Dashboard Spotlight: US Economic Data Analysis

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dashboard-spotlight We have analyzed many interesting public data sets in the past. And we plan to continue doing so.

With the budget sequestration just a few weeks old, and economic concerns running high in the minds of people, we have attempted to plot selected economic indicators with aspects of everyday life. The goal is to try and see if any interesting connections and insights can be unearthed. Read more

Employees Want to Feel More Appreciated at Work

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How often have you heard someone say, “I just feel so lucky to have a job,” over the past five years? How often have you said it?

You’re not alone. Ignoring other ambitions in exchange for job security is a common feeling across the nation in the aftermath of a recession where the unemployment rate peaked at 10 percent in the fall of 2009 and is currently still at 7.7 percent.

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And despite statistics from December 2012 reporting a 15 percent increase in time spent at a job for employees age 25 and older since the year 2000, experts are now saying recent improvements in the economy could free people to quit their jobs and pursue other employment opportunities.

This new trend could cause a number of problems for employers who are caught off guard by employees leaving for greener pastures. Especially for those who haven’t focused on keeping employees happy and excited to come to work on a daily basis.

In recent years, employers didn’t necessarily have to focus as much on making employees feel valued and appreciated due to the lack of job openings and opportunities. However, recent statistics reported 3.69 million job openings in January, which is 270,000 more job openings than in January 2012.

And while experts caution that the market hasn’t improved enough for all professionals to have other options, there are some fields — like specialized accounting – where workers are leaving their current job for better offers.

Making Employees Feel Valued

So what is the most common reason people are leaving their current jobs and seeking other opportunities? It may be easy to assume money is the driving factor, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Although good salary and benefits packages do play a factor, the majority of employees leave their places of work because they are unhappy with management.

David G. Allen, a management professor at the University of Memphis, has conducted a large amount of research on this topic and found that workers value relationships with other colleagues, especially bosses, as much if not more than salary and benefits.

“I think smart companies need to make sure they’re making their employees feel valued,” Allen told NBC News.

A Mood Tracker Survey issued by Globoforce in November 2012 found that 55 percent of employees would leave their jobs for another company that made it a point to recognize efforts.

As a small business owner, it is important to not only be aware of this new trend, but also know a few simple ways you can make sure your employees feel valued and appreciated. This includes the following:

  • Be open to ideas and suggestions from employees

  • Make yourself available to talk whenever possible

  • Get to know employees and their families on a personal level. Know about their spouses, children and hobbies.

  • Talk with your employees about their dreams and goals and how you as an employer can help them accomplish those goals at the company

  • Create an office environment that is welcoming, friendly and fun

Allen also noted that the first employees to look for other job opportunities and eventually quit are typically your best employees and ones that could hurt you if you lost them. Be prepared and take action to make sure your employees feel valued and a part of your company’s family.

Is Your City Small Business-Friendly?

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If you’ve ever looked for a new office, apartment or house — even a hotel room — you have discovered there is truth in the universal real-estate maxim. Location, location, location…

Location is everything. Now I’m not trying to sound like a cheesy, real-estate agent, but this mantra also holds true when starting and growing a small business. Along with a great product or service and enough start-up capital, the success of your small business can be greatly influenced by your location.

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Austin, Texas has become one of the most popular destinations in the United States over the last few years. We here at the Zoho Austin office can attest to that. And maybe part of its popularity is due to the city’s small business-friendly environment.

As the nation’s second-fastest growing city in 2012 and fastest growing city in 2011, Austin was also named the friendliest city in the country for small businesses, in the second annual Small Business Survey by San Francisco-based Thumbstack.com and Kansas-City-based Kauffman Foundation.

The survey, compromised of nearly 8,000 business owners across the nation gave Austin an “A+” rating. The overall ranking was based on factors like ease of starting a business, training and networking programs, ease of hiring and regulations, health and safety, labor and hiring, licensing and environmental, tax code and zoning.

And while it’s no secret to us here in the Zoho Austin office how great the city is, the “friendliest small business city” ranking got us thinking: What makes a city accepting and nurturing for small businesses?

The Survey Says…

According to the above survey, the most important predictor of a city or state’s overall score was training and networking programs. The survey also found that a state’s economy and number of licensing requirements were also very influential.

In fact, the data showed that the number of licensing requirements was 30 percent more important for small business owners than tax codes — an area many people assume plays a pivotal role in the  location of a small business.

“For most small businesses, simple licensing regulations and helpful training programs are even more important to their success [than low taxes],” Thumbstack co-founder Sander Daniels told The Business Journals.

Barriers to Entry

Although it may seem obvious, the friendliest cities for small businesses typically have the fewest number of road blocks for the owners to enter the market. There are a number of licensing requirements from state-level agencies and many entrepreneurs are unaware of what they need to start a business besides a great idea or product.

Co-author of the report Nathan Allen said that the licensing requirements were very influential because “it’s something [small business owners] really have to contend with and stay up on…the time they have to spend on it can become a serious burden to their growth.”

Cities with business resource centers or development programs can link small business owners to a number of resources and training programs in their communities to help streamline city and permit approval.

For example, the city of Chicago recently set up a restaurant start-up program to give prospective restaurateurs information on choosing the best location, inspections and licensing. The city of Austin has a Small Business Development Center with information on applying for a loan to how you can improve your marketing strategy.

Do Your Research

Choosing any city to start your small business isn’t always possible or practical. In fact, statistics suggest that the majority of people open businesses where they are currently living.

Start by studying places like Austin to see why they are so friendly to small businesses and focus on getting engaged in your community to learn about existing avenues for training and networking. Ultimately, you can work to build your area into a valuable resource for you and your fellow small business owners — wherever you live.

Time To Reconcile 1099K

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Got the 1099 K and wondering what to do with it? 1099 K is a tax form sent by online payment processing companies like PayPal, eBay and the like to report how much sales you made through them in the last calendar year. They fill your basic details with the last years gross sales and send this form to the IRS with a copy to you as well.

Well, I report my income and file my Schedule C. Why this?Reconcile-1099k
IRS is working very hard to bridge the tax gap so that the reported income by individuals is closer to their actual income (which apparently isn’t the case in reality). The 1099K form last year was an attempt to achieve that goal, so that the IRS gets to know first hand how much you earned in online sales.

But why did I get this form and not others?
It looks like your gross sales crossed $20,000 and you have made at least 200 transactions with a payment processor. That is the criteria that the IRS uses to decide who to send it to.  If you haven’t received the form, it is perfectly okay. No reason to fret at all!

Alright, what do I have to do now that I got it?
Not much really. Open up your accounting software and reconcile the data. Chances are you would panic when you see the strangely bloated sales number on the 1099K form but make note that these are gross figures and they do not take into account the refunds or returns you made.

Run the Payment Received Report in Zoho Books
There is a nifty report called ‘Payments Received’ in Zoho Books. If you have kept track of all your client payments or better still configured the online payment gateway in your accounting software then this report will list out all the payments received by you.Check out our guide on how to run the Payment Received report.

Remember not to fret if the data doesn’t match as it’s perfectly normal considering its the ‘gross sales’. Your talent hence lies in your extraordinary abilities to keep track of every expense you incurred. It’s all about being awesome at record keeping.

Poll: What do you use to build a community around your business?

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Building a community around your business is, perhaps, the most important outreach activity you can ever pursue. It deserves such prominence especially because it’s a long-term activity. It’s an ongoing activity, like invoicing customers or addressing support queries.

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A community has far-flung benefits across various aspects of your business. It helps you keep your existing customers happy. It helps you win new customers. It helps you reduce the load on your customer service team. And, it helps builds your brand.

Every community starts off as an idea on someone’s mind. But, it eventually has to move to a more ‘conducive’ space. That space is different for each one. For some, it’s a simple forum. For some, it’s an interesting blog. For a few others, it can be a social network like Facebook or LinkedIn. Quora is a popular place too. It’s also possible for communities to ‘exist’ in a combination of these. Let’s take a look at each of these ‘places’ and attempt to profile them.

Facebook:

Most businesses generally use a Facebook Page to build a community. Non-profits and independent communities use Facebook Groups instead. Broadly, Facebook is a place where people let their hair down. They look for interesting pieces of content that are also fun. So, if you’ve got a really serious topic on the influence of cascading government debt on the global economy, you better steer clear of Facebook! ;)

Twitter:

Twitter is really for the ‘keep it short and sweet’ types. But, that doesn’t mean it’s not suitable for a conversation! Twitter is, in fact, a great tool to build a following for your business. You get to have crisp, yet interesting, conversations with your customers and prospects. It’s also a great place for content propagation. What you say or share can ‘virally spread’ to a large section of people.

LinkedIn:

Being a networking platform for professionals, LinkedIn is a lot more serious when compared to Facebook and Twitter. It’s mostly the platform for ‘serious’ conversations at a ‘personal’ level. Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn allows companies to have a more ‘serious’ identity. Some businesses use LinkedIn for recruiting employees. Some others build technical/professional communities. Independent forums and communities also thrive on LinkedIn.

Quora:

Quora’s the new kid on the block. Only, he’s not a kid anymore! What started as a simple social network for ‘Q&A’ has now become a marketplace of sorts for knowledge. It’s more loosely organized when compared to Facebook or LinkedIn. Prospects are very likely to ask questions and find answers on Quora before making a purchase decision. Also, what happens in Quora doesn’t just stay there. It gets shared on other social networks as well. So, it’s worth every bit of your time to engage people on Quora.

Your own forum & blog:

At the end of the day, it pays for you to have your own ‘outreach infrastructure’. In a sense, building a community exclusively on any social network means you might have to sway the way the it does. When you build your community on your own forum & blog, you reduce any such risk. You can always use social networks to reach more people for your community, while hosting the community on your own infrastructure. That way, you get the best of both worlds.

Most businesses can’t really handle a community that spreads across all these options. So, we thought we’d ask you and find out what you do w.r.t your community. We can’t wait to see the results!

Gather Data. Know Thy Customer. Zoho Campaigns Integrates with SurveyMonkey

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In a recent team meeting I was asked this question: “What’s the aim of Product Marketing?” My answer was almost instant and I found myself saying, “To know and understand the customer.” I further explained that the crux of what I do depends on understanding the customer needs and opinion. It’s actually a cycle – know the customer needs – take actions – communicate – get feedback – make changes again.zcampaigns-surveymonkey

This is the reason surveys play an important role for any product marketer. Customer Feedback Surveys are the best way to understand the feelings of a very large customer group at once. The information gathered can then be passed on to the Engineering, Sales and Customer Support Teams, and decisions on the product can be taken accordingly.

So, how do I go about getting this feedback from customers?
Here’s how it goes: Read more

Support customers in LiveDesk, extend the value of Zoho CRM

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We heard your requests for LiveDesk to integrate with Zoho CRM, so last week we announced Zoho CRM integration for all paying LiveDesk customers (or those on a current trial of any of the paid plans).

By tag-teaming with the premier CRM solution for small businesses, your LiveDesk gets instant access to the customer data you need while chatting, and your support interactions are logged alongside your other data in your newly-unified customer interaction suite. Leverage the power of LiveDesk and Zoho CRM together, and join the small businesses who are already elevating their team’s customer-supporting skills.

Zorge, who runs English Maestro, a small business providing online language lessons, put it this way:

“As an automation fanatic, I was very enthusiastic to use Zoho LiveDesk in integration with my Zoho CRM to provide live support to my customers. The functionality and features work awesome and exceed my expectations. [This integration] adds more value to my Zoho products.”

Join Zorge and discover through easy integration with Zoho CRM, how LiveDesk quickly adds more value to your existing customer interactions. Get started with LiveDesk today, and test-drive what it can do in tandem with your CRM. Let’s explore how the apps work together for small teams like English Maestro and soon you, your customers’, and your company’s benefit.

Easy linking unlocks value instantly

Because both products are members of the Zoho family, it is easy to link the two apps, quickly adding the ability to support customers through live chat into your existing customer interaction structure.

Recognize customers and deliver tailored solutions

When a customer initiates a chat with your team, LiveDesk automatically relays their information from your CRM, directly to the live chat window. Your agents have instant access in the chat window to vital information—such as the high-value account a customer belongs to—and are only one click away from the contact (or account’s) complete details. When they notice this customer’s long and valuable history with your company and past interactions, they discover that this particular customer responds best to step-by-step instructions. Enlightened, your agent asks the right questions and tailors his responses exactly to the customer’s preferred style.

Continually refine your customer knowledge base

Maximize the potential value of future interactions—sales, support, whatever—utilizing new insights gleaned from live chats to retain and grow customer relationships. With the power to add valuable notes directly into your CRM from LiveDesk, and chat transcripts automatically logged inside CRM, your whole team benefits from every live chat interaction.

When a customer asked for help configuring your iPad app as he prepares for an upcoming cross-country motorcycle trip, your agent was able to add insights that will someday payoff. Your friendly support rep discovered through chatting that the customer’s trip was with his business partners to celebrate their company’s five-year anniversary. While chatting, your agent quickly added a note, so your team can send a note congratulating the customers on their milestone. He also added a note in the contact’s details about his affinity for Harley Davidsons and passion for being on the open-road as much as possible.

Capture curious visitors in your CRM

Unlock the ability to capture new website visitors who connect with you through chat (either automatically or manually) as leads or contacts in your CRM. While answering questions about your product from someone who is currently on a trial, you learn that the company he works for is looking for a new, custom-made solution, right in your team’s wheelhouse. So while continuing to answer questions, you quickly capture the visitor as a new lead from the chat window, and even convert the lead into a potential.

You even create a follow-up task in your CRM to ensure the account manager from your custom-builds team connects with the lead and builds on the foundation you built through chat.

Extend the value of both products for your team, and link up LiveDesk and Zoho CRM today.