Monthly Archives: December 2016

Some Strategies for Working with Clients in Different Time Zones

The Internet has made it possible for businesses to sell globally, but that creates the challenge of dealing with customers in different time zones. Here are seven tips to make it easier to communicate with and serve customers in other parts of the country or world.

Working with clients and customers in different time zones is challenging. It’s also a change in how you think. Unless you have experience in national and international business, thinking in terms of time zones, cultures, and non-standard work hours will take time to deal with and get used to. Here are a few tips to help.

1. Use Your Phone
Sometimes the most useful features of your phone are tucked away and easy to forget about. One of those is the world clock. If you have clients in multiple localities around the world, put each of them into the world clock on your phone until the time zone differences become automatic.

When the time changes in the United States, that time zone app will become important again as you figure out who changed and who didn’t.

2. Establish Time Zone Rules

When you start working with a new client, have the time zone talk. When setting deadlines, meetings, and other time sensitive correspondence, will you set dates and times using their local time or yours?

Since you should make things as easy as possible for your client, offer to always use their local time. Set that as the standard for all conversations going forward. It might seem silly to talk about it but any business owner who deals with non-local clients will tell you of the confusion of setting phone or online meetings with some customers.

3. Be Time Considerate

If you’re working with customers in California and you’re in the Eastern time zone, be kind and don’t schedule anything until at least early afternoon unless they prefer early morning meetings. On the other hand, if you have a client in London, schedule things for early morning your time since they’re 5 hours ahead. And be careful of when you text people. It’s easy to fire off text messages without thinking about somebody who is sleeping that has their phone sitting next to them on their nightstand.

4. Keep Constant Communication

You’re rarely going to see your clients outside of your geographic area, most likely. In the age of technology, it’s easy to be effective without being physically on site, but at our core, we’re still more comfortable talking to humans rather than computers and smart phones.

Give your customers a sense of comfort by communicating as constantly as appropriate. Schedule Skype or Facetime calls every once in a while, to keep the human element involved. Don’t be annoyingly present but be easily reachable during normal business hours—and after hours, actually.

5. 24-Hour Work Day

If you’re an online business selling products, for example, your reach is worldwide. You will need people ready to answer customer service calls 24 hours per day. Some companies use call centers for this but if you don’t plan to outsource customer service, either have a team scheduled or go the route of Apple and have work-from-home customer service reps around the world.

6. Outsource to Where Your Customers Are

Companies often solve time zone issues by outsourcing to countries around the world. Call centers, manufacturing, software development, and administrative tasks can happen anywhere in the world now. Especially for small business owners, foreign outsourcing might feel a little scary—how will you know if they’re working and doing a good job? How do you find the right workers?

With a small investment of your time, you can not only help your own business, you can help a person or people around the world by providing a job and steady income.

If you believe in keeping labor in your home country, foreign outsourcing isn’t for you but there are plenty of business and humanitarian advantages to taking work out of the country.

Along with time zone issues can also come cultural considerations. Workers familiar with that culture can improve the customer service experience while also removing the time zone issues from your plate.

7. Have Boundaries

Breakfast in one time zone is dinner in another. Sundays where you work is Monday somewhere else. If you have a business with international reach, you could literally work all day, every day—and some business owners come close to doing that.

You owe it to yourself and your family to put work away at some point. Chic Fil A had revenue of more than $6 billion in 2015 yet they are closed on Sundays. More work isn’t necessarily better work. Take some time to rest and relax.

Tips to Improve Your Online Presence

For your business to be successful, your online presence needs to be strong and healthy. Even if you aren’t an expert, you can use these 8 tips to build your online presence.

Words that come to mind when you’re trying to build an online presence—overwhelming, daunting, frustrating, and stressful, right? Not only is everybody competing for customer eyes and ears online, you have very little time to invest into what has become an essential task to business growth.

The good news is that you don’t have to stress out about this. Keep calm and get started.

1. Make it Utilitarian

Putting a sign next to your cash register or a little Facebook icon on your website isn’t going to cut it. Printing your website URL on your receipts won’t get you anywhere. Nobody is going to engage with you simply because you asked them to. Give them a reason to find you online.

Examples: Run a contest. Ask people to post pictures of themselves using your product. If people rely on your company for information, post it on your website or social media first. Find a reason that your customers have to find you online.

2. Limited Offers

You would think that people would be too wise to fall for the hard sell limited offer. NOPE! Customers don’t want to miss out on something that is limited. Having limited offers on the home page of your website and sending out promotions will build your customer base. There’s plenty of market research that shows that telling people not to miss out still works.

Yes, “Act now to get 50% off” still works.

3. Create Advocates

You don’t have time to build your online presence but you can put people to work to do it for you. You just need advocates. Here’s one way: Let’s say you offer a $99 service that teaches people how to cook Mexican food. (No doubt, an amazing community service.)

You could offer people a $20 discount if they post a status on social media about the class. You can even create that ad and all they have to do is hit the share button and they get a coupon code for $20 off. Pretty cool, huh?

4. Improve Your Website

Your website is a giant piece of science. Every square centimeter matters. You should craft it as meticulously as you did your product or service. Every piece of it matters. Keep these things in mind:

a. Tell your customer who you are, what you do, and how they get it. If you don’t communicate that within the first 5 seconds of them finding your site, you will lose a large portion of your sales.

b. Tell them how you will solve their problem. Why are they looking for you? Speak to their problem and tell them how you can make it better.

c. Get rid of most of the text. They aren’t reading it anyway. Every word matters. Make all of them impactful. Less is more.

d. Don’t talk about yourself. They’re more interested in themselves than they are you or your business.

When you make your online presence into something for your customer instead of something that talks about you, they’ll begin to show up.

5. Your Social Media Playbook

There are literally millions of articles about how to use social media but here are a few quick tips.

a. Not all businesses will benefit from social media but most do.

b. Pick one social media platform that matches your demographic. A teen business might use Snapchat while a business catering to those 30 and older might use Facebook.

c. You don’t need to be on every network. Pick 1 or 2.

d. Talk about your customers. Not yourself

e. Create community. Advertise sparingly.

f. If you want to advertise, pay for online advertising. It’s cheap compared to print.

g. Respond. If people start a conversation with your brand, continue it.

6. E-mail Isn’t Dead

Uninformed “experts” are sounding the alarm that e-mail is dead but the facts are that it’s still the best form of online outreach. Here’s how to do it right.

a. E-mail quality content less often. Once per week or every other week is fine.

b. Target customers. Sending offers for children to singles or couples without children is annoying to them, for example. Know your customer and send e-mails that they want to receive.

b. Use imagery. Pictures and videos are essential for customer engagement.

c. Include a call to action. It might not to be to purchase something but a learn more button or some other way for them to further engage is essential.

d. E-mail lawfully. Ask their permission before adding them to a list. Know the CAN-SPAM laws.

7. Join with Another Business to Drive Online Engagement

Looking for other businesses that have the same type of consumer is a great way to build your own customer base without having to pay high marketing fees. Partnering with them on a promotion is a great way to introduce your brand to more people. Work together to come up with an outreach where you could share costs and get bigger exposure.

8. Keeps Things Current

Too many business owners build a website without any plan of how to keep it fresh. People won’t pay attention if you don’t have anything new to say. Whether you build your online presence yourself or hire somebody, have a plan for constant updating. Who will own the website and social media? The ongoing maintenance is just as important as the initial build.

Bottom Line

Your online presence won’t just happen. You have to invest time and money into building a presence but also remember this: Your online presence will amplify the good and the bad of your business. If there are problems to fix in your business, don’t expect online to be the answer. Continue growing a great business and your online presence will make you shine.

Should Know Some Signs Your Employees Are Stealing from You

Are your employees stealing from your business? How can you tell? Here are 12 signs that you have some sticky fingers on your payroll.

Workplace theft is more common than most small business owners think. According to statistics, about 75% of employees have stolen from their employer once and about 38% have stolen at least twice. When you include theft of time, the percent of employees that have stolen from their employer goes up to a whopping 95%!

How much does all this workplace fraud cost small businesses? According to a 2016 report from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, the median loss is $180,000 for both big and small privately held businesses, but for small businesses the loss is much more devastating than it is for big business. In fact, some estimates say that 30 percent of small business fail because of employee theft.

Small businesses tend to be vulnerable to employee fraud because they don’t have procedures in place to prevent it, and because small business owners often don’t believe trusted employees — or their business partners — would steal from them.

Theft takes many forms. Among them,

theft of physical product
theft of cash
check tampering
billing fraud
reporting more hours than worked
turning in receipts that were for personal expenses
payroll fraud
theft of expensive equipment
How do you know if employee theft is happening to you? In some cases you’ll get a tip from a customer or vendor or an employee. Sometimes you’ll stumble on fraud by accident. But in many cases the fraud will go on under your nose.

Recognize the Signs

You and your managers should be watching for behaviors that might indicate that you’re being ripped off. (But remember, it’s not unusual for a manager or upper-level employee to be the perpetrator.)

1. Change in Lifestyle- If you didn’t give the employee a substantial raise, where did the new car, the new TV, and the new house come from?

2. Change in Work Habits- The employee who used to hate mornings now comes to work long before anybody else arrives, and stays much later.

3. Wants Independence- Some people work better on their own but if that otherwise outgoing employee suddenly decides that they want to work in a “quieter atmosphere,” that could be a red flag.

4. Makes a New Friend- If you start seeing two employees strike up a new friendship—and they’re both acting a little odd, investigate.

5. Makes Friends with a Vendor- Being friendly isn’t a red flag, by itself. But giving away free basketball game tickets and nice meals could indicate that the employee has been pushing business to that vendor in exchange for some gifts that he or she shouldn’t have.

6. Excessive Absences- If you can’t trace it to a life event, dig a little deeper. There might be something going on where theft is occurring but the employee doesn’t want to be there when it’s happening.

7. Never Takes Time Off – If you have an employee who is never absent, and never takes vacations, be suspicious. Yes, they might be a very dedicated employee with no other “life.” But they could also be a crook who is afraid their scam will be discovered if someone fills in for them when they’re not in the offic.

8. Strange Cars Showing Up- If you start seeing strange cars sitting outside your business, write down the license plate and possibly call the police. Especially if they’re around a dumpster or other place that may indicate they’re picking something up.

9. Change in Register Behavior- If you start seeing more refunds, charge backs, or voiding of sales, it’s time to investigate further.

10. More Damaged Merchandise- Again, you’re looking for changes in behavior. If the number of damaged goods starts rising, something is likely going on.

11. Problems with the Books- If something isn’t adding up in the books, or there are some suspicious ledger entries, once might be an honest mistake but 2 times or more could indicate something’s going on.

12. Computer Screen Changes When You Walk By- If you have an employee whose computer screen goes black, or changes suddenly as you approach their desk, and it happens repeatedly, there’s a good chance they’re spending a lot of time on things they don’t want you to see. Be suspicious. Besides theft of goods or time, if they are visiting unscrupulous sites, they could get a computer virus that endangers your entire operation.

What to Do

Remember that you’re first looking for patterns of behavior and other signs that might indicate a problem. Don’t accuse anybody, but do investigate.

If you find that there is evidence of theft, document your proof. Think of it this way: If you had to testify in court, how would you present the evidence in a way that would leave no doubt that the theft was occurring? Can you get video evidence? Does your financial software log all actions, is there something in an employee’s e-mail that you can pull up? Did you get a tip from someone who will confirm the story?

When you terminate the employee, follow the procedures you have in your employee handbook. Also, take precautions before terminating the empoyee to protect company data and to prevent the individual from trying to cover up proof of their misdeeds.

If possible, lock them out of all company systems including their e-mail, Google docs, dropbox, and any other service immediately before you terminate them. If you can’t do this until after you terminate the employee, walk them to the door and do not give them access to their desk, computer or other devices. (Then cut off all access.) You can mail any personal effects to the employee’s home address.)