5 Strategies To Streamline Your Small Business in 2016

Operating a business is a time consuming venture no matter how large or small your business is. Until we figure out how to extend the hours of a day, streaming business operations is your best way to maximizing productivity and profitability.

There are literally dozens of ways to streamline your business operations. Trying to implement them all can quickly become another time suck. Instead, focus on the five strategies below to start streamlining and saving time instantly:

Streamline Contact Management With a CRM

Leads and referrals are the lifeblood for all businesses. Managing contacts is something that has to be taken seriously, but doesn’t have to become a time-consuming burden. Customer relationship management (CRM) software makes staying in contact and nurturing leads an autopilot experience.

These systems keep all of your contacts organized, keep track of when and what contact is made and help the sales team connect on a more meaningful level. These systems have a variety of functions, but one of the most popular CRM features is marketing automation tools. This allows you to create email campaigns that are automatically sent and provide automatic follow up anytime someone fills out a form or calls your business.

With a CRM, a lot of the contact management work is done for you after the initial setup. Reports can also be generated to provide valuable insight into marketing and sales with minimal effort.

Use a Cloud-Based Phone System to Bring All Your Calls Together

The latest technology in telephone communication is cloud-based calling systems. Instead of your cell phone, office phones and home phone being spread out and under different plans, everything is brought together in the cloud. Calls to your business number can be routed to any phone in any location.

Now there’s no telephone lines or equipment tying things down to a particular place or phone. Better still is that cloud-based phone systems are much easier to manage while providing more features. All of your voicemails, call recordings and call tracking data for all of your phone numbers can be found in a single online account. Reports can be generated with a click of a button so you can analyze phone leads, sales and marketing efforts all at once.

Use an Accounting System to Put Payments on Autopilot

If you’re spending more than a few minutes creating invoices, making payments and reminding customers and clients that payments are due, it’s time to invest in an accounting system. Today there are accounting software options that can do it all for you.

Look for an accounting system with the following capabilities:

  • Generate invoices
  • Send email reminders when payments are late
  • Alert you when late payment reminders are sent
  • Process electronic transfers to make your payments
  • Keep records of all transactions and create reports

A dynamic accounting system will make balancing the books every month a breeze and really pays off during tax season.

Hire Outside Help

There are three things that businesses can leverage to increase productivity: time, money and people. Hiring full-time employees is not always necessary or financially feasible. But hiring outside contract workers is a smart streamlining strategy.

Not only will outside help free up your time, it can also save you money and help you implement other streamlining systems. Three areas to consider outsourcing are administrative work, technical functions and specialized tasks.

Desk-based work can take up to 32% of an entrepreneur’s day, and is often busy work that can easily be handled by someone else. Tech issues can be completed in a matter of minutes by someone that knows what they’re doing, and they can help to future-proof systems. The same goes for other specialized work that requires expertise. If the task isn’t directly making money or helping grow your business it’s time to delegate.

Create a Customer Portal

You can help customers and clients help themselves with a customer portal. This is a portion of your website that’s dedicated to answering questions and providing information. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated. It just needs to act like a help desk that customers can browse on their own.

Something as simple as an FAQ page can dramatically cut down on the number of customer calls that have to be fielded. You can beef up your customer portal by making it interactive. Allow customers to submit support tickets, fill out forms and complete transactions to streamline several processes simultaneously. In addition to streamlining your customer service this will also help boost customer satisfaction.

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Ivan Yates to speak at British Irish Chamber Dinner

Ivan Yates

Ivan Yates is a broadcaster, columnist, businessman and former politician, holding the position of Fine Gael Dáil deputy for more than twenty years. A native of Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, he became involved in local politics at a young age and, at twenty-one years old, was the youngest member of the 22nd Dáil. He was appointed Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry in 1994.

Celtic Bookmakers

In 2001, he left full-time politics to concentrate on his family and business interests.  Celtic Bookmakers, a chain of betting shops founded by Ivan in 1987, went on to become one of the largest independent family chains in the country. The business went into receivership in 2011 and Ivan declared himself bankrupt in 2012.

Newstalk, TV3

After a year in Wales, he returned to Ireland where he now works full-time in the Irish media. Ivan co-presents Newstalk FM’s breakfast show with Chris Donoghue, is a frequent guest presenter on TV3 and writes weekly columns for the Irish Independent.  He also makes regular appearances as a promotional and after-dinner speaker.

“Full on”

Ivan is married with four children and lives in Dublin. His best selling autobiography “Full On” was published in 2014.


If you want to book for the dinner (which will also give you access to the conference), click here

Separate tickets to the conference are available here. Use “ULSTERBANK” to get 50% off.

NB Discount does not apply to the conference dinner

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5 Essential Customer Service Skills Your Team Needs

Customer service is an extremely important aspect of running a business, which is why companies invest huge amounts of time and money in customer service courses and training methods. However, building a strong team can be a real challenge, as there are a number of essential components.

Here, we take a look at five skills that any good customer service team needs.

1. Communication Skills

The ability to communicate effectively is an absolutely crucial customer service skill for your team to possess. This includes having team members who can convey information in a clear way – whether it is through speech, letters, emails, or on social media – but also requires the ability to obtain and retain information from customers as well.

Someone with good communication skills will be a good listener, will utilise positive rather than negative words, and will make effective use of body language. Ideally, they will also have a strong talent for persuasion, allowing them to convince interested customers that your products or services are right for them.

2. Knowledge of Products and Services

While it may seem like an obvious point, good customer service relies heavily on the individual team members knowing what they are talking about when dealing with customers. This, in turn, requires a detailed knowledge of the products and/or services your business has to offer.

For that reason, a huge part of your customer service training should focus on educating staff members. Their knowledge should be based on what a customer may want (or need) to know, meaning it probably won’t include the intricacies of how a product is made, but must include a deep understanding of how a product actually works.

3. Patience

Patience is a vital asset for anyone working in a customer service role and its importance should be stressed to your team. Customers will often only reach out to staff members if they are angry, confused or desperate, and patience makes dealing with emotionally charged people significantly easier.

“Also be sure to take the time to truly figure out what they want,” says Gregory Ciotti, a marketing professional for Help Scout. “They’d rather get competent service than be rushed out the door.”

4. Attentiveness

When it comes to discussing examples of poor customer service, people often cite times when they felt ignored, or as though their needs were not deemed to be important. Repeated studies have also shown that ignoring customers is extremely damaging to the relationship between a business and its clients, so avoiding it should be a priority.

In fact, research carried out by Conversocial found that more than 1 in 4 customers would stop doing business with a company if they were ignored, while almost half would be less likely to do business with a company if they saw other customers being ignored. Therefore, it is important to have attentive staff, who are always willing and able to offer help, anticipate problems and generally engage with your customer base.

5. A Calming Influence

At those difficult times when things become heated, staff members who have the ability to defuse a situation are invaluable. As a result, you need team members who are not only able to keep their cool under pressure, but who also have a calming influence on those around them.

The ability to stay calm, no matter what the situation or how intense a customer is, can help to make sure any solutions are completely rational and carefully thought through. Moreover, that calm approach can easily rub off on other staff members and on customers, making the entire situation a whole lot less volatile.

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How Big is Your eCommerce Market?

After only 30 years of the internet, there are now just under 1 billion websites in the world. Of those, only 173M+ are currently active. That may seem like an overwhelming number when trying to find new leads online and quantify the size of your eCommerce market, but this task doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming, writes Liz Fulham from SalesOptimize.

Do you know how many eCommerce websites there are in the world? Less than one percent of the active internet is eCommerce i.e. 1.7M websites and growing. For sales executives and businesses in all industries, it often feels like you’re searching for a needle in a virtual haystack the size of Mount Everest. A person can only qualify 100+ websites a day, which is a big problem facing companies when trying to find sales leads using conventional search engines.

How Does this Impact Your Business?

Let’s say a camera manufacturer, Max Speed, a jovial fellow, would like to know the true size of his worldwide market online. He wants to know how many websites in the world might be interested in reselling his Max Speed cameras.

The Average Joe Way: Max Speed enters “Camera shops” into a search engine and it returns about 624,000,000 results. So many of these results are duplicates. Remember there are only 173M + active websites. That’s an almost infinite amount of man-hours of work for the (no-longer) jovial Max and his newly hired team to sift through, pull their hair out and silently scream about.

Lead Generation – Where Do You Find Your Next Sales Lead?

After finding some quick wins using Google, Max’s team wants to find more sales leads. Businesses can look to LinkedIn, Kompass, Experian, Dun & Bradstreet etc. to do this. While these options are better than a Google search, the complete answer is still not there. The reason is that thousands of eCommerce sites are missing from these searches. eCommerce merchants live in the world of Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter etc. How does Max and his team search these platforms for eCommerce sales leads?

New Options

The good news is that there are major developments in data mining and deep web analytics. This is a big investment area globally. Using some of the new search engines, Max and his team can now enter “Camera shops” into a business search engine and, in just a few seconds, they can find thousands of results for camera shops that are active and selling to his market right now. As a result, Max gets rich all by himself, keeps his hair and gets home early! He no longer needs to hire an army to search the internet to find quality sales leads.

It is estimated that 2015 saw over $1.7 trillion traded by online businesses. In the UK, Black Friday broke the £1bn ($1.4bn+) threshold in sales. When you look at the global sales opportunity of $1.7 trillion, only a very few of the large online merchants pull in more than $20 million a year. Instead, the large sales figures come from a combined larger number of online businesses (albeit lesser-known) that are consistently doing in excess of $250K a year.

Again, this goes to show that there are lots of sales leads out there still to be found – and a need for much more refined search engines/databases to identify those sales. Of the ones that are out there today let www.SalesOptimize.com be an option for consideration.

Finding new sales leads can be challenging for many businesses, but the advances in data mining and analytics means there are new opportunities for savvy business owners to narrow down their potential eCommerce market and identify leads to foster further growth.

Written by: Liz Fulham, Founder and CEO, SalesOptimize – helping businesses to quantify the true size of their B2B eCommerce market and identify new online shop leads.

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Steps to be Successful at Guest Posting

You have been writing guest posts for various blogs and websites and yet you are not getting the response you desire. You want to guest post; after all, there are a number of perks you can enjoy when you use this tactic. For instance, it can increase the traffic to your own blog or website, it introduces you to new communities that eventually helps your platform grow and not to mention how good it is for boosting search engine rankings. Yet, you are not able to reap any of these rewards because your guest posts are not being accepted or getting any response. Why is that?

It could be because you are ignoring some of the inherent rules of guest posting. You have to understand that you either have to hire an expert blog posting service or follow certain important steps to be successful at guest posting. Are you ready? The steps are outlined here:

Step 1:
First things first, you need to go over the guidelines carefully. Lots of established blogs, especially ones that accept guest posts regularly, have a list of guidelines set out for anyone who wants to post on their blog or website as a guest. You need to be aware of them and ensure none are being violated or else you will not gain the acceptance you are looking for.

Step 2:
Always choose a blog for writing a guest post after considerable research. You need to select a good blog where you know you can find your target audience. You need to research and find out the voice and tone of the blog and also look for topics that haven’t been studied as yet. This is important because you don’t want to be repetitive and you want to select something that you know will appeal to the audience and will give you a positive response. Furthermore, it could also convince the blog owner to publish your post if they enjoy the subject matter.

Step 3:
Once you have done your research, you can get in touch with the blogger. The best way to contact is via email and you should get right to the point instead of beating around the bush. You can simply pitch your idea or if you have already written a draft, you can send that in. Don’t waste your time with self-deprecation and don’t apologize. Avoid being arrogant as well.

Step 4:
It is time to create the best post possible you have ever done. You don’t just want to blow the blog owner away, but you also want to make a huge impact on the audience. According to experts from  blogger outreach services, the first opportunity could be the last so you need to come up with the right content.

Step 5:
You should give the blogger some time before following up. Usually, the guidelines will mention how long it will take for you to get a response.

Step 6:
If your post is published, you should remember to thank the blogger and then start working on your post. This means sharing, tweeting and emailing to get exposure.

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Where To Go When The Banks Say No

It’s becoming much harder to get loans from the bank. Their approach has become increasingly conservative and this is unlikely to change as they try to rewrite their pre-recession reputation.

The good news is, the alternative finance market is predicted to grow tenfold in the next five years. However the options can be overwhelming. Here are a few to consider when the bank just won’t help.

When the banks say no…

Peer to peer lending

The great thing about peer to peer is speed. You can get quick decisions and access to funds within days rather than weeks. What’s more, it’s much more receptive to quirky and tech-led companies because the investors have the insight to recognise the opportunity banks are often blind to. However to make peer to peer an option you really need to establish a network of mentors. Not necessarily people who have the money to invest themselves, but people who are well connected and can recommend you to associates looking for low-risk, high-return investment opportunities.

Crowd funding

The huge pro to crowd funding is that investors usually just require monetary return. They don’t want to be involved in making the day-to-day business decisions. Which means you can continue to run the business to your rules. What’s more, the people interested in crowd funding tend to appreciate the zeitgeist: those ideas that seem too much of a gamble for the bank to finance but see risk takers more than happy to pay £1,000 to see if it will come off.

Venture capital

Venture capitals are currently rich with investors hungry for a slice of the next best thing but who don’t have the time, energy or idea to get something off the ground. Plus, if your plan is strong enough, this route can help you raise up to £1m.

Attracting investment of this kind though comes around to who you know. Venture capitalists hate unsolicited bids. My friend who works in the industry says he’ll look for flaws in every pitch submitted by email. Whereas, if a contact recommends a new start-up, he’ll do all in his power to make it work. So it’s really important that you actively seek well-connected mentors who can open doors.

The one exception to this rule is speed-funding events such as Angels’ Den. This is where you have three minutes to pitch an idea. Very Dragons’ Den, but worth a punt.

Bridging loans

This obviously comes at a premium. But if successful, they can be lucrative for you as well as the funder. Usually the bridging loan company wants their money back within a year. However this gives you time to use the investment and make a difference. Which, in turn, gives you something with a proven track record to instil confidence in the bank next time you approach them for a loan.

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Building Security Systems for Businesses

Public buildings such as large department stores and shopping centers have long been the targets of vandalism, theft, and burglary. More recently, office buildings and small businesses have become targets as well.

This probably happens because vandals and burglars assume that small office buildings are not well secured or protected, so they see them as fair game with little risk of setting of alarms or encountering a security guard. Unfortunately, they are often right about that. So on top of all responsibilities that are involved with running a business, an increased crime rate adds even more.

Building Security Systems for Businesses

The Basics

There are two ways to ensure the protection of an office or small business, and that is technology or personnel. The technology would include electronic devices such as high security locks, alarm systems or cameras, while personnel is literally a person who will stand guard of the building.

Being able to use both methods of protection provides many options for business owners to maximally secure their property. The decision will likely be made with consideration to the budget and physical size of the establishment.

If there are employees that work late into the evening and must cross through the dark to get home, hiring security personnel might be the better option. This would also be appropriate if the location of the building is in a part of town that has criminal activity at night.

Having this sort of security can help to prevent vandalism and protect employees’ vehicles. It’s important to remember that as an employer you can be held responsible for any losses suffered by employees in an unsecured parking lot.

Inexpensive Options

There are many options available on the market but not all of them are budget-friendly. Most of the options below will fit into a limited budget, which can be very useful to small business owners.

Monitored alarm system

Contacts a call center when the alarm is triggered, and the call center will then call the police. The drawback to this is that it ties into the phone lines and can be compromised if the perpetrator cuts them. Even if that does not happen, it still gives the criminal time to steal items from the business or vandalize it.

Unmonitored alarm system

Will set off an alarm outside and inside when triggered, and can even be synced with steady or flashing floor lights that will call more attention to the situation.  This normally scares burglars off before they have the chance to vandalize or take anything. This system can fit a limited budget, because it does not have the fees that are charged for the monitored systems.

Wireless alarm system

May be purchased at any hardware store, and can be installed by anyone. Cameras, sensors and motion detectors operate this system with optional alarms and floodlights. Normally inexpensive, these systems are great for a small business.

Outdoor security system

A system that is designed for the outside of buildings combines motion detectors with lights and alarms. The alarm can be set to trigger if someone is sensed walking a path that is not approved, such as approaching a window or door.

What is the best choice?

This will entirely depend on the needs of the business and its’ owner. Talking to a security installation professional, security personnel, a police officer, and even researching on the internet can provide some valuable insight.

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3 Things You Can Do to Make Your Small Business Stand Out

In such a competitive landscape, it is hard to see how any small business survives. Even if you come up with a totally new and innovative widget that takes the world by storm, there is nothing stopping some Chinese knockoff company from building a cheaper version of the same thing, putting you and your company out of business.

What you need is something that will help your business stand out from the crowd. Being first is not the competitive advantage it used to be. Nor is being the best. Every industry is full of stories illustrating the fact that the best technology doesn’t always win. It may not seem fair, but the winner is often the one who does the bast marketing and brand service.

Make Your Small Business Stand Out

This is not to say that the one with the most money wins. When all else is equal, money can be the deciding factor. But clever marketing is about making sure that things are unequal in your favor. You can do that even on a shoestring marketing budget. Here are 3 tips to help you stand out of the crowd of your competitors:

Brand Your Delivery Boxes

One of Amazon’s most brilliant moves is branding every shipping box with that famous smile. It’s like a little present. No matter what’s in the package, it’s something from Amazon. Whether those boxes are atop the front desk, in the break room, or at the recycling station, they are powerful marketing tools for one of the most successful companies in the world.

But such an advantage is not reserved only for big companies. By utilizing such services as Custom Boxes Now, you, too, can have packaging and shipping boxes customized inside and out. Besides offering a great branding opportunity, these boxes also offer free credibility. Even if you are new to business and have shipped only one branded package, that package tells everyone who sees it that you are the real deal. Stop thinking of packaging as merely a means of holding content. Think of it as a way to get a leg up on the competition.

Go Mobile with Your Branding

The major US tech companies have made mobile branding a big part of their success story. Even if you don’t have a Windows Phone or PC, there is a good chance you have some software from Microsoft that you use on the go. That is because the new Microsoft is working hard to do its best work on whatever platform is popular.

Microsoft apps have quickly earned the reputation, in some quarters, of being the best iOS apps for the iPhone. Google services have a similar reputation on iOS. Going big on a popular mobile platform has paid dividends for these companies. It has worked equally well for smaller companies, too.

According to AdAge, two-thirds of Facebook’s revenues come from mobile. Facebook knows that people spend their time on mobile devices: a place where they had to be if they were going to achieve long-term success. If people do not have the option of having your logo on their smartphone’s home screen, you are missing out on a powerful branding opportunity.

Don’t Forget Your Business Card

In these days of digitizing everything, it is easy to forget about the humble and much maligned business card. At CES 2016, Kodak landed a blog post on The Verge, not for its tech, but for its snazzy business card made from a slice of film. It just stands as a reminder that the little things still matter.

Business cards aren’t just informational. They are also excellent branding opportunities. Sure, you can beam your information from one smartphone to another. But that is pretty awkward and unreliable. Even if you get it to work, there is no guarantee that the person will look up or use the information. It is out of sight and quickly out of mind.

A business card, on the other hand, has to be handled. The person you give it to has to interact with it at least twice. If he drops it and loses it, the person who picks it up will be interacting with your brand. Business cards, mobile apps, and shipping boxes are 3 excellent ways to keep you one step ahead of the competition.

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Make a Great Impression at a Networking Event

Live events bring together people with common interests and give everyone an incentive to interact. They are a great way to build both your personal and professional networks. If you’re willing to introduce yourself, then you have a good chance of making new friends or meeting potential business contacts.

Of course, getting the most from a live event takes more than showing up and saying, “Hello”. If you want to make an impression and build lasting connections, then you’ll need to put in some work. Here are few tips to ensure you make a positive impression that lasts beyond the event.

Make a Great Impression at a Networking Event

1. Be prepared

An event may be your first or only chance to connect with potential customers, employers or new friends. Take the time to review information about attendees and topics being discussed before you arrive. If you’re not familiar with the topic then you can prepare by attending a webinar or using a mobile learning tool for research.

Preparation also means have the right look and supplies for the event. Make sure you’re dressed to impress, or at least fit in. Also, remember to bring plenty of business cards, pens, and something to write with. Practice introducing yourself so you are comfortable walking up to strangers and sharing your key information.

2. Show real interest in the people around you

The worst thing you can do at a live event is spend all your time talking about yourself. Make it a point to ask open-ended questions and listen carefully to what others have to say.

Making connections is about getting beyond the shallow conversation topics and engaging with what matters. The best way to do this is to offer a bit more about yourself at the start, then ask questions that give your conversation partner the same opportunity.

While a live event may be about business, you should make it a point to talk about things other than business. Share a story about your vacation, ask your new friend about their hobbies or suggest a good book to read in order to start building a real rapport.

Remember that your goal is to make a lasting impression and stand out in a person’s mind after the event. That means sharing more than your sales pitch.

3. Be a connector

Sometimes you, your business, or your goals don’t align with the people you’re meeting. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make a connection. Remember that people often change jobs and even industries: someone you meet today could become a client, or an employer down the road.

If your interest and a new connections don’t align at that moment, then try helping them make another connection. This may be another person at the event or someone else you know. Offer introductions to other people at the event or referrals to people you think can help them. You’ll be remembered in a positive light and they may return the favor someday.

4. Keep conversations going

It’s important to keep the conversation going after the event is over. You don’t want your new friend or contact to forget about you.

Don’t be afraid to invite a new connection out for coffee, or invite them for a drink after the event is over. If you feel it’s too soon to ask for another face-to-face interaction, then make it a point to email them the next day.

The trick here is to reinforce the connection, but not be too aggressive. If you talked about doing business, then feel free to bring that up, but you might be better off mentioning the other topics you discussed.

When you make a good first impression at a live event, it will be beneficial to your business.

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