Archive for April 29, 2013

Where Do Small Businesses Come Unstuck With Technology?

This is a guest post from Robert

 

There have been various studies conducted in recent years that have looked at the relationships that small businesses have with technology. The findings have varied depending on the objectives of each study, but there have been a number of common trends in all of them.

What are they?

  • Small businesses are often held back by a lack of investment into technology
  • Small businesses can fail to understand the benefits that technology can bring
  • When investment is made, small businesses often look at the wrong products or services, and don’t ‘shop around’ before making a financial commitment

Clearly, these all have the power to have a huge impact on a business, no matter what category you fall into. However, these are merely the headlines, and mask in many ways what the reality is when you dig down deeper into small business and technology.

What are the main areas that small businesses should focus on if they’re looking to resolve the three points above?

Training and Education

It is difficult to escape the feeling that lack of knowledge feeds everything when it comes to technology and small businesses.

  • In terms of making decisions around which technology to use, businesses are guilty of not knowing enough about the products and services available
  • When they purchase a product, they are often culpable of not harnessing it correctly, or understanding the full range of functions it has
  • Businesses will often neglect to dedicate time and resources to training people within their company. Training five to ten employees in a small company how to use an interface or web platform won’t take too long, for example, but the rewards could be huge in the long term.

Training and education is a problem all across this relationship. If the knowledge gaps were closed, more businesses would make better decisions, buy the right products, and dedicate the requisite resources to making them work for them.

How Do You Measure Success?

What is technology to a business, and how does it make a difference?

That is a question too few business owners ask themselves. Measuring how effective technology is, in terms of ROI, is not an easy thing to do, but it is imperative to find a way.

Our suggestion would be to treat a technology product like it’s a human employee. What are its objectives, how much money should it be earning for you, and does it deliver against these?

If you use mobile applications, how much money do they save you in terms of using an accountant for financial reports, or what is the time saving in terms of doing it yourself?

Viewing technology this way will help you to understand the benefits of your products and whether they are worth persisting with.

It is Easy to Stand Still

Once you have invested in a technology product or service, it is easy to think, “Great, we’ve done it.”

However, as you will likely need to make some changes within your business in order to grow and move forward, the same is true for technology. By continuing to innovate in terms of the products and services you use, you will start to learn more and enjoy even bigger benefits.

The key here will be ensuring you balance the desire to innovate against how much you’re looking to spend.

Opening up to Technology

Small businesses need to use technology, and should be open to different products and services at all times. The continuing use of these will depend on how much money can be committed to using them, and how you embrace the learning opportunities they bring.

A failure to embrace technology will have a negative influence on your business, yet it is important that you manage the relationship on your terms.

5 Features of a Toll Free Number that Help a Small Business Grow

A toll free number, also known as 1 800 number, is no longer a luxury of a big business rather it’s an affordable necessity of a small business.  It’s now possible to get an 800, 888, 877, 866 or 855 numbers complete with features like call forwarding, voicemail box, automated receptionist and other features for a low monthly fee.  A toll free number service boosts your business image and reputation. It helps you generate sales and trust among customers. Following are a few salient features of a toll free number:

Increased Productivity

A toll free number allows you to reach out to a wider audience that obviously increases the scope of your business. Using this number, customers across the U.S and Canada can call you for free. It does not charge a customer even when he is calling from somewhere far.  Though there have been quite a few technical advancements in recent years, nothing is as successful as this number when it comes to attracting customers, getting sales and building a reputation nationwide.

See also: Toll free number service can increase the productivity of a small business

Improved communication

An effective communication system is a pre-requisite for building successful relationships – no matter if that relationship is between you and your customers, your vendors or amongst employees.  When a customer can talk to you for free, it not only increases his interest in the products/service but also proves you to be legitimate and credible. A 1 800 number offers a convenient and cost effective solution for developing a communication channel that does not charge callers for the call and is also affordable for you.

See also:  1 800 numbers make your business communication simple

Measure your efforts

All your business efforts must be measurable. You can do a pay-per-click campaign and use Google Analytics to measure its success. But how do you measure the success of a promotional campaign or an advertisement on a billboard? You can say by the number of calls you receive. Do you know exactly how many calls you received from which advertisement? No. Using a toll free number you can easily differentiate the number of calls received from each advertisement. You can use two different toll free numbers for the promotional campaigns and for the billboard campaign. Now count the number of calls received on each number.

See also: Calculating your ROI on toll free numbers

Makes you look big

Using a 1 800 number in conjunction with a virtual phone system can make a business look bigger than it actually is. It allows a business to create multiple extensions and enjoy advanced features like call forwarding, voicemail box, virtual PBX, automated attendant and other advanced business features. It almost instantly makes a business look big and functions like one of those Fortune 500 companies – professional greetings every time you call, forwards calls within minutes, allows you to leave a message in the voicemail box if the right person is not available, etc.

See also: 1 800 numbers to boost your business image

Allows enjoying advanced telecommunication features

Using a toll free number with a virtual PBX service allows a business to enjoy some of the advanced telecommunication features – virtually. Like a virtual receptionist and virtual fax. So you do not need to hire a receptionist for your business and yet you enjoy all the benefits of having one. Moreover, it allows you to send and receive fax without a fax machine.

See also: The virtual features of a virtual PBX service help your business grow

5 Tips For Effective Team Building In A Small Business

This is a guest post from Jasmine Gadd (HBA Learning Centre)

Employees are the heart of a small business, and keeping them happy and working together effectively is extremely important. It can be a challenge to appropriately manage staff in a small company, but there are a few tips that can help a small business owner build an effective and dedicated team.

1. Hold Company Events

Company events are a great way to foster good relationships between staff members. Company events can be as simple as remembering employee birthdays and as complex as company retreats. Picnics, potlucks, and holiday celebrations are all great opportunities for an event, though care must be taken that holiday celebrations are completely inclusive.

2. Communicate With Your Staff

Communication is very important to a small business, and a small business owner should always take care to check in with their staff members and find out if there are any pressing issues and if there are any things they are unhappy with. Annual, quarterly, or even monthly reviews can be a great time for an owner to discuss things with their staff members and find out what they’re thinking. Small business owners often have an informal atmosphere but this can make it difficult for employees to feel heard.

3. Give The Company Goals

Giving employees certain goals to meet such as sales goals or days without accidents can unite employees and make them feel as though they’re working together for a common purpose. When giving employees goals it’s important to figure out the best way to reward them for meeting those goals. A small party or celebration for a company when it meets a revenue marker or productivity goal is a great way to reward staff and make them feel that they are valued.

4. Deal With Problems Quickly

In a small business, a problem between staff members can quickly escalate. The moment that a business owner recognizes that there’s a problem among staff the business owner should take action to determine the nature of the problem and what can be done to resolve it. Not only does this fix any issues quickly, but it also means that staff members feel as though they are heard and feel as though they have recourse if there are things that are wrong. This can make them feel safer and more secure in the office and more in touch with their fellow employees.

5. Manage Workplace Health And Safety

Healthy and safe employees are happy employees. Appropriately managing workplace health and safety is a great way to make employees feel valued and as though the company cares about their well-being. Safety issues should never involve cut corners, and health initiatives can be a great way to help employees bond. Company weight loss campaigns or participation in marathons can both promote employee health and encourage employees to work together. An exercise area can also be a great way to get employees to interact during their breaks and discuss a common experience.

About Author

Jasmine Gadd wrote this article for HBA Learning Centre. Being a writer and a business consultant for small businesses, she encourages small business owners to obtain an HBA Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety which is essential for any business to run smoothly.

Toll Free Number Service Can Increase the Productivity of Small Businesses

In a recent study by the United States Federation of Small Business (USFSB) and DYMO, it has been found that small businesses are reducing their workforce or their business travel in order to increase their profitability. Here is a breakdown of how small companies are reducing their budget in order to stay competitive:

  • 23% have reduced their workforce
  • 29% have frozen bonuses and hikes
  • 36% have reduced their business travel

While at the same time these small businesses are struggling to increase their productivity and efficiency, they are looking for new ways and technologies that can help them in getting new business while keeping the existing ones happy.  Though there are many new technological boons in the recent years that can help businesses attract new customers, nothing is as effective as a toll free number service. A toll free number service helps you to reach out to people and customers easily. Following is a brief outline of how your small business can benefit by using this number service:

Reach Out to People Easily

Your customers from across the U.S and Canada can reach you for free, when you use a toll free number service for your business phone number. Toll free numbers are a special type of number where the caller does not pay for the call – rather it’s the recipient who pays for the call. So when your customers know that they are not going to spend a cent for the call, they feel more relaxed to call you and inquire about your products/service. Now, these calls are your opportunities to attract new businesses and convert them to dedicated customers.

Brand Building Exercise

A toll free number service can also include using a special type of number, which is known as vanity toll free number. Vanity numbers are especially renowned for building a brand and making your marketing and advertising efforts successful. If you want your small business to be successful, it is important that you have a brand of your own. Companies are usually referred to by their branding and some brands have become synonymous with their vanity numbers, for example 1 800 GO FEDEX.

You should put your vanity number everywhere to make it popular among people. Research has shown that people remember vanity numbers more easily than numeric toll free numbers. So, once you have a vanity number, try including it everywhere – in your advertisement on TV, billboards, and most importantly on your website. If you are using social networking sites like Facebook or LinkedIn remember to include your number there as well. People will become aware of your brand and this is exactly what you need.

Makes Your Business Credible

It is an acknowledged fact that people like to have business relationships only with companies that are big and professional, because they find big businesses to be more credible than smaller ones. So to attract new customers, it is important for you to look big. A toll free number service makes your business look big and professional. Since traditionally, a toll free number has been the hallmark of big business, your business automatically enters this privileged group, as soon as you include this number in your contact list. This definitely increases your chances of getting more business.

How an Auto Attendant Can Help Your Business

An auto attendant gives your business a special edge over your competitors by ensuring that all the incoming calls are automatically and professionally handled. This helps you in increasing productivity and reducing cost for business operations.  We understand that growing a small business is a hard job and no one will have the luxury to answer every call they receive on their business number. An auto attendant professionally answers all your incoming calls and directs the callers to the right person or department quickly. It is a luxury within a small budget. An automated attendant is part of a virtual phone system and has proved to be extremely beneficial for businesses.

Available Anywhere Anytime

Missing a call can prove to be quite expensive for any business. An auto attendant forwards calls to more than one phone number or to the voicemail box if you are not available to answer the call. The phone system sends out alerts as soon as there’s a new voice message. Using this auto receptionist you can forward and answer customers anywhere and at anytime – on a cell phone, office phone or home phone.

Reduces Cost

An auto attendant completely eliminates your need to hire an office receptionist. It works 24 hours a day 7 days a week greeting and routing callers to the right person/department.  In today’s time few businesses operate within strict time limits. So it is important to have somebody to answer and forward calls even after regular hours of business operations. This automated attendant is also perfect for this purpose. It can forward calls to your cell phone or to any other pre-defined phone number or to your voicemail box.

Complying with Corporate Standards

For mobile workers, an auto attendant is an important tool for maintaining the business’s corporate identity and complying with their corporate standards for business and security. No matter if you are answering customers on a cell phone, it is important that when a customer calls your business contact number, he should be professionally greeted and be presented with a list of interactive menu options. This is also important for your brand.  When you use an auto receptionist you can be sure that you (and your employees) are sticking to the corporate standards, which otherwise would be difficult.

 Easy to Use

An auto attendant is also quite easy to use. It is actually an important feature of a virtual phone system and is usually used along with a virtual phone. It does not need any software, installation or hardware. The message of an automated attendant can also be customized. You can edit or change it according to your need, business need or according to a particular season or festival.

 

Related Posts:

1 800 Numbers Make Your Business Communication Simple

When your goal is to make customers call your business, then nothing works better than 1 800 numbers. It makes you easily available to your customers. A toll free number extends your business reach and encourages existing as well as prospective customers to call you using 800 numbers.  Customers might need to call you for a variety of reasons: inquiring about products/services, customer support, etc. But when you are using a toll free number, they are pretty sure that you value their call and they feel important.

Convenient and Cost Effective Calling

In today’s busy times, convenience is very important. 1 800 numbers not only make it easier for your customers to call you but also enables your employees, partners, and suppliers to reach you conveniently and cost effectively 24 hours a day. A toll free number makes you easily accessible across the country. Customers, partners or employees can now call you for free from anywhere in the country, even when they are calling from somewhere far. This goes a long way in building your business reputation.

Tailor Made Plans

Most of the service providers of 1 800 numbers offer robust service plans that are tailor made to meet the need of every entrepreneur. You can start by choosing one of these plans and can change to another plan as and when the business grows. Most of the providers do not even require a long term contract for using this number service. Moreover, you can also enjoy a free trial with most of them!

Stay in Touch – Always

1 800 numbers also allow the creation of extensions. It is now easy to create and use dedicated extensions for every department or for every employee. Using a toll free number it is also possible to forward calls to your cell phone or any other phone. So now it’s possible to answer customers even when you are not in the office, traveling, in a hotel or anywhere. A toll free number plays a crucial role in maintaining constant connectivity with customers, colleagues, partners or employees.

Advertising Your Business

1 800 numbers serve another very important business purpose. They can be used for advertising your business, products or services. A special type of toll free number, known as a vanity number is used for this purpose. Vanity numbers contain a combination of numbers and words (or phrases) that closely represent the business. For example, 1 800 GET LOAN – this clearly shows that this is the number of a loan broker. A vanity number clearly propagates two very important messages: first, the type of business (it usually contains the name of the product/service) and second, the contact number to reach the business.

5 tips to Grow Your Small Business

You might be very enthusiastic about starting a new business, but growing small business needs patience, labor and time. It is a stressful job and you need to follow certain tips or ticks to succeed. Following are five important tips that can help you grow your small business:

First, be sure about your products and services. You must be absolutely sure about your products and services – their features, their benefits, etc. You should also be able to project a USP (Unique Selling Point) of your product or service to your customers. It is important that you point out a USP because that will help you to get an edge over your competitors.

Second, try to be absolutely sure about your targeted audience. You must know and identify the group of people who can benefit the most by using your products and services. Now the next step is to direct all your marketing, advertising and promotional efforts to address the right group. In order to generate sales, your product/service must be able to reach the right customers, and then only you can expect sales.

Third, try to hire the right people who have prior experience in working with similar products or services. It is important that you should have the right team in place before you start your business operations. It might be difficult for you to hire the best talent for your business because being a start-up you might be operating with a small budget but you can always offer other benefits to compensate the shortfall of money. Like allow your employees to work from home. These small benefits can go a long way in attracting talented resources.

Fourth, your business should have clear values, goals and ethics. These actually help your business to lay a strong foundation. It also helps you to measure your achievements. But when you are defining the goals or work ethics of your business, try to be realistic. Setting unrealistic goals can prove to be harmful for your business.

And lastly, your customers; they are the king of any business. Listen to your customers and try to incorporate their suggestions and feedback. Take their feedback in good spirit and try to incorporate them in your product/service. You should also ask your customers for feedback at regular intervals. Regular feedback from customers helps you improve your productivity and efficiency.  Also try to stay as close to your customers as possible. Use all means like, Feedback, Twitter, LinkedIn and a virtual phone system to maintain constant connectivity with your customers.