Grow Smart BusinessUMDNetwork Solutions


Small Business Success Index 4

Index Score*   Grade
73 marginal
Capital Access 67
Marketing & Innovation 65
Workforce 76
Customer Service 88
Computer Technology 73
Compliance 92
*Index score is calculated on a 1-100 scale.
homepreneur

Search Articles

Posts Tagged ‘small business’


From the GrowSmartBiz Conference: Customer Service as a Differentiator for Small Businesses

November 12th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

‘There is a general cultural of bad customer service in this country.”

Barry Moltz began his presentation, Customer Service Is the New Marketing, at the GrowSmartBusiness Conference on November 5 with the above statement.  As a prolific author and sought-after speaker on entrepreneurship (he has started three companies and founded an angel investing fund), Barry focused on the incredibly important role customer service now plays in a company’s growth and success.  (His engaging and entertaining presentation was based on his newest book, BAM! Delivering Customer Service in a Self-Service World.)

As he alluded to in his presentation, small business owners have a competitive advantage over large companies because we consistently deliver exceptional customer service to our clients.  I can only name three large companies that have built their cultures around customer service: Apple, Zappos, and Nordstrom.  (Maybe this is a trick question, but are there any others you can add to the list?)

Following are excerpts from Barry’s presentation, per my furiously scribbled notes:

“In a world with no boundaries, the only sustainable competitive advantage is excellent customer service.

‘There are a lot of myths associated with customer service.  These myths have to be busted, because the customer is not always right.  Under-promising and over-delivering is not a customer service strategy.  Unhappy customers are not part of doing business.  Customers do not only care about low price….

“Good customer service is whatever a customer says it is in a particular instant on a particular day.  Instead of asking, ‘How can I help you?’, ask ‘How can I make your day better?’

“To ensure your customer service is as good as it can be, put together a customer service manifesto to clearly explain what your customers can expect from you. It should include the following:

  • Deliver on what you promise
  • Listen to your customers
  • When things go wrong, be reachable
  • Resolve issues in a reasonable amount of time
  • Admit mistakes
  • Empower employees to resolve issues
  • Make it easy to stop doing business with you (in direct contrast to cell phone and cable companies, as Barry pointed out)
  • Don’t charge nuisance fees or surcharges
  • Treat your customers with respect and dignity
  • Don’t change the rules without prior notification (cough—credit card companies—cough)

“To get useful feedback from your customers, ask the following four questions:

  1. Why did you choose to do business with us?
  2. Did anyone do a good or bad job servicing you?
  3. Do you plan to use us in the future?
  4. Can you tell any friends, colleagues, or business partners about our business?”

Employee Management Lessons From the Military

November 9th, 2010 :: Karen Axelton

By Karen Axelton

Would your employees rather be working for a drill sergeant than for you? Quite probably, according to the results of a new survey of the “10 Most Blissful Workplaces” by CareerBliss, a website that helps people find joy at work.

The results of CareerBliss’s study showed that despite multiple ongoing engagements, lengthy deployments, and lower pay, the U.S. military is among the most blissful places to work in America.

Military personnel were more satisfied at work than many in the private sector. All four major branches of the military and the Army National Guard outranked well-known companies such as Disney, Johnson & Johnson and Microsoft in overall happiness.

Drilling down to specific aspects of happiness, The U.S. Army and the Army National Guard ranked number one and number two, respectively, out of all places of employment in career advancement, topping corporations such as Google and PricewaterhouseCoopers. CareerBliss also found that, on average, military members are happier with their benefit packages than employees in companies such as General Electric and Qualcomm.

What are some reasons military members love their jobs—and how can a small business owner emulate the military?

Security. Job security is a key reason U.S. military members valued their workplace. If you’re in danger of having to lay off employees, try everything you can to avoid it – whether it’s cutting hours, cutting pay or cutting overhead. Employees who know you’ll do everything you can to stick by them will be more loyal to you in return.

Development. The military places a high priority on personal and professional development for employees. Offer your workers chances to improve their skills, whether by cross-training them, giving them flexible schedules to take college courses or further their business training, or signing them up for online webinars and industry training events.

Camaraderie. The bonds forged in the military enable members of the armed forces to do the impossible. Foster an environment of teamwork, friendship and caring in your business, and you’ll create the same kinds of strong ties. When you and your employees truly trust and care for each other, there’s nothing you won’t do to get the job done.

Small Biz Resource Tip: The Company Corporation

November 3rd, 2010 :: Rieva_L

Incorporate.com

S Corporation, LLC, partnership or something else altogether? How you structure your business not only affects your taxes, it also protects your personal financial and legal assets. Once you choose a legal structure, changing that structure is not a simple feat-so do your research beforehand and learn all you can. The Company Corporation website contains pages and pages of helpful information to help you decide on the right structure for you. The site also contains personalized information by industry. Then, once you’ve decided which route to go, you can incorporate or register your LLC right online. The Company Corporation is a one-stop shop where you can also purchase the appropriate business licenses and permits for your business, along with registering your business name and more.

DISCLAIMER: The information posted in this blog is provided for informational purposes. Legal information is not the same as legal advice — the application of law to an individual’s specific circumstances. The information presented here is not to be construed as legal or tax advice. Network Solutions recommends that you consult an attorney or tax consultant if you want professional assurance that the information posted, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular business.

How to Manage Twitter When You Have a Zillion Followers

October 28th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

By Monika Jansen

Every time I get a new Twitter follower, I look to see how many people they follow and how many people follow them (I’m at twitter.com/monikacjansen—feel free to look me up).  When I see numbers in the tens of thousands, I think, how the heck do they manage all those followers?

I did some research and found the answer.  Three answers, actually:

  1. Good tools
  2. Selective communication
  3. Regular housecleaning

1. Good Tools

An online application or platform that helps you manage your social networks is absolutely essential, because it will organize your Twitter feed for you.  I thought everyone used one, but based on what I read, that is definitely not the case! I happen to use Hootsuite, which I really like.  Every morning, I log in to check Twitter and Facebook.  My direct messages (DMs) and mentions (@s) on Twitter are aggregated in their own columns, so I look there first.  I’ll briefly skim what other people are posting, too, but I only visit Twitter briefly and once a day since I also have to work.

Two other popular tools that can help you manage Twitter are Seesmic and Tweetdeck.   It doesn’t matter what you use, just use something!

2. Selective Communication

I do not strike up a conversation with everyone who follows me.  I use Twitter to share information on B2B, social media, and small business marketing, not to make friends.  The first thing I do every morning is check my personal and professional e-mail.  Then I spend around 10-15 minutes checking Twitter and Facebook.  I reply to most DMs and mentions, which doesn’t take long, and look for new people to follow.

3. Regular Housecleaning

Because quality, not quantity, of Twitter followers is important, it’s a good idea to regularly clean your Twitter house.  Friend or Follow creates three lists for you: who is not following you back, who you are not following back, and who your mutual friends are.  Simply plug in your Twitter user name, and the first thing that pops up is a list of people who are not following you back.  (I was shocked by who was not following me!  But then I realized most of them are not active on Twitter.)

Use Who Follows Whom to find more people whom the power users in your circle follow.  It is a really great way to increase the quality of your followers.  You can type in up to five names.

Image by Flickr user yushimoto_02 (Creative Commons)

Mobile Marketing Is the Next Big Thing

October 26th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

By Monika Jansen

Mobile devices are very hot in marketing right now (think apps and website-mobile browser compatibility).  So I figured mobile marketing would be the next big thing.  I did some research.  What I found really surprised me.

Based on my research, the key to a successful mobile marketing strategy will not rely on push marketing (text messages or e-mails), but rather geo-location social networking sites like Gowalla, Foursquare, Facebook Places, and Yelp.  According to a recent survey by JiWire, more than 50 percent of mobile users would like to receive location-specific advertising and another 39 percent would like to receive location-based coupons.  Coupled with the popularity of the above-mentioned sites, there is a huge marketing opportunity in the mobile space, especially for small businesses. Here’s a closer look.

Gowalla

Gowalla is a mobile app that lets users find and share information on businesses and hotspots and pick up coupons from restaurants, stores, and venues when they’re out and about.  Users can collect stamps in a passport for the places they visit, share photos with friends, and comment on the places friends go.

Mobile marketing possibilities: Coupons and special promotions are a great way to attract new customers.

Foursquare

Like Gowalla, Foursquare is a mobile app, but there is less emphasis on traveling.  Foursquare users “check in” at restaurants, stores, clubs, and other locations, which is then broadcast to other Foursquare users. If you check in to the same business a lot, you can become a “mayor” of that location, which is a big deal.

Mobile marketing possibilities: Awesome!  Offer coupons to mayors and/or people who check in, but be creative.  Users can access area maps to see other specials being offered at nearby businesses and which businesses are the most popular.  Foursquare also provides information on the people who check in at your business, which can only benefit your marketing efforts.

Facebook Places

Facebook Places was launched this year to compete directly against Foursquare. When a Facebook user “checks in” to a business, their location is published on their Facebook wall, and they can then see which friends have also “checked in.”

Mobile marketing potential: 500 million users and counting.  Enough said.

Yelp

Yelp is a user-generated website featuring reviews of businesses, services, locations and events. The mobile version has an interactive map that allows users to “check in” at locations. After “unlocking” your location, you can offer coupons, update your business’s information, and promote events.

Mobile marketing potential:  Because so many businesses hate Yelp due to their very secretive process of choosing which reviews to display, I am not sure how many businesses will use them.  But with 33 million users, the potential to reach a lot of potential customers is pretty good.

Image by Flickr user dennoir (Creative Commons)

New WOSB Rule Expands Women’s Access to Federal Contracts

October 22nd, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Rieva Lesonsky

Women-owned small businesses have long been struggling to get their share of federal government contracting opportunities. With the recent finalization of the SBA’s Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) rule, they will get a much-needed boost.

It has long been a goal, but never achieved, that 5 percent of federal contracting dollars should go to women-owned small businesses. To help reach that goal, a rule to help women get greater access to federal contracts was first authorized by Congress back in 2000. The SBA proposed various draft rules over the years, but many met with controversy and outrage on the part of women entrepreneurs.

When President Obama took office, his administration started fresh and the SBA drafted a brand-new rule that took into account all the studies, public comments and research that had gone before.

The final rule identifies 83 industries where WOSBs are underrepresented or substantially underrepresented in federal procurement. It also eliminates a requirement included in a prior proposed rule that would have prevented federal agencies from participating unless each agency certified it had formerly discriminated against women-owned small businesses. Finally, it established a $5 million ceiling for manufacturing-related contracts and a $3 million ceiling for other products and services. (You can read more details of the final rule at the SBA’s website.)

According to SBA Administrator Karen Mills, “Women-owned businesses are one of the fastest growing sectors of our nation’s economy, and even during the economic downturn of the last few years, have been one of the key job creation engines in communities across the country. Despite their growth and the fact that women lead some of the strongest and most innovative companies, women-owned firms continue to be under-represented in the federal contracting marketplace. This rule will be a platform for changing that by providing greater opportunities for women-owned small businesses to compete for and win federal contracts.”

The next stage in the process is implementation. The SBA and the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council have 120 days to create the technology and program infrastructure needed. The SBA estimates contracts will become available to WOSBs early next year.

7 Ways a Virtual Office Could Help Your Small Business Grow

October 22nd, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

I work from home, and I have for a long time.  I love it.  I have a very short commute, can dress as I like, grab a nap if I need one, work outside on the deck if I choose, and get household chores out of the way when I need a break. With no distractions from coworkers, I can focus on my work and get it done quickly.

Not everyone can work efficiently or effectively from home, though.  If you’ve been spending more time working at the local café, Starbucks, or even hotel lobby than in your home office, you should consider renting a virtual office.  If your business is in an industry that prides itself on appearances as much as results, you definitely need a virtual office.

Here are 7 ways a virtual office could help your small business grow:

  1. Keep work separate from home. When you work from home, there is no transition from your professional to your personal life.  And unless you have a home office separate from the rest of the house, it can be hard to focus on work.
  2. Work feels “real.” Unless your office is professional and well-organized, it can be easy to be sloppy, and if you look and feel sloppy, your work might end up following suit.  If you’re going to an office every day, you will look, act, and work professionally.
  3. Professional address. In certain industries, like government contracting, it’s beneficial to have an address in a professional office building.  The receptionists can accept packages for you and you don’t have to worry about hiding your home address on your marketing materials.
  4. Answering service. Many virtual offices offer or include answering services with your virtual office.  Having a professional receptionist answer your phone, take messages, and schedule meetings will make your company look bigger than it is.
  5. Meeting space. When you are meeting with prospective, new, or existing clients, investors, or partners, a nice conference room is a zillion times better than Starbucks or a hotel.  You’ll have AV equipment and white boards at your disposal, too.
  6. Save money. Because virtual offices don’t require a long-term lease, you can better manage your cash flow, reduce overhead, and save money.  You can rent offices part-time or full-time, and you can increase or decrease the size of your office space as needed.
  7. Central location. I have yet to hear of a virtual office that isn’t in a central location.  When your address is in a highly visible business district, your clients and partners will notice, and they might just take your company more seriously.

Image by Flickr user unuyi_gaze (Creative Commons)

When Hiring Workers With Disabilities, Businesses Fall Short

October 20th, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Karen Axelton

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. But 20 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), things have not gotten better for employees with disabilities, reports a new study conducted by Harris Interactive for the Kessler Foundation and National Organization on Disability.

Just 21 percent of all working-age people with disabilities have jobs, compared to 59 percent of working-age people without a disability, according to the Kessler Foundation/National Organization on Disability 2010 Survey of Employment of Americans with Disabilities.

Most employers say employees with disabilities have the same abilities and workplace behaviors as employees without disabilities. (Interestingly, 35 percent think employees with disabilities have more dedication, and 33 percent think they have less turnover). Most employers also say the cost of hiring a person with a disability to be the same as hiring a person without a disability. And most employers say hiring employees with disabilities is important.

But companies are not putting their money where their mouths are. Just 56 percent of employers have hired someone with a disability in the past three years. Large (74 percent) and midsized (68 percent) companies are much more likely than small companies (43 percent) to have done so.

Is the economy to blame? Kessler Foundation president and CEO Rodger DeRose says the economy is disproportionately affecting people with disabilities, but believes lack of awareness among employers is also a factor. Of the 70 percent of companies that have diversity policies or programs, only two-thirds include disability as a component.

The situation has actually worsened since a prior survey was done in 1995. Fewer companies today have either a disability policy or program (29 percent in 2010 compared to 66 percent in 1995). Nineteen percent of companies have a specific person or department that oversees the hiring of people with disabilities, down from 40 percent in 1995. And just 18 percent of companies offer an education program to help integrate people with disabilities into the workplace, down from 63 percent in 1995.

For companies considering hiring as the economy picks up, employees with disabilities can be a “ready talent pool of … dependable workers,” said NOD President Carol Glazer. “Hiring people with disabilities can expand the productive power of [a business’s] work force.” Find more information and advice about hiring people with disabilities on the NOD website.

Image by Flickr user man pikin (Creative Commons)

Today’s Consumer: What You Need to Know Now

October 18th, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Rieva Lesonsky

The recession may technically be over, but all it takes is one look at the headlines to know it’s not over in the minds—and budgets—of Americans. The financial meltdown has had some significant effects on how consumers shop, what they buy and how they make spending choices.

One of the most comprehensive studies of just how consumers have changed was undertaken by Euro RSCG Worldwide, which published the results in a white paper, “The New Consumer.” The study polled nearly 6,000 adults worldwide. Here’s a closer look at the trends they found and what they mean for your business.

Trend: Mindful consumption. Seventy-two percent of survey respondents say they are shopping more mindfully; 63 percent are more demanding. Consumers are looking online (62 percent) for the information to help them make smart decisions. That means your business needs to be online, with a website that makes it easy for customers to get answers to any questions about your product or service. Also make sure you’re easy to find in search results and that you’re taking advantage of review and local search sites like Local.com or Yelp!.

Trend: Information overload. Customers are overwhelmed by the seemingly limitless options out there—whether it’s 50 varieties of toothpaste at the drugstore or 20,000 search results. The good news is that it’s easy for small businesses to ease that overload. Emphasize simplicity on your site or in your services. Make your store a haven where customers can choose from a few, select offerings. Offer personalized help to guide them.

Trend: Going local. More than half of consumers said they want to know where products they buy are made; 57 percent make an effort to support local manufacturers or craftspeople. Again, here’s an area where small businesses have an advantage. Play up the fact that you’re local. Create marketing materials that tell the story of how your products are made and highlight the real people behind your business.

Trend: Social responsibility. This isn’t a new trend, but it’s still going strong. Fifty-seven percent of respondents say they seek out companies that share their values; 49 percent prefer to buy from companies that have a socially responsible purpose. Get involved in causes—whether on a local, national or global scale-and let your customers know about it.

Trend: Craving connection. It’s no secret today’s business world is more connected than ever. Today’s customers want to feel a connection with the businesses they buy from. Once more, your small company has an edge. Whether online or offline, make an ongoing effort to build community with customers—and you’ll connect with bigger sales and a more loyal clientele.

Image by Flickr user markhillary (Creative Commons)

Now is the Right Times to Spend on Online Technology according to SBSI Report

September 30th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

Small business owners are routinely confronted with a difficult decision: when is the right time to spend money on the business. The question becomes significantly more complex when you’re considering spending that money on online technology. It’s evolving quickly — what is cutting-edge for your industry today may be obsolete next week. Despite these concerns, however, making the investment in the right tools for your company is necessary.

In the survey that resulted in the most recent Small Business Success Index, small business owners reported lower levels of spending on online technology. While there’s still plenty of spending on social media — adoption rates held steady at 24 percent — adoption of other technologies dropped. That includes technologies ranging from websites to online advertising.

Getting Ahead of the Game

If your key competitors are small businesses, this information means that there is an opportunity to get ahead of them with some carefully considered investments into your business’ online technology. The best opportunities depend on your industry: if you’re in a particularly tech-heavy field, you may need to be moving towards the latest and greatest social media opportunities. A particularly heavy investment may not be so important if you’re in an industry where your competition is slow to adopt new technology. Many individual professionals, for instance, have been slower to roll out new websites and other online marketing efforts, creating a gap where you can move forward if you’re willing to put some money into the online technologies that will help you reach out to new customers or even manage your business more effectively.

The difficult consideration is choosing where to invest your time and money. If you’re planning to handle each step internally, it can take time for you or one of your employees to get up to speed on the fast moving developments among website tools and the like. Simply for the sake of efficiency, it may be worth focusing your initial spending on tools or consultants that can bring you up to speed quickly. It’s perfectly possible for a small business to build its own online technology, but it is often at the cost of taking away from your core competencies.

Focus Energy on the Big Wins

When it comes to online technology, there will always be low-hanging fruit: something as simple as building a basic website can transform your business if you haven’t already done so. Similarly, there are ways to get the most bang for your buck with social media or SEO. By going after the big wins first, you’ll get significant benefits. The opposite approach — doing each step perfectly and optimizing it as much as possible before moving on — will get you the maximum benefit, but only over a longer time frame. By looking for the biggest changes you can make, you can start reaping the benefits fast enough that you’ll be able to easily spend time and money on the smaller tweaks later on.

That approach can extend beyond marketing technologies. There are many online technologies that can help with other facets of your business, although the marketing tools often offer the biggest upfront wins. New inventory systems, bookkeeping tools and other technologies are also worth investigating.

Image by Flickr user Michael Surran