About Sarah

Sarah is a Product Marketer @ Zoho Campaigns.

Hiring freeze? Consider the part-time solution

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This is a guest post by Craig Keolanui of SmBizSuccessTeam. To read more from Craig, visit his blog.

Today’s slowly moving economy has made many small business owners have second thoughts about hiring any new help. Many businesses are starting to experience more growth, which inadvertently puts extra stress on an already thin staff. Following over two years of adjustments, staffing levels are at all time lows and many businesses are now finally starting to look for some relief.

Part-time help makes sense. If your company has experienced slow growth, you might remain fearful about the effect hiring will have on your bottom line. Adding part-time help can alleviate some of that stress by helping out where needed without adding the extra cost of a full-timer to your payroll.

  • Part-time help allows you to plug holes in the schedule and gives added flexibility.
  • Part-time help is cheaper in State and Federal taxes and benefits.
  • Part-time help usually costs less per hour.
  • Just like using a temp, you can always offer a part-time person a full-time position if they work out and your business keeps growing.
  • There has never been a better time to find highly qualified applicants in the part-time workforce pool.

Part-time employees are no longer minimum wage misfits. There are many things to worry about when considering part-time employees, but rest them aside and watch as the part-time workforce continues to evolve.

  • Many part-time employees are more experienced and educated. Many American workers have been displaced from careers (experience); and others are going to school in order to broaden employment opportunities (more education). This leaves a workforce that is highly skilled and willing to accept part-time work.
  • Part-time employees are willing to give more than the job requires, if they see room for advancement. Many qualified applicants are willing to do whatever it takes to get a foot in the door. Why not let that door be yours? Part-time employees care and many treat a part-time job as full-time and continue to work or think about work after hours.
  • Part-time employees typically accept lower wages in order to fit the job into their current schedule. Providing a flexible schedule is a great exchange for an out-of-work professional to take a part-time job that offers less than their profession would normally pay.

What about going with a temp? Everyone knows temporary help can get you through the extra work load without the worry of adding a permanent salary. However, it is costly and you can avoid the frequent learning curve required with temps. Save the commission you’d be paying and hire part-timers with different specialties, so you can get the best for less.

Either way you look at it, part-time help can no longer be ignored and should be revisited. There are plenty of professionals out there chomping at the bit to just get the opportunity to get in your door. Now is the right time to consider letting one of them in.

Do you know who your customers are?

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This is a guest post by Sandra Faleris of SmBizSuccessTeam. To read more from Sandra, visit her blog.

Used to be customer demographics led marketing departments’ strategies. Mass media filled the bill for just about any retail-oriented small business that had a decent-size advertising budget. Vertical publications used to be one of the few vehicles with which business-to-business companies could reach their targets.

It was a shotgun approach but didn’t require “keeping up with the Zuckerbergs, Brins, Pages or Hoffmans”. These days, social media and online advertising can more directly reach your target audience, depending on who they are.

Yet, there are still oodles of customers who are dying to spend their money with companies that answer their phones and offer the personal touch during their purchase.

Loyalty has slipped in place of value. Value means different things to different ages and walks of life. Some might think ‘speed and price’ equals value. Others might equate a long-winded sales approach as “top-notch customer service”. There are also those who want “quality over price” and, of course, those who want “quality and price”.

Now, more than ever before, it is important to know who your customers are and how they, specifically, define value. According to statistics gathered from Facebook by Advertising Age*, the largest group of Facebook users are between the ages of 21-24 yrs. (17.5% male, 16.6% female), followed by the 35-44 age group (15.3% male, 15.4% female). The smallest group of users was the 64+ (4.5% male, 4.8% female), followed by the 55-63 group (5.5% male, 7.2% female).

Text messaging and the use of cell phone statistics are similar to that of Facebook users. Young adults are the most avid text users by a wide margin. Cell owners between the ages of 18 and 24 exchange an average of 109.5 messages on a normal day. (Source: www.pewinternet.org)

It is important to determine the age group of your current and prospective customers. Advertising, marketing and branding efforts need to match the media habits of your target audience to get the biggest bank for the buck.

Knowing who your customers are and what they expect will become increasingly important to the success of your business. So if you don’t know social media and your customers are over 50+ years of age, your strategy should remain with mass media, direct mail and promotions. This group’s definition of value is likely to be within the “quality plus price” category, which may mean they want severe discounting on quality goods/services.

If your customers are in the demographic groups that are in the highest ‘user’ groups for Facebook, mobile use and texting, then you better jump on the Internet and get educated. This groups’ idea of value is likely to be “speed and price”, so the use of mobile marketing and social media that catches them when they’re ready to buy, might be the best route.

The bottom line is that the more you know about the demographics and psychographics of your customer, the easier it will be to understand their idea of value which will help attract and garner a new stable of users.

It’s a long and ever-changing lesson on marketing in the 21st century, but worth the education.

No employee left behind: When an employee is struggling

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This is a guest post by Shabana Shiliwala, who owns The Financial Sort, a financial planning company based in Austin, Texas.

Take a look at your last auto repair receipt. What makes up the majority of the cost of the repair? Labor. You don’t need to ask an accountant what is often the largest expense on an income statement. Labor. Why is labor so costly? Because it’s the most valuable asset your business has.

Finding the right staff and keeping them happy and productive is one of your greatest challenges as a business owner. Your staff have an impact on your company’s image, profitability, ability to meet project deadlines and level of customer satisfaction. But their performance is also dependent on your management skills, so when an employee’s performance is suffering, ask yourself first “Could the problem be me?”

Micromanaging. Why does this sabotage productivity? Because all your employees want to feel recognized for their talents and trusted in their abilities to accomplish their tasks. When you micromanage, you’re sending the message that you aren’t confident in your staff’s capabilities. If that’s the case, why did you hire them in the first place? By implying that you have such low expectations of your staff, you’re taking away their opportunity to shine. Allow your staff to show you why you hired them by letting them do what they do best.

Lack of direction. If you find that your staff aren’t doing their work, maybe it’s because they don’t know what to do or don’t have enough to do. When you make sure they understand what work is their responsibility, when it needs to be done, and why it’s important, you’re giving your staff a sense of purpose. Check in with them during a short daily or weekly meeting to assign tasks, prioritize continuing projects and hear their progress.

Not enough communication. Rumors are often at the root of low morale. If your staff aren’t hearing the news from you first about what’s really happening, they can only guess. Don’t provide an opportunity for rumors to fester and create discontent: nip rumors in the bud by showing your staff that you’ll always be upfront and honest with them. After all, your staff are invested in your company almost as much as you–their livelihoods are dependent on it. Let them know before anyone else about major developments and involve them in making important decisions.

No positive reinforcement. It’s your responsibility to keep your staff motivated. What’s the best way to motivate them? Bring out their competitive side with contests and coveted prizes? Offer a carrot with a performance bonus? Foster ambition with promotion opportunities? It certainly won’t hurt to try any or all of those options. Or it could be as simple as making a point to regularly let your staff know that they’re doing good work and you appreciate them.

If an employee is underperforming, look to yourself first to find out the cause. Since every employee is a valuable asset to your company, are you doing enough to make sure no employee is left behind?

Leveraging your Staff’s Strengths for a Better Business

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This is a guest post by Shabana Shiliwala, who owns The Financial Sort, a financial planning company based in Austin, Texas.

As a small business owner with a limited number of staff, you have to make the most of each employee to run your business–the receptionist also does marketing activities, the accountant also does event planning, etc. So if there’s a part of your business that isn’t running as well as it should, maybe it’s because you don’t have the right person doing it.

“What are your strengths and weaknesses?” is a question you most likely asked each of your employees during their job interviews. Now that you know them better, were their self- assessments accurate? What makes each of them tick? Observing their talents and strengths is the first step in understanding how to delegate tasks to the best person for the job.

Customer service: When someone in the office is sick, who is the first person to ask how he/she is doing? Who always gets a laugh out of everyone even in tense situations? Some people have a natural ability to see what others need and put them at ease, which are exactly the qualities required to provide excellent customer service: offering assistance at just the right moment by noticing when a customer is overwhelmed or confused and knowing how to engage customers to feel good about purchasing a product or service.

Event planning: Who always brings up the idea for an office Secret Santa, potluck or lunch outing, then takes the initiative to organize it? Who has the neatest cubicle area? Making sure your next event goes smoothly means not only having someone holding the reins who is analytical and thorough enough to not miss a single detail, but is also persistent and organized enough so that everyone involved knows what to do and stays motivated.

Marketing: You know who has an “eye” when you see it–how they dress, the type of greeting card they give you, the comments they make about advertisements. Whether it’s artistic talent or a sense of style, what matters is that you take notice and are impressed–exactly the reaction you want from your marketing efforts. The next time you’re creating a flyer, store display or signage, harness the skills of the employee who has an “eye” for design.

Maximizing the strengths of each of your employees will help your business run better because you have the right people doing the right tasks. But there’s a bonus–your staff will enjoy their work more when they’re able to do what they’re best at doing, which your customers can’t help but notice. Happy staff = happy customers = happy business owner.

Looking to Expand your Business?

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This is a guest post by Craig Keolanui of SmBizSuccessTeam. To read more from Craig, visit his blog.

The slowly expanding economy has many business owners wondering about their next step. For some businesses that next step might be hiring another employee or leasing some extra space next door, but for others that might mean adding an additional location. Another way to expand is to license your original business model/concept to others or even consider going the route of franchising.

Many business owners view expansion as additional sales and minimized potential costs. For example, hiring additional employees or leasing adjoining office spaces are low risk moves that can be easily reversed.

1. Opening up an additional location offers great rewards, but higher risk.
If you are looking to open up a new location, you will bear many start-up costs that you might not have realized opening the original location.

Phones, internet, rent, equipment and payroll can’t be shared between locations. However, marketing, supplies and other costs non-specific to location can be. Payroll can be a big expense for location expansion, so be prepared. How will the new location be managed? How many people will you need to staff to start with?

Expansions do not necessarily mean double the sales. Your current location will, more than likely, lose 10-20% of your customers to your new location. Of course, the new location will take time to grow to the volume of your current location. So planning ahead with a realistic time table is paramount to your success.

2. Licensing is probably the easiest way to expand your business idea or concept without cost or responsibility.
What’s the catch? Licensing is tricky because you are not providing the support, once the license agreement is complete. You can offer a certain level of support, but there are regulations that prohibit too much assistance, as that would be taking on the role of a franchiser. Licenses are essentially selling your business model or idea to someone who is willing to assume the risk of expansion by using your formula and trade secrets.

A few pros and cons:

  • Licenses sell for a smaller price tag than franchises
  • Some offer a level of support, come with small royalties – your call
  • Licensers take no responsibility for operations or profits, once the trial period is over
  • It is difficult to control geographical licenses, or adherence to branding standards
  • If you have ideas that are “local” in nature, licenses can be a boon to expand your business idea without assuming any risk.

3. Franchising is a great thing to consider, especially if marketing, branding and consistency have been achieved.
If you have a secret formula that requires more details and marketing support to achieve success, franchising can be the right path. Like licensing, franchising allows you to expand your idea or business without cost, but the key is making sure you select operators who will maintain the quality of the concept. As a franchiser, you would need to consider the following:

  • What upfront fee and royalties to charge (Generally between 2-10% of sales. Source: Startuplawyer.com)
  • Costs for standard marketing supplies
  • Franchise marketing plan with branding standards
  • How much support will be provided

All forms of expansion require smart planning with accurate budgeting. If you’re going to need a loan or investors, you’ll need a sound business plan with vision that projects revenues, expenses, the break-even point and beyond.

Keep Your Customers Coming Back for More

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This is a guest post by Sandra Faleris of SmBizSuccessTeam. To read more from Sandra, visit her blog.

Customer retention is tricky during unstable economic times. Value has replaced loyalty in most non-luxury categories, which means customers want to know they are getting the most out of their money.

Do you realize that it costs five times more to attract a new, buying customer than it takes to get an existing customer to come back and buy from you again? That’s five times more you have to spend to get a customer who may be in it for just one purchase. That’s a lot of extra money that could be used to keep your current clients buying again and again.

Research conducted across industries by Bain & Co. indicates that increasing your customer retention by as little as 5% can increase the average net customer value by a whopping 30-95%.

It’s simple to implement a customer loyalty program that works but not all loyalty programs are successful. Some programs simply aren’t enough to engage a customer again and again.

If you want to create a successful program, here’s how to get started:

1.  Identify your best customers by profit (not volume or frequency, but profit). Identify the actual customers, if possible. Remember, the customers who generate the highest profit may be those you only hear from one-two times per year, so don’t go by familiarity. While you’re at it, you may as well pull out a lead list – customers to target for additional sales. Knowing your customers will continue to have growing importance.

2.   Discover what they like about your products. Find out what offers or improvements the different groups would find appealing. Since the “highest profit group” is likely to be your smallest group of buyers, it shouldn’t be that difficult to gather this information, depending on how your customers generally contact you. Phone, mail, in-person or online surveys are all easy and inexpensive methods. Make sure you have a decent-sized sample of responses before going to the next step.

3.  Define the most enticing offers isolated by your top spenders and subgroups. If you find they prefer to get something for free, then develop a frequency program that rewards based on dollars spent or a buy-one-get-one-free deal.

However, two things to remember:

1) If your biggest spenders comprise a fairly small group, then start small. Send a holiday or birthday gift; a thank-you note along with a coupon, a phone call that announces a private pre-sale for best customers. There are plenty of methods that shows them you have noticed.

2) Be imaginative and try a few different offers to see what works best. Review what works for other companies. Review what works for you, as a buyer. Review your customer feedback. Then develop a retention program that is a win-win for everyone.

Make no mistake, staying ahead of the game means rewarding the people who are putting money in your bank. Do it with insight and foresight and they will keep coming back for more.

Converting website visitors to customers

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This is a guest post by Shabana Shiliwala, who owns The Financial Sort, a financial planning company based in Austin, Texas.

Something about reading online shortens our attention spans. When was the last time you actually waited for a slow homepage to finish loading? If it takes longer than 30 seconds to find the information you’re looking for on a website, do you keep looking or go back to the Google search results to consult a different site (of which there are an infinite number)? It seems there’s an inverse relationship here–the more information is available to us, the less patience we have.

What does that mean for you as a business owner? You’ve got 30 seconds or less to convert visitors to your company website into customers. The easier and faster it is to get the information they need, the more likely customers will stay on your site long enough to purchase a product or service.

Keep the home page simple and clean. Less is more when it comes to the home page, because its sole purpose is to hold a visitor’s interest long enough to entice further exploration of your site. Since most visitors don’t make it past the home page, try to communicate as succinctly as possible how a visitor would benefit from spending more time on your site.

Make details optional. Some people need all the details before they can make buying decisions. Others are turned off by too much information. In order to keep both types happy, stick to the facts on the main interface and add an extra step, such as a “More” link, for those who want to read the details.

Highlight the keywords visitors want to see. When you visit a website, how do you read it? Like a book, starting with the first word on the page? Didn’t think so. Most of us scan the page to find the keywords that led us to the site in the first place to make sure it’s worth our time to read any further. Make it easy by emphasizing the words that would attract visitors to explore your website. Play with italics, bold, color, capital letters, fonts, font sizes, shading, borders, etc. Just don’t go too far–you still want to keep the home page simple and clean.

Offer a short menu. You know when you go to a restaurant and the menu is so long that you feel overwhelmed and can’t make a decision? The same could happen with your website menu. A long menu runs the risk of losing the attention of the reader who doesn’t want to sift through page after page to find what they want.

Try noticing your own actions over the next week whenever you’re surfing online:

1.  How much time do you spend on each website?

2.  How many websites do you visit where you go further than the home page?

3.  Why didn’t you bother moving past the home page on the other websites?

4.  What was different about the websites where you completed a purchase?

You could discover some valuable insights about how to make your own company website more user-friendly.