Guest post by Gina Smith Business owners are continually seeking ways to increase their bottom line. The challenging economy makes this task even more difficult as declines in consumer confidence directly translate into slower sales. How do you increase your bottom line, especially when sales are sliding? The obvious answer it to re-evaluate your marketing strategy, develop new niche markets and consider diversifying your products and/or services. How and what your market should be examined at least annually, if not more often. But, chasing sales is not the only way to increase your bottom line. Sometimes reevaluating your infrastructure can yield some interesting options. For instance, shifting your information technology (IT) structure to a cloud environment can have a positive impact on your bottom line and help your employees be more productive. Let’s examine some ways small businesses are reaping the benefits of the cloud. Less Equipment and Reduced Maintenance Cloud platforms allow you to save and store all company data on secure remote servers. This can significantly reduce and possibly even eliminate the need for a local network. Less on-site equipment means fewer upgrade purchases and reduced repair and maintenance. The overall cost savings of switching to a cloud environment can be significant. Little or No Staff Required Reducing or eliminating your local network means needing less IT staff. This opens up the ability for you to hire additional staff in other areas, or choose to not “rehire” IT positions when an employee leaves your company. Increased Portability and Productivity Sales staff in particular benefit from cloud platforms. For one, the cloud gives them 24/7 remote access to any and all their data from any Wi-Fi enabled device. There is no need for employees to make extra trips back to the office in between meetings and appointments. This can translate into a tremendous savings in mileage reimbursement and wear and tear on company vehicles. “Data Insurance” Many small business are viewing the cloud as a sort of “data insurance” policy. All data is stored offsite on remote cloud servers. So, if your office falls victim to theft or a natural disaster, your data is still safe. Many companies also consider an additional backup service to protect their data in the event of a botched sync or user error. While the cloud has many benefits, it is important to thoroughly screen providers to determine which company and option(s) are best for your company. There are many articles on this topic to help aid you in your research. Don’t be afraid to interview different providers and ask for references. It is important to find the right fit to ensure maximum return on investment (ROI). Gina Smith writes freelance articles for magazines, online outlets and publications for companies such as spanning.com. Smith covers the latest topics in the business, golf, tourism, technology and entertainment industries.
For decades, business owners typically needed a few key things in order to be successful: a great product or service, friendly and knowledgeable employees, and affordable prices. Nowadays, business owners may want to add one more piece to the successful business pie: a mobile application. As an InternetProviders blog explains, businesses that typically have a lot of customers should definitely consider getting a mobile app for their company. More than half the adults in the United States own a smartphone which they use to access the Internet, and a variety of apps.
From a local mom and pop bakery that offers the best bagels in town and realtors who want to stay in touch with their clients, to much larger companies such as car dealerships and department stores, there is a plethora of businesses that would definitely benefit from getting a mobile phone application.
For example, as InternetProviders noted, if a business owner accepts credit cards, getting an app to handle these transactions is pretty much a no-brainer. Officially known as a “mobile swipe app,” anyone (from the guy who mows lawns and trims trees, to the owner of a chic clothing boutique) can accept credit card payments quickly and easily.
The mobile app can also be set up to help improve business. For instance, in addition to scheduling tasks and reminding clients about their appointments, salon owners can use a mobile business app that easily lets customers tell their friends and family about the business. Apps can also help improve customer service. Instead of answering questions about a product over the phone, a customer can engage in an in-app chat.
Apps can also help a company with sales, promotions and deals in order to reach its intended audience. While businesses that send out massive emails announcing a great sale typically find that most of their messages end up in spam folders, push notifications through apps have a better chance of reaching the customer.
Another reason business owners should consider getting a mobile app is because, quite honestly, people expect it, as Forbes points out. Mobile devices make it so easy to access information. We have become spoiled, as we can find out what we want, when we want it. An effective app that looks good and performs well allows business owners to easily offer their products as a ready answer to their customers’ needs.
PC World notes how mobile apps also help to make business sites easier to access on a smartphone, since mobile users won’t have to type in your web address on their tiny screens. While it’s certainly possible to have the business stored as a bookmark on the phone, accessing it means launching a browser and finding the correct link. Apps, on the other hand, are omnipresent, always there and ready to go. For business owners who want to attract as much business as possible, having an easy-to-use and accessible app for a smartphone can make all the difference.Guest Post by Albert Lester Al teaches economics and business at his local high school. He blogs about business, finance, teaching and the economy in his spare time.
By Sara Collins
Social media offers an amazing platform to engage with your customers and really get to know who they are and what they need from your brand. Whether you’re just getting started with your strategy or looking to refine your current one, it’s important to use your social platforms to find effective ways to connect with your customers.Try these five tips to connect with your audience and turn them into loyal followers: • Add Value: You won’t build a lasting follower base by clogging their feeds with product promotions. Of course it’s alright, and even encouraged, to post content about your sales, promotions, new products, events, etc., but don’t make that your only social content. Show your customers that you’re interested in them by starting conversations. For example, on Mondays, ask how their weekends were. Also, find relevant news stories, pictures, and even promotions from other (non-competitors) businesses that might interest them. If your social accounts add value to your customers’ lives, they’ll keep reading what you have to say. • Provide Customer Service: Social media marks the beginning of an era when people don’t want to call your customer service line or email you with problems, : they want them resolved instantly. Do your best to meet this need by offering customer service on your social media sites. Assign an employee to keep a constant eye on your social sites, so they will be able to see and respond to customer posts quickly. People are constantly connected with social media sites, so they expect a quick reply. Waiting an entire day, or even a few hours, to address an issue could make a customer believe you’re not interested and don’t appreciate their business. • Poll Them: Use your social sites for market research. Find out what types of products your customers would like to see from your company in the future. When you come up with a new product idea, post it on social media and allow your customers to give feedback. This can be very helpful, as it’s a quick and easy way to gauge customer interest in new products. It also shows loyal customers how much you value their opinion and want to please them. People love it when their favorite brands make them feel included. • Offer Incentives: Show appreciation to your loyal followers by providing giveaways, coupons, and exclusive invites to events at your business. For example, if you run a restaurant, choose a Twitter follower at random each week to win a coupon for a free appetizer. Or if you own a boutique, extend invitations to your Facebook followers each season to an event showcasing your new arrivals. This makes your followers feel like they’re part of something special and shows them how much you appreciate their support. • Listen: Take the time to learn about your customers by checking out their social media profiles, reading content they post, and seeing what other businesses they’re following. You can really learn a lot about your customer base this way. For example, if you’re a personal trainer and you see a lot of your clients posting things about their upcoming weddings, creating a bridal boot camp might be a good business venture. Or if you run a bakery and notice the majority of your clientele posting comments about your local football team, it might be a lucrative idea to make baked goods with the team logo on them for next week’s game. Social media sites are an invaluable tool for brands to get to know their customers on a deeper level. Create a social media strategy that engages your audience and shows them that you’re interested in what they have to say. Sara Collins is a writer for NerdWallet, a site dedicated to helping users find the best online brokers.
Office workers spend about 28 percent of their time on the job checking email, according to a 2012 McKinsey Global Institute report. People often refer back to find contact information, check schedules, chat with co-workers or see the status on a particular project. In a large office setting, there may be enough labor hours available to accommodate that much screen time, but for a startup, it represents time spent away from creative planning and customer outreach.
According to Allie Siarto of Loudpixel, a central Kanban board — essentially a white board — divided into four sections: "to-do, doing, done and do later," can save time spent in the search window. Below are five more small business tools that improve productivity and foster growth. Here are a few more suggestions for tools that can boost your small business success.
In the past, it was a rare thing if you didn't see a budding entrepreneur with a BlackBerry cell phone. That has changed with the introduction of other smartphones, but Blackberry will always be a phone that caters to business owners. You can check and respond to emails, view presentations and in newer models even share screens and participate in video conferencing. Entrepreneurs often have to travel, work from home or work non-conventional hours — a business-oriented phone makes a mobile office a reality.
An E-Book Library
Small business owners must be their own bosses and MBA professors. To stay on top of business trends and management techniques, keep a few resources on your phone or reader. You can start with the classics like "The Four-Hour Workweek" and "The Dilbert Principle." Both speak to inefficiencies in the traditional office setting. Scan business blogs and articles for more current additions.
Keeping all important business information on a single PC suggests great trust in that hardware and your own abilities. In the likely event of your computer eventually crashing, it's practical to store information online. Storage is secure and inexpensive. Cubby, OpenDrive and Mozy are all options besides the commonly used starter system Dropbox.
The digitally expanded version of the physical Kanban board, Evernote is a free indexing program that will collect and sort information online into folders. Use it to upload audio, PDFs and images for brainstorming, travel planning and client profiles. Use one notebook for tracking competitors and another to research new markets. More creative types may also want to create a professional Pinterest page. The website works on a similar format but has a social media aspect that allows people to see the things you like and "pin" for later. Get inspiration for new photography settings or grab and share catering recipes.
Harvest and Formstack
Marketing and research may get people in the door, but small businesses depend on reliable payments and the ensuing paperwork. Hourly contractors such as designers or consultants can use Harvest to track their time and show concrete data in their invoices. Use Formstack when collecting both initial prospect information and final payments. By leaving logistics to a specifically designed, cost-effective computer program, you can free up time and energy for the tasks that require creativity and individual talent.Guest post by Megan Peterson, an Internet consultant from Chandler, AZ.