Post-Bailout Business Survival Tips

As the past few weeks have brought news of bank after bank failing, stock market yo-yo, and political gridlock, a lot of businesses are feeling the pinch. This election will be over soon, and hopefully, life will return to normalcy. Until then, however, a few ideas to keep your company moving forward, regardless of news headlines.

1. Keep marketing. No matter what happens, your marketing is your focus. It has to be. Marketing is your business and even though it seems foolish to spend precious funds on it, you should be spending some money on it. You can cut some things (think scalpel, not hatchet) from your marketing budget, but continue to make it a priority.

2. Communicate your long-term strategies—and your short-term strategies—to your employees. Keep everyone in the loop. Anxiety is high enough as it is. Don't hold ultra-secret meetings closed to lesser employees. Bring everyone in and talk about the tough economy, the uneasiness over the Wall Street bailout, and how it will shake out for your company (and each of those employees) and don't be afraid to use your real words. Be reassuring, be hopeful, be cautious, be open.

3. Don't drop your customer service focus. Your customers are feeling the pinch just like you and they need reassurance that the business world is doing all right. So, lay out the red carpet. Offer an impromptu sale when someone orders more than you expected. Listen to their concerns and make sure you act on them. In days like this, a little customer service goes a long way, believe me.

4. Cut costs where you can. Offer employees the chance to work from home if they are able, institute a spending freeze on extraneous expenses, such as business travel (think teleconference), fancy office machines and tools (put the purchase off for next year, unless you absolutely need the write-off), restructure for a week or two to get a difficult project out the door rather than hire on more freelance help, and so on.

5. Plan for better days. Nothing helps current gloom and doom by thinking ahead to better times. There will be better times. Have a brainstorming meeting. Create fancy flyers that you can hang around the office ("Plan Our Next Decade: 2010 and Beyond") and dream big. It will be fun, take the stress off for a while, and may result in some great ideas you can implement right now.

Just a few ideas for today as we wait to see how everything shakes out. We've been through worse and I'm hopeful things will be better. So plan for it!

Say Good Bye to Sticky Notes

Reminders are everywhere. It began with a ribbon around the finger and has evolved to mounds of sticky notes attached to every foreseeable corner of your desk. It's cluttered, messy, and not at all in line with your company's recent pledge to be more streamlined and efficient. Companies want written records and one of the most important things is about follow up. With conference calls, they can be so jam packed with information that sometimes it might feel like you are writing non stop throughout the whole thing just to take good notes on what you need to discuss more later on. Hopefully, you are recording every conference call.

The new call notes system can help you keep track of the information for particular conference calls. A single click of the mouse can tell you everything you need to know about a particular call. With the conference call note capability, now it's possible to go into the conference and add a tag (up to 100 characters) beside the conference name in the history.

Notes
The call notes column has been added to your conference account history.

If you're not sure where to start or why you would want to take advantage here are some perfect examples of why this feature is such a great addition.

  • Purpose: A lot of companies use their conference codes again and again, but still need to keep track of what was discussed on a specific conference call.
  • Editing Recordings: Many offices have a staff of people who handle the editing of call recordings. Usually they have to wait for the director or manager to let them know when and where the conference should be edited. With the conference notes system you can tag the call with the editing instructions for the person to know what you want on each call.
  • Initiation: Update the notes section to include the person who either initiated the conference or was moderating the call.  If you invited a speaker or even a VIP to the call, you can list their name in this section as well.
  • Task Manager: Use the call notes as a task manager. Instead of flooding yourself with handwritten notes about things that need to be done, use our online notes to keep track of which calls you need to have transcribed, which calls need to be uploaded for review, hosted on your website, or sent to individuals. Are you now planning to make some of these calls available for dial-in playback? Put a note into the call to remind yourself to go back and set the conference to allow for that. Are you ready to change your codes on a particular call? Make a note that says "need code change" to either remind yourself to do it or to let a secretary or assistant know that needs to be done.


Use the call notes system to indicate specific information about your call.

Notes

With an 800 forwarding account this feature is available as well

  • As an engineer or someone over seeing a large project, you can make call notes in your log regarding who was calling you and what they were calling about. If the contractor calls to let you know there's a delay you can make a simple note: "Contractor – delay in permits" that way you know what is going on without having to go into each recording.
  • Faxes: When you receive a fax through your forwarding number, the PDF is stored on your account log and by using the call notes system you can keep track of what the fax is regarding without needing to keep a printed copy of the fax.
  • Use the call notes system to track for business purposes. When a call is received the log can be updated to reflect the persons name, phone number, or content of the call.

By doing this, the need to keep written notes is further eliminated, allowing even more access to the things that are important, like business information, and taking one more step towards eliminating the sticky note pad all together.

Improved Data Safety for Businesses

You hear in the news practically on a weekly basis these days about thousands of user or employee records being lost due to theft of a secure laptop or file. While most businesses don't have the responsibility of anything nearly that large, the personal information of your employees and your own proprietary information needs to stay secure. What steps have you taken to protect your employee's information and your own business data?

1. Are your employee records under lock and key? If they are accessed electronically, is the password changed often? Is it accessed often or do limited persons have it for their use? How do you know who is viewing your employee's information?

2. When hiring people to handle your HR or accounting work, do you run a background check? The idea of running background checks might not seem palatable to most business that don't handle large amounts of confidential data, but isn't the information you hold important?

3. Can your IT person point out to you ways a hacker can get inside your network or onto your internal website? A good internet technology person can set up hack-proof systems that keep company data safe.

4. If there is a breach, do you have a way to notify your clients, customers, and the media? What would be a necessary plan of action if such a breach occurred?

Small businesses that think they're not susceptible to data breaches are often those that fare the worst in such situations. Just a simple emergency plan in case a breach occurs may be a wise idea. If you don't usually lock a file cabinet or office, start locking it. If you're not sure who of your employees has access to secure files, find out. If you want to make sure that only you and a select group of employees has access to data, take steps to ensure that happens. Make sure your IT person is aware of who needs access and if necessary, take steps to ensure that you can remove access with a simple key stroke. All these measures may seem extreme to companies busy with clients and the day-to-day workload, but taking a moment to ensure your own peace of mind will go a long way. It's just one less thing to keep in the back of your brain, trust me!

Does Your Web Site Attract or Turn Off Visitor

Too many businesses hire a web designer to create a masterpiece of wonder. The functionality is just okay, but the graphics are beautiful. Sure, that's great, but if you're interested in a web site that works hard for your business, here is a nice checklist of things to be aware of from usability specialist Steve Krug.

1. "Don't make me think." Krug says that "Most people are quite willing and able to think when it's necessary, but making them do it when there's nothing in it for them (other than compensating for your failure to sort things out properly) tends to be annoying."

2. "Keep me in mind at all times. Always make it easy for me to figure out where I am in your scheme of things. One of the best ways to do this is to give each page a name that tells me what's there, and display it prominently, near the top of the page."

3. "Keep the navigation in the same place on every page, so I don't have to go looking for it."

4. "Try not to overwhelm me with options. If you have a lot of content, organize the options into logical groups to make it seem like there are fewer of them."

5. "Organize the site according to what your users are going to be looking for, not according to your corporate org chart, or even according to your business priorities—unless they happen to coincide with your users' interests."

Krug's book Don't Make Me Think focuses on web usability and is a helpful print guide for anyone who updates web sites on a regular basis, whether for profit (if you're reading this for your business) and for information purposes only.

From Amazon.com "The title of the book is its chief personal design premise. All of the tips, techniques, and examples presented revolve around users being able to surf merrily through a well-designed site with minimal cognitive strain. Readers will quickly come to agree with many of the book's assumptions, such as ‘We don't read pages--we scan them' and ‘We don't figure out how things work--we muddle through.' Coming to grips with such hard facts sets the stage for Web design that then produces topnotch sites.

"Using an attractive mix of full-color screen shots, cute cartoons and diagrams, and informative sidebars, the book keeps your attention and drives home some crucial points. Much of the content is devoted to proper use of conventions and content layout, and the ‘before and after' examples are superb. Topics such as the wise use of rollovers and usability testing are covered using a consistently practical approach.

"This is the type of book you can blow through in a couple of evenings. But despite its conciseness, it will give you an expert's ability to judge Web design. You'll never form a first impression of a site in the same way again."

More Talk About Using Teleconferencing To Save Money

The city of San Jose, California has a proposal on the table this week to save their "in the red" city employee travel budget.

Teleconferencing.

"With San Jose confronting chronic budget deficits, one councilman suggests the capital of Silicon Valley could employ computer technology to shrink its more than $1.3 million annual travel costs by substituting virtual travel for the real thing.

Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio has proposed an addition to San Jose's travel policy for city employees that would require them to explore whether Internet teleconferencing could be used to substitute for traveling on the taxpayers' dollar.

'Millions of dollars on travel seems to be high for a city suffering a deficit,' said Oliverio, whose proposal will be considered next Wednesday by an agenda-setting committee chaired by Mayor Chuck Reed. 'Using technology will not only save the city money, it will also help our environment.'

The proposal comes on the heels of a scathing city audit of travel expenses for San Jose's pension trustees and retirement services department that found a loose policy allowed them to routinely overpay for airfare, transportation and lodging. Oliverio noted the retirement travel audit looked just at the spending of one department, whose trip expenses totaled about $90,000 a year and are paid out of pension funds rather than the city's operating budget.

According to travel expense figures provided by the city manager at Oliverio's request, city travel expenditures averaged more than $1.1 million annually over the last eight years."

The Pioneer Press based out of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota reports on the trend for conventional businesses as well.

"Video conferencing has been underwhelming corporate America for years. But maybe it's finally ready for its close-up.

With oil hovering around $100 a barrel and the rigors of business travel looking more and more like an episode of 'Survivor,' more companies are giving the high-tech alternative to the in-person business meeting a second look.

And more are buying in. Video conferencing was a $1.14 billion global market last year, up sharply from about $800 million in 2006, according to Wainhouse Research, a Boston-area technology consultancy that focuses on the industry."

This spike in teleconferencing activity for businesses and city governments shows that once again Americans have figured creative workarounds during the past year. If you haven't considered teleconferencing, why not check it out? You may save some money in the process.

Where The Customers Are

What are your customers looking at online? How do you track their behavior? A couple of books on the subject explain where customers roam and their insights may help your business compete online.

Click: What Millions of People Do Online and Why It Matters by Bill Tancer monitors the online behavior of over 10 million customers and has come up with some interesting tidbits for companies who rely on Internet statistics for their marketing.

From Amazon.com "What time of year do teenage girls search for prom dresses online? How does the quick adoption of technology affect business success (and how is that related to corn farmers in Iowa)? How do time and money affect the gender of visitors to online dating sites? And how is the Internet itself affecting the way we experience the world? . . . As online directories replace the yellow pages, search engines replace traditional research, and news sites replace newsprint, we are in an age in which we've come to rely tremendously on the Internet—leaving behind a trail of information about ourselves as a culture and the direction in which we are headed. With surprising and practical insight, Tancer demonstrates how the Internet is changing the way we absorb information and how understanding that change can be used to our advantage in business and in life. Click analyzes the new generation of consumerism in a way no other book has before, showing how we use the Internet, and how those trends provide a wealth of market research nearly as vast as the Internet itself. Understanding how we change is integral to our success. After all, we are what we click."

Web 2.0: A Strategy Guide: Business Thinking and Strategies Behind Successful Web 2.0 Implementations by Amy Shuen "explains how to transform your business by looking at specific practices for integrating Web 2.0 with what you do."

Amazon.com writes, "Web 2.0 makes headlines, but how does it make money? This concise guide explains what's different about Web 2.0 and how those differences can improve your company's bottom line. Whether you're an executive plotting the next move, a small business owner looking to expand, or an entrepreneur planning a startup, Web 2.0: A Strategy Guide illustrates through real-life examples how businesses, large and small, are creating new opportunities on today's Web. This book is about strategy. Rather than focus on the technology, the examples concentrate on its effect. You will learn that creating a Web 2.0 business, or integrating Web 2.0 strategies with your existing business, means creating places online where people like to come together to share what they think, see, and do. When people come together over the Web, the result can be much more than the sum of the parts. The customers themselves help build the site, as old-fashioned ‘word of mouth’ becomes hypergrowth."

Forging a Powerful Team

The newest trend in team-building these days are team-building seminars, either hands-on or conference-style. Before you buy in to a spendy team-building event, why not run through a quick checklist to ensure your team will fully utilize the experience.

1. Ask your people. If you’re going to sign up all your employees or your entire department to a team-building event, ask them about the planning and design. People are really open and willing to try just about anything if given some advance warning. "Games can be trite or patronizing for many people - they want activities that will help them learn and develop in areas that interest them for life, beyond work stuff," writes Alan Chapman at BusinessBalls.com. Consider physical challenges, like an obstacle water course outdoors, or something more brainy, a complex puzzle at a science center. Or try something cultural near to your company. Your employees will guide you.

2. Consider the make-up of your team. Chapman also recommends that you track a few variables, including:

  • team mix (age, job type, department, gender, seniority, etc.)
  • team numbers (one to a hundred or more, pairs and threes, leadership issues)
  • exercise briefing and instructions – how difficult you make the task, how full the instructions and clues are
  • games or exercise duration
  • competitions and prizes
  • venue and logistics - room size and availability (for break-out sessions, etc.)
  • materials provided or available
  • stipulation of team member roles – e.g., team leader, time-keeper, scribe (note-taker), reviewer/presenter
  • scoring, and whether the exercise is part of an ongoing competition or team league"

3. Think about what you are trying to achieve. Are you hoping for improved productivity, trying to bridge differences between members, or training new members into the processes of your team? The end will guide the means, so consider carefully what you’d like to accomplish with the team-building activity.

4. Make sure the instructions for the event are clear. This includes the time, the place, the activity, how long the activity will take place, and the goal for the activity. If you can make sure every single member is aware of the details for the event, you’ll end up with a group of willing participants, and maybe even an improved team experience before the event itself.

5. Chapman also recommends that you "ensure that team-building activities and all corporate events comply with equality and discrimination policy and law in respect of gender, race, disability, age, etc."

Once you’ve worked out these issues, your team-building event, whether popular or controversial, will be a greater success and will facilitate a stronger, more cohesive team.

Becoming Green Overnight

It may be one of the most overused buzzwords of the year, but "green" still has some serious purchasing power. Even in this unstable economic year, consumers want green first. They are serious about the drive to reduce waste and many say they are willing to pay more to reduce the footprint they leave behind.

Wonder how you can change your business to be more green? Wonder if that could be something you could brand? Read on.

1. If you offer a service or product that was developed to or will help to sustain the planet, that could be a key offering and promotional benefit. You could develop a marketing campaign around green to promote your upgraded product or service. Remember to talk up the green aspect as you sell this service or product at all points of customer contact. Word will spread and fast.

2. Can you offer services that cater to the new "green" businesses? If you are a finance broker, can you offer specialized services matching emerging eco-entrepreneurs with corporations? Can you find venture capitalists or angel investors who are particularly interested in emerging "green" businesses? If you are in the consulting business, these same emerging businesses need business plans, access to renewable energy, and strategic consulting on how environmental issues affect the company. See what I mean?

3. Can you become more green and launch a new brand or image by using solely green products? A beauty salon could use only nontoxic substitutes and become a "green" spa. A landscaping firm could strive to offer low-water services and take lawn clippings and other lawn refuse to add to a compost pile and then offer that compost to your clients. A garden center can cater to clients who want to plant drought-resistant yards, called xeriscaping, which needs 25% less water than other plants.

For more information on green businesses, check out Glenn Orston’s book 75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference, published last month by Entrepreneur Press.

Any way you look at it, businesses can utilize the "green" movement to become innovative and to produce products and services that consumers want and yearn to purchase. When a company is able to capitalize on such trends, they may also enjoy the ability to ride out the economic down times.

AccuConference | Post-Bailout Business Survival Tips

Post-Bailout Business Survival Tips

As the past few weeks have brought news of bank after bank failing, stock market yo-yo, and political gridlock, a lot of businesses are feeling the pinch. This election will be over soon, and hopefully, life will return to normalcy. Until then, however, a few ideas to keep your company moving forward, regardless of news headlines.

1. Keep marketing. No matter what happens, your marketing is your focus. It has to be. Marketing is your business and even though it seems foolish to spend precious funds on it, you should be spending some money on it. You can cut some things (think scalpel, not hatchet) from your marketing budget, but continue to make it a priority.

2. Communicate your long-term strategies—and your short-term strategies—to your employees. Keep everyone in the loop. Anxiety is high enough as it is. Don't hold ultra-secret meetings closed to lesser employees. Bring everyone in and talk about the tough economy, the uneasiness over the Wall Street bailout, and how it will shake out for your company (and each of those employees) and don't be afraid to use your real words. Be reassuring, be hopeful, be cautious, be open.

3. Don't drop your customer service focus. Your customers are feeling the pinch just like you and they need reassurance that the business world is doing all right. So, lay out the red carpet. Offer an impromptu sale when someone orders more than you expected. Listen to their concerns and make sure you act on them. In days like this, a little customer service goes a long way, believe me.

4. Cut costs where you can. Offer employees the chance to work from home if they are able, institute a spending freeze on extraneous expenses, such as business travel (think teleconference), fancy office machines and tools (put the purchase off for next year, unless you absolutely need the write-off), restructure for a week or two to get a difficult project out the door rather than hire on more freelance help, and so on.

5. Plan for better days. Nothing helps current gloom and doom by thinking ahead to better times. There will be better times. Have a brainstorming meeting. Create fancy flyers that you can hang around the office ("Plan Our Next Decade: 2010 and Beyond") and dream big. It will be fun, take the stress off for a while, and may result in some great ideas you can implement right now.

Just a few ideas for today as we wait to see how everything shakes out. We've been through worse and I'm hopeful things will be better. So plan for it!

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