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.

Your CRM Will Work for You if You Work for It

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“A CRM system is just a database,” said Gene Marks, author of “In God We Trust: Everyone Else Pays Cash” in his opening keynote presentation at Zoholics, the first ever U.S.-based Zoho user conference in Burlingame, California.

Marks kept harping that with all the technology advances there are in CRM, it all comes down to just being a database. How effective that CRM system works for you depends on how well you manage that database, said Marks. To breed a successful CRM system, you need to adhere to these five principles:

  1. Nothing should fall through the cracks: While you can have a million customized fields in any CRM database, what you really want it for is everything that requires follow up. If you keep good track on everything that’s pending and what desires your customers and potential customers have expressed, then you’ll always be on top of your audience and nothing will fall through the cracks.
  2. No one should look like a dope: CRM is a shared database. It’s your company’s collective intelligence about your customers for which everyone in your company can access. If managed correctly, whoever responds to a customer should be able to continue the dialogue from the last engagement without requiring the customer to repeat themselves.

“As long as that information is in the system, no one looks like a dope,” said Marks.

  1. Have an administrator on top of it: There’s a hidden cost to CRM and that’s the one person who needs to take ownership of the system.
  2. Make sure management buys into your CRM system: If they don’t, your system will fail. Guaranteed. Good CRM systems take work to do. They don’t just happen on their own.
  3. It’s all about reports: You need to know what comes out of your system. You judge your success with CRM on your ability to generate reports. When developing your CRM system set a goal of creating three reports within just a couple of months.

Checking in – Zoho Invoice Android App V 1.6

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zoho-invoice-android-dashboardZoho Invoice android app keeps getting better and better with every new update. Our android team here believes in developing the app on the latest platforms and delivering the best to our users. In this release, you are bound to notice the cleaner, crispier and sleek UI changes to the Zoho Invoice android app.

Apart from the UI changes, which is like a breath of fresh air, the most useful addition is the ‘clone feature‘ (you can say yayiii). If you want to duplicate an invoice or an estimate, all you need to do is tap the clone option. It’s painful to enter the same data over and over again when you are on the move. That’s why, now, you create the invoice for one and ‘clone’ the rest. You have been doing this on the web app. Now it’s available on your android app.

This update is bound to make your mobile invoicing easier in a beautiful way. Update your android app to the latest 1.6 version available in Google Play and let us know what you think of it.

Until then adios.

Zoho Sites; The Newest Website Builder At Google Apps Marketplace

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At Zoho, we strive for ideas to run a business with ease, and then transform those ideas into easy-to-use business applications. Realization of yet another such idea was a business website builder for everyone; Zoho Sites. It is also the newest website builder at Google Apps Marketplace. In addition to all its goodness, here’s what Zoho Sites has exclusively for GApps.

Zoho Sites lets you build your business website all by yourself. But if you still want assistance from your colleagues, you can share your webpages with them, let them modify and even publish the changes for you. When sharing your webpages for collaborative editing, Zoho Sites fetches your contacts and organization-members on GApps.

Installing Zoho Sites to your GApps account will list it on the universal navigation bar. As Zoho Sites supports single sign-in, you can create your business website without having to log-in separately.

A website is the face of your business. That is why Zoho Sites never displays annoying advertisements on your business websites. Not even if you are using the free plan. Zoho Sites also lets you make the most of the mobile revolution. A mobile version of your website is automatically generated, and your visitors using mobile devices are smartly directed to the mobile-optimized version; without any extra effort from you.

Any business using GApps is run online, and a website is the starting point of an online presence. So create a website for your business, today. Try Zoho Sites for GApps.

The Most Critical Aspect of Your CRM is the Administrator

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When I interview Zoho customers I often hear two common stories of what life was like before Zoho:

  1. Data was spread out over multiple applications such as spreadsheets, documents, and industry-specific applications. Nothing was integrated and customer data was a constant hunt.
  2. Support from application vendors was very poor.

Once Tara Lynn Gray, President and CEO of Yadari Enterprises, switched to Zoho she said she’s “feeling the love.” Yadari Enterprises is an information technology shop that specializes in mobile device management. The two of us spoke at the Zoho user conference, Zoholics in Burlingame, California.

Since Yadari Enterprises moved to Zoho, Gray’s company now has complete flexibility to modify their views and forms, plus they can get a full view of the customer, track interactions, and get an overall pulse on the business. “That flexibility is key for small businesses,” said Gray.

Information is accessible instantly. No more looking for sticky notes. No more looking up spreadsheets. No more looking through Outlook folders, Gray said.

While Yadari Enterprise relies on Zoho, they rely more heavily on their office manager to police the implementation of Zoho CRM. Gray and I talked about the keynote presenter who discussed the importance of having one person to be the administrator of the CRM. They have to be in charge, making sure that everyone inputs the data the same way. And if a problem needs to be solved and an issue needs to be researched, then the administrator handles that, said Gray.

Gray said she’s looking to migrate all her company’s activities to Zoho as she realizes there really isn’t a need for too many other outside tools.