About Austin Ries

Austin is the Small Business Correspondent at Zoho Corp. He writes about various topics concerning your small business from current events to helpful tips as well as how Zoho products can benefit you.

Are Small Business Incubators the Future?

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iStock_000021656315XSmallI’ve been to Las Vegas once in my life. A group of friends and I made the trip in November 2009 to celebrate a close friend’s bachelor party. Yes, we had a good time. No, it wasn’t anything like the cliché “Vegas baby Vegas,” experience we’ve come to expect thanks to Hollywood.

Either way, the Vegas strip is an incredible spectacle. People are everywhere. Buildings stretch to the sky like a stack of chips on a heater. Roller coasters weave and duck right above the sidewalks and you can eat your weight at any of the mile-long buffets.

Think about the image you have of Las Vegas. Casinos, hotels, money, expensive food and live shows. Doesn’t exactly describe a mecca or hub for entrepreneurs and small business owners working to establish their product in a city overrun with people in search of nothing but brand names, or who are even aware Las Vegas exists beyond the four-mile-long strip.

As much as the casinos and hotel feed the city’s economy, most people on the strip are not citizens. They are tourists in town for two to five days and then gone faster than Lady Luck at the craps or blackjack table. Local businesses aren’t making money off tourists. They have to appeal to the citizens of Las Vegas in a location that appeals specifically to them. That’s why I found this recent story so fascinating.

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Could You Work at a “Bossless” Office?

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Menlo Innovation headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich. Photo by Elise Hu/NPR

Menlo Innovation headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Photo by Elise Hu/NPR

The modern workplace is at it again. Every day there’s a story about another company throwing conventional office rules out the window — no dress code, work from home, bring your dog, cat, parakeet, or python to the office — and blazing the trail toward a new way of thinking. This time, the traditional hierarchy of a company is in question.

No managers. No team leaders. No bosses.

If you’re a small business owner, this concept isn’t that unusual. In fact, most small business owners open their own place for just this reason. But can it work on a larger scale with 50 or more employees outside of Sir Thomas Malory’s Camelot or Alexandre Dumas’ 17th century France? Can a group of people govern themselves in an office environment with a “Round Table,” or “all for one, one for all,” mantra?

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Small Business Stories You Might Have Missed

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iStock_000019991402XSmallIt’s time for another installment in our ongoing series, “Small Business Stories You Might Have Missed.” At Zoho, we hope this series is helping you stay in touch with small business news and also giving you helpful tips to improve the state of your own business.

This week, we will be looking at everything from how good writing can improve your business’ online presence to the importance of embracing new technology.

Want to learn more about how you can better reach your audience in 2013 and the future? We have an article for that too.

So grab your laptop or tablet and a cup of coffee, and enjoy!

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The 5 Types of Candidates You Should Know About

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By now you know that recruiting an ideal candidate for your company is more than just looking at his or her resumé and cover letter, or calling a few references. You have to bring the candidate in for a face-to-face meeting and interview.

Successful business interviewThat’s because finding the right fit for your company isn’t just a list of qualifications, degrees and experience. It’s about finding a personality that fits your company’s culture and goals. You have to get a feel for how they interact with other people in a professional environment.

Unique personalities are what makes the human race so diverse and every relationship or interaction exciting. So when you start looking at resumés and cover letters, it’s important to know you will run into many different types of candidates from shy and sensitive types to extroverts. That is why it is crucial to know about the different types of job candidates you could potentially interview so you ask the right questions and get the best person for the job.

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Stress is Part of the Job: Handle it Like a Pro

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iStock_000016076514XSmallWe have a fun and relaxed environment here at the Zoho Austin office. From group lunches to inside jokes and the occasional game of ping pong, we enjoy coming to work each day and enjoy interacting with each other.

But no matter how much fun we have, there comes a time when we all have to get things done. Unfortunately, stress and work go together like pickup trucks at a gun range — especially for salespeople.

More than any other position, sales can be extremely stressful. Talking to clients or potential customers on the phone, meeting monthly or weekly goals and managing your pipeline all contribute to a large amount of stress that can have a negative impact on both your professional and personal life.

How common is stress at work? A reported 8 out of 10 people say they are stressed from their job and another study says 76 percent of all people report the top two causes of stress in the United States are job pressure and money.

One of the biggest problems with stress is how it impacts physical and psychological health. In fact, of people who feel stressed from work, 77 percent reportedly suffer physical symptoms and 73 percent suffer from psychological symptoms. Research has shown that when you suffer from stress, you are unable to utilize previous knowledge or training and instead resort to an automated response of shutting down or convincing yourself you can’t reach your goal. In sales, losing your confidence can be paralyzing. Read more

Small Business Stories You Might Have Missed

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iStock_000015589126XSmallWelcome back to our ongoing series geared toward getting you the stories and information you need to improve your small business. As a small business owner, you can never stop reading about the state of the market or learning new ways to improve and expand. That’s where we come in.

So in case you didn’t have a chance to read the tens of thousands of articles or Facebook posts since our last installment, here are some of the most useful and interesting stories we came across.

Getting the Most from Your Blog

Blogs used to be the butt of a number of jokes that usually revolved around an unemployed “writer” in his or her parent’s basement eating Cheetos or Twinkies. However, this is far from the truth. Blogs have since become an essential part of a business’ SEO value and overall online presence.

Getting a blog is no problem. Providing quality, shareable content three to five days a week is the challenge. This article from Search Engine Journal addresses this very issue. From organizing thoughts and ideas in an editorial calendar to simple tips on coming up with blog post ideas, you will immediately improve your company’s blog overnight. Read more

Want Loyal Customers? You Have to Earn Them

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friendly mechanic handshaking with familyI was stuck in traffic the other morning going to work. The right lane was closed for construction so the approaching vehicles were all corralling into the left lane. Unfortunately, at nine in the morning on one of the busiest streets in Austin, Texas, this process doesn’t happen quickly.

The vehicle in front me was a delivery truck for an Austin-based liquor store called Twin Liquors. I’ve seen these trucks countless times before, but I never looked too closely at the logo on the back. Funny what five minutes of stop and go traffic makes you notice.

The logo is nothing special. A circle with an illustration of the two founders — heads and shoulders only similar to a bust — but it was the line below them that caught my attention.

“Trust Twins.”

It’s as simple of a line as you can think of. Trust Twins. Trust our product. Trust our service. Trust us.

This phrase really stuck with me because of its transparency but also because of its ambition. Getting your customers to trust your products and brand is one of the most essential components for success. Essential, and yet oftentimes, the most difficult.

For small business owners, gaining the trust of customers and clients can make or break your bottom line. Just think about the places of business you frequent yourself. Why are you loyal to that brand or keep returning? Why do you recommend the company to a friend? Because you trust they will not only have the product or service you are looking for, but also trust you will be treated with respect. You trust that your presence and dollar is valued.

On the other hand, it’s incredibly easy to lose your customers’ trust by making mistakes. This can be anything from not delivering on a promise you made to not being honest with your customers or providing bad customer service.

So let’s look at some ways you can immediately start earning loyalty with customers.

Learn From the Big Boys

Okay, not everyone’s business will be as big as Coca Cola, Amazon or Apple, but that doesn’t mean you can’t study how they gain customer loyalty. In many cases, these companies have risen and stayed on top not because of sales or share in the marketplace, but because they have made it a priority to establish relationships and trust with its customers.

Former global marketing officer of Procter & Gamble Jim Stengel told Entrepreneur, “we’re seeing more of an emphasis on brands building emotional relationships with consumers because it’s powerful and it works.”

Need examples? Amazon, arguably the most trusted brand in America, earns its customers’ loyalty and trust by offering low prices, free shipping on many orders and a convenient check-out system so customers can shop and buy hassle-free.

Southwest Airlines breaks all conventional rules of the airline industry by not charging for checking bags to offering open seating and even having fun and engaging flight attendants who impersonate Elvis or sing the safety directions before take-off.

The fast food restaurant Chick-fil-A offers unprecedented customer service to every person who walks through their doors. Yes they have a tasty product and “invented the chicken sandwich,” but they also treat every customer with respect. Customers like to feel important and at Chick-fil-A, you feel like the most important person in the world. You trust that every time you walk in those doors you will be greeted with a smile and hear the words, “my pleasure,” from every employee.

Prove You Trust Your Customers 

Trust is a two-way street so before you can expect customers to trust your brand or product, they need to feel like you trust them. There are a number of companies that have success because they established trust with customers by first proving they believe in their customers.

High end department store Nordstrom has a reputation for offering great customer service by trusting customers returning items. In fact, the store was rumored to have taken back a set of snow tires despite never selling tires in the first place.

And while this story is somewhat a myth, Nordstrom has gained the trust of its customers by promising to accept items the customer claims are defective, no questions asked. And they deliver on that promise.

Realize Trust Takes Time

Building loyal relationships and trust with your customers doesn’t happen over night. Earning trust is not about doing something right one time. It’s about proving yourself over and over again with every customer who walks through your doors.

This includes making sure you are doing your job well day in and day out. From creating great products or offering exceptional services to being innovative in your field and keeping your promises, building trust happens across multiple platforms over consecutive months and years.

Don’t lose patience. Customers notice when companies deliver on promises, but more importantly, they notice more when companies fail to deliver. Study companies that consumers trust, as well as companies that have lost the trust of the public so you can begin developing quality relationships that keep your customers coming back time and time again.