

4. Examine if the Re-hire Really is the Best Candidate

"Better the devil you know" should not be a reason to re-hire a former employee any more than making the choice simply to save time and effort. Granted, there will be occasions when a boomerang candidate offers advantages that you know you cannot duplicate if you hire anyone else. But, under normal circumstances, you should seriously consider talking to talented outside candidates, as well. Even if you have to spend more time onboarding an outsider, that individual might have a better skill set — without potentially higher salary expectations.

The second time might be the charm.

Some argue that a skills gap is preventing U.S. companies from finding suitable new employees. If this is true, it can be tempting to turn to people you know when jobs become available in your company. Whether the employee left out of economic considerations or if either of you was not satisfied the first time around, a re-hire can be a boom or bust. By carefully looking at both sides of all of the issues, you can help ensure that boomerangs meet or exceed expectations, rather than hitting you in the head —for a second time.


How to Develop Compelling Content

If you need to drive traffic to your website to generate sales, one surefire way to get your numbers surging upward is with compelling content. Content is what you write for your blog, email newsletter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and anything else digital. Writing powerful content is about having the right vision in your head and the right attitude before you even write one word. 

Write content well and you've cemented your success with sales. Here are a few pointers I've put together for you. Be sure to stick to each one because one without the other will tank the entire project.

  1. Your customers have a problem only you can solve. Identify the things that make your customers cringe. Present the benefits of working with you. It could be, "We handle that for paperwork for you." or, "Our clients have often received 25% more sales from our consulting." The customer will think, "I want a 25% increase!" Now you have their attention.  
  2. Focus on one product or one service at a time. Do not, under any circumstances, list 10 products and expect to win sales. It's actually easier for you to write information about your products when you feature just one.  
  3. Have a conversation. Imagine your ideal customer is sitting across from you at a cafe or restaurant. The words and phrases you would use during that coffee or lunch are the same ones you should use when writing your copy. It's about a conversation, not stuffy facts and figures. Be chill. It will relax your prospect and make them more open to what you have to say. 
  4. Keep the copy short and to-the-point. There's no need to write the Magna Carta here. State the benefits of what you offer. Follow up with features. Include testimonials from happy clients, rinse and repeat. 
  5. Focus on what makes you stand out in your industry. Be sure to relay a special technique or addition to a product no one else in your industry offers. It's amazing how that one key element of your content can be the difference between an "I need this right now!" and a "Maybe I'll buy next quarter when we get the new budget." 
  6. Ask for the sale. Just as with face-to-face sales calls or sales presentations, there comes a time when you have to go for it. Always include a clear way for your prospect to become a customer. It could be clicking a link, replying to an email, or giving you a call. Make sure you give only one option, though. You want the prospect to take immediate action, instead of deciding which way to get in touch with you. 
  7. Monitor your results. Some people only have eyes for their profits and loss statement. You know better than that. Proper positioning of your offers leads to more sales, so be sure to keep an eye on how many people are visiting certain pages on your web site. Note how long they're staying there and then you can make key decisions on which products or services to feature in the future.

I can sum up every one of these seven steps in one sentence: Write knowing who you are, who your customer is, which problem you're going to solve, and how you will ask for the sale. If you do those things, you will get a positive response from your prospects and existing customers.


NextOS 3.0 Beta Update: 1.12.16

NextOS 3.0 GIF no play buttonBrand New ONLY in NextOS 3.0

  • Manage your admin profile, billing, and licenses directly in the portal
  • Use Busy Lamp Field to let a user see/monitor the phone use of another user right from their phone
  • Display a user’s extension on one or more phones with Shared Call Appearance

Other Features Added

  • Record a user’s incoming and outgoing calls with Call Recording
  • Redirect incoming calls for all users at a location to a specified number outside of the location's business hours using Location Forwarding
  • Use Music on Hold (Locations) by uploading an audio file to play for your customers while they are on hold, in queue, or being transferred
  • Use Push to Talk to set up intercom-like functionality between the user and others they speak with regularly on their phone system
  • Use Voicemail to Email to send the user’s voicemail messages to their email address

Upgrades

  • The import template now has a dropdown list for Device model.

Bug Fixes

  • Announcements for auto attendants now includes your location announcements.

Have questions about NextOS 3.0 Beta and want to learn more? Check out the answers to these Frequently Asked Questions and watch this overview video


Making A Scene With Your Business

What impression are you trying to create–what feelings and thoughts are you trying to invoke–with your business? This is an important question.  The work you do here is what I call "setting a scene," a scene that supports the storyline, the plotline, of your business.

Every significant touchpoint of the customer experience can be conceived of as a scene.

For example: What scene do you want to set at the register in your clothing store: “Fast?” Undoubtedly, but that’s not enough. Yet “fast” is about all you’re going to measure with your KPI’s: fast, and maybe accurate.  But there’s so much more.  The register (or, at more forward looking merchants, the non-register) is one of the last moments in the customer’s retail journey.  Think about how much more than just “fast” it can be. Nordstrom thinks it should also be “warm,” reassuring, and streamlined, so they ensure that the counter is uncluttered, they make a point of coming around from behind the register to hand you the bag, making it more of a collegial, collaborative process than handing the bag over the barrier of the counter, and they accompany you to your car if you need or want an extra hand with your new loot.

All of which fits into the overall Nordstrom storyline, which is, I would say, “You can trust us beyond a doubt.”

Even a car repair shop can transform impressions through scene-setting. Jiffy Lube, not a name that probably springs immediately to mind when it comes to exceptional service with a human touch, has improved its service model by setting a different scene from what they did in the past.  By offloading transactional details that had previously preoccupied its employees and customers, rolling out an intricate nationwide database to store each customer’s vehicle history and manufacturer-prescribed service requirements. This information is now a couple of clicks away for every customer-facing Jiffy Lube employee, freeing them from onerous paperwork and allowing them to assist customers more easily and knowledgeably.

This fits as part of the overall storyline of Jiffy Lube, which I would describe, in a rhyming couplet of my own making, as “with a minimum of fuss, you can count on us.”

Or think about the experience of walking into an Apple Store.  Here, right smack dab in the center of the technology industry, we have a brand that has relentlessly worked to downplay all of the transactional items and processes that would bring you down to earth as a customer, that would make you feel that you’re doing something other than embarking on a great adventure into the future.  In an Apple Store, there are no cash registers or checkout lines, and no receipts or owner’s manuals in sight; the stores are uncluttered and the employees are empowered to provide a peerless retail experience. Apple has invested in training a large team of salespeople and customer service representatives to help customers on the floor and at the Genius Bar, where the diagnostic specialists are famously called “Geniuses.”

The storyline here? I’d say it’s along the lines of “We are about your experience, not about technology, processes, specs and minutae.” (Sorry, I couldn’t make that one rhyme; if you succeed in doing so, email me and I’ll update this article.)

What’s your business’s storyline? And do the scenes that customers encounter at your business support it? Think it through and get it right. It’s worth it.  Because customers don’t think of the little details they encounter at your business in isolation.  In their heads, they wrap their whole experience up with a bow and decide if they liked it or not, if they want to return or not.  Make sure they get the right impression, so they’ll make a business-friendly decision.


Mondays with Mike: 4 Signs of a Lousy Business Opportunity

Opportunities are a dime a dozen, so the real problem isn’t a shortage of opportunities, but the difficulty in discerning which ones are good.  Some opportunities aren’t even worth your dime.  You’re not helpless, though.  Here are four signs you should walk away from a partnership, buyout, merger, or investment:

  1. More talk, less action.  Everyone can talk a good game, and in fact, there are many great prospects with slick, buttoned-down pitches.  How can you tell when an opportunity sounds too good to be true?  One way is when you’re seeing all talk but very little in the way of evidence to support grandiose claims.  If an offer’s legit, there will be more than just a sales pitch.  How can you sift out the real deal from the pie-in-the-sky?  I suggest building milestones into any deal.  Set clear, measurable goals that must be met for the deal to proceed.  If a prospective buyer fails to submit satisfactory financials or if a potential partner doesn’t have anyone willing to vouch for her, then you should build fail-safes into your deal that let you get out without a loss.
  2. Sketchy history.  The surest way to predict what a business (or person) will do in the future is to look at the past.  Take the time to vet the people you’re looking at doing business with.  If you’re considering selling your company to a firm known for gouging customers on price, then you’re not likely to be more fairly treated.  If there’s a partnership on the table, but your prospect has a history full of unhappy clients, then you should ask yourself how you can expect to be treated.  I’m not saying a leopard can never, ever change its spots, but I am saying that leopard is unlikely to be transformed into a lapdog. 
  3. Radically different goals.  This sign is most relevant for budding partnerships, but its importance can’t be overstated.  Before you begin negotiations, it’s critical that you ask any potential partners what their goals and objectives are.  If you’re fundamentally interested in raking in as much money as possible, while your partner values giving back to the community regardless of the cost, then there’s no way on earth your partnership is going to work.  While different approaches and perspectives can absolutely enrich joint efforts, fundamentally different goals will kill your venture before you begin.  Make sure you have a heart-to-heart before you ink a deal.
  4. You’re desperate.  We’ve all been there.  You need a cash infusion, and you have a prospective buyer, or you’ve been looking for the right company for a merger to alleviate a thorny challenge.  Anytime you’re really desperate to close a deal, you’re vulnerable.  Make sure you take a step back, take a look at your motives, and be aware of any circumstances that might lead you to make a foolish decision.  You can’t eliminate the reasons you might have for needing to close a deal, but you can certainly be aware of your desperation and take extra steps to evaluate the pros and cons objectively. 

We all enter into business opportunities for different reasons, but my single best piece of advice is this:  make sure your business is in good shape before you take any leap.  Getting your expenses under control and your financial house in order makes you a more attractive prospect for a sale, a partnership, or as an empire builder. 

 

    


Watch for These Business Communications Trends in 2016

In 2015 we saw a surge of devices and technologies hit the market that have dynamically altered the way we work. It is becoming more apparent that it will be necessary for companies to adopt new technologies in order to maintain a competitive advantage. Technology continues to leave its footprint on innovative business growth ventures, and it looks like it’s going to stay that way. Here’s a look at some communications trends to watch for in 2016:

Web & Cloud-Based Communications

As more companies migrate towards a tech-friendly work routine, they continue to implement more web and cloud-based communications platforms and tools. VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) continues to see an upswing, largely due to the reduced cost of use, ease of implementation and feature-rich offerings. VoIP provides features that, previously only afforded by large corporations, are now fundamentally changing the game for small and medium-sized businesses.

With the advent of web and cloud-based communications, employees are able to access information from anywhere and provide better customer service.

Remote Employees

It is becoming more accepted that not all employees are office-bound anymore. A growing trend shows that more companies are open to hiring remote employees, or allowing employees to occasionally work from home. This opens up a need to have access to files, CRM software, and business data remotely, which will put more pressure on businesses to amp up the cloud-based technology they use.

Mobility

It should be no surprise that mobility is valued by businesses large and small. The importance of being able to work on the go, from anywhere, will be a continuing trend in 2016. This is one big reason why web and cloud-based platforms and apps are relied upon by both in-office and remote employees. Apps will continue to boost mobile capabilities and productivity.

Heightened Security

Security will be top of mind this year in the wake of newsworthy security breaches over the past few years. More devices offer more opportunities for hacks, which is why caution is more important now than ever before; security breaches and hacks could come through any device. Companies may invest more energy in encryption and other security measures during 2016 in order to ensure their systems meet their needs. Industry guidelines also come into play as some companies need specific types of encryption for regulations.

GenZ Goes to Work

Generation Z will be graduating college and entering the workforce this year. They will have high expectations for more devices, as they are the most computer savvy generation yet. Companies will need to shift towards more advanced consumer-grade technologies in order to attract this new work force.

Internet of Things (IoT)

As the Internet of Things advances, more and more devices will be connected. This will lead to advanced data and information sharing between devices, as well as a flood of new data and information for companies to use for their advantage.

Unified Communications

With all of these factors at work, companies may be searching for unified communications solutions in order to streamline their workflow and processes. Unified communications allows for the integration of voice, video, mobile and web collaboration in one complete solution.


Should Your First Business Be a Franchise?

If you’re thinking about what type of business to start, buying a franchise might be worth consideration. Franchises are great for many entrepreneurs: everything is laid out for you, which makes your work a lot easier. But on the other hand, many business owners find that franchises stifle their ability to make creative decisions. Ask yourself these questions to see if becoming a franchisee is right for you:

1. Do I Want an Out-of-the-Box Solution?

That’s what a franchise is, essentially. You’re handed a book full of guidelines for your business, and presented with marketing materials that are identical to what all the other franchises of this company use. If you like the idea of this simplicity, dig further into franchising.

2. Do I Seek a Proven Solution?

When you start a business from scratch, there’s no guarantee that your business will thrive. When you buy a franchise, you can look to dozens or hundreds of other locations to see how popular they are, as well as get a sense for how much you can make as a franchise owner. Knowing what to expect with your franchise can cut down on some of the risk you take on as a business owner.

3. Do I Like Playing By the Rules?

Because there are a lot of rules with a franchise! You can’t, for example, add a new product to the menu at your burger joint, or change the logo. If you’re okay adhering to what the franchisor has set as the rules, keep considering the franchise. If you prefer to play by your own rules, you’re probably better off starting your own business.

4. Do I Have the Capital for a Franchise?

Typically, buying a franchise is a fixed fee, and an ongoing royalty fee. You can find out what it is by inquiring with the company you’re considering. This will likely cost you far more than starting your own business from scratch. But one advantage is that at least with a franchise, you know what to budget for startup costs.

5. Do I Know What Kind of Franchise I’m Interested In?

There are food franchises, health franchises, grooming, boutiques; you name it. There are even business coaching franchises. So if you’re not already clear on which category you want to buy a franchise in, spend some time researching your options. Ideally, it should be in an industry you have experience in.

6. Am I Appealing to Franchisors?

While money certainly talks when it comes to buying a franchise, many franchisors won’t even talk to you if you don’t hit their net worth requirements. Many premiere food franchises require interested candidates to have a minimum of two million net worth and the ability to purchase three franchises not just one. They’re not just trying to sell you a franchise; they want to be sure you have enough money in the bank to help it succeed. Make sure your financial health is top-notch so that you’ll be a competitive candidate for buying a franchise.




 
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