Monday, November 17, 2014

3 Effective Ways to Respond to Negative Online Reviews

Any press is good press, right?

Wrong.

Customers who have negative experiences at a store or with a business often can’t wait to get online and tell everyone about it. This can be extremely detrimental to any business. Luckily, there are ways to turn a negative review around. It’s all about being responsive, listening to the customer, and reacting appropriately. 

Turn a negative review into positive publicity with these three steps.

1.  Set up tools to monitor yourself online


Free: Google Alerts
Paid: Mention (You can track up to 500 results per month for up to three keywords for free. $19.99/month for a premium plan)

There are free and paid options for monitoring online reviews. With both Google Alerts and Mention, you will be able to plug in what terms and queries you would like to get notifications about. Set up a search for your business name to get an email (from Google Alerts) and a notification (from Mention) that will send you to the source of the message. Here you will see who said what, why they said it, and where they went to spread the word.

Now is your chance to respond.

2.  React with a positive, apologetic attitude


  • Publicly acknowledge
  • Apologize
  • Resolve the issue at hand

This is your chance to be a responsive business. By not saying anything, you are leaving room for more criticism. By responding to the comment, you can brand yourself as a business who wants to work with its customers to create the best experience possible. Apologize for the negative experience, publicly acknowledge that you will take this as an opportunity to learn, and let your audience know that you will resolve this issue. 

While you don’t have to give anything away, depending on what the situation is, do your best to right what has been wronged. If you are a retail store, replace a faulty purchase; if you are a restaurant, say that the next one is on you; etc. Make sure that the person who left the “less than satisfied review” feels as though you were actually listening to what they had to say.

Next, attract authentic positive publicity.

3.  Encourage positive reviews


Reward those who give positive reviews

“If you had a positive experience…”

Consumers have no issue jumping online and writing a cutting review when they have had a poor experience, but are much less likely to go online and tell everyone how great they think you are. As a business, you need to give consumers an incentive to go online and write you a dazzling review. With each transaction or business deal, ask your clients and customers to go online and talk about their positive experience. Chances are it wouldn’t even have crossed their mind to do so, but most are very willing. If you feel so inclined, provide an incentive program, “If you write a testimonial you will be entered into a drawing for the chance to win big!” 

Find these tips helpful? Start using them!

Go online now, monitor your mentions, and become a responsive business partner. This will raise brand awareness as well as assist in branding your business as one that goes the extra mile to make sure they are providing a positive experience for all. 

What tips might you add for dealing with unsatisfied customers online? Comment below with your advice!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

This Veterans Day, BBB Reminds you to be Aware of Military Scams and Fake Charities



Better Business Bureau Serving Wisconsin is reminding veterans and their loved ones to be aware of scams that may be targeting them. If you’re looking to donate this holiday, BBB is offering advice for consumers looking to give to military-affiliated charities.

Some common scams target service members and their families, including elderly veterans.




The most common military scams to watch out for include:


  • Posing as the Veterans Administration and contacting vets to say they need to update their financial records with the VA;
  • Charging veterans for services they could get for free or less expensively elsewhere, such as military records;
  • Fraudulent investment schemes that convince veterans to transfer their assets into an irrevocable trust;
  • Offering “instant approval” military loans (“no credit check,” “all ranks approved”) that can have high interest rates and hidden fees;
  • Advertising housing online with military discounts and incentives, and then bilking service personnel out of the security deposit;
  • Trying to sell things like security systems to spouses of deployed military personnel by saying the service member ordered it to protect his or her family;
  • Selling stolen vehicles at low prices by claiming to be soldiers who need to sell fast because they’ve been deployed;
  • Posing as government contractors recruiting veterans and then asking for a copy of the job applicants’ passport (which contains important personal information);
  • Posing on online dating services as a lonely service member in a remote part of Iraq or Afghanistan, and then asking for money to be wired to a third party for some emergency.


If you’re interested in donating to a military-affiliated charity this Veterans Day, BBB recommends the following tips:

  • Watch out for charities that sound similar to more well-known ones. Many veterans’ charities include the same words in different order or form to appear legitimate.
  • Look for a clear description of the organization’s programs in its appeals and on its website. If the charity says it’s helping veterans, does it explain how (financial assistance, shelter, counseling) and where it is doing so?
  • Telemarketing can be a costly method of fundraising unless carefully managed. If called, do not hesitate to ask for written information on the charity and its finances before making a decision.
  • Be wary of excessive pressure in fundraising. Don’t be pressured to make an immediate on-the-spot donation. Charities should welcome your gift whenever you want to send it.
  • If donating clothing or other goods, find out how the charity benefits from the collection and re-sale of gifts.
  • Check first before giving, for free, with charity monitoring services like BBB’s give.org and the state government’s charity registration agency (in WI: Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions  Charitable Organizations and Fund Raising; WDFI.org).


BBB advises service members, veterans, and all consumers to never give out personal information to any unknown person who contacts you by phone, email, or solicitation, especially those that involve purchasing something or transferring money.

Always check a BBB Business Review before doing business or donating. If something seems fishy, report a scam or submit an investigation suggestion.

For further information, visit BBB’s Military Line. Follow the BBB on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, November 10, 2014

How Your Business Can Benefit from Small Business Saturday



Will your business take part in Small Business Saturday? This year, the shopping holiday, which encourages consumers to support small businesses by shopping locally, will take place on November 29th, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. American Express will sweeten the deal for its cardholders by giving them up to three, $10 statement credits for eligible purchases made that day.

As a small business, you can download free resources from the American Express/Small Business Saturday website and be included in the Shop Small Map and online directory, whether or not your business accepts the American Express card. You do not need to pay to have your company included in the map or online directory. However, you must meet certain qualifications to ensure that your company is both small and local.

Without spending a penny, your business could be a part of this movement, and take advantage of consumers’ desire to support their communities on Small Business Saturday. The toolkit for small business owners includes free templates for signage, social media posts, postcards and emails to customers, and more. It also includes Small Business Saturday logos, which you could add to paid promotions, like advertisements. While you’re on the website, check out case studies of what other companies have done to benefit from Small Business Saturday. This might get your creative juices flowing.

Small Business Saturday started in 2010 by founding partner American Express. In 2011, the U.S. Senate officially recognized the day, and by 2012, an estimated $5.5 billion was spent at small, independent businesses on that day, according to American Express. 

Here are 10 ways to capitalize on Small Business Saturday, courtesy of the American Independent Business Alliance:

1. PARTNER TO HOST AN EVENT

Join with community organizations and fellow business owners to celebrate. Throw a parade on your main street. Host a neighborhood block party or downtown fair. Design an event that showcases what your businesses have to offer and inspires people to participate. And, don't forget to leverage existing events in your town on the day.

2. ANNOUNCE YOUR PARTICIPATION

Reach out to your customers and prospects in the community to let them know your business is participating in Small Business Saturday. Use the free marketing tools to spread the word including social media, email outreach, online marketing, advertising and direct mail.

3. MAKE SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY A SPECIAL OCCASION

Dress up the town and your store with signage, banners and balloons to call your community to action on the day. Also consider photo booths, free food or live music.

4. PROVIDE CONSUMERS WITH EASY ACCESS

The easier it is to shop, the more people will do it! Work with town officials to close down streets for pedestrians and to offer free parking or shuttles on the day.

5. CROSS-PROMOTE WITH OTHER PARTICIPATING BUSINESSES

Connect with other small business owners and brainstorm ways to leverage your existing resources and to promote the initiative collectively in a way that benefits everyone. Consider partnering to offer discounts to consumers who bring in a receipt from another participating small business.

6. REACH OUT TO LOCAL MEDIA

Send a press release to your local newspapers, radio and television stations announcing your participation. Encourage them to visit your event and interview you and your customers on the day.

7. INVOLVE LOCAL OFFICIALS

Reach out to town officials to encourage their participation which would help provide the message of the day’s importance to the local economy.

8. REWARD YOUR CUSTOMERS

Consumers will be on the lookout for special deals and discounts. Reward them for shopping small by offering a small discount, a free gift with purchase, complimentary gift wrapping or a store gift certificate that can be used towards a purchase at a later date.

9. INCORPORATE CAUSE MARKETING

Consider donating a percentage of your profits from the day to a local charity such as a food pantry or animal shelter. This gives you another great marketing message to communicate. Even better, you will be paying it forward by supporting a non-profit in your community.

10. KEEP TALKING!

Mention Small Business Saturday to customers, in meetings, at community events and to your friends and family and share some of the some of the top reasons why buying local and independent matters!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

8 Ways to Boost Sales of Your Small Business Services


Struggling to differentiate your businesses’ services against the competition? Hoping to close more sales, but not sure how to do so with your limited resources? Here are eight surefire ways to increase your small business sales.

Narrow Your Target Market


Focus in business is everything, but doing so is often hard for small businesses owners who worry that narrowing down their target market will leave them with very few customers left to go after. But going after a specific slice of the market is a great way to get customers to notice you among the fray of companies competing for their business.

The easiest way to do this is to…

Become an Expert in your Market


Being an expert in your field brings credibility, business and referrals. But you’ve got to work at it. It takes more than simply listing your credentials on your website; you need to be out there positioning yourself as a trusted advisor.
This happens all the time around you. Small business owners are writing blogs, hosting free workshops, and giving away white papers and newsletters – all great channels for sharing information with your target market and positioning yourself as a credible expert in your field.

Rank Your Targets


Another way to zero in on your target market is to rank prospects according to profitability. Anyone can do this, from accounting firms to freelancers. Take a look at your client base – which are the most profitable for you? This will help weed out those whose work you really don’t need and those it makes sense to pursue.

Alongside profitability, identify the client profiles that have proven to be your most satisfied. These are the ones who are referring your business to friends and neighbors. Do they represent a particular demographic or live in a certain neighborhood? Perhaps they have a common challenge or need that can help you fine tune your sales focus.

This is market research at its simplest. And it works.

Showcase Your Differentiators


Thank about what makes you different. Understanding and communicating this can really boost sales, and shift the focus away from price alone. 


Fit Your Messaging to Suit your Targets


Once you’ve identified your target and nailed you differentiators, review your messaging and marketing programs to make sure you’re touching the right customers with a relevant message. You might also need to consider your company name and branding to ensure it hits home and reflects your niche.

Sell More to Existing Customers


Here’s another exercise that can ride on the coattails of your customer ranking research. Once you’ve identified your loyal and top-spending customers, think of ways to offer them more.
It’s not as perplexing as it sounds. It can be as easy as setting up a loyalty or VIP program that offers incentives such as promotions, early access to new products and services, rewards points, etc.
This form of customer appreciation is great for keeping you top of mind, driving repeat business, and referrals.

Have a Plan for Each Stage of the Sales Cycle


Does your business have a marketing action plan? Do you know how to deal with aware prospects versus interested prospects? Every stage of the buying cycle is different and deserves a marketing plan all of its own so that you are ready and prepared to nurture those leads further, until you close a sale, and push for referrals.

Optimize the Conversion Process


So you have an interested prospect? Make sure your sales and marketing teams have the tools they need to close the deal. Marketing automation software can really help with this process, but it’s not an absolute must. As mentioned above, start by creating a marketing plan that addresses each phase of the sales cycle – awareness, interest, engagement and sale.

Then think about the timeline that accompanies a typical sale and ways you can match your outreach efforts to keep warming your lead. For example, use your blog or a workshop to generate awareness and earn trust. Then, use social media and your website to encourage prospects to sign up to your email list with the promise of more information and/or special offers.

Now that you have an email address and basic information about a prospect, tailor a personalized marketing outreach campaign to them. Send staggered emails (once a week) and offer more information. Invite them to check back in for a demo, webinar, or other “learning” experience.

If they still aren’t ready to convert, consider mailing them an offer or promotion and follow-up with a sales call.
All through this process, you are deepening your relationship with the prospect by offering value – not just chasing a quick sale. This type of “guided selling” can really help improve your conversions dramatically.

This blog post has been repurposed from sba.gov. Click here for the original post.

Monday, October 27, 2014

How small businesses can improve their digital security

It’s important to note that digital information theft has surpassed physical theft as the most commonly reported fraud.
Small businesses can be victimized by the current rash of digital scammers, just as individuals can.
Here are 10 tips for small businesses from the Federal Communications Commission, designed to keep them safe from the onslaught of would-be digital thieves.
1. Be sure your employees are trained in security principles. Instruct them in the use of strong passwords and proper Internet safety procedures. That includes being distrustful of unsolicited e-mails even though they may look legitimate and never clicking on links in such e-mails. Have established rules and procedures for protecting your customers’ information and other data.
2. Keep your company’s digital devices protected from online threats by being sure security software, web browsers and operating systems are always up to date.
3. Use firewalls. A firewall is a set of programs that prevent outsiders from getting to data on your private network. Free software is available online. Don’t overlook employees who work from home. They should be protected as well.
4. Have a mobile device action plan. Require password protection, data encryption and security apps to protect while using public networks. Lost or stolen equipment should be immediately reported.
5. Back up data. Use an automated backup system if you can, or at least manually back it up once a week, with copies stored either offsite or in the cloud. Backups should include word processing documents, electronic spreadsheets, databases, financial files, human resources files and accounts receivable/payable files.
6. Control who uses your devices and see that each employee has their own user account. Lock up unattended laptops, as they are often targeted for theft.
7. Secure your Wi-Fi network. Set up your router or wireless access point so that it does not broadcast the network name, and password protect access to the router.
8. Secure your payment cards. Work with your bank or credit union to be sure the best tools and anti-fraud services are in use. Isolate your payment system from other, less secure programs. Never use the same computer to process payments and to surf the Internet.
9. Control employee access to data. Try not to allow any one employee access to all data systems – just to the specific data necessary for their job. Never allow them to install software without permission.
10. Tighten account authentication procedures. Require unique passwords and change them every three months. Multifactor authentication, requiring additional information beyond passwords, should be used if possible. Check with financial institutions that handle your data to see whether they offer multifactor authentication as well.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers useful information for business data security at business.ftc.gov/privacy-and-security/data-security.
It is vital for small businesses to stay on top of the latest developments in security of their data.  Data thieves are keeping up to date. So should the rest of us.
This blog post has been repurposed from the Better Business Bureau of Kansas. Click here for the original post.




Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/news/local/article3354604.html#storylink=cpy

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How to Stop People from Wasting Your Time

This blog post has been repurposed from the Harvard Business Review. Click here for the original blog post.
We’re all too busy, spending our days in back-to-back meetings and our nights feverishly responding to emails. That’s why people who waste our time have become the scourge of modern business life, hampering our productivity and annoying us in the process.
Sometimes it’s hard to escape, especially when the time-waster is your boss. But in many other situations, you can take steps to regain control of your time and your schedule. Here’s how.

State your preferred method of communication

For years, millennials have famously eschewed phone calls — but almost everyone has a communication preference of some sort. Regina Walton, a social media and community manager, told me that she, too, hates talking on the phone, a habit she developed after years of living abroad; email is almost always better for her, as “I can respond when I have time and usually am very fast to reply.” You can often limit aggravation (and harassment via multiple channels) by proactively informing colleagues about the best way to reach you, whether it’s via phone calls, texts, emails, or even tweets.

Require an agenda for meetings. 

Pointless or rambling meetings account for a disproportionate share of workplace time leakage. Here’s a solution: insist on seeing an agenda before you commit to attending any meeting, “to ensure I can contribute fully.” You can model the practice by writing an agenda for any meetings you chair, and offering to share the template with others. In fact, you could push to establish company norms that include best practices such as eliminating generic “updates” (which can usually be emailed in advance) and clearly indicating the decisions that need to be made as a result of the meeting. “Discuss expansion strategy” would be a murky and perhaps unproductive agenda item; “Decide whether to open a Tampa office” can guide the conversation much more clearly.

Police guest lists. 

Meetings are also dangerous when their list of invitees has been wantonly constructed, filled with irrelevant people and lacking decision-makers with the authority to get things moving. If you’ve been invited, ask two critical questions. First, do I need to be there? Looking at the agenda (which you’ve insisted they provide), you can gauge whether your input would be valuable or if you can just find out details afterwards. Second, will the (other) right people be there? If you’re theoretically deciding on the Tampa expansion strategy and the executive in charge of Southeast operations isn’t in the room, it’s likely you’ll have to repeat the whole process again for her benefit. Make sure you understand who the real decision-makers are, and don’t waste your time (or other people’s) until they can be present and participate.

Force others to prepare. 

We all hope and expect that others will prepare for meetings with us. Surprisingly often, they don’t. Even when they’re requesting the meeting, they may have done very little research and waste our time with extremely basic questions they could have Googled. Instead, we need to force others to prepare in advance. “Force” is a harsh word, and that’s intentional ­— because it’s not burdensome for people who would have prepared anyway, yet it effectively weeds out the uncommitted
Will you face blow-back by toughening up and putting clear boundaries around your time? Inevitably. But you may also find that people start to respect you ­—and your time ­— a lot more. Most of us wish we could control our schedules better. If you’re willing to step up and argue for smarter policies (like requiring all meetings to have agendas), that benefits everyone. The key is to frame your advocacy not as purely self-interested (“I don’t have time for this nonsense”), but instead as a manifestation of your commitment to the company and your shared mission. “I want to make sure we’re all as productive as possible,” you could say, “and that’s why I think it’s important to make sure we’re respecting each other’s time.” In the end, that’s a hard message to resist.

Monday, October 20, 2014

6 Essential Elements of Any Internship Program

This blog has been repurposed from sba.gov. Click here to view the original blog post.

Internships represent a burgeoning market. According to Internships.com, 67 percent of 2013 graduates completed at least one internship during college, and a separate study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that approximately 90 percent of student interns said they’d accept an offer for a full-time job from their internship employer.
If you’re looking for enthusiastic, low-cost labor, internships can provide your small business with many benefits. After all, internships don’t just help you meet your immediate work needs, they can also help you test drive talent and assess potential future employees.
Internships are also great for your brand and demonstrate that you’re giving back to the community and its students.
If you’re serious about hiring interns, then it’s time to implement an internship program – one that ensures you attract the right talent for your needs, keeps them busy, drives development and covers all your legal bases.
Here are six essential tips for doing just that.

Paid or Unpaid Internships

Let’s start with the money.
If you’re serious about your internship program, then it’s a good idea to compensate your intern(s). What’s the going rate? Ask around and research current trends based on your expectations of the intern and their duties. As a guideline, the average hourly rate for bachelor’s degree level interns is $16.35. Remember that your state’s minimum wage requirement also applies to paid interns.
Unpaid internships are also an option, but the U.S. Department of Labor puts very firm limits on the work that can be performed in these situations. You can read more about these restrictions here. In a nutshell, here’s what you need to know about what an unpaid intern can and can’t do:
  • Unpaid interns can’t do any work that contributes to your business’ operations.This includes any tasks that help you run your business, like documenting inventory, filing papers, answering emails, etc.
  • Unpaid interns can shadow other employees and perform duties that don't have a business need. For example, a bakery may allow an apprentice/intern to decorate a tray of cookies that will not be sold to customers. Because the task was only a training exercise for the apprentice/intern and the bakery did not receive any benefit from that work, the bakery would not have to pay that student worker for that time.

Understand What You’re Getting Into

As you approach the process of hiring an intern, it’s important to understand how an internship is different than a full-time, part-time or even volunteer-based position.
Primarily, an internship is a learning experience for the intern. As such, the experience should complement the student’s field of study, be structured as a mentoring relationship (you’ll need to appoint a dedicated supervisor to assume this role) and has distinct learning goals throughout the course of the program. Keep these considerations in mind as you craft your program, which leads to our next point.

Define Your Needs

Certainly your student intern will have needs and goals, but as the hiring company, you’ll have some too. Take a look at your business and its needs and capabilities in light of how you can an intern can mutually benefit from your program:
  • How will you pay or otherwise compensate an intern?
  • How can an intern help you with your business goals?
  • Do you have enough work to support an intern? Think about short-term and long-term assignments.
  • Do you have enough work for multiple interns?
  • Is everyone bought into the idea (because they need to be)?
  • What’s the best time of year to hire an intern and for how long?
  • Who will supervise and mentor your intern? Can they carve out enough time to take on the task?
  • What ramp-up and ongoing training can you provide?
  • Do you have available office space and other resources?

Don’t Ignore Labor Laws

Spend some time familiarizing yourself with employment laws in your state. If you have legal counsel, talk to them as well. You want to make sure you and your intern are clear on worker’s compensation issues, workplace safety, harassment and discrimination laws, benefits, etc. Your legal counsel can also help you put together a contract of employment for your intern(s).

Put Together Your Program

Aside from compensation, it’s important to clearly define your program. This will not only help attract and nurture the right talent, but it’ll ensure that the program proves to be a success.
For example:
  • Outline what the learning objectives of the role will be. If you’re hiring a marketing intern, perhaps one of the key objectives will be providing the intern with a basic knowledge of email marketing best practices.
  • Then list out daily responsibilities. Remember, students are used to being given clear direction and a task list will also ensure you have all your needs covered.
  • Add in any short- or long-term projects or assignments that you need help with.
  • Finally, be clear on how you’ll evaluate performance.
Don’t forget the basics too – work hours, business ethics, code of conduct, new hire orientation. Everything you do for a regular new hire should also apply to an intern.

Recruiting

Once again, don’t skip the basics. Put together a formal job description and include the specifics about the role, responsibilities and learning opportunities.
In addition to posting the position on your website and usual recruitment channels, take advantage of specific intern-recruitment sites like Internships.comAfterCollege.com,CareerRookie.comYouth.jobs and MonsterYouthJobs.com. Each of these organizations also participates in the government’s Youth Jobs+ program, an initiative designed to bring together elected officials, local businesses, non-profit organizations and faith institutions to create pathways to employment for young Americans.
You can also reach out to your local college and/or school career service office or even your own alma mater. Many operate internship programs (in return for credits, but not always).