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Yearly Archives: 2015

Family Succession Tips

dc9X5RgdiInvestopedia reports that between 80-90% of businesses in the U.S. are owned or controlled by families. About a third of them are Fortune 500 companies. But this doesn’t mean they are all big corporations. In fact many are small- to mid-sized businesses. Family-owned businesses also account for approximately 78% of jobs created in the United States.

With these statistics it is of paramount importance to create a business plan for family succession. Only a bit over half (53%) of family businesses have a succession plan which could explain why only 30% of all family-owned businesses make it to the second generation, 12% into the third generation and 3% to the fourth and beyond, according to the Family Business Alliance.

Eventually every family business needs to deal with leadership retiring, getting ill or moving on to other things.  When a business is a family business, any of these events bring on a list of questions.  Who’s going to manage the business? How will ownership be transferred? Accountants and lawyers who specialize in business succession planning can provide invaluable advice about dealing with ownership, taxes, budgeting and the myriad of legal issues that occur when leadership of a family business changes hands.

Here are some quick tips and suggestions to consider when you are dealing with family succession planning:

  1. Start planning early.  If you know a family member will retire in 5-10 years start the process now.
  2. Involve key members. When the idea of succession first comes up there is bound to be some discord about who should be in charge and how a transition should take place.  Invite key members to openly discuss what the best way to approach the transition time will be.
  3. Groom the future leader.  If given the appropriate amount of time, groom the future leader through mentoring and shadowing.  Obviously if there was a sudden illness or death this will be a crash course for whomever is in charge.
  4. Get outside help.  With so many businesses run by families, financial advisors and business advisors can be a great asset when transferring the business to a new leader.
  5. Be aware of potential hurtles. Every change causes problems, none more complex than a family relationship.  Plan in advance for sticky family relations that may make a transition more difficult.
  6. Use the best resources.  Along with tax consultants, lawyers and accountants, talk to people who have dealt with succession issues like the Small Business Association.   They can help you consider issues that may come up during each step of the process.

Productive Business Networking

Business networking can be a valuable strategy to: get referrals, connect with prospective partners/clients, gather insights on innovation in your field or merely expose your name or brand.  Unfortunately networking can be overwhelming meeting new people, keeping up with conversations and making those connections convert into customers.  Here are some tips to make the most of your networking events.

Before the Event –

  • Gather your supplies including business cards, pens, paper and any marketing brochures you could refer to if the conversation leans in that direction.
  • Know your goals prior to heading into the networking event.  Do you hope to gather names of prospective clients?  Do you want to nurture an existing relationship?
  • Know the audience – Find out who will be attending the event through the online RSVP list so you know what to expect.
  • Remember the dress code.  Professional business attire is usually expected to give a positive impression unless there is a specific theme or location that lends itself to a different dress code.  (golf, harbor cruise)

At the Event

  • Check out the registration table for names that you may want to connect with.  If you are nervous, look for familiar names to start off with to break the ice.
  • Smile!
  • Keep your hands free for shaking hands.  If there is food available you may want to keep eating brief so you can talk freely and have your hands available to shake hands or distribute business  cards.
  • Have a list of topics to refer to if conversations fade.  Be interested and use active listening when part of a conversation.
  • Hand out and gather those cards!  The back of the cards can be used to keep notes on each person. (That may have to happen in the car after the event.)
  • Be confident.  Speak clearly and rely on your confidence to guide you through conversations.
  • Be genuine.  People can tell when you are putting on an act.  So be yourself and speak from the heart.

After the Event

  • Debrief after the event. This may mean writing up notes on items of interest or questions you may have promised to get answered.
  • Follow up – Use those business cards you carefully gathered and follow through with an email or phone call. If you live locally an in-person meeting over coffee may be in order.
  • Connect through social media. Find people that you connected with on LinkedIn or other social media to stay in touch.
  • Enter contacts. Put all new contacts in your list at the office.

Getting Your Business Idea off the Ground

BeanManIdeaLightSteve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Fred Smith.  Just a few of the  business leaders who started their careers with merely an idea and a dream.  Do you have an amazing idea for business that you would like to see grow into fruition?   Great!  Unfortunately, having a brilliant business idea is only the first step on a long road to getting your thoughts turned into profits.  The sobering truth is that it takes, capital, business know-how, organization, and a ton of hard work.  How did the great business entrepreneurs do it?  What was their secret to getting their business idea off the ground?  Let’s look at some tips and suggestions from Forbes, Inc Online, and other business leaders as to how they managed to take their idea and turn it into reality.

  • Research – Just like you did before you started a big project in grade school, research should always be the first step in any business proposition.  Before you start developing your core business idea do some market research.  What other companies have a similar product or service?  What do they do that works/doesn’t work?  What type of audience do you think your idea would appeal to?  Research if there would be a need or niche market for your product/service.  During this process you will find out about pricing, potential partnerships, capital needed and the never-ending minutia of the business.
  • A Plan – Once you have done some very thorough background research, you will want to solidify the idea you have into a business plan.  This formal or informal plan can be used to gather investors or grow support for your idea.
  • A Prototype – Whether your idea includes something tangible (like a product)  or intangible (like a service) you will want to have something to show supporters, partners or investors.  This may mean you have to build the object or possibly create a website for the service.
  • FUNDS!  – Finding the right investors or bank to support your business idea may seem daunting but now that you have the research and plan under your belt this is not be as hard as you imagine.  There are a large number of options to consider when dealing with needed capital for your idea.  The Small Business Association in your area may be a big help in pointing you toward an institution that can help you.  There are also other ideas such as bank loans (especially local), crowdfunding(like kickstarter) , Bootstrapped businesses or possibly by finding investors willing to be partners or supporters of your idea.
  • Legalities – Yes, there are always legalities involved in setting up a new business or launching a business idea.  As early in the process as you can, seek counsel who can guide you through the process of the legalities associated with your idea such as insurance, a tax id, a business license and so on.
  • Marketing – Once you have your ducks all in a row you will want to come up with a marketing strategy and plan how you will spend your marketing budget.  Some people prefer to outsource this at the beginning to a consultant who can get you going and fast!  You will need a PR campaign and someone who knows how to use traditional and digital media to attract attention to your business.

Taking your amazing idea and making it a reality doesn’t have to be scary or daunting but rather a step-by-step process that can be exciting an thrilling.

 

Goal Setting Strategies and Apps

di7oyzy4TEvery business, whether small or large, has goals that they hope to attain.  The hallmark of successful  businesses are goals or objectives that have been carefully crafted in a way that can guide a company to reach their full potential.  What are some strategies to creating goals that can bind a workplace together working toward a common goal? Let’s look at some strategies for devising goals and some excellent tools that may help in this mission.

  • Don’t be too busy!  The inherent idea behind setting a business goal is that it can steer a company in the right direction.  Unfortunately many companies fail to follow up on goal setting because they are simply too busy doing business to deal with it.  The 4th Annual Staples National Small Business survey reported that more than 80% of small business owners of the 300 surveyed reported that they don’t keep track of their business goals.   So for many companies the first step in being successful with goal setting would be to put in some sort of regular meeting to review what steps are being taken to achieve the objectives set up yearly.
  • Create SMART Goals – Many business leaders find that having a specific strategy when generating goals can help them stay on track.  The SMART method includes creating objectives that are:  specific, measurable, attainable, involve a responsible person and  are time specific.  What this technique involves therefore, is a very specific goal such as an increase in percentage of items sold not merely a vague goal of increasing sales.  A measurable goal means that it can be quantified instead of merely a good intention.  An attainable goal is meant to stretch the skills and abilities of the company without setting the up for utter failure.  A responsible person is an indicator that this goal will be checked up on at regular intervals.  This doesn’t mean that the person is the only one responsible for meeting the goal but rather a person who will report on the progress.  And finally the timing indicates that the goal should have a beginning and an end point when goals should be completed.
  • Invest in Goal Strategy Tools – We live in a busy world and don’t have a lot of time to spend on our short and long term goals daily.  That’s why “there is an app for that.”  There are some great business apps that can help you stay organized and pointed in the direction of your goals.  These apps can help keep you accountable and motivated.  Check out some of the following apps that you may find helpful in achieving your goals!

Goals on Track

LifeTick

Evernote

 

Make the Most of your Google AdWords Campaign

google-adwordsGoogle Adwords, Google’s powerhouse advertising service can be cost-effective and highly successful for businesses who wish to target specific audiences and make the most of every marketing dollar.  Carefully planning and executing your AdWord campaign with the search engine behemoth is the key to getting the most bang for your buck in the advertising world.  What are the top tips and tricks to managing a successful Google AdWords campaign?  Let’s look at suggestions from leaders in business and examine how these ideas can keep you on track.

Research – As with any marketing strategy, do your homework in advance.

  • Find out the most relevant keywords that are being typed in to search engines for your service/product/brand.
  • Research the background of companies that are using these keywords and are consistently ranking at the top of searches.  Visit their websites to find out what the strategy is behind their campaign.  How are they like your company?  How are they different?  How can you learn from what they are doing? How can you stand out from them?
  • Lastly, in the research department, find out as much as you can about your audience.  What are they saying in online reviews? How do they feel about your competition?  What is missing that you might be able to offer?

Know your Goal – As you commence an AdWord campaign know exactly what you hope to get out of the strategy.  The only way to measure your success is to have measurable goals from the outset.  Keeping things too vague like “increase traffic to our site” will not allow you to analyze whether it is working or not.  Be more specific such as: “increase traffic by a certain percent”  or “a percent of clicks that convert to buyers”.

Keywords that Match – Marketing leaders suggest using a very small list of keywords that are extremely focused  as you begin your AdWords campaign.  Using Exact Match, Phrase Match and Broad Match to ensure that your ad will show up for the most relevant searches.  Utilizing long-tail keywords (keywords made up of 3+ words) that describe your exact services are much more likely to convert compared with broader, single word keywords. Use Google Tools to help you come up with the best keywords for your business.

Be Aware of Mobile, Desktop and Tablet Traffic Differences – Search networks are different depending upon the device you are using.  Since a large portion of the public uses mobile devices be sure you are using mobile -preferred ads.  A customized message and call-to-action for mobile uses will hopefully result in higher conversion rates.

Analyzing – While this may seem time consuming, tracking the results of your efforts is the one true way to find out if you are using the right keywords, targeting the audience appropriately and spending your precious marketing dollars in the proper channels.

 

 

 

Nurturing a Culture of Innovation

Our world today is evolving faster (technologically speaking), than it ever did in the past.  Technology is constantly being improved  to better suit our lifestyles and needs.  Even before the high tech boom in the Silicon Valley in the 20th Century, the business world was in a constant race to be more creative and more innovative.   How then, do we as business owners nurture a culture of innovation and creativity in the workplace to keep our companies thriving and progressing?

Innovation is not a mathematical equation that can be applied to a brand or company.  Instead, it is an environment that is nurtured in such a way that leaders are able to unlock and harness the “light bulb” ideas that go off.  Business leaders and owners can not just announce that the office is now an innovative office and encourage all staff to get thinking creatively.  Rather, they must procure an environment, both physical and mental, that engages employees in a non-traditional way.  Here are just a few suggestions to help you shape the environment in your company into an innovative one that allows for employees to be open and able to take risks in their thinking.

  • Schedule Brainstorming – Teams should brainstorm at the beginning of each project.  Bouncing ideas off each other can be helpful to mold and stretch ideas that may have been ignored in other traditional offices.  All members of staff should be included in the brainstorming, not just the people with a “creative” title.  During these sessions encourage “out-of-the-box” thinking by making it a safe place to say anything.  Who knows one idea may spur another and so on.
  • Rewards – Give rewards, even small ones for creative ideas around the office.  This might include a longer lunch or a premium parking spot or a small gift card.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail!  Failure may seem negative, but it also means that  you were not afraid to try.  Even Ben Franklin failed hundreds of time before his experiment succeeded.   50 to 70 per cent of all new product innovations fail at even the most successful companies.
  • The Physical Office – Make the office fun where ever possible.  Google International allows for games, couches and even resting areas to get employees comfy and relaxed.  A relaxed mind can think more creatively.
  • Provide Education and Training – Learning should be a lifelong adventure.  Give employees a chance to be learning and expanding their knowledge base.  That knowledge will allow for more creative thinking.
  • Allow Alone Time – Most of us think about the innovative process as a group of like-minded individuals pounding out the solution to a problem.  Don’t forget to allow for some alone time for employees to really think through a solution.

Training Your Sales Staff

All owners, managers, and leaders want their valued employees to have the proper tools and knowledge to succeed at their job.  No department needs this more than the sales staff in your business.  Correctly training your sales team can give them the appropriate tools and knowledge to take them from mediocre to a force to be reckoned with in no time.  There are three main areas that sales team members should be trained.  They should be thoroughly acquainted with the company’s products and services.  They should be extremely familiar with the field that your company most especially close competitors. Finally, the sales team should be well-versed in sales techniques that are in line with the goals and personality of your brand.  Here are some training tips for these three critical areas.

Product and Service Training

  • Have the sales team not only review the products but, if possible, witness the service that is provided so they have first hand knowledge and can speak from experience rather than a guidebook.
  • Where possible, have the team use the product or shadow a service member so they can become aware of uses, problems and solutions that may be typical for your products/service.
  • Have younger sales people “buddy” or “shadow” older sales team members so they can learn the ropes. They will quickly get used to common questions, answers and then be able to anticipate them in the future.
  • Create a sales manual for easy reference when questions arise.

Industry Training

  • Hold regular sales team and staff meetings updating them on new innovations in your field.
  • Make industry journals and websites easily available so sales staffers can keep up when they are in the office.
  • Encourage staff to learn about competitors both local and national.
  • Keep staff up-to-date on industry news with quick bulletins via email or newsletters.
  • Encourage training sessions held regionally so sales people can see what the competition is all about.

Sales Skill Training

  • Give all sales members technology that will help them stay organized.  For instance some sort of customer relations management software program is a good idea.
  • Invest in sales training classes for newer members of your team.
  • Hire not only with sales education and experience in mind, but also weigh the persons personality and how it jives with your product and services.
  • Use role playing regularly or other techniques that could help in sales numbers.
  • Keep rewards coming!  Let all staff know about the chances for advancement or monetary rewards.

 

 

 

Onboarding Issues

Welcome to the team!  Here is a pack of forms that need to be filled out (in triplicate) for Human Resources, a room full of strangers that you will need to get to know and a company handbook that you will need to familiarize yourself with!  And then you need to become a contributing member of our work team and fit in flawlessly. 

If this seems like a bit much for a new employee then you need to work on your onboarding strategy to make for a smooth transition for all new hires.  What used to be called orientation has now evolved into the latest business buzz word “onbboarding”.  The orientation process of yesteryear has now become a more thorough process of acclimating a new hire in such a way that they become a productive and satisfied members of the staff. Onboarding goes beyond the paperwork and introductions of the first few days into strategies to deal with long term training, mentoring and scheduled milestones.

Onboarding Is Not the Same as Training. A study of 264 new employees published in the Academy of Management Journal found that the first 90 days of employment (often called the probationary period) is pivotal to building rapport with the company, management and coworkers. When support levels were high from the team and leaders, new hires often had more positive attitudes about their job and worked harder. When support and direction were not offered, the inverse occurred, leading to unhappy and unproductive employees who didn’t make it much further than four months. (Forbes)

So how do companies maximize the success rate and retention rate of their new hires?  Here are some tips and pointers to consider for your onboarding program.

Prior to the Start Date – There are many things that need to be done before the new employee even sets foot in the door including: creating a job description, a list of duties, setting up work area including phone, tech and email accounts, arranging for meetings with critical members of the staff, and prepare for some time with human resources.

During the First Few Days – Those first few days can be anxiety ridden with both sides asking “Is it a “good fit”? Make those first days smoother by:

  • reviewing job expectations
  • matching employee up with a mentor
  • allow for socialization time
  • tours of the business
  • continuing review of job policies
  • technology training

During the First Months – Many companies fall off with onboarding around this time.  Unfortunately, this is a time when a new employee may need further help reaching independence and the ability to mesh with the company brand.

  • Continue having regularly occurring one-on-one meetings.
  • Meet for informal three-month performance check-in
  • Have employee “shadow” you at meetings to get exposure to others and learn more about the department and organization.
  • Continue professional training and mentoring with a “buddy” in the office.

During the First Year

  • Create an employee development plan. (Short and long term.)
  • Provide formal and informal feedback on job performance.
  • Recognize positive employee contributions.

Key Components of Excellent Customer Service

We have all heard the time honored adage that “The customer is always right!” Keeping the customer happy and coming back for business should be every company’s first priority – whether they are actually “right” or not.  Maintaining a satisfied customer base is easier, more cost effective and takes less time than finding new customers.  How, then, can businesses deliver excellent customer service, create personal relationships with customers and make customers feels appreciated?

Customer service is emerging as a critical differentiator for businesses. Small changes and personal interactions can mean a world of difference for clients to go from being a “customer” to being a “loya”l customer.  Let’s look at some key components to meeting those customer satisfaction goals.

  • Customer Service Plan – As a company, brainstorm and decide on your service goals.  These goals should reflect interactions with both internal and external customers.  What is the ultimate goal? Do you want to be known as efficient, helpful, honest, cost effective, or all of the above?  Possibly list every time an interaction may happen.  (In the lobby, on a sales call, via email, social media, or in person) What ways can customer service come into play in those circumstances?
  • Explore the needs of the customers – Each customer has unique needs so try to explore what needs those are for your typical client base.  Do you usually deal with small businesses so they are cost conscious and need to be made aware of special deals or sales?  Do you service large companies that need large volumes of items?  Look at the specific needs of your clients so you can solve their particular problems quickly and kindly.
  • Go back to basics – A smile, a personal greeting or even a kind word can go a long way with customers.  Don’t just hear what they say but really listen to what their needs are so that you can anticipate those needs as your relationship with them grows.  It goes without saying that you should always be courteous and polite with the customer even if you don’t agree with their assessment.
  • Follow up and Follow Through –   Do what you promise and when questions and problems have not been resolved follow up to try to rectify the problem. In our digital age it is far too easy for a customer to post a bad review due to customer service issues.  When you follow up on how the service went you will be confirming that the customer had a positive interaction and let them know that they matter to you and your business.
  • Establish “customer friendly policies” -There really is nothing worse than having someone tell you that they don’t have the ability to help.  Give employees the power and knowledge to fix problems that arise.  Make rules bendable in case special circumstances come up with loyal customers. Eliminate policies that make dealing with customers rigid or routine in nature.  Make it as personal as possible.

Creating a Social Media Calendar

Social Media, meaning the myriad of social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn and so on,  began in the mid 1990’s when  Tina Sharkey, CEO of Babycenter.com and a former executive at iVillage and AOL coined the term.  Since that time it has really taken hold  with millions of users and billions of posts daily.  However, social media is a fairly new marketing strategy for some companies.  Keeping up with the posts, tweets, and images can be mind boggling to say the least.  If you are a newbie to harnessing the power of social media you and your company may need some tips and strategies to get organized and make the social media beast more manageable.  One of the best techniques to do this is to create a social media calendar or editorial calendar.  Let’s look at the social media calendar, how to set it up and how to use it to benefit your marketing strategy.

While it may take only seconds to read a tweet, post or view an image, creating those posts can take planning and Herculean effort if you are not organized and prepared for what is to come.  Here are some steps to start you in the right direction and get you posting, tweeting and linking in with the best of them!

  1. Brainstorm as a team – One of the first things your company and, in fact, your brand needs is a decision on what the message is that you want to send out into the social media cyber world.  Do you want to give helpful tips, announce deals, promote an idea, educate about your field, or all of the above?  What value will the reader gain from following your posts?
  2. Topic Lists – Once your team has brainstormed and decided what the main goal is for your social media campaign, you will want to continue brainstorming a list of topics that will be used for blogs, videos, posts, tweets and “pins”.  This list can be linked to your social media calendar so that adding to it and using it will be easy.  Be sure to get authorization that each topic is in line with your main goal.
  3. Write, create, or filmNow that you have an approved list of topics, you can start writing.  Stockpile as many of these as possible and keep them linked to your social media calendar.  By planning ahead you can be mindful of holidays, special events on the horizon or important dates in your field.
  4. Start Scheduling – Using your own template or one that you have decided may work for your company such as HootsuiteSproutsocial, or Hubspot start scheduling out your posts.  Finding the right number and the right time of day for your audience to post may take some trial and error but a quick google for your field of best times to posts can help.
  5. Use Analytics – Every social media campaign should not only be organized into a day/month calendar but also use the tools of analysis to see if the social media posts are doing what you planned.  Did you gain more followers or have a spike in sales?

Creating a social media calendar can hep you clarify your goals, decide on content and get your social campaign organized right down to the day and time you want your audience to see your post!