Posts Tagged ‘business tips’

Why Most Business Mergers Fail (and What to Do About It)

It starts off as a brilliant idea. The small business owner is interested in buying another company or they want to sell theirs. Dollar signs and possibilities float around in their head. After a lot of hard work, the transaction is done and everyone celebrates. But then, it ends up hurting the future of the combined companies more than grow them. In fact, 70% to 90% of all mergers fail.

What goes wrong? Here is how to get the odds in your favor:

1.     Product offering synergy. Determine if the two products or services really fit together. Will they compete or cannibalize customers when the companies are merged or are they complementary? Many times, the offers have less synergy than the two companies initially think. How to test before the sale: Approach five current customers to see if they will buy the other product or service. Then, find out why or why not.

2.     Management match. Can the combined teams work together? Which executives will lead which functions? Many times there is overlap and certain managers and departments need to be eliminated. Remember, there should be clear leaders in the new company and not management by committee. How to test before the sale: Have both management teams participate in making a few important decisions for the proposed new company. Hire a consultant to observe how well this works and report back.

3.     Culture blend. Can the cultures of the company work not only together, but will they blend over time? Often, one culture dominates the other and valuable employees can’t thrive in the new environment and leave. How to test before the sale: Set up three teams of employees from the two different cultures and have them accomplish a task. It should be planning an event for the company or a new recognition program. Evaluate the results.

4.     Setting expectations. These are usually set too high for a short period of time. Many mergers actually push the company back in terms of profitability before it propels them forward. Assume no gains from synergies for at least the first six months. How to test before the sale: Review the growth and profitability of the two companies before the sale and cut their future growth by 50% for the next six months to get a closer estimate of what will happened post-merger.

5.     Market assumptions. How will the other companies and customers in the market actually react to the merger? Many times the expected changes never come. How to test before the sale: There is no way to test his since it is impossible to simulate what the market will do realistically. However, similar past transactions in the same or parallel industries may provide a clue.

How successful was the merger of your company?

5 Ways to Enhance Employee Education Without Breaking the Bank

Strong businesses invest in their employees with a variety of perks, privileges, and training. However, changing times have changed the way employers deliver benefits.

For example, tuition refund was once a potential employee benefit. Now, with the cost of tuition, fees, and room and board increasing (in today’s dollars) from $3,877 in 1982 to more than $20,000 per year now, few companies, large or small, can afford to pay for tuition anymore.

Still, with an ever-changing business environment and constant advances in technology, your employees need training to avoid a serious skills gap or to get them to the next level— whether or not you think you can afford it.

The good news is that the educational environment is also changing. Where the schoolroom was once your main option, a combination of employee curiosity, online opportunities, and encouragement offer many creative ways to keep your workforce current. Here are five ideas that can make it happen:

1. Encourage employees to pursue their interests

You cannot bribe employees to return to school on their own dime in exchange for a promotion. But, you can encourage employees who express an interest in further education by offering flexibility. Let them leave an hour early on school nights, provide a quiet place to study during lunch time, or offer tutoring services within your own area of expertise.

You can even go a step further and follow the model of Google, which allows employees to devote a percentage of their time to pursuing their own projects for the benefit of the company. That helps employees learn and stay interested, while sometimes ending up with major innovations for the company.

2. Explore online training opportunities

With nearly 200,000 employees in the U.S. alone, it is difficult to imagine that Starbucks could possibly provide a bachelor degree reimbursement program for all workers who do not already have one. Yet, the company found ways to reduce expenses by partnering with one specific university, offering online courses only, and requiring students to apply for federal and other scholarships to help offset some of the expenses. That said, there are no restrictions on the type of education, nor is there any form of golden handcuff requiring continued Starbucks employment after an employee receives reimbursement.

Even with fewer employees, most small businesses cannot afford this type of cash outlay. But, you may consider offering a similar program with a few more restrictions, such as reimbursing tuition only for job or business-related courses.

Additionally, don't forget that the Internet offers any number of ways to receive high-quality training. You might find training directly on YouTube or consider free university courses from Coursera. A wide array of affordable business-related coursework is available from Udemy or, as well.

3. Good grade bonuses

Consider offering monetary or other incentives to employees who get top grades in college classes that you pre-approve because they pertain to some aspect of their jobs or your business. You can't offer a bonus without proof, of course. Even if a class does not provide an official grade report, there are other ways to make sure that your employees actually learned something. Perhaps the easiest way to accomplish this is to engage in a post-training interview. Don't be afraid to come right out and ask what they learned.

4. Seminar attendance

One colleague mentioned her amazement by the results of a one-week seminar attended by her lead technical writer. Each year, that writer returned to work with a revitalized spirit — and numerous new ideas that streamlined procedures, while adding quality to the company's software documentation.

In many cases, a degree is not required to enhance the skillsets of your employees. High-quality seminars offer up-to-the-minute information at reasonable prices — even if out-of-town seminars include the cost of hotels and meals. Try to look online for past-attendants' feedback to assess the value of a seminar. Then, perform a cost-benefit analysis to identify worthwhile events.

5. In-house training

What happens when technological or other changes require an educational upgrade for your entire team? You might spend less by bringing one instructor to your place of business to train a roomful of employees at once. Or, if you have certain employees with the right desire and ability, send them out for formal training so they can return to train the rest of your workforce.

Don't forget about just-in-time training as well. There are many affordable methods for giving your employees training where they need it most: on the job.

Affordable training is relevant training.

Operating on the overall belief that any investment in employees is worthwhile, Starbucks offers a liberal college assistance program. As a small business owner, your investment must provide direct benefits to your company. This might mean offering training that pertains specifically to an employee's current job, but you can also benefit from workers who obtain the skills and knowledge to move up within your company.

You don't have to do it all at once. You might want to start with a small program that grows based on its successes. But, you are bound to witness a major transformation with workers who perform their jobs with increased skills and improved job satisfaction as well.

Work Your Biz Wednesday: 5 Business Books to Boost Your Small Business

Normally, I give a list of the latest business books I’ve read to give you a guide to resources that will help you grow your business, but this is a list of classic books and ideas. Many of the books on this list have been updated recently, but they are solid and relevant as they were when they were first published. Read to feed your soul and give you a new perspective on your life and your business.

Growing Pains by Eric Flamholtz and Yvonne Randle

This book is all about transitioning from a start-up to becoming a professionally managed business. Growing Pains, now in its 6th edition, is a classic resource for businesses who want to scale. It will help you think about growth strategically without loosing the the special spark that launched your business in the first place.

Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi with Tahl Raz

Ferrazzi lays out in-depth advice for making connections in the digital world. 
What distinguishes highly successful people from everyone else is the way they use the power of relationships—so that everyone wins. In Never Eat Alone, Ferrazzi explains easy-to-follow strategies he used to cultivate relationships with people he admired, and you can use them to start becoming a master networker to grow your business. 

 So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

Passion is an over used word in small business. In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Newport debunks the long-held belief that "follow your passion" is good advice. Not only does he explain why leading with passion is a flawed strategy. He also explains how it can be dangerous, leading to anxiety, chronic job hopping, or starting a business with poor business model. Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. He’s not suggesting you give up on your dreams, but he invites readers ensure that you pair them with a dose of reality and make yourself valuable in the marketplace. 

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit is one of the most useful books for business owners looking to set themselves up for a lifetime of health, happiness, and business success. Duhigg explains how the road to success – whether that means loosing weight, starting your dream business, or putting an end to procrastination – is paved with tiny behaviors you can implement every day. It takes 21 days to turn a daily action into a habit, but when you’re striving for success in any field, you know that keeping routine is important. Consistency is key.

Intentional Living by John C. Maxwell   

I am a huge John Maxwell fan. He believes that we should think of ourselves in terms of growth and not goals. In his latest book Intentional Living, Maxwell helps readers take the first steps to living a life that matters. We all have a longing to be significant. We want to make a contribution, to be a part of something purposeful. But many people wrongly believe significance is unattainable. They worry that it's too big for them to achieve. He teaches that anyone can achieve significance and create a lasting legacy. The only thing you need to achieve significance is to be intentional everyday. This book will inspire you.

How to Encourage Your Employees to Adopt New Technology Solutions

Most people are averse to change. If employees are accustomed to using a certain technology or process, it can be difficult for them to accept a new solution.  Whenever a new technology is implemented, business owners should expect pushback and have a plan ready to overcome it.  Here are some simple steps you can take to prepare your employees for a new technology implementation: 

  1. Communicate the Benefits

Perhaps the most important part of introducing a new workplace solution is explaining why you are doing so.  Focus on the positives; share with employees the new perks, efficiency, convenience, etc. that they will benefit from after the implementation is complete.  For example, if adopting your business is switching to a VoIP system, such as Nextiva’s, you can focus on the increased reliability, time-saving features, and lower cost to the company.  If you have done your research and chosen a solution that is an improvement over the previous one, it shouldn’t be too hard to deflect objections and help your employees understand why this is a change for the better.

  1. Provide Realistic Expectations

It is unfair to expect your entire company to switch to a new system and learn all the features in one day.  There should be a transitional period for everyone to grow accustomed to the new system and become comfortable with everything.  Following the Nextiva VoIP example, it should be fairly simple to train everyone on how to make and receive phone calls in one day, but it may be a bit more difficult for everyone to learn the star codes and embrace new features, such as call parking.  Offer a timeline for learning so that nobody feels rushed.

  1. Designate Practice Time

If employees have to use the system for the first time during their normal work activities, they may feel flustered.  They also may not want to spend time learning a new solution when they can be working on ongoing projects.  To avoid this common source of tension and stress, provide a designated time for employees to test out the new system.  An hour or two set aside on one day can be enough depending on the complexity of the technology.  Allow your staff to openly explore the features and learn what they can through experimentation under low-stress conditions.  They can help each other, ask for assistance, and get a handle on using the program before being in a higher-stakes environment.

  1. Offer Support

Instructions and help should be easily accessible to everyone who will be using the new system.  In most cases, the company providing the new service should have some of these resources available.  For example, Nextiva offers a Customer Support Center with written explanations and videos for common questions, along with a dedicated Support line you can call to speak to a technical specialist.  Your company may want to provide more resources, however, so it could be beneficial to have a few experts on your team.  These experts will then be available to train individuals seeking more assistance and answer questions on site.   

  1. Allow Feedback

Employees want to know that their opinions are valid and sought after by their company.  Encourage feedback on the new system so your employees know their thoughts and feelings are valued and taken into consideration.  Gaining feedback is also beneficial for identifying areas that may be problematic in a new system, where training needs to be conducted, and just the general feeling from employees.  It is important to keep your staff happy, so take their feedback and suggestions to heart, and make the new solution a positive change for everyone!

Adopting new workplace solutions can be a hurdle, but with proper training and explanation, it should be simple to keep your workforce happy.

Mondays with Mike: Empower Your Employees With These 3 Questions

We’re entrepreneurs at least partly because we want to be in charge.  We have the vision, the plan, and the drive to achieve success.  That’s why it’s hard to loosen our grip on the reins sometimes.  Hard, but absolutely critical.

If you insist on making every decision in your company, you’ll never, ever grow much beyond where you are right now.  Why?  Because no one person can do it all.  I don’t care how smart you are or how many hours you’re willing to put in.  Growth requires that you relinquish some control and trust the good people you’ve hired.

But you can’t just send new hires off and let them start making critical decisions.  There’s a process – three steps that you can use to help your staff (and yourself) make the very best decisions possible.  Use this list of questions to guide your employees’ decision making process.  Until they can answer “yes” to question one, there’s no moving on.  When all three questions get affirmative answers, then they can proceed.

  1. Does this decision further our company’s uniqueness?  Seriously, this question matters more than you realize.  Your points of difference are all that distinguish you from the hordes of competitors dying to steal your clients.  If a decision doesn’t contribute to the unique offerings you provide to the marketplace, then you run the risk of becoming invisible – and that’s fatal.  Push your employees to understand the ways in which your uniqueness is critically important, and if they can’t answer “yes” to this question, they have to stop.  They can’t move on until they’ve reworked an opportunity to reflect what sets you apart.
  2. Does this decision further serve our best clients?  One of the great challenges of running a business over the course of time is being able to reinvent yourself while still preserving what brought customers to you in the first place.  You must train your staff to keep in mind that without customers, there is no revenue.  Unless an opportunity can improve your service, then you shouldn’t proceed further.
  3. Does this decision maintain or enhance profitability?  Once your employees have an idea that preserves your company’s uniqueness and better serves your clients, then the last hurdle is the bottom line.  Companies can’t run on ideas alone.  If a decision doesn’t pass the fiscal test, it’s dead in the water.

Now, it’s important to note that each of these questions can be a dead end, but perhaps only temporarily.  Just because you answer “no” doesn’t mean you can’t rework an idea or an opportunity so that it turns into a “yes.”  Teaching your staff not to be easily frustrated is another big part of empowerment.  Working through options to refine and polish your decisions will inevitably teach your staff valuable skills that will serve them throughout their entire career.

Good decisions are often what separate success from failure.  Training yourself and your staff to make better decisions not only helps you become more efficient (by empowering your staff.)  It also sets your company up for growth and success. 

5 Underrated VoIP Features That Will Improve Your Productivity

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is becoming the new business norm. Companies are steadily transitioning away from their old analog phone services in favor of the newer, more adaptable and feature-rich communications technology that VoIP has to offer.

VoIP’s surge in popularity can be attributed to its numerous value-added features. VoIP makes it easy for companies to choose and implement the features that would benefit their business. New features are being created on a regular basis to enhance VoIP’s capabilities and enhance the user experience.

The problem now is that with so many new and easily-accessible features, it can be easy for businesses to overlook some of the features that can potentially increase their operational efficiency. A few examples are listed below, but it is important to remember that there are numerous other useful features to consider adopting.  

Call Me Now

From a sales standpoint, Call Me Now might be one of the most useful features available with VoIP. This feature allows people to call your company by clicking on a web-based icon. Call Me Now offers sales-oriented professionals the opportunity to immediately respond to any objections from the customer.

Call Me Now is also a useful feature to improve customer service. You can use Call Me Now to quickly get customers connected with a service professional so that their issues can be resolved in a more timely manner.

Custom Ring Back

Looking for ways to generate interest without increasing talk time? When a customer calls your company, you can have custom music or verbal recordings play in place of the typical ringing sound. 

This feature is a great way to provide information, generate questions from customers, and provide future talking points during the phone call.

Push to Talk

Think of this feature as a more advanced walkie-talkie. Push to Talk allows you to call a phone within your network and activate the other line’s speaker. The other line then becomes an intercom; however, the receiver of the call can also talk back by pressing a button.

Call Pick-Up

Call Pick-Up allows you to enter a star code to answer any phone that is ringing in your network. This prevents your company from missing phone calls that ring to someone who is not currently available at their desk.

Call Parking

Call Parking allows you to “park” a call and put it in an extension. Once the call is parked, the line that the call originally rang to is freed for future calls.

There are many practical applications for parking a call. For example, let’s say you need to run downstairs to look for an item. You can park the call, go downstairs, and then pick up the call from a phone downstairs. You can also park a call if the caller is trying to reach a certain employee who is on a different call. Once that employee is done with their call, they can dial an extension to pick up the call that you parked.

VoIP’s growing feature set provides numerous opportunities to increase the efficiency of your communications system. Visit Nextiva’s website to learn more about the many features of VoIP.

How to Close the Gap from Prospect to Happy Customer

Sales is a scary thing for many small business owners, but if you can figure out how to turn your sales fear into sales courage, you will change the game in your business. The key lesson I have learned about sales, in my almost 17 years in business, is that the gap between getting a prospect and turning that prospect into a customer can become shorter and shorter with only a few steps. Here are ways you can shorten that gap:

  • Speed up your sales cycle
  • Weed out unqualified prospects
  • Convert with confidence
  • Remove the fear from sales for good

Step 1: Know who your target audience is with 100% certainty. Nothing else in removing the gap between prospecting and completed sales will work without this foundational step. You want to know:

  • Who they listen to
  • Where they hang out both online and offline
  • What their sense of humor is (this is very important believe it or not!), and
  • What the one problem or challenge is that keeps them up at night.

Step 2: Tighten up your business brand. Design your signature content and your business around your ideal customer. Use the lingo of your ideal customer. Mimic the style of the experts they pay attention to. Create Facebook posts based on what they like to see from businesses similar to yours. Create a brand image with attractive logos, tag lines, and clear messaging about who you are as a business, where you are going, and who you’d like to come with you. Note: A blog is a great place to make this step a reality; you can create, nurture, and control well into the future.

Step 3: Review your previous sales cycle. Ask yourself how long it took to go from prospect to sale with all of your products – even if it was one sale of one product or service. You need this as research for how to cut down on time – and extra steps – in the sales process.

Step 4: Beef up your brand awareness: Use what you’ve learned about the length of time and the steps necessary to close a sale. Did your ideal customers in those past sales convert faster than customers who were not in your ideal target audience? Most likely the answer is yes. Solution: Beef up your brand awareness. Consider using one social media platform more to draw your target customer to your website.

Step 5: Make them testify to your greatness. When you have strong brand awareness around your business, sales that normally take one year shrink to six months or less. Sometimes you can close up in ten minutes with one phone call. The key is to get your ideal clients to say amazing things about you – and record them! Video testimonials are the Holy Grail, and they’re just as tough to get, too. Start out with written testimonials on trusted platforms such as LinkedIn or Yelp. The more of these you have, the shorter the steps in your sales conversion cycle and the more your sales funnel is filled with highly qualified prospects.

Put these steps to work and let me know how you are succeeding with this. I am confident this will shorten the gap between meeting a prospect and closing the sale and ending up with a happy customer.

Mondays with Mike: Preparing To Pitch: Getting To The Decision Maker

There is almost nothing more frustrating than delivering a passionate, compelling sales pitch, only to discover at the end that you’ve wasted your time and spent all your energy making your case to a person who isn’t empowered to pull the trigger.  It doesn’t matter how good a salesperson you are if you’re not sitting down with the decision maker.

But it ain’t always easy to get to the decision maker. 

Let’s face it.  Folks in charge have a million things and people competing for their attention, and if they didn’t figure out a way to make themselves unavailable, they’d spend all day with reps trying to sell alarm systems, better phone service, or advertising.  Decision makers have to say “no,” and they have to get pretty good at it if they want to get anything productive accomplished.  And that makes it hard for you – the one person with something of value to sell – to work your way into an opportunity to pitch the decision maker. 

Until now.

I’ve developed a strategy to get around the defenses and make it into the inner circle.  First, I realized that nearly every decision maker has a sizeable ego.  The ego comes from the hordes of salespeople clamoring for approval, time, and attention, and while ego can be an obstacle to doing business, it can also be a point of entry.

Back when I owned a computer forensics firm, I had my sights set on one particular company – the category leader – who I’d wanted to land as a customer practically forever.  I knew they needed my services, but the challenge was getting to the head honcho and convincing him.  He was impossible to reach.  I called, emailed, tried to leverage mutual friends … no joy.  I swear at one point, I figured he was enjoying my pursuit, and that’s when it occurred to me.

I wrote a letter (yes, a real paper-and-pen letter) and asked him to be my mentor.  I promised not to make a sales pitch, but I asked for fifteen minutes of his valuable time so I could get some advice.  I was shocked when he agreed, and I kept my end of the bargain.  I told him I wanted his perspective on what I could do to make my company better.  He told me.  I took notes, asked a few questions, thanked him for his time, and I left.

When I got back to the office, I went to work.  I looked at his recommendations, and I make a plan to improve on every area he’d mentioned.  My staff and I worked hard to deliver better service and really improve the company from the ground up.  When I’d accomplished the goals I’d set, I called my new mentor and asked for a second meeting, again making the promise not to make it a sales call.  We met, I showed him the progress I’d made, and I asked for another set of suggestions.  Rinse and repeat.

When I showed up for my third meeting, it was clear that the decision maker – my ideal client – took great pride in the changes he’d helped me make, and then the magic happened.  He looked at me and said, “I want to be your customer.”

I’d kept my word.  I hadn’t tried to sell him a thing, but simply having access to the decision maker gave me the opening I needed to convey the dedication I had to being the single best computer forensics guy on the planet.  If I hadn’t asked for his advice, he never would have had the opportunity to get to know me, and he never would have understood how much he needed me.

Now, you’re not going to get to every decision maker simply by asking for some advice.  Some are too busy; some aren’t interested.  But what I’ve found is that when I can get that first meeting, I know somewhere down the road, I’ll convert my new mentor to become my client.  Build your relationship with decision makers, and you’re opening up those choice opportunities.

How your business can make a great last impression

1-21 lasting impression smallAll of us, at one time or another, have had the importance of a first impression drilled into us.  But what about last impressions? Both the beginning and the end of a customer's experience with your business are disproportionately important parts of the customer experience, because of the way a customer's memory works.

Yet while we often do manage to focus on and refine our “hellos,” customer goodbyes are often rushed—or skipped altogether. After all, you as a service provider are frequently so relieved to have gotten one job wrapped up successfully and to be able to move on to the next one. The result is that a transaction often ends with nothing more personal than an invoice.

What a wasted opportunity! If your customers are happy, the goodbye is your last, and one of your most notable, chances to bond with them, to add an important final chapter to the service story.

Try to close each interaction with your customer in a way that is memorable and sincere. Make sure an otherwise-fine service experiences doesn't come to a miserable close that consists solely of handing back a credit card or ‘‘OK’’ or ‘‘NEXT.’’ How much hard-earned good will can be lost that way? A lot.

So, try to never close an interaction without providing a personalized farewell and an invitation to return. If handled properly, this farewell will be personal, resonant, and long lasting (see below)—but before you move to the closing, make sure you ask a final question, slowly and sincerely. This question should be some form of (but doesn’t have to be these precise, scripted words), ‘‘Is there anything else I can do for you?’’

If the answer is ‘‘No, thank you,’’ then move to the closing, as follows:

1. Personalize your goodbye: Use the customer’s name. Offer your business card, if appropriate for your type of business. Beyond these obvious things, customize your language to fit this customer’s history with you. For example, if this is the last day of a convention or holiday, add your sincere wishes for safe travel. If you are a retailer, express your hope for satisfaction with the item purchased.

2. Make your goodbye resonant: If appropriate, give a parting gift. It can be a lollipop for the customer’s child, a vintage postcard, or a book. An ideal gift is something that is emotionally resonant with your brand as well as appropriate to the customer. Invite your customer to come back again as she leaves.

3. Extend the goodbye in a memorable way: If appropriate for the type of purchase and your relationship with the customer, send a follow-up note. Personal and handwritten is better than preprinted—this is the best $1 investment you may ever make.

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