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.

The New JOBS Act and Crowdfunding Opportunities for Entrepreneurs

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If you own a private company, chances are you have considered going public or plan on doing so after you have accrued enough resources. And if this is your vision for your small or medium-sized business, a new legislative act put in place last week may be the impetus needed to turn that vision into reality.

Known as the Jumpstart Our Business Startups, or JOBS Act, this bipartisan legislative package aims at helping the growth of startups and small or medium-sized businesses, ultimately creating more jobs and boosting the overall economy. The bill consists of measures that reduce SEC restrictions on small and medium-sized companies and create new investment opportunities.

Specifically, the JOBS Act:

  • Eases certain rules and restrictions the SEC imposes on small companies, allowing them to go public with less resources and in less time.
  • Allows entrepreneurs (many of whom were previously banned from “crowdfunding”) to solicit and gather money from smaller investors.
  • Raises the shareholder registration requirement threshold for small companies, thereby providing more flexibility to grow.

For some companies, going public is essential to creating job opportunities and acquiring more capital resources. And for those who believe start-ups are a critical element of the overall market, then the JOBS Act is a step in the right direction. Only time will tell if this legislation profoundly affects job growth and whether it will favor medium-sized companies over smaller start-ups, but the new measures may help expand your business’ window of opportunities.

If you would like to learn more about the new business measures provided by the JOBS Act, you can refer to the following links:

Please provide us with feedback below, as we want to know your opinion on these new provisions and how you think they will affect your business.

And when the time comes for your business to start growing, the team here at Zoho is right here to help – with tools to mange your pipeline, manage your finances and help you hire the people you need.