Friday, November 27, 2009

How Can I Convince My Clients to Stay?

Many an entrepreneur has started off in business hoping to make that first million with this new venture. Some have done well; others have not. Those who have succeeded have learned a very basic secret. Building a large customer base is not as important as building a strong customer base. These are the customers that will stay with you in good times and bad.

How does one go about finding these types off customers? The answer is that you can't find them; you have to create them. In other words, you must develop a strong bond and relationship with your customers. It is the human relationship, not the business one, which is the glue that will keep you together.

It certainly is not easy. You have to invest a great deal of time and energy to build that relationship. You need learn all that you can about a client. What are his individual needs? Does he have quirks that you will have to adapt to? How can you help his business beyond the product or service that you provide?

Listening is crucial. Take time to communicate personally with your clients. Nothing will ever replace the human touch. Spend time researching your client and prepare yourself for meetings with him. Elevate yourself to a point where you know more about him than anybody does.

Don't only meet with a client in order to sell. Meet in order to talk. Offer advice and assistance. A client who knows, not perceives, that you are truly interested in him and his business will work together with you to seal that bond.

Invest your energies in finding ways to develop a partnership of sorts with your clients. Once a customer perceives that his leaving the relationship is not worth the price, you will have discovered the secrets of client retention.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Stimulus Funds in Canada to Become Permanent?

Much has been written these last few months about the effects if the recession, or whatever term one may wish to call the global economic situation since last year. Some countries have weathered the storm better than others. Certainly, Canada, while by no means having fully recovered, is on much stronger financial footing as compared to our neighbours to the south. Experts have attributed many factors to Canada's relative strength. But, putting aside the past, the questions that still remain unanswered pertain to the future.

One factor that is contributing to Canadian recovery is the strength of public confidence. As the belief in the stability of the economy grows stronger, the recession and its effects recede that much more. However, what will be if the global economy takes a nosedive once again. Are we prepared for that?

The Canadian government has been a major player in managing the recession and orchestrating the country's recovery. A large factor has been the availability of federal funds available through a variety of programs tailored to the various needs of the business community. While these programs were designed as a temporary stopgap to help weather the storm and keep the business sector liquid, government officials are now asking themselves whether it might be wise to make a basis of liquidity permanently available.

On one hand, officials see the inherent benefit of providing funds to facilitate the continuous functioning of core markets. On the other hand, researchers for the Bank of Canada are concerned that these "permanently available" funds might induce investors to take on excess risk, secure in the knowledge that there will always be a bail out plan ready.

While the debate continues, the government and the central bank have learned that they must maintain sufficient flexibility and readiness to respond to any future liquidity problems.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Keeping Your Client Base: How Important is One Customer?

  If it came to a debate, the truth is that both opinions would be on the same side. Those who have succeeded in their business ventures will tell you what newcomers to the business world don't always know – it is far more important to hold on to strong customers rather than just finding new ones.

Of course, logic might deem otherwise. Shouldn't I always be on the lookout for new customers? Shouldn't I try to inflate my customer base, making it as large as possible? Let there be no misunderstanding. Customers are very important to a business. After all, no business, no income. But, let's be honest. Is there any guarantee that the new customer that you found yesterday will still be there tomorrow? On the other hand, even in times that are less than the best, the chances are quite good that a long-standing, loyal customer will still be there.
Client retention is vital to the longevity of a business. It is not enough to lure customers through pricing that beats the competition. After all, tomorrow the competition may lower his prices and your customer will follow the price trends.

Studies have shown that retaining customers will positively impact the bottom line of a business up to 15 times more than landing new customers. That's money in your pocket at a much lower risk.

Providing great service is not enough to guarantee customer loyalty. It is imperative to develop an actual relationship. Make the relationship deep enough so that the client will not be tempted to take his business elsewhere. When you develop a level of trust with your client that, ultimately, helps him as well as you, you will manage to build a relationship that will remain strong, even when times are tough.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Show Me the Startup Money

You have the idea and the knowledge. The desire, drive and ability are there. You're ready to dive into that new business but, alas, you lack the money to start. Where does an entrepreneur secure the necessary start-up capital for a new venture?

By far, the easiest source of funds is from family and friends. Roughly 13% of all Canadian entrepreneurs use this route. Keep in mind, though, that family and funds don't always mesh well. It may be a better idea to have a relative or friend co-sign or guarantee a loan, rather than lend their own money.

Certainly, the lender with the most available cash is the bank. Unfortunately, though, banks often pose the most obstacles to borrowers. One solution to satisfying the bank's criteria is to apply for Small Business Financing via your bank. This federal program is backed by Industry Canada and guarantees 85% of the value of bank loans.

Angel capital may work for you. "Angels" are investors, generally former business executives or entrepreneurs. In addition to their money, they also can offer expertise and contacts. While they are not seeking control of your company, they do expect a healthy return and may wish to take an active role until their investment is returned.

It is well worth investing some time and energy to see if any government programs are applicable to your needs. Generally, these programs offer favourable terms and have flexible payment options.

Some 22% of Canadians have used credit cards to fund their start-ups. By checking interest rates, some have found these loans to be to their advantage.  Also, as new credit lines with lower rates become available, older loans can be repaid and interest saved.

Consider all your options and best of luck in your new business.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

'Tis the Season to be Eco-Green

Some say it's fashionable. Others say that it's political fodder. However, most Canadians have begun to see that our climate is truly changing. As such, the way we live must change as well. And, certainly, the business community must become far more environmentally sustainable.

Business analysts have discovered that "going green" is not just a socially acceptable act. It actually makes good business sense and, ultimately, has a positive impact on the bottom line.

For example, eco-friendly companies are those that have managed to reduce resource usage and waste volumes. In turn, this reduces expenses, both in personnel and equipment. A recent research study concluded that integration of sustainability practices can increase profits for small and medium sized companies by up to 66% over five years.

Customer relations are the backbone of business. The public is far more likely to support industry that is doing "the right thing" in regards to the environment. Recent studies have shown that two-thirds of consumers are likely to shift their loyalty to environmentally friendly companies.

Companies can also realize savings from reduced personnel costs. Hiring and attrition cost money. A recent survey of students revealed that 68% felt that social and environmental reputation of an employer were more important than salary. Most would prefer to sign on for the long term with an eco-friendly employer.

Recycling is good for the environment as well as for the ledgers. Companies can save tremendous amounts of money by recycling equipment and materials. Moreover, by encouraging employees to take part in the effort, companies build loyalty and increase productivity.

Don't view going green as a threat. View it positively and reap the benefits of a healthier environment and a rewarding business.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Managing Your Corporate Knowledge

Thanks to your hard work and dedication, your business has grown. Once a small workforce that met for coffee and donuts every morning, the company has now grown into a major concern with scores of employees in several locations. As the boss, you knew each employee and probably taught them what to do. In a pinch, you could fill in for them as well. Today, though, the employees are names on an HR roster. The bigger issue, though, is that you have lost touch with what each employee knows. As the person at the top, it is vital for you to know how much human knowledge and skills are at your disposal.

A proper Knowledge Management (KM) system is a vital tool. It helps uncover the knowledge in your organization and reduce or eliminate gaps caused by employee turnover. Furthermore, it helps businesses avoid duplication of work.

A recent study of companies with a KM program revealed some startling figures. 63% of the companies had realized an acceleration of innovation. Two thirds of the companies had reduced operating costs. A similar percentage experienced a dramatic increase in teamwork and cooperation as well as an increase in responsiveness and performance speed. The study also calculated that failure to exploit knowledge in an organization effectively results in 6% of a company's annual revenue remaining unrealized.

Experts in KM recommend implementing an intranet-based information system in order to make information readily available and accessible within your company. Similarly, exit interviews for departing employees should be carefully conducted so that specific knowledge does not go out the door with the employee.

Finally, even though your business has grown, make the time to socialize informally with employees. In order to work as a team, you must know the team members.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Getting the Most Out of Your Employee Team

No, this is not a sports pep rally. However, just as in sports, success is heavily dependant upon teamwork. The higher the performance of the team, the better the chances for productive outcome.

     Every employer knows that one of the hardest operating challenges in business is assembling the right people for your team. Hiring unknown individuals is always a partial gamble. Therefore, a combination of instinct and skill is required to hopefully pick correctly.

     You've worked hard and sacrificed to realize a dream in building your business. You would like your employees to share that dream. Therefore, an employee for whom this is "just a paycheque" may not be the wisest choice for your management team. You want people who can see beyond the job.

     A good team player is willing and able to listen to others, as well as share ideas. There must be common agreement that the team works together under the leadership of one individual whose own goals for the business become the collective goals. Ambition in an employee is positive, provided that the ambition does carry its own agenda.

     Look for problem solvers on your team. There is no reason for you to carry all the weight yourself. Also, your team should feel as passioniate as you do. Share the lows and the highs become far more important to achieve.

     Individual roles should be clearly defined and each member of your team should know how they relate to the team as a whole. Build a well oiled-machine that functions perfectly when each part is operating in sync.

     Don't rely too heavily on references. Quite often, you will hear only what you want or you will be told only what someone wants you to hear. Look for the right qualities, ask the right questions, get the right feeling, and you should be on your way to assembling a top-notch team for your business.
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Who Wants to be a Techie?

Remember the days when the computer technician worked almost around the clock to keep the system up and running, or develop that new program that would save the company? It would appear that the classic techie image is not what one might imagine. Several studies have been conducted recently and the world of IT employees has changed dramatically over the last decade.

     Recent industry figures indicate that 420,000 Canadians are employed in technology, nearly half of them in Ontario. The tech personnel divide into two basic categories – development and support. The development professionals, who comprise a small percentage of the field, do work incredibly long hours in order to perfect their products and get them out in the market as soon as possible. Product competition is fierce and time is of the essence. Most techies, though, work in support positions and the vast majority is employed at non-tech companies. Studies show that most of these techies work, at most, a 40 hour work week and barely 10% of them work overtime hours. No more is required. A company's IT department is no longer the mysterious room hidden in the sub-basement of the building. It is a regular functioning department of most companies, solving problems and providing services, as do other departments.

     As companies continually seek the youngest and brightest stars of the IT world, the question arises as to aging employees. A young employee may be computer savvy but lacks the management skills to run a department or complex system. Most IT managers come from within the ranks of the tech staff. In fact, most overtime hours are logged by older IT management staff. Generally, they help out on the technical side by day and complete their administrative tasks after hours. The higher you go, the harder you work. A far cry from days gone by when everyone went home after dark.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Employee Etiquette: Being Held Accountable

 If your business has more than one employee, you inevitably have to deal with the question of accountability. Something is left incomplete or a task is not performed and someone must be held accountable. As an organization increases in size, so does the chain of accountability.

     The truth is that the individual may be at fault but, quite often, they are responding to a larger environment. The work atmosphere dictates how an individual performs. In the big picture, employees will generally respond in a similar fashion to their superiors.

     A good manager knows the right way to foster a spirit of accountability. For example, adherence to guidelines is crucial. If you set deadlines, stick to them. If you don't, why should your employee? Do you adhere to schedules of meetings by starting and finishing on time? What about follow up? There is nothing worse than assigning a task and ignoring the follow up. The old fashioned "red flag" system still works wonders. Mark assignment dates in your date book (remember those?) and attach a little coloured sticker to show you when you have to check it. Finish your meetings with a summary so that everyone knows what was discussed and what lies ahead.

     We have all learned to give positive encouragement. However, a manager who is afraid of giving negative feedback is far less effective. Certainly, there are constructive ways to deliver criticism. There is also a realistic limit how many times an employee can make the same mistake before having to re-evaluate their position. Management is a skill that must be used correctly to derive maximum achievement. Like any aspect of business, it has an accounting system that must be properly balanced. Learning how to create that fine balance is one of the secrets of a successful business organization.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Defying the Economic Downturn

Throughout the last year or so, volumes have been written about the global recession. Every economist has an opinion and every analyst has a theory. Of course, one cannot ignore the politicians who have opinions, theories, and rhetoric as well.

     The fact is that most of us have been affected by the recession in one way or another. For some, it may mean that their favourite neighbourhood store closed its doors. For others, the effect may have been more severe, either through unemployment or a reduction of savings.

     Whatever one's situation may be, the question is what the best reaction is. That is not to say that there are immediate solutions to all problems. For many, it may take quite a while to bounce back from the recession. But, is it enough to be passive and wait for the economic climate to improve or can one use this period of time to one's advantage?

     Some leaders in the business community, despite having suffered financial losses, feel that this period of economic slowdown is an ideal time to promote leadership growth, to gain a tighter focus on business, and to implement new business-model improvements. Use this time to tighten the reins and strengthen one's business in order to emerge stronger and more cohesive when the slump ends.

     One way to tighten the reins is to focus on your business and set several clear and simple goals. Do those small things consistently and do them well. By re-establishing your methods through redefined goals, you will foster improvement. And, believe it or not, improvement is contagious. Create a positive future outlook and your employees will get the spirit. The re-energized team will be in place when the economy turns around.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Is the Competitor Your Enemy?

Running your own business comes complete with its own set of headaches and worries. Virtually every business owner has had a few sleepless nights. However, the question must be asked if perhaps we sometimes imagine problems that aren't really there. Perhaps our minds and imaginations create threats that do not materialize.

     A popular misconception in the world of business is that the competition is our chief enemy. While it is true that both of us are targeting the same market, it may also be true that there is enough business for both if us. Moreover, it may also be true that, perhaps, neither of us can effectively service the entire market. Furthermore, each of us may have a slightly different approach for promoting our business and both approaches are effective.

     The bottom line is that sometimes we expend a tremendous amount of energy in attempting to thwart the competition. But, if we were to view the competition as an ally in the business world, we could invest that energy in promoting our business.

     The truth is that some business leaders have learned that developing a relationship with their chief competitors can be most beneficial. After all, if the competitor wants information about your business, he will obtain it. Why not sit together and share ideas? We all can learn from others. Who is better to learn from than someone who has the same problems that you do? The old saying that "two heads are better than one" does not necessarily only mean you and your assistant. By working together with the competition – sharing ideas, establishing territories, setting standards – you can help each other conquer the world.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Happiness is the Key to a Successful Business

More than 40 years ago, a classic episode of The Flintstones featured a segment that was ahead of its time. Fred's wife, Wilma, stars on a television program and sings the Rockenspiel jingle. Those who remember this episode will recall that the song instructs wives to make their hubby happy.

     Even the creators of those stone-age characters realized that happiness is crucial to business growth. Entrepreneurs across the business spectrum share common goals in their desire to secure their profitable share of the market. That which divides business leaders in their quest is the method of how to constantly reach those goals. Believe it or not, some of the greatest business success stories have discovered that happiness is the key factor to continued growth.

     Of course, one might argue that happiness is an intangible factor that cannot be measured.  The truth, though, is that happiness can be measured. More than 30 years ago, a consultant named Fred Reichheld created a measuring system called the Net Promoter Score (NPS). The method is quite simple. After completing a sale or service, the customer is asked to rate the likelihood of their recommending the company to a friend or colleague. Low scores (detractors) are subtracted from the high scores (promoters) and passives (mid-range scores) are left out of the equation. The result is the Net Promoter Score.

     According to Mr. Reichheld's studies, world class companies scored an NPS of 20 – 50. Some score much higher. The more aggressive companies measure their NPS daily and analyze results to look for patterns of what makes their customers happy. By repeating those patterns, they can keep customer happiness high and continue their success. Conversely, they can also track the issues that bother customers and try to eliminate those unhappiness factors.

     Remember, a happy customer is a loyal customer, and a loyal customer is repeat business and recommendations.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How a Virtual Phone System can give your company a competitive edge – without having to spend big bucks

As the Internet brings the world closer and closer together, it’s impossible for a small business to see its competition purely at a local level.  Instead, competition has now grown to be national or international in scope, and your small business needs to have infrastructure in place to maintain a competitive edge over the competition.

One great tool in retaining that edge is by using a Virtual Phone System.  The basic concept of a Virtual Phone System is simple: instead of having your customers contact you and your employees at different phone numbers (sometimes in different area codes, depending on the nature of your business), a Virtual Phone System brings your whole network together, under one phone number.

Your client’s calls are answered by a virtual receptionist, who then routes the customer to the correct extension.  Besides the obvious streamlining for your customer, this method provides a number of additional benefits to make your company competitive on a national level:
  • Always in contact, no matter where you are: With a Virtual Phone System, you can change the phone number your extension routes to instantly.  That means you can always be in contact with your customers, no matter if you’re in the office, or on your mobile. 
  • Give a big company feel: Having all of your employees under one joint number gives your customers a “big company” feel – no matter if your employees are in the same office as you, or half way around the world.
Q&A extensions to free you up from unnecessary phone calls: If you have common questions you receive 
  • a number of calls about, a Virtual Phone System can help eliminate the human time required to answer them, with automated Q&A extensions. Your customer can get the answers they need, without ever having to contact you directly.
Ready to gain the competitive edge you need to take your company to the next level?  Then sign up with Virtual Call System today.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Small Business Leadership Skills: Keep Focused

There is a condition that is common to many entrepreneurs. Many suffer from it in varying degrees. The condition is commonly known as Multiple Idea Syndrome (MIS).

     MIS manifests itself by creating a temporary inability to effectively focus on one's business ventures due to an abundance of new business ideas that crop up daily in the mind of the entrepreneur. The result may be impaired management techniques, lack of leadership, and reduced attention to business development.

     Such is the mind of the entrepreneur. One good idea leads to another and opportunity is always just around the corner, waiting to be found. However, danger also lurks around the corner. New ideas are wonderful.  But, a business has to be continually nurtured and properly cared for. If you are the spearhead behind a business, it’s up to you to provide the leadership and spirit to keep it moving.  There is a time and a place for everything. Pitching continual new ideas may not be the best management technique for your business.

     You have a vision of where you would like your business to go. Keep to it! Don't allow yourself to veer from the path you planned by constantly trying new ventures at the expense of the ongoing one. You are the backbone of your business and must provide the leadership for others. Inspire through hands-on management. If you are perceived as being "all over the place'" your business will suffer. Set a course of action and lead your team to follow that course.

     And what of new ideas? Abandon them? Of course not. Just be sure that you don't lose focus of plan one before you set plan two into motion.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Some Interesting Facts About Canadian Small Business

They may be called "small" but small business is a major player in the Canadian economy.

Take, for example, job creation. Over a ten year period, beginning in 1997, over 37 percent of all new private sector jobs were created by small businesses. In fact, almost half the Canadian private sector workforce – 48 percent - is employed by small businesses. If we dig a little further, over two thirds of the employment of five major industries are in small business: non-institutional health care, construction, accommodation and food, forestry, and general services.

Although economic figures vary from source to source, it is estimated that small business in Canada generates from one third to half the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country. From a human standpoint, small business accounts for more than 5.5 million jobs from coast to coast. Taking a closer look at the human aspect of the figures, 95 percent of all Canadian service-producing enterprises are considered to be small businesses.

It seems that many Canadians prefer to keep their businesses small. Statistics Canada reports that 75 percent of all businesses employ fewer than 5 employees. Furthermore, the Canadian desire to keep their businesses relatively small far exceeds their American counterparts. Canadian business owners continue to work at more advanced ages in order to maintain operating the business that they built. More than a quarter of self-employed Canadians are over the age of 55. According to studies, older Canadians enjoy the freedom of lifestyle that comes with being self-employed and prefer to work longer in years in order to maintain that freedom.
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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Half the Canadian Labour Force Employed by Small Business

Thinking of opening your own small business? Many Canadians do. Nearly half the Canadian labour force is employed by small business. The question, though, is what the best business choice is. With a veritable plethora of options, choosing the right business is difficult. Also, the shaky economy gives cause for caution. Consumer spending has been reduced to must-haves. This, though, still leaves many business opportunities. Recent studies have listed some of the best business options for 2009.

Repair businesses still have a place in the economy as people prefer to fix something rather than buy new. Clothing, appliances, and automobiles are but a few of the repair businesses that continue to thrive.

Fast food is a major part of the national diet and is most likely to remain a lucrative business for years to come. Believe it or not, chocolate is also big business, despite the difficult times. Chocolate calls to people like no other confection. Find the right niche in the gourmet or specialized chocolate industry and you're on your way.

The ever-growing demand for senior care provides tremendous opportunities. Businesses range from opening a care facility to providing home services. A related industry that is growing is medical supplies, both for personal and commercial use.

Times are tough but dirt is dirt. Businesses still need to be cleaned and the demand for quality commercial cleaning services is high.

Sports are still important, despite the recession. Sales figures show that sales of sports equipment remain strong and Canadians are willing to shell out good money for sports equipment, even if they have to work a little harder to earn it.

Dollars are scarce. Therefore, discount stores provide a strong retail option for consumers. On the other side of the coin, there are those who have defaulted on payments. Collection agencies are opening across the country to help collect debts.

Finally, perhaps motivational speaking is for you. These speakers appear daily, and are quite popular. More than anything, they offer hope to audiences and hope, these days, is in great demand.
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