Small Business Tips

June 2017 Archive
What Makes Gasoline So Expensive These Days?

On the surface this may not seem like a topic related to small business, but it most certainly is. The price of gas affects all of us in tremendous ways. And if you travel for the sake of your business, it’s really hitting the wallet hard.

Last summer, when gas prices averaged $3.00 a gallon, most of us assumed that would be the worst of it. Boy, were we wrong. With gas prices currently averaging $3.20 a gallon (though it’s closer to $4 on the west coast), the anticipation of what this year’s summer will bring is a black cloud looming over our heads.

So, what’s the deal? Why can’t we keep something affordable that nearly every person in the nation is so dependent on? That right there is the problem… our dependency on gasoline for our every day lives. Now, I’m not trying to go “green” here, but the concept of supply and demand is not new to the business world. As the demand for a product increases, and the supply decreases, then the price continues to climb.

Continue Reading: “What Makes Gasoline So Expensive These Days?”


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But on the Other Hand . . . (i.e. Exploring Options)

By Michelle Cramer
Friday, June 30th, 2017 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Money, Operations |

Facing Change as an Entrepreneur

Change – it’s an obvious part of life. Usually, in our everyday hustle and bustle, it comes in small kinks here and there. But when you own a business, changes come in waves on a regular basis. And how you come through change, for better or worse, all depends on how you deal with it.

Here are some tips for dealing with the everyday changes of being an entrepreneur:

Continue Reading: “Facing Change as an Entrepreneur”


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When You Feel Like Quitting…
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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, June 29th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Ownership |

Buddy Networking: A Clever Way to Expand Your Network

Ever heard of “buddy networking?” Basically, it is buddying-up with another business that complements your own and working together to expand both of your networks. Some examples of great buddy businesses would be: a maid service and a lawn service; a photographer and a wedding coordinator; or an accountant and an attorney.

First, determine all of the types of businesses in your area that would complement your own by attracting your ideal clientele. Then, prioritize those businesses and obtain contact information for the manager or owner. Finally, arrange a meeting (in person is best) with the owner to discuss how your businesses could benefit each other. Be sure to take along information about your business and ask for further information on theirs. Three buddy businesses is a nice number to have on your side.

Continue Reading: “Buddy Networking: A Clever Way to Expand Your Network”


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By Michelle Cramer
Wednesday, June 28th, 2017 @ 12:03 AM CDT

Networking |

The Cheapest Gas Prices in the Nation

New Jersey requires all of its gas stations to be full service (as does Oregon) and is the only state in the country where gas prices still average under $3 a gallon. So how in the world is a full service gas station keeping its gas prices lower than everyone else?

According to Doug MacIntyre, senior oil and gasoline analyst with the EIA, cost has little to do with it – it’s all about local supply and demand conditions.

And it doesn’t hurt that New Jersey has four in-state oil refineries that have yet to have any problems like those in the Midwest, which have caused Chicago’s gas prices to average more than San Francisco’s, which is known for some of the highest prices in the nation. Another beneficial factor is that New Jersey is the main port for gasoline imports from Europe.

Continue Reading: “The Cheapest Gas Prices in the Nation”


Related Small Business Buzz Posts:
What Makes Gasoline So Expensive These Days?
A Little Relief from High Gas Prices on the Horizon
Small Business Loans & Grants
Expanding Your Business Overseas: Money and Taxes
Local Currency Helps Small Business

By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, June 27th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Ventures |

Common Advertising Mistakes

Advertising is the key component to bringing in clientele. Though word-of-mouth is the most effective, it won’t happen until you get those first few people in the doors, and to do that you must advertise. There are a lot of great ways to market your business to the public, but there are definitely some tactics you should avoid if you want to see the most success.

When brainstorming your advertising campaign, be mindful of the following common advertising mistakes:

Continue Reading: “Common Advertising Mistakes”


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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, June 26th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Marketing |

Retirement for the Sole-Proprietor

When you go solo and start your own small business, it can often be hard to save for retirement. Yes, there are options like Roth IRAs, but as your business grows, the maximum contribution of $5,000 doesn’t always seem to be the best option.

Additionally, savings accounts have a meager return on the precious funds you’ve worked so hard to earn. Wouldn’t something like a 401(k) plan that many corporate employees get to take advantage of be nice?

Well, cheer up because the option is out there. In fact, it has been since 2001, but only now are sole proprietors becoming more aware of it’s benefits as the kinks have been ironed out. It’s called a “solo 401(k)” (a/k/a “solo k,” a/k/a “uni-k“). This retirement option is strictly limited to sole proprietors without employees.

Continue Reading: “Retirement for the Sole-Proprietor”


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By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, June 25th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Money, Ownership |

The Benefits of Adding Video Surveillance

It may be time for your business to get some extra security. One option would be to hire security guards to patrol the doors and parking lot, but that means paying someone a substantial hourly wage to stay awake at night and watch your assets, and that may not be in the budget.

A more budget conscious option may be to install a video surveillance system. Though it can be rather expensive, it is a one time expense, rather than providing a regular pay check to a security guard. And most, of course, come with some kind of warranty if anything goes wrong.

Some other benefits to a video surveillance system:

Continue Reading: “The Benefits of Adding Video Surveillance”


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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, June 24th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Technology |

Preventing Sexual Discrimination in the Workplace

As I have mentioned before in this blog, I am, among many other things, a legal assistant at a law firm. It’s a small firm, consisting of five attorneys, all men, and six legal assistants, all women. Though it wouldn’t be that strange for a female attorney to join the firm, it would be quite odd to have a male paralegal join the gang.

There are many professions that tend to appeal predominately to one sex or the other. Most nurses are women. Most construction workers are men. Daycare teachers – women. Trash collectors – men. Most of these jobs have always been this way, typically because that particular job fits the strengths of one particular sex better than the other. That doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t a tough broad out there who couldn’t guide a steel beam into place.

Imagine with me, if you will, the opposite gender “infiltrating” one of these or many other professions that tend to be single-sex oriented. For example, if a female attorney joined our firm, it would probably be of little consequence, since female attorneys aren’t scarce, they’re just not part of our particular firm. However, I can imagine that a woman who gets a job pouring concrete at a construction site would receive her unnecessary share of cat calls and sexist remarks.

Continue Reading: “Preventing Sexual Discrimination in the Workplace”


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, June 23rd, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Business Law, Human Resources |

Rules for Networking on MySpace

Within the vast array of the MySpace community, you will not only find individuals and music groups, but many businesses have also joined the online social network and the numbers continue to grow. If you’re thinking of using MySpace to plug your business, however, there are some rules you need to abide by in order to be successful.

1) Be a part of the community.
Spend some time as a user, keeping a low profile, and learning the rules and culture of the online community you’ve joined, whether it be MySpace, YouTube or one of the many others available. If you don’t keep to the cultural regulations of that community, you will be branded an outsider immediately and few will respond.

2) Focus on giving, not receiving.
If you join MySpace with the unmoving goal of getting new contacts and creating new business, and make little effort to provide anything to your contacts in exchange, no one is going to want to be your MySpace “friend.” Give people a reason to like you. A good place to start would be providing something of value to those who visit your page, such as downloads (screensavers or video).

Continue Reading: “Rules for Networking on MySpace”


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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, June 22nd, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Marketing, Networking |

Preparing for a Health Inspection

The Associated Press published May 4th that the KFC/Taco Bell restaurant in Greenwich Village, New York City that was found to be infested with rats will be closed indefinitely. A spokesman for the chain owner, Yum! Brands, Inc., says there are reviewing their franchises nationwide and are “determined to prevent this incident from happening again.”

My question is, how did it get that bad in the first place? Anyone who owns a restaurant is well aware of the fact that there are strict rules and regulations regarding the operation of the restaurant in order to prevent illness in customers. How unsanitary does a restaurant have to be in order to be infested with rats to that extent? And you can’t tell me that the staff never noticed one. Clearly there was a health inspector also not doing his job properly.

Health inspections are a crucial element in keeping restaurants safe to eat in. And, most of the time, your business will be severely fined and given a deadline to make changes if it does not pass inspection. If those changes aren’t made, the restaurant could, and should, be closed.

If you are a restaurant owner, or are looking into joining a restaurant chain franchise, there are a number of things you need to be aware of in order to make sure that your restaurant will not only pass a health inspection, but will be safe for your customers.

Continue Reading: “Preparing for a Health Inspection”


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By Michelle Cramer
Wednesday, June 21st, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Operations |

Online Meetings, The Board Room Alternative

As business owners, there are many, many times when we really need to be two places at once. Especially when it comes to trying to find time to meet with clients all over the country, and still keep an eye on business operations.

Fortunately there is a much simpler alternative to making a clone of ourselves: an online meeting.

I know it may sound a bit intimidating, especially for the not so tech savvy. And it certainly doesn’t have the same professional and comforting feel a client gets when meeting with you face-to-face, so it’s not something you want to replace all of your personal meetings with.

Consider the fact that an online meeting could include all the clients (or even investors) you intended to meet with individually regarding a new product/service at the same time, which would significantly reduce the time required of you to get the word out.

Continue Reading: “Online Meetings, The Board Room Alternative”


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By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, June 20th, 2017 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Operations, Technology |

Moving from a Home Office to a Commercial Space

Working at home requires a strong ability to separate personal and business lives. A home office contains a lot of distractions, whether your family distracts you from your work or your work distractions you from spending time with your family.

But, if you work from home and are considering moving your business to a commercial location there is much more to take into consideration than whether you are too distracted. If you simply pack everything up and move without looking at every aspect of going commercial, you could negatively affect the future of your business.

Consider these three factors when deciding to move:

Continue Reading: “Moving from a Home Office to a Commercial Space”


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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, June 19th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations |

Tips for Adapting to the Postage Rate Increase

United States Postal Service

In 1847 the first U.S. postage stamps were released, the five cent Ben Franklin and the ten cent George Washington. And, in just a week, the rate for postage stamps will increase to 41 cents – more than eight times that of the Ben Franklin.

You may be asking yourself, why the increase, since we just did this a little over a year ago? The stamp increase is to help cover operational expenses. Last year’s increase was mandated by Congress to fund an escrow account.

While the stamp increase won’t severely effect most business owners, the U.S. Post Office is also changing the postage rates for packages and this may cause a bit of a strain. But don’t worry, there are some ways to work around the added expense.

Continue Reading: “Tips for Adapting to the Postage Rate Increase”


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By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, June 18th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Money, Operations |

Expanding Your Business Overseas: Money and Taxes

When I bring up the subject of money with regard to expanding your business to the global market, I’m not necessarily referring to your profit margin. More specifically, I’m referring to the actual paper or coin used as payment for the product your provide.

Upon initial movement toward an overseas expansion, you may think that it would be obvious that you accept foreign currencies. However, you are better off not to. The conversions rates for foreign currencies fluctuate so frequently, which means you would probably lose money if you accepted foreign currency from all of your foreign customers.

If you must deal in foreign currencies, there are some options:

1. Forward Contracts – Locks in the conversion rate for when transaction/sale is finalized.
2. Options – Allows for the opportunity to convert funds, but it is not a requirement.
3. Bank in that Country – Open a bank account in the country where you do the most business so that you can deal in currency for both income and expenses there.

Most countries will gladly accept American businesses into their market, providing “special pools of tax-funded R&D money” even real estate specifically set aside for to attract foreign investment. You may even get special tax breaks in those countries as a foreign business.

The U.S. Commercial Service can help you find those countries who would welcome you with open arms. For $680-$800 per day, the Commercial Service’s Gold Key Program will set up appointments for you to meet with potential overseas partners and provide translators. Find a U.S. Commercial Service specialist in your area.

Be sure to hire a lawyer in any country you do business in that specializes in foreign businesses. You will need to have someone who is familiar with your position and that country’s laws so that he can watch your back and make sure you are aware of any changes in tax law, etc.

If you are, in fact, looking to expand your business overseas, I highly recommend that you not only check out the other parts of this post series, but also examine the resources provided at the end of each post before making that transition. Prepare yourself for every aspect of business in any country you select before making that final leap into the well spring of new consumers.

Pt. 1: Why and Why Not Expand Overseas?
Pt. 2: Labor Laws
Pt. 3: Protecting Your Product

Source:
• Inc.com: How to Get Started

Currency Resources:
Oanda Currency Conversion Calculator
Bank for International Settlements
Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Other Resources:
U.S. Advocacy Center


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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, June 17th, 2017 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Operations |

Expanding Your Business Overseas: Protecting Your Product

When starting a business in America, one of the most crucial elements is to get your product or business practices patented or copyrighted. Unfortunately, when it comes to expanding your business to the global market, a U.S. patent won’t protect your money-maker, as they are not enforceable overseas. There are some things you can do, however, to guard yourself from idea theft.

What you should probably do first is file with the Patent Cooperation Treaty under the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). According to John Lanza, a Boston attorney, at a cost of $3,000 to $6,000, a PCT filing can preserve your right to patent your product in most major nations for up to 30 months. That way you can test the waters in a number of markets in order to find your niche.

Once you’ve determined where your product will be most successful, you should file a patent in that particular country. If you don’t, them moment you begin to offer your product copy-cats will begin producing competition with their knockoffs. Obviously the process for filing a patent differs with each location. For more assistance, The U.S. government provides a “tool kit” on international patents at StopFakes.gov.

International patents have classifications, in order to streamline the application process. After all, there has to be a way to determine if someone already has a patent for a particular product in a particular country. For more information of this classification process, visit the WIPO’s International Classifications page.

Danger – be aware of the fact that China is one of the leading countries when it comes to intellectual property theft. Ted C. Fishman, author of China, Inc. recommends that, in order to help protect yourself you should establish a licensing agreement with a Chinese business partner that requires him to provide a substantial upfront contribution to your business expansion. Such an investment will keep him from revealing product specifications to another manufacturer or trying it on their own and will also help to keep other Chinese businessmen from trying to tap in to your market.

Bottom line, protect your most important asset, the product you provide, whatever it may take. Though there may be some cost to it, in the end it would be more than worth it. The alternative, a cheaper knockoff of your product stealing your customers, would be detrimental.

Tomorrow I will cover the monetary and taxation aspects of owning a business overseas.

Pt. 1: Why and Why Not Expand Overseas?
Pt. 2: Labor Laws
Pt. 4: Money and Taxes

Source:
• Inc.com: How to Get Started

Resources:
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
European Patent Office
Patent Pending in 24 Hours by Richard Stim and David Pressman


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, June 16th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Business Law, Operations |

Expanding Your Business Overseas: Labor Laws

A milestone in the growth of any business is the capacity to expand into the global market. As exciting as the looming possibility may be, you don’t want to cross the boarder blindly, especially if you are passing the internet zone and actually opening your doors in a foreign land.

As most know, the laws vary in every country, and labor laws are no exception. If you’re expanding your business to another country and plan to have employees in that country, it’s important that you know what you’re dealing with before you except any resumes.

For example, U.S. employers have basically complete control over who they hire and fire. But in other countries, that’s not always the case. But, according to New York lawyer Aaron Schindel, in the European Union and much of South America, employers are legally obligated to consult with employee representative, whether it be a union or works council, before relocating an office, conducting layoffs, or even discontinuing a product.

Labor costs may be low and appealing for expanding your business overseas, but the other financial obligations that come with being a foreign employer make the cost of running a global business fall onto a comparable scale to that of U.S. only operations.

When it comes to worker benefits, many countries require employers to provide a month of paid vacation and/or mandatory bonuses. Take the Mexican aguinaldo, for example, a mandatory Christmas bonus provided to every employee in Mexico and equivalent to 15 days wages or more.

When it comes to health insurance for your employees, things may be a little easier. Most countries provide universal health care for workers. This is often partly funded by payroll taxes, which can have high rates, but are typically more cost effective than the continual rise in insurance premiums in the U.S.

There are many other things to consider when looking to expand your business overseas. Check back tomorrow for information on how to protect what keeps your business running, the product your provide.

Pt. 1: Why and Why Not Expand Overseas?
Pt. 3: Protecting Your Product
Pt. 4: Money and Taxes

Source:
• Inc.com: How to Get Started

Resources:
The International Labour Organization
• U.S. Dept. of Labor (dol.gov): Foreign Labor Trends Reports
• Univ. of Chicago: Foreign Law


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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, June 15th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Business Law, Operations |

Workplace Bullies and How to Deal with Them

We all know a bully to be a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates what he/she considers smaller or weaker people (definition courtesy of dictionary.com).

Every grade school class has one. The kid that taunts everyone, calls them names, makes them feel worthless. And that doesn’t change much in high school either. But as we become adults that tormenting part of childhood usually fades away.

Unfortunately, a sort of epidemic of bullying from bosses has found its way into the work force. Truthfully, it’s probably been there all along, only now more people are willing to speak out about it.

The signs are obvious according to a survey conducted by the Employment Law Alliance, in which 44% of 534 U.S. workers felt they were being bullied by their boss. A bullying boss is one who publicly criticizes, rudely interrupts, teases, gives dirty looks, uses sarcastic jabs or ignores one or more employees. But what can be done about it?

The Target
If you are the target of a boss’ bullying, you likely deal with a low self-esteem and possibly even depression as a result. Being constantly given the impression that you’re worthless and weak can often make you believe it.

There are no laws against bullying someone. If you are the target of a boss’ bullying, a lawsuit is not currently an option. It would likely be counter-productive to go directly to that superior and tell her what she is doing is making it hard to work there. Chances are she will simply give you a hard time about it.

Before you just up quit your job, however, try going to someone higher up. If there is no superior above your bullying boss’ head, go ahead and give talking it out a shot. If that doesn’t work, a job search may be your best bet.

The Higher-Up
If you are concerned that you may have a bully under your employ, there are some warning signs to look for. Pay attention to turnovers and absentee rates. If a department is seeing a lot of either, chances are the head of that department isn’t very easy to live with five days a week and employees would rather not come to work at all then to have to deal with him.

Clearly, if there is a bully in your midst, confront him about it and give him an opportunity to change. But I would suggest making it a short opportunity. Not only does a bullying supervisor affect the success of your business, but he can also cause emotional or mental distress for your other employees and no one wants that.

If you don’t have a bully in your employ, but want to take the steps to avoid future problems, a good plan is to add bullying tendencies to your company’s sexual harassment policies. This makes all employees aware of what you consider acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and could help to avoid the problem.

The Bully
Most bullies are well aware of what they are doing, but lets say that you don’t realize that you’re bullying your employees – that you see it as just having a little fun. Pay attention to how people react when you’re “having a little fun.” If, instead of laughing along with you, they’re avoiding eye contact and evading you, then you’re probably being inappropriate and causing problems.

Here’s the thing, chances are the reason you never grew out of being a bully (because it’s likely you’ve always been one) is because deep down you don’t really think very highly of yourself either. Most bullies act the way they do because they are trying to feel better about themselves at the expense of others. If that is the case there are clearly some underlying issues that must be dealt with in order to overcome your aggressive behavior. Don’t be afraid to get help.

Regardless of where you fall in the bullying ring, even if you’re observing from the outside, do what you can to help correct the situation in order to preserve a pleasant working environment. If employees aren’t happy, productivity diminishes, and when that happens the business suffers. Efforts to remedy the situation benefit everyone at every level, so make the effort and the results may astound you.

Source:
• Inc.com: Nearly Half of U.S. Workers Feel Bullies at Work – and They Want to Sue


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By Michelle Cramer
Wednesday, June 14th, 2017 @ 12:05 AM CDT

Human Resources, Operations |

Wine That Appeals to the Non-Connoisseur

I’m not a wine drinker. I never can find one that I like. I’ve been to wineries and tried all the reds, whites, chardonnays, but none of them provide that taste bud explosion that wine connoisseurs rave about.

But there’s a new product coming out that may convince me to give wine another try. Amazing Food Wine Company in San Francisco is on the verge of releasing a new brand of wine called Wine That Loves. Their wines are not classified by age, grape and birth place. Rather, they are classified by the foods each particular wine should be paired with,

So far the wines available are:
• Wine That Loves Pizza
• Wine That Loves Pasta With Red Sauce
• Wine That Loves Roasted Chicken
• Wine That Loves Grilled Salmon
• Wine That Loves Grilled Steak

Wines currently in the works are those to be paired with grilled chicken, Chinese food and even macaroni and cheese.

Some wine “experts” have expressed a bad taste in their mouths regarding this new wine brand, claiming it is “dumbing down wine.” Vic Motto of wine investment bank Global Wine Partners states, “It’s a paint-by-numbers approach that by definition sophisticated wine drinkers will not be drawn to…It might be something [for new wine drinkers] to try once. But if you liked it, wouldn’t you want to know why?”

Could that comment be more culturally closed-minded? First of all, I don’t think it is Amazing Food Wine Company’s intention that Wines That Love appeal to “sophisticated wine drinkers.” The target market is obviously the younger generation whose knowledge base regarding wine is lacking in a lot of ways, especially when it comes to knowing what wines to pair with what foods. Not to mention the fact that the wine runs at an affordable $12 a bottle, well below the pricey cost of “sophisticated” wines.

And truthfully, how many wine drinkers really care all that much about where their wine comes from and how old it is? Outside of the manufacturers, who are supposed to care, and a select few who attend wine tastings and have detailed discussions how a particular wine affects their pallet in everyday conversation, not many.

Most people just care about whether or not they like the wine and it goes well with what they’re having for dinner. Personally, I think that the concept of Wine That Loves is brilliant and appealing and there is no reason why it won’t be a completely successful entrepreneurial venture because the market is definitely out there.


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By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, June 13th, 2017 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Ventures |

Tips for Running a Successful Seasonal Business

Spring is in full swing and summer isn’t far behind. Seasonal businesses such as landscaping and swimming pool cleaning are beginning to see a huge boost in sales. As the seasons change, their sales will creep downward, while businesses like ski resorts and Christmas stores will have a large upswing.

When you own a seasonal business, it’s important to know how to maintain an income year round to support you and keep the business alive.

Budget, Budget, Budget
First and foremost! What’s coming in and, more importantly, what’s going out? Know your capabilities. Don’t only budget for the months that business is good, but budget for the entire year. There are bills that have to be paid all 12 months, whether business is good or bad, such as utilities, taxes, maintenance, and rent.

You also need to consider how much you depend on the seasonal income for your daily life – food on the table and a roof over your head. If the seasonal business provides enough income for you to live off of all year, know what you need to get by each month and set that amount aside as soon as you can when the cash flow begins.

The Off-Season
Some seasonal entrepreneurs just take the off-season as an opportunity to have an extended vacation, and I bet it’s really nice. Others are busy bodies and need to have something to do all the time (like me). Unfortunately, however, some seasonal businesses don’t provide enough income to sustain the whole year. If you’re one of the later, then consider expanding the products or services your business provides.

If you own a Christmas store, consider selling decorations for the other holidays throughout the year. In landscaping, a job that sees little to no work in the winter? How about putting your decorative skills to use and offering Christmas decorating and lighting services. If you own a farm, expand your crop to include spring, summer and fall crops, and maybe even consider building a green house to grow crops in all year.

Another option, if you own a camp, ski resort, or theme park and enjoy your time off but need the extra income, is to have registration deadlines that include registration fees, a couple of months before the camp opens (or incentives to buy season passes several months in advance). This helps to distribute your income over a longer period of time, making it easier to get by without giving up the vacation period.

Use Time Wisely
If you have the opportunity to keep your time-off, use it wisely. Take the chance to provide regular maintenance or repairs to the equipment you use, without dipping into your work season. Also, use the down time to budget for the next season and year ahead. Another great use of the off-season is marketing your business, whether it be through fliers, direct mail, or phone calls. Whatever you choose to do with that time, be sure and budget for it.

If you own a seasonal business, do what you can to enjoy it. The off-season can provide a great opportunity to spend time with your family and pursue other passions. Do what you can to preserve that by running your seasonal business efficiently and successfully.

Related Reading:
• Entrepreneur.com: Running a Seasonal Business


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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, June 12th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Operations, Ownership |

Direct Mail Marketing Tips (2 of 2)

Okay, so you’ve decided to use an advertising letter to reach out to the community and get them to use your product/service. Yesterday we covered the basics on the appeal of the envelope and letter itself in order to get your mail opened and read. Today, we’ll talk about what the letter should say to stir an interest in what you have to offer.

1. Background Information
Typically, most potential customers that will receive your advertising letter will not have heard of your company. So, give a little background information about your business – when you got started, why you got started and the goals you have.

2. Your Market
You may want to consider briefly stating who your market is. If everyone can use your product or service, say so. If you’re specifically targeting stay-at-home moms, then say so. If your market is specific, this will help to narrow the field a bit. Also, you may want to encourage those that don’t fit into the specified market to pass the information on to someone they know who does.

3. The Product/Service
The most important element of your advertising letter is, of course, the description of the product or service your business provides. And though you definitely want to mention the features your product/service provides, be sure that you mention the benefits of those features – the desired outcome that using your product/service will produce.

4. Testimonials
If you have them, use them. The best way to do this is as an insert. This draws more attention to the individual review, showing that it’s important. And, if available, consider adding a picture of the client who provided the review. A real face always makes what is said more trustworthy.

5. A Special Offer
Give the potential customer an incentive to respond quickly by provided a special offer with a deadline. Otherwise, they will set your advertising letter aside to “think about it” and might actually end up forgetting about it. Give a discount if they contact you within a certain amount of time, provide a smaller product or service free with the purchase of another, etc.

6. Keep it Short
Try to keep the advertising letter as short as possible. One page is best, even if you make the font a bit smaller than usual to accomplish it. Anything more than that could seem overwhelming and a waste of time to the potential customer. I can attest to the fact that I never read the advertising letters that are more than one page… it is not appealing at all.

Remember that not every person you send a letter to will respond. In fact, the response rate for direct mailing is usually less than 20%. But, if done effectively, more business than you had before, no matter how small the number, is always a good thing.

Direct Mail Marketing Tips Part 1

Relevant Material:
• CNNMoney.com: 7 smart ways to find new customers


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By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, June 11th, 2017 @ 12:04 AM CDT

Marketing |

Direct Mail Marketing Tips (1 of 2)

These days, mailboxes contain more junk mail (also known as direct mail) than anything else. Clearly this marketing strategy works to some degree, otherwise businesses wouldn’t keep doing it. As a small business owner who is just starting out myself, I am able to combine the need for marketing with a still apparent consumer perspective. And, if you plan on marketing through the US postal service, here are some things to keep in mind:

Letters
Letters are the most effective way to personalize your advertising enough that the consumer at least looks at what you have to offer. Postcards get glances before they hit the wastebasket, and catalogs usually just get set aside for a time to thumb through that may never come along. Advertising letters are the happy medium that may mean increased success.

Though the body of your letter will obviously need to be typed in order to mass produce and insure ease of reading, there are still great ways to add a personal touch. Take the time to chose letterhead that is appealing. Stick with earth tones for the color of the paper, staying away from plain white and colors found in the crayon box, especially bright ones. Basically, you need something classy, yet trendy and modest, yet attention grabbing. And of course, a great logo and your business’ contact information.

Hand-written touches are the most important element. First, hand-write the addressee’s name. That way the consumer knows you thought of her personally and thought she would enjoy hearing about the product/service or special deal you are offering (even if she has no idea who you are).

Next, sign your name personally (with the typed version underneath, of course). Don’t use a stamp or an electronic signature, but actually take the time to sign each letter your business sends. Not only does it add a personal touch, but it aids the consumer in believing that you personally stand behind the product or service described above your name.

If you’re sending the letter as a special office for previous customers, write a “P.S.” at the bottom of the letter, in your own hand-writing, asking him how the cordless drill he bought last month is helping him with the new deck he’s building. Let the customer know he’s important to you by remembering him and aspects of his life specifically.

When adding these personal touches, do so in blue ink so that it jumps out at the customer and emphasizes that you actually wrote it. Many larger companies will use a script font for these personal touches and simply change the text color to blue… in an attempt to add the appeal of a personal touch without the actual effort to do so… and potential customers can see right through it (I always do). So I would recommend you don’t do that, if it can be avoided.

Envelopes
When sending advertising letters, your envelope makes the first impression. It will make or break whether the potential customer actually opens your letter. First, make sure the envelope matches your letterhead. Avoid simple No.10 white envelopes or window envelopes (which are synonymous with credit card offers), but take the extra expense to have the return address pre-printed just like your logo and use the same color paper.

One way to practically guarantee that your advertising letter will be opened is to keep the envelope free of clutter. Just stick to the mailing address, return address and a stamp/postage mark. The extra phrases some businesses put all over the envelope, such as “Act now!” or “Open immediately for a great offer!” are a dead giveaway that what’s inside is advertising, which means many of them will likely end up in the trash without the seal even being broken.

If possible, hand-write each mailing address on each envelope. A tedious task indeed, but this provides an added personal touch that piques the curiosity of the consumer about what may be contained inside. And if you get them to open the envelope, you’ve won half the battle.

Now that you know what may help you to get that “junk mail” actually opened, what should you do with the text of the letter that turns it from “junk mail” to quality advertising? Tomorrow I’ll cover some tips for getting the potential clients to consider buying what you have to offer.

Direct Mail Marketing Tips Part 2


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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, June 10th, 2017 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Marketing |

When You Should Consider Hiring a CEO

When you start a business, it’s your baby, your life’s ambition come true. You spend thousands of hours building it, nourishing it, helping it grow. But just like a child, there may come a time when you have to loosen the reigns a bit. It may be time to hire a CEO.

Here are some clues that it may be time to put your business in another person’s hands:

• If you’re more comfortable planning the next big product for your company, but not with delegating who does what to make that product happen, you may need a CEO.

• When you don’t feel like you provide the professional presentation that clients are looking for, it may be time for a CEO to handle them.

• If your company has had ample turnovers, internal problems and a lack of direction, a CEO may be able to help clean up the mess.

• If all of your time is spent on operating the business and other important growth elements such as customer service, business development, and marketing are falling by the waste-side, time to bring in some CEO management.

The purpose of a CEO is not only to manage and operate the company on your behalf, but to give you constructive criticism and advice. And you have to be able to take it, because it’s the CEO’s job to make sure the company runs smoothly, and that may mean some necessary changes you’re not ecstatic about.

Also keep in mind when looking for someone to fill the CEO position that he needs to understand and share your values and vision for the future of your business. After all, it is still your business, so the track it is on should stay relatively the same. The CEO may bring other possibilities to your attention, but you will make the ultimate decision and she will have to be someone who can accept and respect that.

Putting the management of your business in someone else=s hands is a scary thought and requires immense consideration. But with someone who is capable and on the same page as you are regarding values and goals, he/she can actually make the experience of being an entrepreneur much more enjoyable.

Source:
• Entrepreneur.com: Bringing in a CEO


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, June 9th, 2017 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Operations, Startup |

Business Tips from Presidential Campaigns

Well, it has begun. The race for the White House in 2008 has started nearly two years in advance. But things are a bit different on the campaign trail this time around. The biggest difference: the candidates reliance upon the internet to develop their following. And business owners need to pay attention, because the strategy works.

Blogs
Nearly every candidates website has some sort of blog post in which the candidate expresses his/her thoughts on a certain issue. John Edwards announced his participation in the race on his website one day before the press conference where he did the same. This gave his followers a feel of somewhat “privileged information,” not to mention brought in a little extra press coverage.

The candidates that keep a blog going throughout the campaign trail have caught on to the fact that the largest benefit of a blog is making your supporters/clientele feel like a part of the team. Keeping them informed with the daily issues at hand, whether that be how a candidate’s visit to a factory went that day or the new product that your company is releasing, help them feel like a part of your company, or in this case, campaign.

Video
Leave it to Hillary. Senator Clinton launched her campaign for the presidency in a webcast on January 20th. Talk about tech savy. She continues to have weekly “HillCasts” in which she addresses various aspects of her campaign and her position on various matters. The idea is to appeal to the younger generation of voters out whose resource for news and information is the internet.

As a business owner, consider using video to announce the launch of a new product or a promotion. Posting such videos to YouTube as well as you’re own website can definitely generate some response. And let’s not forget that a video of someone like the CEO helps the customer to feel like there is actual person behind the business. It helps provide a sense of comfort and security.

Social Networks
Senator John McCain has invited supporters to sign up for their own “McCainSpace” site, to help them feel more involved in the campaign. Now even those supporters who may have little to no experience or knowledge base for helping on the campaign trail can feel like they are making a difference for the candidate they believe in.

Gov. Bill Richardson invites his supporters to join what is deemed his “grassroots campaigns” on sites like MySpace, Facebook and Flickr. Supporters can link their sites to Gov. Richardson’s as well as post their own blogs on the candidate and his issues.

Businesses can follow suit by developing social networks centered in their company’s ideals and benefits. Allowing customers to post their own reviews or blogs through your website allows them to feel involved. The loyal customers become part of the marketing concept for your company.

In all of this it’s important to remember to stick to the truth. Falsehoods will find you out, especially when you are inaccurately promoting a product or service you provide, or the statistics about your company.

Also, keep in mind that, along with the good comes the bad. If you open yourself up to the community, there will be people out there who are not pleased with your company, whether it be the service/product, the customer service department, or the charity you donate to. You can’t please everyone, and those that you don’t will definitely make themselves known. This is a risk you take when opening yourself up to the public, so be careful and stay on guard.

Source:
• Entrepreneur.com: Business Trick from Presidential Campaigns


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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, June 8th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Marketing, Networking, Operations |

Last Minute Tax Tips

As if you haven’t heard it enough, the deadline for filing 2006 tax returns is April 17th this year. And, just to add to the stress, that is only 5 days away. For those of you who haven’t filed your returns yet, or haven’t even started, here’s some last minute tax advice:

Take Your Time
Though the deadline for filing may be haunting your dreams at night, avoid taking shortcuts or fudging numbers, even as estimates, to get your taxes completed quicker. Though the consequences may not be immediate, speeding through your returns will only cost you the pain and suffering of a possible audit down the road. Take your time and calculate each number appropriately. It’s worth the extra effort.

Maximize Deductions
Now, when I say “maximize” I don’t mean make stuff up to get a bigger deduction. What I do mean is to make sure that you are getting all of the deductions you deserve. Some deductions can easily be overlooked, such as the home office deduction or your mileage for going to the post office or a meeting location. Another not-so-obvious deduction is retirement savings. Check out my previous post, The Right Way to Write-off Business Expenses, for more tax deduction possibilities and rules.

Double and Triple Check Your Work
Before signing on the dotted line, double and even triple check all of your calculations. According to BusinessWeek.com, most of the mistakes on tax returns are simple addition and subtraction errors, and they lead to most of the inquiries the IRS makes.

Another option is to use a tax calculating program, rather than yourself and an adding machine, such as TurboTax, which is designed for both personal and business tax returns. In fact, I’ve used TurboTax for the last four years and have been very pleased with the results, especially the audit check, which double checks your return for any problems that might trigger an audit before concluding the process.

File an Extension
If you just don’t feel like you will be able to get your returns completed and postmarked by April 17th, you can file an extension by filing out IRS Form 4868 and submitting it by the deadline instead. Your extension will be for six months, so your returns will be due by October 15th.

It’s important to know that you should submit an estimated payment of the taxes you will owe with the Form 4868. Otherwise you will have to pay a fine and interest on October 15th. It’s important that the estimated amount you pay is no more than $1,000 from what you will actually owe when your returns are submitted. Less than $1,000 short will mean an additional fine, so it is better to over estimate.

If you run into problems or have questions about your return, help is available. The IRS has a toll-free help line at 800-829-1040 or you can access helpful articles on the IRS Website.


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Wednesday, June 7th, 2017 @ 12:03 AM CDT

Taxes |

Networking Cards: The Business Card Alternative

Resumes contain oodles of information and anyone approaching college graduation or looking for a new career should have plenty on hand. But, unless you actually see a help wanted sign hanging somewhere besides a fast food restaurant (wouldn’t that be the best use of your college degree), chances are you’re not going to want to carry stacks of paper with you to hand to every big time business owner you come across.

A nice alternative to the bulky resume for those who are perusing the job market are networking cards. With the same shape and dimensions of a traditional business card, networking cards provide only the pertinent information so that prospective employers that you simply meet in passing don’t feel as bogged-down with your inquiry about a position.

Unless you are seeking a job in a more creative field (such as architecture, graphic arts or art restoration), which opens the door for a slightly more creative networking card, the design of a networking card needs to remain sleek and classy, as a resume would be.

Just like business cards, networking cards need to list your name (of course) and all your contact information such as home phone, mobile, e-mail, etc. You may want to consider including a picture of yourself on the card as well, so that the prospective employer can remember you more easily when they come across your card later.

Another item to consider implementing into your networking card is a single statement that encompasses your job objective, what it is you are looking to accomplish with a new career in the [fill in the blank] market. Sometimes narrowing your goals to one statement can be difficult. If that is the case, consider listing your strongest selling point. In other words, the strongest quality that you have to offer prospective employers.

You never know who your going to meet in your daily routine. And though it’s ideal to always have a resume available, it’s not always practical. Networking cards, much like business cards, are a great way to get your name out there, whether it be to a possible future boss directly, or someone who knows somebody who might be interested in talking to you about a position.

The bottom line is, if you’re searching for a new career, networking cards can be an effective tool for you. Design yours today!


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By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, June 6th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Networking |

What Makes Women Entrepreneurs Different from Men?

Over the past few years, there has been a surge in business startups by female entrepreneurs. Today I’m going to discuss how the way women run things may be a bit different from how men play the game.

Stronger Focus on Values
It’s not that men don’t put values in the front lines of their company, but most women entrepreneurs make it the number one priority over everything else. According to Margaret Heffernan, who recently wrote How She Does It: How Women Entrepreneurs Are Changing the Rules of Business, women think about what their business will stand for before they start planning anything else.

Will Ask for Help
Many men (not all) have difficulty asking for help when it comes to something like their very own business. Pride can sometimes get in the way. But most women don’t have a problem admitting that they’re not sure how to accomplish a certain task or what needs to be done next in the building-a-business game. This can sometimes provide an advantage in a well-spring of knowledge from sources that help ground their business more quickly.

Focused on the Working Environment
According to Heffernan, male entrepreneurs see their businesses as a machine, while female entrepreneurs see it as a living organism. I can see where she’s coming from. Men may be more likely to take the position that “bad parts” (employees) can easily be replaced with new and better functioning ones. Many male entrepreneurs may overlook the fact that the “parts” are going bad because the machine as a whole is not in great condition. Some may take the position that a new employee here or there will help to make the business function better, rather than examining the whole business under a microscope to see if there may be underlying problems.

Women entrepreneurs tend to be on the other end of the spectrum with the perspective that, if the environment their employees are in isn’t working, then the entire “ecosystem” of the business, if you will, could collapse. Basically, women entrepreneurs focus more on making sure the work environment is comfortable to obtain the best performance from their employees, rather than expecting the best from their employees despite the work environment.

Strength of the Business
Women entrepreneurs tend to focus on building a business so strong that it could function completely and successfully without them. Men build strong businesses, but often want to make sure they are always part of the central element that keeps things going. According to Heffernan, women entrepreneurs are more like the “conductor of the symphony – the person who doesn’t make the noise, but pulls it all together.”

Source:
• BusinessWeek.com: Men Dominate, Women Orchestrate


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Monday, June 5th, 2017 @ 12:03 AM CDT

Ownership |

How to Secure Your Business Against Computer Viruses

Bank accounts, client information, protected business processes… all are right there in front of you and can be accessed with the touch of a button. Every business has a least one computer with all the crucial information contained within. Truthfully, a good business can’t run without a computer these days.

So why is it that, despite the obvious threats of hackers and the like that loom out in cyberspace, many business computers (and even personal computers) are not being properly protected? Even if you think you’re taking adequate precautions to protect yourself and your business, chances are, you’re missing one of the crucial elements that will leave a gaping hole in your system, making it fully accessible.

To properly and effectively protect your computer, be sure to follow these steps:

1. It is absolutely critical that your computer have an anti-virus scan program, such as Norton, Mcafee, or my personal favorite used on all my home and office machines Panda Internet Security 2007. Most new computers come with one installed, but only with about a year subscription to their services. Once that year runs out, you no longer have access to the updates required for continued protection, so always keep your subscription up to date. The yearly cost far outweighs the loss you could have if a virus attacked.

2. It is also imperative that you regularly update your anti-virus programs virus definitions. Typically you can set the program up to where it updates the definitions automatically, without even bothering you. This is efficient if your system is connected to the Internet 24/7. If not, be sure that the definitions are updated when you do connect. Without current virus definitions, your system is not protected from the latest bugs.

3. Make sure that your operating system, like Windows, is regularly updated as well. Again, you can set the system up to where it updates automatically, but even then it will occasionally ask you about certain updates. Typically these updates contain software security patches. These patches do exactly that, they patch up holes in the system that may give access to hackers and viruses.

4. Run virus scan often. At the very least, run it weekly, but more often will protect you better. Also, be sure to back up the documents, projects and information you have saved to your hard drive on a regular basis. If you’re using a server, have each computer user back-up their information to the server weekly. If not, I recommend backing-up to a flash drive or CD-R. Save information that you could not replace if the system were to crash.

If you do end up with a computer virus even after taking all the precautions possible (and it can happen at some point), there are steps to take to get rid of the problem. First and foremost, if the infected computer is connected to a network, immediately disconnect and isolate that computer. Some viruses are able to quickly spread to other computers on the network. Train your employees to take proper action when a problem surfaces.

Next, find the removal tool for that particular virus. Your anti-virus scan program can warn you that the virus exists and say that it is deleted, but 9 times out of 10, it’s not completely gone. You will typically need to use the removal tool, most of which can be found by doing an online search with “[virus name] removal.”

Once the virus is removed, be sure to do another virus scan, just to make sure. If the virus crashed your operating system, format and reinstall. This is where the backup that you’ve been running comes in handy. You can always reinstall programs, but cannot replace the information on those programs, such as the client bills for the last three years.

And finally, once everything is reinstalled, run virus scan again, just in case. You can never be too careful when it comes to computer viruses… ever.


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Sunday, June 4th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Technology |

Demand for Healthy Pet Food Presents Business Opportunity

If you’re an animal lover and looking for a niche market to start a business in, then healthy pet food may be the product line for you. Following last month’s pet food recall, pet owners are on the prowl for a healthier alternative for their extended family members.

Canada’s Menu Foods, which produces dry and canned dog and cat food for over 50 brands, pulled over 60 million canned and pouch products off of store shelves after reports that the products were causing the deaths and illnesses of pets across the nation.

Upon further research, Menu Foods and the FDA discovered that the finished products manufactured between December 3, 2006 and March 6, 2007 contained melamine, which it typically used in making plastics. The contaminant coincided with the switch to a new distributor for the wheat gluten ingredient contained in the products (see Menu Foods’ March 30, 2007 press release).

Since the recall, sales have skyrocketed for a number of small businesses across the country that manufacture organic and/or chemical- and preservative-free cat and dog food. The Honest Kitchen out of San Diego, California reports four times the online orders and a 100% doubling in actual dollar amounts.

Many of these small businesses got their start by providing home cooked meals to their own pets. KosherPets in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida started after its owners couldn’t find anything on the market that would help their Dalmatian’s skin allergies. But once Martine Lacombe started making kosher meals for their dog, they saw immediate improvement.

The neighbors were so impressed they were asking where they could buy the food for their dogs, but there was nothing on the market. So, KosherPets was born in 2001, bringing in $10,000 it’s first year, $100,000 its second and is expected to rake in up to $500,000 this year.

Lucy Postins, founder of The Honest Kitchen states that, “people’s animals are like their babies…they enjoy participating in creating a meal for their cat or dog, rather than scooping something brown out of a can.”

I have three dogs at home, who are, in fact, much like children to me. I’m not ready to spend the extra cash on organic and preservative-free dog food, but I can definitely understand the appeal.

Many dogs develop skin allergies to the preservatives and chemicals in dog food, including my four year old Lab/Great Dane. Thankfully we have found a dog food that helps alleviate the problem, though not completely. If the organic products were more affordable, we would definitely switch. Maybe it just takes more entrepreneurs tapping into the market to make the products that are the best for our pets more readily available.

Source:
• BusinessWeek.com: A Growing Appetite for Healthy Pet Food


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Saturday, June 3rd, 2017 @ 12:04 AM CDT

Ventures |

Aprils Fools Day Office Pranks

I know I am one of the many who are guilty of dreaming up fabulous pranks that would have everyone in the office rolling… but I never have the nerve to actually follow through with pulling them off.

Entrepreneur.com’s Top 10 Office Pranks Exposed reveals some very inventive and hilarious office pranks that were pulled off, including the culprits. My personal top three from the list are:

• Placing a sticky-note on the bottom of a co-worker’s mouse that says “April Fools.” It may take a few minutes for her to figure out why his mouse doesn’t work, but it will sure produce a good chuckle.

• All the employees band together and call in sick the same morning about an hour before report time (particularly if a new hire is to start that same day). Then, everyone shows up to work at the same time, maybe with breakfast in tow.

• While the new technical service representative was out of the office, some employees of a printing company sent all of his equipment, including the computer monitor, through the shrink wrapping machine.

A sense of humor in the office is a must to get through the day, but be careful when planning a practical joke, because your job could be on the line. Be sure to think through all possible reactions from your co-workers and the consequences of such reactions. Also, be sure not to do anything that might hurt someone’s feelings or distract the rest of the work day.

And, above all else, be sure you know your boss and how he’ll react well enough before pulling a practical joke on him. Anything that embarrasses him or undermines his authority will quickly cost your job.


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, June 2nd, 2017 @ 12:06 AM CDT

Operations |

Tips for Dealing with Calls from Upset Clients

Unfortunately we can’t please everyone and many times those who are unhappy in any way want to express it. I know because not only do I receive the calls, but sometimes I make them when I feel the customer service I received is lacking in some way.

So, what should you do when you’re on the receiving end of a call from an upset or irate client? There are many tactics to keep in mind, and though some may should cheesy, they can be very helpful in making the call end positively.

• First and foremost, listen and take notes. If you have to relay the situation to someone else, it’s important that you don’t get any of the information wrong.

• Stay positive, both in your tone and in your head. Thinking that the caller is being ridiculous will translate into your tone and will definitely not help the situation.

• Don’t talk down to or berate the client – always remember that their complaints are important to them and you should express an understanding of that.

• Do not take their complaint personally or become defensive. If you do you’re opening the opportunity for the conversation to quickly escalate to a bad one.

• Do not interrupt to defend yourself or the business. Only interrupt to detour the conversation back to a positive level if the client’s emotions begin to escalate.

• Express empathy to the client’s situation. Put yourself in their shoes and try and see their perspective. Not only will it make them feel better, but it will help you to discover the best solution to the problem.

• Take responsibility for your actions and apologize assertively when you personally have made a mistake (do not apologize for other employees, because that is admitting their fault in the situation when you’re probably only getting selective facts and perspective).

• Thank the client for sharing his concerns with you and try to find a solution you can both agree on, even if that means talking it over with other staff members and calling the client back with options.

There are always exceptions, but sticking to these simple guidelines will help you to turn the conversation with upset clients in a productive direction that will hopefully guide you to a resolution that everyone is happy with.


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Thursday, June 1st, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations |