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Posts Tagged ‘small business’

The Economy and Small Business

Posted by collinsadmin on July 8, 2008

Due to the status of the US economy right now, many small businesses are having a hard time with sustainability.  Even though the price of gas, food, and other necessities are rising, small businesses are reluctant to raise their prices.  They don’t want to put any more of a hardship on their clients but yet they also need to be able to run a business that is profitable. 

 Raising prices for products/services should be a last resort.  A few things can be done to cut corners without compromising the service to clients. 

  1. Do you really need the newest gadget? In a world of cell phones, laptops, computers, blackberries, Iphones etc who wouldn’t want the newest greatest gadget to go with the technological world that we live in?  This is when you have to really sit back and think, do you really need it?  Are you losing time and productivity because of the technology that you have now? If the answer is yes then by all means if you can afford it, go out and buy it, but if you just want the latest, greatest, coolest gadget out there for the prestige, walk away. If you do feel that you need new equipment, check out sites like www.ebay.com, www.amazon.com, and www.woot.com for low-cost alternatives.  If you use Ebay, just be leary of what you are purchasing and make sure they have good feedback from previous customers. On Amazon, you can read reviews, and often choose between new and used. Always test a trial version of new software before you buy.
     
  2. Do you really show your clients that you care? There is more to customer satisfaction than just getting their work to them by the deadline. Your clients need to know that you care.  This doesn’t need to cost anything.  It can be something as simple as talking to them and finding out about their problems and then finding a solution for them. I don’t mean selling them more services/products, I mean actually listening and offering a solution. Doing small and thoughtful good deeds can mean the difference between retaining a client or losing one.
     
  3. Are you flexible in how to get more clients? With the economic woes, people are going to need different types of things than they once did.  People need to be more cautious about how they spend their hard-earned money.  Do you have a plan on how to capitalize on this?  At times, this may mean offering different types of services/products at different prices.  I don’t mean a lower quality but I do mean a lower price product. For example, if somebody only needs a letter tweaked, instead of charging hourly, just charge a flat rate or don’t charge at all unless it is intensive tweaking.  Are you willing to barter, will you help someone with a custom solution, and can you revise your product or service to meet a new need? You will gain more clients by showing that you care about them and their needs.
     
  4. Can you outsource any of your business tasks? Outsourcing does require you to spend money but it can also help you to receive money. Some people may think they are saving money by handling everything themselves from administrative work to website design and everything in between. If you are one of those people, next time you start working on your website or you administrative work, make a mental note as to how much time you are spending on these things and what you could be doing in that time to help increase your profits. If you are spending 5 hours doing a task that a pro could do in 1, you are losing money at it – if you charge $45 per hour for your time, and a pro charges less, you are losing money even if you can do it in the same time. If a pro can help you avoid costly mistakes due to inexperience, it also makes more sense to hire it out. 

Being a small business in hard economic times is doable it just depends on what you do to create the sustainability factor. It may require thinking outside of the box a little bit but it can be done in a wildly successful way.

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Posted in business, Customer Service, Virtual Assistance | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

How Are You Keeping Your Clients Happy?

Posted by collinsadmin on June 10, 2008

Recently, I had to drop a service that I have had for 5 years. The main reason was they didn’t have all the features that I needed and I found something a bit cheaper that has the features I wanted.

Once I contacted the company to cancel my service, I received two phone calls from them offering a free month service as well as some other features. I know this is how corporate America works; the question is why? Had they offered me those same incentives while I was a client, I would have been more apt to deal with the inconveniences and the slightly higher price, but they didn’t. They waited until I canceled my subscription.

More and more, corporate America is more interested in getting rich than the needs and wants of their clients. They are forgetting about the clients that made their pocketbooks as fat as they are today. For instance, look at the gas prices. We all know the prices are high and it is hurting the little guy, while the oil companies are making record profits (but I digress).

As a small business owner, we have to make sure that we are keeping our clients happy. I’m not saying to go out and decrease your profits by offering free services constantly, but maybe send them a thank you card with a gift card in it for a local restaurant, offer a discount on their next month invoice, something just to let them know that you care about them and their needs and wants. Do this at other times besides Christmas. Your clients will really appreciate the fact that you are thinking of them and you appreciate them.

If you don’t have the finances at the time to do this type of thing, contact them once every six months or so and ask them if they are happy with your service and if there is anything that they are unhappy with. Sure, this might be tough to hear at times but your clients will appreciate the fact that you value their input and you value their business so much that you are willing to get their opinion. Also, if anything that they are unhappy with is something that you can fix or change without costing a fortune, do it. They will appreciate it.

Some customer service follow-ups can be automated. Look over your website, and see what it can be doing to help keep your customers happy – from providing easily accessible support, to automating customer awards, or collecting customer feedback.

Make sure that if you are in a business where service or product fees decline over time, that you keep your older customers up with the current pricing. Nothing is more distressing to them than to look at your website and realize that you are offering a higher service for a lower price to new customers, while the existing customer service package has not changed. Customer incentives need not be expensive to work – they just need to be meaningful and sincere. Some examples are:

 Create an award such as client of the year, client of the month, etc

Send Out Cards (www.sendoutcards.com)

Greeting Card templates to print your own

Ezine Director (www.ezinedirector.com)

SugarCRM (www.sugarcrm.com)

National Pens (www.nationalpen.com)

My Contact Form (www.mycontactform.com) for feedback from clients

Also, if you created/maintain your own website, do a client spotlight once a month or so. Have a link to their website, a write-up about them and their business, why you chose them etc. Just make sure that it is okay with your client first.

In conclusion, once you start making a comfortable living doing the business of your choice, don’t forget your current clients. If it wasn’t for them, you wouldn’t be where you are today.

Posted in business, Customer Service | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

What Not To Do When Running A Business

Posted by collinsadmin on May 14, 2008

We all make mistakes when starting our own business.  Yes, some of them are mistakes to be ashamed of but nonetheless they were honest mistakes.  As long as you learn from your mistakes, you can be successful in running a business.

I have made my share of mistakes when dealing with clients so I am sharing them with you so that you don’t make the same mistakes.

OverHyper

In the past, I have had potential clients contact me via phone.  This is great news right?  Not always.  At times, I have been so excited that I allow my emotions to take over and become as giddy as a high school girl who realizes her crush feels the same way. Of course, once I get off the phone I then have the opportunity to sit back and realize what I did wrong.  So no matter how badly you need the business, do not let your emotions overtake the conversation. Be yourself but be professional as well.

Trying To Be Someone You Are Not

We’ve all seen it on the internet, in advertisements, in conversation etc.  It’s that ever so popular saying “be professional”.  Dress professional, act professional, speak professionally, etc.  Professional is open to interpretation.

Now I’m not saying go out in public wearing holey clothes, run around public places acting like you are a monkey, or using words of the English language that you wouldn’t want your mother or children to hear, but I am saying be yourself. You don’t have to have a masters degree, you don’t have to be a genius, you don’t have to use big words to look professional.

That was one of my major hang ups and I am gradually getting to the point where I can be myself.  See, I am a very laid back type of person but I was trying to be uptight (for lack of a better word) and all that was doing was making me feel nervous, anxious, and just not myself.  I also realized that by taking on this mindset, I was attracting the wrong personality trait that I am interested in working with.  Remember be yourself and you will attract the people that you are most compatible with.

Never Be Afraid To Ask For Payment

I remember one of the biggest mistakes I ever made in running my business was being afraid to ask for payment.  One of the very first potential clients I had contact me, wanted some information about my services.  We discussed how I could help him and what he needed done then it came to giving him my rate. It all went downhill from there.

I actually said “This is the part that I have a hard time with, my rate is $25/hour.”  Once I got off the phone I said to myself, what the heck was that. To be honest with you, I have no clue what I was thinking at the time.  I was very afraid to ask for payment but I have since realized that I am worth every penny that I charge.  My time and expertise is precious and I work hard for every penny that I earn.  Remember, never ever be afraid to ask for payment   If you think you are charging too much sit back and re-evaluate your business and what you feel you are worth and change your fee accordingly.

Always Know Your Limitations

This happened as early as the beginning of last year, I have definitely learned from this mistake, and lucky for me my client was very understanding and has since become my best client.

I  received an email from a potential client asking me if I could do a database for him (in Access). He told me what he wanted and I told him sure there would be no problem because I knew Access (at least I thought I did) and I was in need of some business.  I told him it would take a couple of days.  Well once I got more into the project I realized I was in way over my head.  Luckily for me, I found a person from the UK via an Access forum who was gracious enough to hold my hand and walk me through the whole creation.

I pushed my pride aside and told my client that I was in over my head but that I said I would do it and I would work at it until I had it to his satisfaction.  It took me approximately 2 months to complete the whole database but my client was happy with it.  However, I would not ever do that again.  If it is something that I have never done, I tell the client up front and then they can decide if they still want to use my services.  I will never take on a project unless I am 100% sure that I can handle it or without telling my client that it may be beyond my expertise.

If you aren’t 100% sure that you are able to help your client with his/her needs tell them upfront.  Do not say that you can just to get business because you will get more respect from a potential client if you are honest with them than you will if you sugar coat things.

So here are the top mistakes that I have made in my business and I hope that if any of these mistakes are ones that you have found yourself doing you will learn from them.  I also believe that if one person learns from my mistakes before they make them, then this article has served its purpose.

 

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Confidentiality and the Virtual Assistant

Posted by collinsadmin on September 24, 2007

Confidentiality is of huge importance to the small business owner in this ever changing technological society.  Every day, secrets are exposed, online and off, through carelessness or harmful intent. Confidentiality and trust have become major issues in outsourcing work of almost any kind.

I repeatedly hear the questions, “How do I know you won’t sell the information I give you to somebody else?”, and “How do I know you will be careful about protecting my information from exploitation?”  These are valid questions, which should be asked of ANY assistant, whether they are in your office, or outside your office.

Virtual assistants are small business owners who have worked hard to get their business off the ground.  They have spent hours and hours researching their industry, creating a website, creating logos, and marketing just like you have. It could take months maybe even years before their business is thriving, and they have invested heavily to get that result. It isn’t just a job to them. It is their passion, their life, and their livelihood. No thinking business owner will risk their hard work over an issue as important to the client as confidentiality. If an in-house assistant is careless about confidentiality, they may receive a reprimand or lose their job. If a VA is careless, they lose much more, because they are much more dependent upon their reputation to secure additional work – there are no laws which say you cannot tell someone EXACTLY why you fired them.

Information must be protected from accidental loss, as well as from carelessness and outside threats. A computer virus is costly to both the client, and the virtual assistant, but the virtual assistant has the most to lose. They lose time, may have to spend money for repairs, and they lose credibility, and if important data is lost, they must make restitution to the client. Anti-virus, anti-malware, and anti-spyware software are essential components on the computer of any virtual assistant. A firewall, encryption software (for encrypting emails on request), and security passwords are also basic elements that a virtual assistant installs and uses.

Print information is just as vulnerable as the technological information. The simple precaution of shredding and then burning all sensitive documents when the project is completed ensures that the information is destroyed in a way that cannot be reconstructed. Sensitive documents can be protected during the project, by storing them in a locked cabinet. The key is kept with the VA.

If you have confidentiality concerns about hiring a VA, here are some questions you can ask them:

  • 1. How do you secure confidential information on your computer?
  • 2. How do you secure confidential printed documents?
  • 3. What do you do with confidential documents at the conclusion of an assignment?
  • 4. What is your policy in regard to sharing information between clients?
  • 5. What do you consider to be confidential information?

The answers to these five questions will give you valuable information in regard to selecting a diligent and careful assistant, so you can begin to build a long term relationship with a professional who will aid you in growing your business.

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