Category Archives: Business

CRM Software

As small businesses begin to prosper and thrive, sustainability is bound to be an issue — particularly where customer satisfaction is concerned. After all, as your company grows, priorities and processes tend to change. If left unsupported, those changes could ultimately fracture your company’s relationship with its customers.

In order to ensure that doesn’t happen, more and more companies have started integrating dynamic Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems into their overall growth strategies.

By and large, CRM can be described as the practice of managing and analyzing customer interactions and data with a view to improve relationships, bolster retention and drive future sales. CRM tools not only enable you to centralize customer information, but they also allow you to automate a wide range of marketing interactions, facilitate internal and external communications and track new sales opportunities.

And although CRM has been around for quite a while, it’s only recently started to take off due to advances in affordable software for business of all shapes and size.
What is CRM software?

CRM software is an essential tool for any small business owner, as it instantly consolidates all inputted consumer information and documents into one, easy-to-use place. This enables all staff to access and manage those details at the drop of a hat from any device. More important still, most CRM software tools allow you to record consumer interactions and impressions generated through social media, mailers or other channels to help you develop a firm picture of where your top sales leads are coming from.

Marketing automation is also a huge benefit from using CRM tools. Most software offerings now automate repetitive tasks to enhance your marketing efforts, including the automatic dispatch of promotional materials to sales leads that enter their details onto your web mailing lists.
Sales force automation also helps promote efficiency in your business by automatically tracking all contact and follow-ups with consumers. This not only minimizes duplicate efforts, but it also ensures that customers aren’t falling through the cracks when they submit important queries or complaints.

Finally, CRM software also offers you the opportunity to automate numerous workflow tasks, freeing up your time and giving staff a chance to track the performance and efficiency of team members within a company.
Is CRM software right for my business?

Most CRM software tools have got something for every business – but that doesn’t mean they’re all perfect.
If you’re a small business owner interested in investing in a quality CRM system, it’s always worth shopping around first. Some of the less dynamic platforms may not include functions relevant to your business, and so they’ll probably end up mothballing into glorified customer databases. All datasets need to be properly organized and linked in order to take advantage of integrated CRM analytics, and so there’s no point wasting time inputting all of that data if you can’t do anything with it afterwards.

If you’re after a few more tips on how to choose the right CRM software for your business, Small Business Trends has compiled a comprehensive list.
It’s also worth noting that even when you do have a great CRM system in place, many businesses tend to allow crucial features to go unused because they haven’t properly trained staff how to use them. Without learning how to maximize your software, you probably won’t be able to achieve a single customer view that will streamline your organization efforts.

At the end of the day, only you know what’s right for your business. But no matter what type of business you’re operating, chances are there’s a CRM platform out there for you. Just remember to do your homework, take the time to learn how to use it and don’t forget to pass that knowledge onto the rest of your team.

Tips to Sell Online As Effectively As In Perso

What do you do if your brick-and-mortar business relies on knowledgeable sales people to answer complex product questions and you want to sell online? Your staff can make sure your site can sell as effectively online as they do in person.

Making this happen is particularly problematic if your buyers don’t know the correct name for what they want to buy. A good example of this is when DIY (do-it-yourself) homeowners need plumbing or hardware.

I recently came across an ecommerce site with two solutions to this dilemma, one of which I had not seen before:

The ability to choose categories by looking at images instead of category names.
They invite site visitors to send a picture of what they need.
While some gift sites have visual categories, I don’t recall ever seeing a site that invites customers to “send a picture” so their sales team can guide them to find what they need.

How to Sell Online if Your Products are Complex
Unique Customer Service Features Increase Sales
A look at the Qualified Hardware site below shows an example of an ecommerce store done right. This “send us a picture” feature is prominently displayed in their header area just under the search box.

That is perfect placement because when your visitor realizes they don’t know what to search for because they don’t know the name of the part, they can just send a picture. This could also prevent users whose search did not return the results they need from just leaving to go to another store.

Have Online Sales Staff Review Orders
If you have ever tried to repair plumbing or buy hardware for your home, you probably took the old parts into the store and found an expert to help you figure out what you needed to buy. Forget one piece and you have to make another trip.

When buying online, that means waiting for shipping time. That could mean doing without necessities until more parts arrive. Often, you don’t even know about another part, tool, or product you need to do the job.
For a plumbing project that might be plumber’s tape or PVC cleaner and glue. Or you might not know there are different sizes and types of floats in a toilet or what additional parts may be required. While I know that, many others would not.

Are you sure you know what tools it takes to build something? Did you remember every size screw or nail? Have you ever forgotten you don’t have the right drill bit size? Even contractors rely on store staff to make sure they don’t forget anything.
By having your online sales staff review orders and suggest missing parts and needed tools, businesses have the perfect opportunity to upsell in a way their customers will appreciate.

Stand Out From Your Competition
This particular store sets themselves apart by making it easy to buy with confidence. They operate just like a brick-and-mortar store with the same level of employee assistance.

They are in a position to personally save their customers frustration and mistakes while building a personal relationship that engenders loyalty. By focusing on customer satisfaction they can increase their profits.
Stop Hiding From Your Customers
Far too many online ecommerce stores seem to want to avoid having to deal with customers. They either make their phone number difficult to find or they don’t have it on their site anywhere (which is very bad for local SEO as well as sales).

After talking one ecommerce store owner into providing customer chat, I was dismayed to find they were never logged in even during regular business hours. Having it visible and never being available is worse than not having it at all.

Live chat is also an effective way to get the email addresses of your site visitors so that you can follow up with them. Instead of never knowing who most of your visitors are, you could capture them onto segmented mailing lists or at least send them a discount to encourage a first purchase.

Never Leave a Customer Question Unanswered
Customers do not buy unless they’re sure your products or services are exactly what they need. As long as they have an unanswered question, they don’t check out. This is another reason for the high percentage of shopping cart abandonment.

Imagine you’re buying parts and tools for a project you want to build. You put them into the shopping cart, but you’re just not sure the parts will work together. Or you have a question about what the best tool is to get them installed.

Which store will you buy from and remember? Will it be the one where the sales person made sure you knew what you needed and assured you that everything required was in your shopping cart? Or the one where you couldn’t reach a live human?

Improve Your Follow-Up to Increase Repeat Sales
Imagine you’re the store in this example. You have happy customers who bought from you today. It is essential that you can remind them to come back. Fortunately for you, there are now marketing automation solutions available priced low enough that even the smallest business can afford them.

You may wonder why there is so much buzz surrounding content marketing. One little-known reason is that the best way to increase repeat sales is to publish an answer to every question your buyers have on your site and then send those answers to the right buyers in a targeted way.
This is done through email list segmentation. While many businesses do build mailing lists, most are not using them effectively. It is not enough to just send one message to everyone.

Strategy to Target Content Through Mailing List Segmentation
Using the hardware site as an example, their highest priority would be keeping in touch with contractors. To do that, they can encourage buyers to subscribe at the end of the checkout process and again in the receipt they send.
When their purchases are being packed, they could also send a short handwritten note that has a printed invitation to subscribe with a short, easy to remember link to choose mailing lists they want to receive.
Marketing automation has the ability to automatically re-segment your customers based on their actions. It can note which links a subscriber actually opens, and move them to a list specifically about those topics.

Automatically Change Mailing List Based on Customer Actions
Setting up automation to move your subscribers from your general to more niche lists is especially beneficial for stores that cater to different types of buyers. If your store sells both plumbing and hardware, sending a generic email teaches your subscribers to ignore your emails because they are often not relevant to them.

If instead, subscribers who only open links related to plumbing could automatically be moved to a list that only sends out information of interest to plumbers. Subscribers who only open links related to hardware could be moved to a list specifically for carpenters.

How Workflow Automation Works
It is challenging to explain how to create a workflow in words. The best way to understand it is to watch a video showing how elements are dragged-and-dropped and then connected together.

Here is an example of a workflow from GetResponse marketing automation showing a common cart abandonment workflow to send an email offering a discount to the potential buyer encouraging them to come back and complete their purchase:

How to Sell Online – How Workflow Automation WorksWorkflows can be built to segment subscribers by:
Which specific links they clicked on.
Whether they made a purchase.
Because they left without checking out.

They can also be used for lead scoring. By assigning scores to particular actions, marketing automation can surface which of your subscribers is most interested in what you sell.

For a site that caters to contractors, lead scoring could be used to identify contractors your sales team could personally contact or to offer special discounts or other benefits to your best customers.

Many more examples of workflows and a video are in this post on marketing automation workflows.

Mobile Friendly Increases Sales
What do you do when your local hardware store doesn’t have the part or tool you need? Or maybe they have one, but the quality isn’t what you really wanted. What do buyers do? They go online right then using their smartphones.

If you want to be the ecommerce store that gets the sale, your site must be mobile friendly. Use these excellent tips to make sure yours is, but then go one step further: real world testing.

Did you see those stats in the SlideShare above? Mobile is essential and videos are key to converting. Every ecommerce site can benefit from adding video from the DIY site discussed previously to an ecommerce site showing off products in use and clothing being worn. Read more about why video converts even better than social media.

How to Do Free Mobile Usability Testing
While large companies will probably pay someone to do this type of testing, even small businesses can do this themselves. Ask people who work for you or know you to use their mobile device to find a specific product in your store.

Watch them search, add the items to your shopping cart, and go through the checkout process as far as they can. Only by actually watching people use your site to shop from various devices can you find out how well it works for them. This type of testing surfaces challenges finding and buying from your store.

If you want to do this particularly well, use a test site or have a way for them to go all the way through the checkout process without actually charging their account or by using a test credit card number.
Do not do this only once. Do this multiple times through as many different individuals as you can using every kind of mobile device and smartphone you can find. This is necessary to identify and fix issues with your site that are lowering your profits.

Usability Surprises Are Common
You may be really surprised by how someone chooses to navigate your site. Visitors may find that they struggle to put items in your cart or cannot get through the checkout process.

Did you know there is a difference between mobile friendly, mobile responsive, and mobile ready? To better understand this so that you can get your developer to fix any issues you encounter, or to know how to test your site and especially your videos, read this.

Does Your Business Sell As Effectively Online?
Early implementers of new technology reap the most profits. Over time, more businesses will get on board and competition gets tougher. If you don’t act early, your sales will suffer. Make sure your business is leading – not failing.

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.)

Tips to Handle Client Misunderstandings and Miscommunication

Misunderstandings and miscommunication are bound to happen with clients, but it’s how you handle them that’s important. No matter who’s at fault, these are the three areas you should address when clearing up a problem with your client.

No one likes to admit they are wrong. No one likes to make mistakes. And I don’t think any of us are really excited about rework. Especially if its free.

Consultants are supposed to be the experts, so if you’re the consultant and you make a mistake on one of your consulting engagements it can be painful. And embarrassing. And possibly costly.

Likewise, our clients can make mistakes and miscommunicate and overlook details that cost the engagement time and money. Pointing those out to the client – if we discover them and they don’t – can be painful, too. Then what? Do you charge them more to fix the problems that were caused or do you give the fix away for free as a show of good faith? Your goal of course is to keep the customer, but usually not at “any cost.”

The bottom line is that, on each side of the fence, mistakes can happen. Should we always point fingers and assign blame? No, I don’t think so. If you and the client are truly working togethe –.really have a effective working relationship and actually respect one another –then certainly no blame needs to be ascribed. You just know and move on. At least that’s how it should always be.

So, instead of focusing on the mistake or miscommunication from that perspective, try handling the problem by staying true to these 3 concepts.

Strategize the best and lowest cost options before going to the client. Normally I would say brainstorm this with your team. However, if you are an independent consultant like me, 95% of the time I am the “team.” Either way, you must come up with some solutions or at least actions that will get you and the client down the road to a “fix” of whatever the complication or miscommunication is. Think them through – especially from the perspective the the “at fault” party, if there is one. Is cost a necessary consideration? How should that be handled? Prepare some options before going to the client to discuss.

Discuss options with the client. These options you come up with may solve the problem or they may not. At the very least they will probably serve as a good stepping stone and an opening up of the communication lines to get progress made on whatever the problem is. I have a client right now who owes me money because their request was they wanted to pay half of a two month agreement up front and then half of it one half of the way through. Reasonable enough.

So, at the end of the current month, I invoiced them for part 2 of the payment. Now my direct contact is stating that they are waiting for their review of the latest material I’ve provided as well as the out-of-the-office supervisor’s approval of the payment. There was nothing stipulated in our agreement or the initial invoice that stated anything other than “2nd payment halfway through the two month agreement”. And they have been happy with services so far…no problems. It’s probably more due to a timing / cashflow issue at the moment more than anything else. There isn’t much I can do to expedite the payment as my goal is to keep them as clients and not take any drastic action, so offering some options and opening up discussions is the best I can do at this point. Obviously, there was miscommunication and misperception involved in the process – no matter how thoroughly it was documented via email and on the initial invoice.

How to Handle Client Misunderstandings and Miscommunication
Consider price. If you can do some work for free in the face of mistakes, that is the best way to go. If the mistake is due to your oversight, then it goes without saying that the work is going to have to be free. The only exception is if the client thought you were doing ‘x’ and you thought you were doing ‘y’ and those are far enough apart that you’re going to need compensation, then you’ll need compensation. Any leeway you have to make that more affordable for the client, though, would make it easier to swallow and to make for a better lasting long term relationship. Price is always an issue…be careful in this part of the negotiation process when trying to resolve.

Summary

Mistakes happen. It’s what you do with them and how you respond to them that likely define the rest of the consulting engagement and whether or not you do any future business with this client. And depending on the outcome, you may or may not want to….but it’s usually easier to keep a client than find a new one to replace him…so I try to keep them. Good luck!

Get More Customers with Online Marketing

Think you can’t afford to promote your business the way you’d hoped to? Don’t let money hold you back. Use these 7 cost-free online marketing strategies to attract customers this year.

You probably made big plans for your business in 2017. Did they include pumping up your business’s online marketing? Whether they did or they didn’t, don’t let “but it costs too much” be your excuse for not driving more customers and clients to your business. Here are 7 great ideas for improving your online business profile this year using very little time and absolutely no money. It doesn’t get much better than that.

1) Claim your business’ Google My Business page

What do you see when you type your business name in Google? Hopefully, your website will come up number 1 in Google and to the right of the search results you will see what is called the “info box” on your business. In that info box hopefully all of the information is completely correct and the words “Own this business?” does not appear. Why? Because “Own this business?” means that the business has never been claimed.

Here’s what to do if “Own this business?” appears. Click on the “Own this business?” link while you are logged in to a Google account (usually gmail) and begin the process of claiming your business. Claiming your business will give you the opportunity to keep the information updated and appear in Google Maps, Google Local and all other Google properties.

What to do if no info box appears for your business? Easy, just go to https://business.google.com while you are logged into your Google account and start the process of setting up your Google My Business page.

No matter how you claim or set up your Google My Business page, you will probably need to confirm your business via having a postcard sent to you, which you should receive in 5 – 10 days. Google already has some business information for your business, you may have the option to receve a telephone call to that number for confirmation.

The easiest, fastest and simplest way to receive free traffic from Google is to have a claimed and optimized Google My Business page.

2) Claim your review site accounts and ask for reviews

One of the ways that Google determines the quality and authority of a business is by the number of reviews on the internet for that business. This is especially important for businesses that serve a local market.

Your Google My Business page Is also a review site, so once you have that set up, the biggest review site is done. But when you search your company name, which I recommended in item 1, you probably noticed that other sites, usually review sites, are some of the next listings that will come up under your name. Make sure to claim your business listing for each, optimize them with good images and copy and then regularly ask for reviews will help you control the quality of reviews that people find about your business.

What are the most important ones to claim besides Google? Yelp, YP and, if you have a Facebook page, Facebook. There are also industry-based review sites, such as Houzz, Health Grades, Angie’s list and others.

3) Commit to email marketing

No other action you will take this year will mean more to the long term viability of your business. You can get a free account at MailChimp that allows you to send 12,000 emails per month to up to 2,000 subscribers. Imagine getting a sweet deal from your distributor on a popular product, sending an email to your list and selling your full order out in a day or two. You can do that and lots more with an email list.

How do you build your email list? Here are a few ideas:

Put an email signup form on your website
Ask new customers for their email address and permission to mail to them
Put out a fishbowl for business cards for a monthly drawing and ask if you can put them on an email list
Put a link to your email signup on your social media
Once you get that ball rolling, make it a monthly or biweekly to do to create a fun, informative email that makes using your product or service easier and more enjoyable.

4) Understand your customer’s “pain point”

Why do your customers give you money? You solve a problem for them – whether it’s allowing them to be fashionably dressed or saving them from a legal problem. Whatever your product or service, look at it as a “pain point” for a prospective customer that you solve. You are really in the solution business!

Take out a piece of paper and write down all of the different “pains” and problems that you solve. Now keep that paper handy (hang it on the wall if need be). Every time you need to write an ad, put together a new brochure, redesign business cards, come back to that list and be sure to include at least one, if not more, of these pains and how your business is the solution in every form of communication you make with prospective and current customers and clients.

5) Look at your website on a mobile device

Does it look good? Is it usable? Do the forms work? Does it take forever to load?

More than 60% of all search is currently being done on mobile devices. If your site doesn’t work on mobile, well, it doesn’t work. Making a website be responsive to the device that is using it is called “responsive design”.

Granted fixing this problem isn’t free, but recognizing that it’s a problem that needs to be addressed is. 😉

6) Look for your top 5 competitors on social media

If you are trying to figure out what you should be doing with social media or you can’t quite figure out what might work for your company, the easy, fast and free way to get some ideas and clear direction is by looking at what your competitors are doing.

Go to their websites. Down near the bottom of their pages should be links to their social media. Once you click through, here are some questions to ask.

What social media are they committing to publishing regularly on?
How many likes, friends or followers do they have?
How often are they posting?
Are they getting people to post, comment or acknowledge their posts in some way?
Follow, like or connect your personal social media accounts with their business social media accounts. This will give you a lot of insight to how they are doing social media. It will be up to you to decide whether they are doing a good job or not and what you would need to do to do it better than they are.

7) Commit to educating yourself on online marketing

There is a lot to know about online marketing, but that is not an excuse for putting off educating yourself as to how to do it effectively. In 2017, more than ever before, the internet is the first, last and pretty much only place where people go to find a business and the solutions they provide. Look for a solution that stays focused on getting your business the most results for the least amount of effort.

Tips For Company Success in 2017

Working on your business goals for 2017? More often than not, resolutions don’t pan out, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Follow these seven steps to succeed in reaching your goals for the New Year.

It’s that time of year again to think about change, improvement, and new achievements for your company in 2017. But we know from research that 92% of New Year’s resolutions fail. So you might say, why bother? Instead, perhaps you should go about those resolutions in a more effective way.

There are a number of reasons why business resolutions fail. But having studied and worked with successful companies for over three decades, there are some secrets to success. So to get your company off to a great start, consider these tips:

1. Set a Baseline. Spend some time with your team to reflect on your past accomplishments. The New Year is a perfect time to take stock of where you are and where you want to go as an organization at any level – the entire company, a department, or a team. Creating a list of accomplishments for 2016 is a good starting place. Even if your unit is doing routine work such as processing payroll, celebrate your on-time performance or accuracy. It requires work to do those things well. Other departments can celebrate new sales, products, processes, or customers.

2. Reaffirm your vision and mission. Today’s workforce, especially Millennials, wants to be a part of an organization that makes a difference. Have you translated your purpose and mission into terms that employees can rally around? If not, take a day to work through this; even better is building or updating a compelling story with teams of employees from different functions, levels, and locations. When done, you have a rallying cry that everyone understands and buys into.

3. Help your employees reflect. Ask your employees to spend some introspective time reflecting on their life goals and the role of their work in that. While this may sound soft and squishy to you, I assure you it is not. Achieving fulfillment in life is important to nearly every person we interviewed recently in our research. Offer them resources to help that thinking – books, training, a webinar, or a mentor. What we are discovering in our research is that fulfilled employees are far more productive because they are more aligned, capable and engaged with the organization. Unfulfilled people either leave or stay in a way that is debilitating for others.

4. Set realistic and stretch goals that will energize people. The realistic targets should be ones that you are fairly confident that you can accomplish. It’s best to break those up into smaller milestones that will allow you to celebrate accomplishments throughout the year. The stretch targets create a bit of risk and challenge, which, as we learned from our research, create greater fulfillment for people. Most of the highly fulfilled people in our study reflected back to times along the way in which they took risks and had some of their best learnings in life.

5. Measure, measure, measure. Vague goals never really generate much momentum. A long history of psychological research tells us that goals which are specific and measureable are the most motivating and likely to be accomplished. Nearly everything at work, even softer things like employee engagement or customer loyalty, can be measured. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth measuring. If you don’t know how to set up measurements, ask your HR or quality department or bring in outside resources – it’s not that hard if you know what you’re doing.

6. Feedback. We also know from years of research that performance feedback is critical in enabling people to make course corrections in pursuit of goals. Without good feedback, we are often distracted by competing demands. Today this is a big issue with the constant bombardment of information and many alternatives competing for our time. Timely, frequent feedback from a respected source – a measure, customers, or a supervisor – will provide that extra momentum boost to reach those resolutions which otherwise will go unfinished.

7. Accountability. While most of us take responsibility for actions leading to those agreed upon goals, stuff happens. It helps to have rewards tied to the accomplishment of goals. Stretch goals should be rewarded handsomely. Rewards are the last element that will provide the finishing touches to keep your resolutions on track.

Lastly, it pays to jump on these early in the year while there is plenty of time to launch new plans and goals. Remember, it will be impossible to accomplish stretch goals by doing the same thing you have done before. If you innovate and take new approaches, you’ll set yourself up for success in 2017.

Smart Manufacturing

To succeed in manufacturing – or in any business – you need strong leadership at all levels of the organization. This book excerpt explains why and discusses 4 critical element of good leadership.

Don’t bother with smart manufacturing if you have a dumb workforce. And if your workforce is dumb, it’s your fault, not theirs. Don’t bother with an IT revolution. Your revolution has to start with a “Smart Workforce”. You have to make a new compact with your employees. You need to ignite the human spirit in your workforce. Imagine this. What would happen if every day your employees came to work excited to do better today than they did yesterday? Imagine how your company would soar if your employees were absolutely dedicated to supporting the mission and each other in attaining it? Imagine what it would be like if your employees were like Cirque de Soleil performers?

This is the place where I get blank stares from many CEO’s. They don’t like the “soft stuff.” “Give me the hard stuff,” they say. “Tell me how to build a smart factory, not a smart workforce,” is what I often hear.

It has to be the other way around. Start by building a smart workforce. A workforce that is engaged, enlightened, and empowered. A workforce that trusts in its leadership. A workforce that believes in its leadership. Tall order to be sure-especially if the leadership is a bunch of boneheads that care more about depreciation than employee engagement.

Here are four key ways to start:

1. At the top. Build leadership credibility. The only way to have leadership credibility is if your leaders demonstrate key values of respect and integrity.

2. Leaders need to treat their employees with respect. But many don’t. In a recent Harvard Business School study of 20,000 employees half of them did not feel respected by their leaders. And respect was rated by the participants as more important than anything else, including compensation. Imagine how the company performance would skyrocket if you solved this one problem alone.

3. Leaders have to demonstrate integrity. In study after study, integrity is a key attribute in leaders that people admire-and want to follow. So integrity is a key part of building credibility. But leaders also need integrity in everything they say. You can’t be like many leaders and “tell half the truth, hoping the other half doesn’t show up”. You have to be bone honest all the time. You have to tell them what they need to know. If the company is headed for trouble, tell them. If the company needs to pivot into new markets or products, tell them. And tell them why. Tell them everything. You would be amazed at how smart your workforce can be if you give them half a chance. I always say “trust in truth”.

4. This is not just for the top. Your entire workforce has to embrace the values of respect and integrity. But you cannot expect “people below to do what the top will not”. You may have leaders that lost credibility long ago. They can’t get it back. You have to replace them.

Smart manufacturing starts at the top, not the bottom. Smart manufacturing starts with creating a new compact with the workforce. Smart manufacturing starts with people, not machines.

Winter Blues When You Work from Home

The winter blues can be a real problem for business owners who work from home. Here are six mood-boosting strategies you can put to work when colder weather and shorter days begin to get the best of you.

winter bluesThe winter blues are no joke. According to a recent study by Villanova, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) impacts up to 5 percent of the population, while 10 to 20 percent of people endure a less severe version of the condition.

As a freelancer, you might not have to join your peers in their snowy slogs to work during the winter months. However, that doesn’t mean you’re immune from SAD and its effects. On the contrary, a slew of recent articles suggests that freelancers suffer from winter blues just as often as their 9 to 5 counterparts if not more frequently. And they have a lower overall evaluative wellbeing than their counterparts who are employed full time.

Here are some actionable tips to help you beat back the winter blues when you work from home.

Get Moving

Not only is exercise essential for controlling weight and maintaining health, but it can also help fight depression. Research shows that working out causes the body to release endorphins, which interact with the brain to reduce perception of pain. The end result is that you feel happier and less depressed.

As a freelancer, you can use exercise as a way to minimize the effects of SAD. If you don’t want to shell out for a gym membership, consider watching workout DVDs or YouTube videos, buying some hand weights, or even just taking a daily walk around the neighborhood.

Take a Daylight Break

Most of us tend to work during normal business hours, i.e. from 9am to 5pm. However, as a freelancer, you might be able to shift your schedule so you can enjoy the daylight while your peers are stuck in their cubicles.

While you don’t have to become nocturnal during the winter months, consider taking a couple hours off work in the middle of the day – say around 2pm – to get out and enjoy the sun. Along with the burst in energy, you’ll benefit from the extra vitamin D at this time of day. You can make up the work in the evening, when it’s cold and dark.

Find Out if You’re SAD

Some of us get a little blue during the colder, darker months of winter. Other people experience the full-on depression known as seasonal affective disorder. Symptoms of this serious condition include tiredness, oversleeping, weight gain, and irritability, according to the Mayo Clinic.

These days, SAD sufferers don’t have to endure their pain in silence. If you have this condition, consider upping your vitamin D intake with daily supplements. You can also open your curtains, move your desk near the window, and even purchase a special lamp that simulates the effects of the sun. According to research by the National Institute of Mental Health, SAD is caused mainly by lack of sunlight, and you can mitigate that winter deprivation with regular phototherapy.

Get Out of the House

Being home alone can leave you feeling, well, lonely. And the problem only intensifies during the winter months. Fortunately, you can boost your spirits by working out of your local library or café. Not only is getting out of the house a good spirit booster, but being in a new setting can also spur your creativity. And as an added bonus, you can enjoy a mocha latte while you tackle one of the less enjoyable items on your task list.

Network

During the winter months, it’s tempting to spend your days holed up on the couch with your slippers and blanket. However, if you want to stave off seasonal depression, it’s important to get out of the house and see people. Winter is a great time to do that networking you neglected during the busy summer months.

Meet up with a fellow freelancer to work together at your local Starbucks. If you don’t know any work-from-homers in your area, consider reaching out to some of the LinkedIn contacts you’ve been meaning to get to know better. You can also do some research about upcoming networking events in your region. With a little effort, you can fight depression while increasing your employment opportunities for the coming years.

Embrace the Season

It’s easy to write off winter as that long and pointless period after the end-of-year holidays and before spring rolls around. However, thinking of the cold-weather months in this manner will likely just increase your feelings of depression. Instead, freelancers and others should try to embrace the benefits of winter.

Schedule time to participate in your favorite winter activities, such as outdoor ice skating, skiing, and sledding with the kids. You can also enjoy indoor winter treats, like hot cocoa, roaring fires, and cuddling on the couch with your sweetie after work. So, the next time you’re feeling blue, strive to celebrate winter instead of disparaging it.