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Sep
16
2008
Becoming Green Overnight Maranda Gibson

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.

Sep
15
2008
Web Conferencing with your IPhone Maranda Gibson

Iphone and Web Conferencing

Less complicated is pretty much the American mantra.

We want it all and we don't want to have to wait for it. Drive-thru's, toll tags, tap and pay services for credits, and there's even an entire marketing campaign dedicated to why you should use your check card instead of cash. We want it quick, we want it now, and we don't have time to wait for it.

Apple cashed in when they created their iPhone system, integrating a MP3 player, a cell phone, and a mobile internet browser into a single device. Part of being less complicated definitely means that it's important to carry around less stuff in your pockets. Listen to music, answer a phone call, check your email, and the great thing about it is that you can do it all from the city park or from JFK International Airport.

The iPhone has, in many ways, eliminated the need to carry around a laptop to meet your busy lifestyle. It can also take some of the pressure off when travel is delayed or you get stuck in traffic. Gone are the days when you had to drag out the laptop, plug in the wireless card or fork over ten bucks for airport Wi-Fi just to hop on a manage your conference call, a call that you had expected to be in your office for.

Use the access to the 3G network on your iPhone and log into the AccuConference customer website (don't worry touch users, it works, you just need to make sure you have a WiFi connection). Just go right through the Safari browser and pull up your account information. Once you're logged in, you have the ability to manage on-the-go with your iPhone. View the live call that is going on and scroll through the participant list. It is updated in real time just like when you are accessing this feature from a laptop or PC it is just a smaller screen in the palm of your hand. You can also listen to the call at the same time that you are controlling it so that you're not trying to juggle too many things at once.

The iPod's touch sensitive screen will recognize when you click the different features from the Live Call screen. You can access the toggle functionality for Lecture Mode, Free Recording and more. Use your finger the same way you would use a mouse so that you can identify those noisy callers and mute their lines. Who knows, they could be experiencing muddy travel plans as well.

It's not just for travel purposes either. Sometimes computers can go horribly wrong (see the blue screen of death blog from Friday) when you're right in the middle of something, even if it is a conference call. Just pull out your iPhone and access your customer information. No one on the call will ever know the difference and you'll be able to do the same things you would have on your PC without having to go into panic mode.

There are a lot of "it's" in the world and this is just one little thing that makes "it" go a lot easier.

Sep
13
2008
Recording your Conference Call is the Perfect Meeting Back Maranda Gibson

There is one screen that strikes fear into the heart of computer users everywhere. It's not the invalid operation popup or the "if you open this file, you're going to get a big virus" warning. Every PC owner has experienced the screen I've described at least once and some truly unlucky few have experienced it more than once. It's the fatal error screen commonly known as the "blue screen of death."

The blue screen of death is the PC user's worst fear. It means your computer is probably now just a really expensive paper weight. The screen comes out of nowhere, popping around the corner like a special effect zombie in a horror movie. You're tempted to pull the plug but decide to try the Ctrl+Alt+Delete command and get no response from the system. That pretty much cleans you out of ideas and by this time you're tired of looking at the bright light of the blue screen.

So you pull the plug and hope that rebooting the system will make it better. The computer logo pops up and you think that all is well. Until you get the somewhat less scary looking but completely disastrous little brother of the blue screen of death; "Windows cannot locate drive C: /". Oh yeah, that's right. It's time to completely reformat your system. Now everything is lost and you're going to have to start over from the beginning and hope that you kept all your software passwords.

Entire businesses have been created based purely on the idea of backing up documents and programs on a secondary system. The pictures, documents, and music files that you store on your personal computer are important enough that you spent extra money to back up everything and not have to go through this kind of hassle.

Wouldn't it then make perfect sense that you should be recording all of your conference calls? Without these meetings, those trips down to Disneyland and over to the Grand Canyon wouldn't be possible. So call recording should be used on every conference as both a safeguard as well as a reference tool.

Recording doesn't always seem like an important step to take until it's too late. Most conference call systems don't store conferences on back-up unless they are commanded to do so. So if you find yourself in a situation where you chose not to record your call and then you need to reference it for some reason, you're probably going to be in a tough place. Many conference companies, AccuConference included, offer the recording service for free.

This is a good safeguard if you ever find yourself in a position that you need to listen to the call again or need to gather more information. You have the ability to do these things right away. There's not a secretary or note taker in the world that will be able to write down every single word and be able to transcribe the call in its completion. If you're the type of the person who enjoys having hard copy of what was said on a particular call these recordings can also be submitted for transcription, which will give you yet another way to keep a copy of the meeting on hand. If you ever find yourself in a position where you want to know verbatim what a particular participant said on the call, the recording is there to back you up. No one can deny their own voice can they?

In the end, going the extra mile to back up personal files seems like a no-brainier, and the person who doesn't and suffers a crash always ends up regretting it.

Sep
11
2008
Back To School for Managers Maranda Gibson

It's fall. School's in session and everyone's hauling home books to do their homework. Are you doing your homework as a manager?

Try these "textbooks" for an easy autumn management curriculum.

First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman is yet another "best practices" book to business, but specifically about management style.

From Amazon.com, "Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman expose the fallacies of standard management thinking. . . . In seven chapters, the two consultants for the Gallup Organization debunk some dearly held notions about management, such as 'treat people as you like to be treated'; 'people are capable of almost anything'; and 'a manager's role is diminishing in today's economy.' 'Great managers are revolutionaries,' the authors write. 'This book will take you inside the minds of these managers to explain why they have toppled conventional wisdom and reveal the new truths they have forged in its place.'

The authors have culled their observations from more than 80,000 interviews conducted by Gallup during the past 25 years. Quoting leaders such as basketball coach Phil Jackson, Buckingham and Coffman outline ‘four keys' to becoming an excellent manager: Finding the right fit for employees, focusing on strengths of employees, defining the right results, and selecting staff for talent--not just knowledge and skills."

The New Pioneers: The Men and Women Who Are Transforming the Workplace and Marketplace by Thomas Petzinger Jr

From Publisher's Weekly, "Wall Street Journal columnist Petzinger (Hard Landing) does an excellent job of spotlighting the faces behind the businesses that are leading the way into what he calls the ‘new economy.' The new economy is entrepreneurial, not corporate; it stresses adaptation rather than bureaucratic planning, ‘teamwork' and ‘empowerment' rather than rigid command-and-control structures. While the stories of the people behind innovative companies are often intriguing, readers will be left wondering what to do with this information. Some readers will even find Petzinger's premise puzzling. For instance, his introductory example is an innovative Philadelphia pharmacy that managed to succeed in a poverty-stricken area of the city. Petzinger is full of justified admiration for the way the owner wedded his pharmacy to the community, offered employees profit sharing and made a mint. Ultimately, however, the owner was so successful that he sold his three stores to Rite-Aid. This inspiring and informative book would have been even better had Petzinger delved more deeply into the paradox that the successes and innovations of the new pioneers he celebrates coincide with an era of increasing corporate consolidation. Readers are left wanting more guidance from someone who clearly knows the territory."

Sep
10
2008
Freeing Yourself From the PowerPoint Security Blanket Maranda Gibson

When you think meetings, do you think PowerPoint slides? I sure do. Every meeting I'm in these days (offline and online) is a lovely compendium of slides and the thing that gets really monotonous is that the person who speaks forgets how good of a speaker he or she usually is and just starts reading off the PowerPoint slides. Yawn.

Here's a few tips to get out from under your PowerPoint crutch:

1. Tell good stories. Any human storyteller with an ounce of talent is a 100 percent improvement over rehashed slides or statistics. A story gets them every time. If you want to use slides, get one with a picture that represents the story you want to tell. When talking about how to sell ice cream, use ice cream as the visual. Totally more interesting. And then you'll get a run on the fro-yo machine in the break room.

2. Try to consider whether or not you'll even need slides for your speech. A nicely designed slide show can really show you off (lots of slides needed for all your accreditations and accomplishments, sure), but a slide for every single thing you say can quickly overpower your presence in the room and become the focal point of your presentation. Can you just skip it during your next speech? Wouldn't it be nice not to have to compete with a machine for your audience's attention?

3. A slide of vapid statistics really has no meaning. If you want to report those statistics, why not put them into context. "This year we'll see a 67% growth in our international division." That's an easy thing for attendees to jot down. Showing a screen full of numbers requires someone to use a calculator to get to that same 67% statistic and makes people crazy and thus need way too much caffeine.

4. Create yourself a PowerPoint presentation on paper, but then use it only to guide you as you speak. For the really important points when you must have a slide, insert a highlighted stage direction to yourself-"Put up slide #5 now"-and then you'll only be punctuating your speech with those wonderful tidbits that attendees can use as takeaways, which they will. At other times, when there should not be a slide, make sure you use the function key to darken the screen, keeping the audience attention right where it should be-on you.

5. Remember Seth Godin's rule of thumb: no more than six words on a slide. If you think Seth's advice is crazy, check out Seth's astute guide to PowerPoint here. If you're still not convinced, think back to the best presentation you ever sat through and try to copy your next presentation to match. I bet it was succinct and sparse. Right?

Follow even one of these rules and you'll be giving better presentations than most corporations in America. Don't your employees and clients deserve that from you?

Sep
08
2008
Maintain Trust with Consumers While Still Getting Feedback Maranda Gibson

When registration for the National Do Not Call list was opened on July 27, 2003, the Federal Trade Commission was praised for trying to limit the amount of telemarketing and fundraising calls that consumers received.   The FTC's decision to allow consumers a way to control what comes through their phone lines has been a welcome change, since it's a service that's paid for, and why should a phone company get to sell your information out to some marketing company that wants to ask you if you've been reading magazines? They shouldn't.

Much the same is said for the ongoing battle concerning the "do not track" list. Ultimately, it works the same as the Do Not Call registry.  Instead of preventing unwanted calls, it prevents marketing and advertising firms from tracking your cookies while you browse the internet. The reason marketers do this is to streamline advertising to a more personalized client base. If someone were to spend a lot of time looking at surfboards or reading about surfing, a marketing company could assign popup ads to that specific IP address or set of cookies, to ensure that the user receives ‘special offers' from companies that provide surfing equipment and facilities. Advertisers see it as an online version of Nielsen ratings, just tracking what people are looking at the same way they follow what people are watching on TV.  Consumers see it as an invasion of privacy and that ‘big brother' is watching. The difference to consumers is that families are chosen to be Nielsen families but when cookies are tracked, there's really no way to keep someone from looking.

This puts marketing and advertising firms in a tough spot. How do they keep a trusting relationship with their consumers  without invading their privacy, while still  determining where business is being generated? Most advertising and marketing firms will run multiple types of campaigns at once -  direct mail pieces, emails, various publishing ads, and website updates. What can be done to track responses without invading customer privacy and keeping those consumers loyal?

One  solution that is growing in popularity is  assigning custom toll-free numbers to each marketing campaign. The cost of maintaining each number per month is very low and it's a great way to know which campaigns are generating the most excitement. If a firm has a magazine and an email campaign going on at the same time, then using distinguishing  toll-free numbers  is a great way to track the response from the consumers. This way the firm isn't really invading anyone's privacy or making their consumers uncomfortable, but  they are still able to track the information they need.

Not only is this a low cost option, these calls can also be recorded.  What better way to know what campaign is generating the most business AND what consumers ask about most?  By using a toll-free service that offers recording, companies can go back and revisit calls that might have had good suggestions or numerous questions to make sure that campaigns are not causing confusion. If a consumer would like to provide a testimonial for you to host on your website, they can use the toll-free recording service. The file is then provided on a customer website and available for the firm to download and move to a website.

There's always a fine line when it comes to keeping consumers and clients happy while being able to conduct your business and get feedback. Consumers don't want to feel like their privacy is invaded, but advertisers and marketing firms want to be able to gather information so they can tailor campaigns to groups of targeted consumers. Using a custom toll-free number is the perfect way to track interest while helping your consumers to feel safe and secure.

Sep
05
2008
How to Strengthen Your Business’s Social Media Platform Maranda Gibson

So how does a small business deal with their social media platform? You ventured online and tried out a few. You stuck with two: Facebook and Twitter. What do you do now?

It's truly the "Wild West of social media," and while many businesses have blogs, use Twitter to post newsy articles or to announce a play by play of their teleseminars, and have profiles and pages on Facebook (with discussion related to a recent companywide conference call), unfortunately, they're making a lot of mistakes.

Before you shrug off social media as something your business doesn't need to keep up with, think about how your business is perceived in the Web 2.0 world and how it will affect your reputation and your ability to connect with customers, associates, and potential customers. Will potential clients be impressed by a business owner who barely blogs, rarely posts to Twitter, or refuses to really use Facebook? Do you know how much you can do with Facebook for your business? Read on. It does depends on who you are attempting to reach, but if you are going to utilize social media and really make it work, your business needs to translate to the Internet very well. More than likely, your business does look better online.  All nice and shiny. How do you keep it that way?

Here's a few tips to enlarge your presence in the social media frenzy online (more particularly, Facebook and Twitter).

1. Bare bones won't fly. If you are on Facebook with little more than your name, business name, and location, people just won't care. Social media is a way to interact with others online. Add a picture of you, your team, or your company's logo, add web site urls, link your Facebook page to your blog, or start a group for your employees or clients and initiate conversations in that group. You can create a business network (a la Acme Consulting) and within your network, you can update everyone on a company conference call, or for some silly fun, you can challenge your employees to a game of PackRat (seriously, the hottest Facebook game out there).

2. Don't bore your Twitter feed to tears. Post interesting urls on news, gossip, or articles that will help your employees or clients (do they want to read about oil consumption or new cell phone gadgets?) Make sure your content fits. Announce new products or services on Twitter, or publicize a teleseminar. Don't just say how the weather looks outside, use your status to get people interested in your business.

3. Don't be afraid to start the conversation. Accept and invite friends from all over and update often, either using the status updater or by imbedding a note into your profile. Ask questions to stimulate discussion, for instance, "What was the worst experience you've ever had on a conference call?" The new comment feature on everything in the Facebook profile allows conversations that were once confined to specific sections.

4. Twitter is even easier to use to start chatting. Try following leaders and innovators in your industry and in other industries. Respond to their tweets with your own comments (@JSmith Did you see this article? and then link to the article). That will get more people coming to your Twitter feed to find out information you have that might be useful to them.

5. Above all, give new content and often. The number one mistake businesses make with social media is thinking that a static web page or Facebook profile or Twitter feed will do the trick. If you last posted six months (even three months) ago, it's time to fire up your social media engine. Go to it!

Sep
04
2008
Marketing and Leadership Tomes Worth Reading Maranda Gibson

Robert Cialdini is known for his scientific research on persuasion and a recent book covers just how persuasion works in influencing consumer behavior. Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive offers impressive research on the ability of marketers to persuade consumers to pay attention.

Publishers Weekly writes, "Goldstein, Martin and Cialdini meld social psychology, pop culture and field research to demonstrate how the subtle addition, subtraction or substitution of a word, phrase, symbol or gesture can significantly influence consumer behavior. Interspersing references to Britney Spears, the Smurfs and Sex and the City with more academic concepts such as loss aversion and the scarcity principle, the authors illustrate the simple and surprising approaches that can hone a company's marketing strategies. Witty chapters detail the allure of the yellow Post-it, the tip-garnering capabilities of an after-dinner mint, how highlighting a product's weaknesses can increase its appeal, the powerful role of third-party testimonials, how doctors can convince patients to adopt healthier choices by prominently displaying academic credentials in their offices, and how mirroring another person's gestures can elicit a more generous response by strengthening a perceived bond. While written primarily for a marketing audience, this amusing book has equal value and appeal for executives, salespeople—even parents trying to persuade their kids to do homework."

Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton, researchers at the Gallup Organization, present analysis on interviews conducted of over a million people about the best way to motivate people to accomplish their best. Their book, Discover Your Strengths, promises to offer "a unique perspective on successful management strategy and developing employees' strengths."

Library Journal writes, "The premise of this new management study, a follow-up to Buckingham's First, Break All the Rules (S. & S., 1999), is that the most effective method for motivating people is to build on their strengths rather than correcting their weaknesses. The authors, researchers at the Gallup Organization, have analyzed results of interviews conducted by Gallup of over 1.7 million employees from 101 companies and representing 63 countries. When asked, only 20 percent of these employees stated that they were using their strengths everyday. So that they can take a test revealing their strengths, readers are given access to the StrengthsFinder web site and a special ID number; once they learn their profile, they can read the analysis in the book. A description of each type is included, together with case studies, and managers are shown how to handle various types."

More great books for business owners to come in future posts.

Sep
03
2008
Look Out Maranda Gibson

Sep
02
2008
Don't Forget the "Green Room" Maranda Gibson

The conference call goes live and suddenly you are faced with a crowd of people listening in their phones, all waiting for the words coming through your receiver. If you have prepared yourself and know what you're talking about you'll be fine. Admittedly, facing an audience is easier through a phone than on a stage with them right in front of you, but you still have to be ready and you must have your team and speakers ready as well.

This is where your pre-conference, or "Green Room" comes in. It's a good idea to have the organizers and speakers dial in to a conference ten to fifteen minutes early. Since you have given them speaker codes, you and they will be separate from the participants who are muted and listening to hold music. It is in this virtual green room that you can go over the timing and content of your conference call. Then at meeting start time, you can exit pre-conference by pressing *3 which ends the hold music, keeps the participants muted, but allows everyone to hear the speakers.

The green room isn't just for the beginning of conference calls, you can switch back and forth as necessary. A good time to go back to the green room is during each break. This puts the participants back with the hold music and you and your speakers can discuss how the previous section went and prepare or make changes for the next section. The hold music also becomes a great indicator for the participants as when it disappears, they know that the conference has begun again.

Keeping the same page is vital for a great conference. Using the green room is a way to stay on top of things as well as be flexible for any changes along the way, all while displaying professionalism and putting on a great show.

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