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You probably think your small business offers great customer service—well, at least good customer service. But does it really?

 

Without setting customer service benchmarks for your staff, then monitoring and measuring them, you can't be sure how well your employees are living up to your customer service promise.

 

Here are six ways to assess the effectiveness of your customer service.

  1. Set benchmarks. "Good customer service" can be a nebulous concept, unless you set measurable standards and create rules to follow. Whenever possible, try to quantify your standards. For example, set a goal to answer all customer service emails within 24 hours, or not to put callers on hold for more than 60 seconds. For behavior that isn’t easily quantifiable, come up with general rules employees can follow. For instance, you might have a rule that your retail employees should acknowledge every customer who enters the store by smiling, greeting them and looking them in the eye. Once you have set such benchmarks, it’s easier to tell if your employees are living up to them.29379581_s.jpg
  2. Put technology on your side. The tools available vary but there are many ways to keep track of your business’s customer service metrics. If you deal with a lot of customer service calls, for example, use software to track measurements such as how quickly calls are answered, how long customers spend on hold, and how long it takes to resolve a problem. Assess company-wide averages as well as individual employees’ metrics to spot areas where your business is falling short.
  3. Ask your customers. It’s easier than ever to survey customers about their satisfaction with your business’s customer service. Methods range from the low-tech (comment cards on your restaurant tables or at your point-of-sale) to online surveys, quick polls on social media or annual check-ins with your best customers to see how satisfied they are. To get unvarnished opinions, stay on top of your business’s online reviews and ratings. If lots of reviewers are criticizing the same aspect of your business (such as the attitude of the wait staff at your restaurant), take it seriously.
    1. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ARTICLES FROM SMALL BUSINESS EXPERT RIEVA LESONSKY
  4. Pay attention. Numbers are one way to measure customer service but keep your eyes and ears open too. As a small business owner, you have an advantage over bigger competitors: You can literally see what’s going on in your business every day. Take time to walk around, talk to employees and talk to customers. For example, suppose you have an employee who consistently takes longer than the rest to ring up customers. Watch, and you might find out she’s taking more time to chat with customers and suggest complementary purchases. That means she’s building good customer relationships and boosting the average purchase volume, too.
  5. Empower your employees. Today’s tracking technologies can make you seem like “Big Brother” to your employees, especially if they aren’t sure what you’re measuring and how it affects them. Inspire employees to improve their performances by explaining what you’re tracking, giving them access to their own metrics and showing why the numbers matter. Be open to suggestions from employees about how to improve customer service. Since they’re on the front lines with customers, they can identify processes, bottlenecks and rules that are causing problems.

  6. Take action. Once a month or once a quarter, review all the information you’ve gathered to look for ongoing trends or problems and then determine solutions. Whether the answer is revising your processes, giving employees additional training or incorporating new technologies, taking steps to improve customer service will make both your employees and your customers happier with your small business.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: 6 THINGS MILLENNIALS WANT FROM YOUR CUSTOMER SERVICE

 

About Rieva Lesonsky

 

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Rieva Lesonsky Headshot.png

 

Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah. Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.

 

Web: www.growbizmedia.com or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of

America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2017 Bank of America Corporation

It is often said that “money makes the world go ‘round.” This couldn’t be truer for entrepreneurs, who may find that money goes out the door at a more rapid pace than it enters the business.

 

Business owners often need to be entrepreneurial when it comes to operations, including finding ways to get creative with financing. While we always think of money as our only currency, many of us provide expertise, goods and services with substantial value that can be bartered to grow your business.

 

Done correctly, you can use barter-based partnerships (let’s call them “bartnerships”) to take care of some business needs while building great collaborative relationships in the process.

 

However, like anything else, where you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. And, in the case of bartering, that means anything from incurring hefty legal costs to unexpected tax bills.

 

Here’s a roadmap to help you barter and partner better so that it adds to your business.

 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ARTICLES FROM SMALL BUSINESS EXPERT CAROL ROTH

 

Vet potential partners

When you go to partner on a barter deal, you want to ensure that your “bartner” has a positive reputation and shares your base business values.

 

One way to do this is to approach associates in your network where you already have a positive relationship. You can also seek recommendations from trusted business associates and advisors. If you expect to barter regularly, consider joining a barter group that verifies or rates participants, or even a barter exchange that intervenes in negotiations.

 

Whether you know your bartner or not, do an online search and check reviews, their social media postings and Better Business Bureau complaints to see if there is any history that could create an issue for the relationship and your business’s reputation.

 

Establish a fair exchange

Even in barter arrangements, the dollar remains the core standard of value. Both parties need to set and agree to a firm dollar value for the goods and services they’re exchanging to create a benchmark of “fairness” for the transaction.

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You want to make sure that the trade has as equal a value as possible. For example, if a web developer wants to barter for legal services, the parties may choose 12 months of website maintenance with a $2,400 value for the creation of three template contracts that also have a $2,400 value.

 

While you may want to get a great deal with a lopsided arrangement benefiting you, that often backfires. You don’t want the other party to do a lousy job or feel like they are being taken advantage of – that can impact the quality of the trade and the relationship. Going for a win-win arrangement is always the best for both parties in the long term.

 

Date before marriage

Successful marriages typically begin with a low-key first date before the parties move in together and ultimately tie their lives together. Keep your first barter with a new partner like a first date – small in scope and low-risk.

 

You need to evaluate how you work with a partner before entering into a business relationship. Even if both parties have good intentions going into the bartnership, like marriages, they don’t always work out as planned. Until it’s very clear you can work effectively with and trust this partner, keep it small. It’s much easier to take on a larger exchange or partnership once you have a few small successes behind you.

 

Put everything in writing

The word “barter” may sound casual, and while a handshake may technically be viewed as a legal contract, it’s tough to prove in a court of law. A barter agreement may be even more complex than a straight cash-based compensation arrangement, so you need to identify all aspects of your agreement in detail and put them on paper.

 

By doing this, you limit misunderstandings before, during and after the barter arrangement. Document every detail thoroughly, from what is to be delivered by which party at what quality level and in what time-frame, as well as any remedies if one party doesn’t follow through.

 

Also, if you create a product or service collaboratively (such as working together to create an email list), specify what happens at the end of your agreement. If the agreement stipulates that your barter partner takes full ownership at the end of the partnership and you can no longer use the email list after a defined period, perhaps you should agree to supply fewer names than your partner.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Which Gig Economy Delivery Service is Right for your Small Business?

 

Know the finish line

Your agreement might last for a week, a month or longer, but it shouldn’t last forever. You absolutely need to set an end date for the arrangement. Even if you enter into an identical arrangement many times in the future, it’s best to create a new contract or at least put together an amendment or extension each time.

 

If your first agreement worked well, creating the next one will be a simple matter. But, if you discovered that some provisions didn’t work as expected, you now have the flexibility to tweak the next version.

 

Communicate early and often

Don’t wait until the final deadline to check in with your partner and find out how things are going or to let them know where you stand on your deliverables. Define key milestones with your partner and check in with each other to ensure you’re both on track and maintaining appropriate quality levels.

 

Naturally, when unexpected issues arise, don’t wait for a milestone date to speak up. A setback on one side can affect the other side. Plus, an informed partner may have a solution to fix the issue.

 

Talk taxes with your accountant

When you trade goods or services that have a cash value, the taxing authorities, of course, want their share. This means that you should discuss tax implications with your accountant before entering a barter agreement.

 

In the U.S., the IRS typically requires you to report barter arrangements on your tax forms. However, if you exchange like goods or services, you both gain and lose valuable assets, so you may not need to pay excessive – or any – additional taxes if you properly track both sides of equal-value exchanges. However, IRS valuation rules can be complex, so that’s why a chat with your accountant is advisable.

 

Using your expertise, goods or services as currency can be a big boost to your business, but plan well so you reap the full benefits and minimize the risks for your business.

 

About Carol Roth

Carol Roth Headshot for post.png

 

Carol Roth is the creator of the Future File™ legacy planning system, “recovering” investment banker, billion-dollar dealmaker, investor, entrepreneur, national media personality and author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Entrepreneur Equation. She is a judge on the Mark Burnett-produced technology competition show, America’s Greatest Makers and TV host and contributor, including host of Microsoft’s Office Small Business Academy. She is also an advisor to companies ranging from startups to major multi-national corporations and has an action figure made in her own likeness.

 

Web: www.CarolRoth.com or Twitter: @CarolJSRoth.

You can read more articles from Carol Roth by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Carol Roth to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Carol Roth is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Carol Roth. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.  ©2017 Bank of America Corporation

Whether they’re 20-somethings or baby boomers, one thing all generations of customers crave is convenience. In an effort to deliver the ultimate in convenience, a variety of delivery services have sprung up, using “gig economy” drivers to provide same-day delivery for businesses large and small.

 

While UPS, DHL and FedEx all offer same-day shipping services, gig economy delivery services can be more affordable, consumer-focused and better suited for perishables like food and flowers. Should your small business use one?

 

Before you jump into the delivery business, ask yourself some questions.

  • How often do your customers ask for delivery? If you rarely get requests, a gig economy service lets you fulfill them without the hassle of hiring your own delivery employees.
  • Do your competitors offer delivery service? If so, how has it affected their businesses? Read online reviews and see what customers are saying about your competitors’ delivery services.
  • Do your competitors that offer delivery use their own drivers/employees, or an outside service?
  • How much do your competitors charge for delivery? Do they build delivery into the cost of the product, or is it a separate charge? How are delivery prices set?

 

Comparing Gig Economy Delivery Services

A search of delivery services in your area will likely uncover some local services. However, there are some big national players offering gig economy delivery:

 

GrubHub: Customers order food on GrubHub or its app; your restaurant receives the order and can have it delivered by a Grubhub driver or your own staff.36429583_s.jpg Grubhub

provides 24/7 customer care on every order. (Seamless, another popular service, is owned by GrubHub, as are many local restaurant delivery services.)

 

UberEATS: UberEATS is an online meal ordering and delivery platform that uses Uber’s network of drivers to deliver meals from hundred of local restaurants; it claims an average 15-minute delivery time.  Ordering can be done on their website or with a smartphone/tablet application.  When customers are ready to check out, they’ll see their address, an estimated delivery time, and the price of the order including tax and booking fee.

 

Postmates: Postmates offers both food and non-food deliveries in more than 130 cities nationwide, 24/7/365. Customers place orders online, and Postmates handles the entire process of order fulfillment and delivery for you. You can see and track orders on your Postmates dashboard.

 

Deliv: Deliv delivers not only restaurant items, but also groceries and meal subscription products. If you choose the Small Business option, you’ll still be in charge of scheduling delivery, packing the item, etc. If you want customers to be able to schedule Deliv directly from your website, you’ll need the Enterprise version.

 

UberRUSH: For nonfood items, UberRUSH lets you schedule deliveries for the same day or in the future, add special instructions such as requiring a signature, and track them in real time just like with Uber. UberRUSH integrates with many e-commerce platforms. In some markets, packages are delivered by bicycle, which limits them to 30 pounds or less; car drivers will deliver packages up to 50 pounds.

 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ARTICLES FROM SMALL BUSINESS EXPERT RIEVA LESONSKY

 

Choosing the Right Partner

When choosing a gig economy delivery partner, start by finding out what’s available in your city and checking out features, costs and hours of operation. Once you have a short list, consider:

  • Will you gain added exposure? Being featured on a popular restaurant delivery app can attract customers who’ve never heard of your restaurant before.
  • Do they offer additional marketing assistance? Some companies work with you to help market your business.
  • How well are drivers vetted? Are they uniformed or do they wear other identifying clothing?
  • How much control do you have? Do you have the option to deliver products yourself if you choose, or are they all handled by the company?
  • How much customer service do they provide, both to you and to your customers? If there’s a problem with the delivery, who handles the complaint?

 

Before choosing a specific delivery service, place several orders from local companies that use them, and see how satisfied you are. Remember, this delivery service will make a big impression on your customers, so it’s important for it to be a positive one.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: CHOOSING A MERCHANT SERVICE PROVIDER

 

About Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky Headshot.png

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years.

 

Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah. Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.

 

Web: www.growbizmedia.com or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of

America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2017 Bank of America Corporation

With fall around the corner, so is school. As a small business, this is a great time to take advantage of this busy time of year.

 

There are plenty of ways you can make this back to school season successful and mutually beneficial – for you and your customers. Here are some ideas:

 

Back to school promotions: With everybody shopping for school supplies, now is a great time to offer discounts, coupons and promotions for popular school items. This is an easy way to attract shoppers, old and new. Even if you are late to the game, that’s OK – there are plenty of last-minute shoppers or those who forgot items who would be relieved to still see deals. 43530272_s.jpg

 

Also, back to school promotions aren’t exclusive to school supplies and computers. Regardless of what you sell, it’s never a bad idea to offer (and advertise) a discount for students, especially during the back-to-school season. It’s a great way of saying good luck with the new year.

 

Bonus tip: You can offer promotional discounts in exchange for customers opting-in to your mailing list. This is a great way to grow your list.

 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM SMALL BUSINESS EXPERT STEVE STRAUSS

 

Be helpful: A lot of parents and students are stressed out this time of year, so this is a good opportunity to put forward your very best customer service skills. Be extra helpful, friendly, accommodating and understanding of everyone, as you never know who could be going through something like this. Offer resources, such as relevant local phone numbers and email addresses, and healthy lunch ideas when possible. Being mindful of the emotions people might be feeling will most certainly pay off

Keep in mind that back to school season is expensive for shoppers so you could throw in a gift card, free meal, etc. as a way of saying thank you.

 

Get involved: Getting involved with a local school is a great way to give back to the community and to market your brand and business. There are many ways you can give back to schools, such as:

 

  • Host fundraisers for school scholarships, extracurricular programs, etc.
  • Donate items for school raffles
  • Host a shopping night with proceeds going to the school

 

RELATED ARTICLE: WHEN IT COMES TO MARKETING—TIMING IS EVERYTHING

 

Ramp up your productivity: Assuming you've had quality relaxation time this summer, back to school season is the perfect time for you and your staff to get back into the swing of things. Start by doing whatever you’ve neglected this summer. Maybe that means working a little later or taking some work home with you in the evenings or on weekends in order to catch-up. Follow the students’ back to school lead and use the back-to-school season to make this fall a productive one.

 

Summer may be ending but as a small business owner, this is an opportune time to ramp up business.

 

 

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss.

 

Steve Strauss Headshot SBC.png

Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2017 Bank of America Corporation

Is workplace gender equality on the horizon? Depends on who you ask. According to most of the 375 women entrepreneurs surveyed for the 2017 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, the answer is yes. However, I’m not so sure I agree…

The survey found that within 20 years:

  • 80 percent of those surveyed believe there will be “greater or equal representation of women” in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) industries, compared to men
  • 68 percent say women will match or exceed men in executive leadership or C-suite roles
  • 66 percent think there will be more women-owned small businesses compared to those owned by men
  • 61 percent of women believe their wages will be equal to or greater than those of men

 

I want to agree with these women. I’ve been advocating for women entrepreneurs since the mid-1980s when I first launched a magazine for them. But if the past is prologue, 20 years may not be enough time for women to achieve economic parity.

 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ARTICLES FROM SMALL BUSINESS EXPERT RIEVA LESONSKY

 

According to the latest stats from the Labor Department, in 2016 women made 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man. (And that’s for white women. CNN Money reports Hispanic women make 54 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man earns, while black women earn 63 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man makes.)

 

Twenty years ago, in 1997, women earned 73.5 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Progress? Not much. And the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (which has tracked the gender wage gap since 1987), says, “If change continues at the same slow pace as it has done for the past 50 years, it will take 42 years—or until 2059—for women to finally reach pay parity.”

Women.pngThere’s better news when it comes to CEOs. Fortune magazine says women lead 6.4 percent of Fortune 500 companies (that’s 32 companies). According to the magazine, “This is the highest proportion of female CEOs in the 63-year history of the Fortune 500.” And yet Fortune says that number is “still very, very low—and in no way representative of the wider population.”

 

For some context, the government enacted the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) in 1974. In other words, it became illegal “for creditors to discriminate in any aspect of a credit transaction on the basis of sex or marital status,” only 43 years ago. Essentially, before then, a woman could not get credit unless she had a male co-signer.

 

The nation experienced an entrepreneurial revolution in the 1990s—and women became a symbol of that surge. For most of that decade (and since) the startup rate for women-owned businesses was at least double, sometimes four times that of the general startup rate. Many experts predicted women would own 50 percent of U.S. small businesses by 2000. Today, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), women own about 9.4 million businesses or around one-third of all U.S. businesses, employing nearly 7.9 million people and generating $1.5 trillion in sales.

 

By every measure, women run smaller businesses than men. Why is the growth of women-owned businesses so stilted? Joanna L. Krotz addressed this earlier this year on  HuffPost, and some of her examples are because women owners suffer from: low confidence; less business experience; gender bias in funding; service businesses that don’t scale; family responsibilities; fewer role models; reluctance to delegate; inadequate pricing; and resistance to taking on complementary partners.

 

So, does the problem lie with women? Candida Brush, a Babson professor of entrepreneurship, doesn’t think so. Several years ago, she told me, “It was all about what women need to do. Not anymore. The women are there, they’re qualified, and they perform well. I’m very tired of this argument that it’s the women who need to fix themselves.”

As noted above, women face hurdles when it comes to securing venture capital. According to long-time financial journalist Ali Velshi, “Only 17 percent of VC-funded companies have a female co-founder or CEO.  Women only run 3.9 percent entirely. In 2016, women-run companies got $4.5M in VC funding, down from $6.1M in 2015 and $5.1M in 2014.”

 

While I applaud the optimism of the women in the Spotlight report, I don’t necessarily share it. Frankly, paraphrasing that old cliché, women have come a long way and we have a long way yet to go.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Three Ideas For Women Business Leaders to Help Others Follow Their Path

 

Let’s not focus on that cliché though.

 

Here are some actions women can take to break through the glass ceiling:

  1. Create a culture that accepts, acknowledges and rewards women. If you’re in a position to hire, consider worthy women candidates—and pay them fairly.

  2. Women tend to be more risk-averse than men. If you’re worried about “what will happen if…” and that concern stops you in your tracks, just ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen if things don’t go as planned?”. You’ll see you can manage what you fear.

  3. Don’t take failure personally. No one wins all the time. When something goes wrong, examine your mistakes, “mourn” for 48 hours, and then move on.

  4. Claim your fame. Often, women don’t like to toot their own horns. Embrace your success—in public.

  5. Find a mentor; be a mentor. If you need help, ask for it. Talk to people here in the Bank of America community. Go to SCORE.org and get free mentorship. There’s no better feeling than helping someone accomplish their goals.

  6. And finally, remember the words of former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” I interpret that as practice the Golden Rule, “Do unto others…”

 

 

About Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years.Rieva Lesonsky Headshot.png

 

Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah. Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.

 

Web: www.growbizmedia.com or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of

America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2017 Bank of America Corporation

According to the second annual Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, female entrepreneurs envision significant strides for women in the workforce over the next 20 years, with a majority believing that women will match or exceed men in a number of areas.

 

Business-Woman.gifTo learn more about women business owners’ specific insights, Bank of America surveyed 1,000 small business owners across the country, focusing on aspirations and concerns regarding the economy, empowerment and opportunity.

 

“The rules of business are changing, and women entrepreneurs are at the forefront of the transformation. They have articulated an inspiring vision for the small business community over the next 20 years — one of equal pay, leadership opportunities and greater support for those with families,” said Sharon Miller, head of Small Business. “Within the context of a growing economy, this bodes incredibly well for the future of women in business.”

 

Shattering the glass ceiling

According to the survey, women entrepreneurs expect big cracks in the glass ceiling — the proverbial barrier to advancement — over the next 20 years.

  • 80% of female entrepreneurs foresee greater or equal representation of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields compared to men in STEM.
  • 68% believe women will match or exceed men in executive leadership role representation.
  • 66% believe there will be more women-owned small businesses compared to those owned by men.
  • 61% believe their wages will be equal to or greater than those of men.

083017_womens_1.gif

 

Striking the right work-life balance

The Spotlight also explored the struggles of achieving a work-life balance, finding that while many women entrepreneurs experience long hours, a large majority actually feel they have a good balance between their work and home lives.

 

They’re also enjoying their work, primarily describing their average week as interesting, fulfilling and enjoyable. However, fewer believe they have achieved this balance compared to their male counterparts.

 

083017_womens2.gif

 

Growing optimism about the economy

Download the full report

Women small business owners have shown significant increases in optimism toward the economy improving in the year ahead — including confidence in their local economy (45% in 2017 vs. 37% in 2016), the national economy (44% in 2017 vs. 25% in 2016) and the global economy (32% in 2017 vs. 16% in 2016).

 

Despite the substantial boost in economic confidence, the number of women small business owners who plan to grow their business over the next five years has declined (54% in 2017 vs. 60% in 2016), as has the number of women anticipating a revenue increase over the next 12 months (44% in 2017 vs. 54% in 2016).

 

“The data we collect through this survey helps Bank of America better serve this important client segment not only with their small business relationships, but also with all their financial needs,” Sharon said.

 

For internal use only:  The information and material contained on this Web page is proprietary to Bank of America and is not to be distributed outside of Bank of America.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Goldilocks. She went for a walk in the forest.  Pretty soon, she came upon a house. She knocked and, when no one answered, she walked right in.

 

At the table in the kitchen, there were three bowls of porridge. Goldilocks was hungry, so she tasted the porridge from the first bowl.

Goldilocks.png

“This porridge is too hot!” she exclaimed.

 

So she tasted the porridge from the second bowl.

 

“This porridge is too cold,” she said.

 

So then she tasted the last bowl of porridge.

 

“Ahhh, this porridge is just right,” she said happily and ate it all up.

 

When you are getting ready to retire and you want to sell your business, the process of valuing it can be a lot like Goldilocks’ porridge. Value it too low, and you won’t get what you deserve. Price it too high and you may get burned.

 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM SMALL BUSINESS EXPERT STEVE STRAUSS

 

The trick is to value it just right, so that potential buyers will eat it all up.

 

The question of how to value your business can certainly be a tricky one; there are many numbers, facts, figures and variables at play. In addition, it’s often difficult to take an objective, factual look at your labor of love. The good news is that there are a few methods and rules that can make this process easier.

 

Let’s review:

 

Earnings multiplication: This method is relatively straightforward and commonly used. In a nutshell, the idea is to multiply your business’s annual earnings by a multiplier. Let’s say your business has consistently made $100,000 each year, and there are no new factors that indicate any big changes in the foreseeable future. A business like this could sell up to 3-5 times its annual earnings, so you could value it anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000. Many businesses sell with multipliers in this range.

 

The problem here is that it can be tough to figure out the right multiplier; not only does it seem very subjective, but there are also plenty of variables (like hard assets, debts, accounts receivable, etc.) that are easy to overlook.

 

Be careful and scrupulous with this method.

 

Assets valuation: Instead of reducing your business’s value merely to its annual earnings, a different analysis sometimes used to determine value is simply adding up all your business’s tangible assets. These assets can be tools or equipment with potential resale value, contracts, receivables, etc. Once you add this number up and subtract debts you owe, you will come up with the net value of all your hard assets.

 

Although this method is more detailed, it can end up lowering the value of your business since it doesn’t take future income into account.

 

RELATED CONTENT: THE 4 MOST IMPORTANT DIGITAL MARKETING STRATEGIES FOR SMALL BUSINESSES

 

Comparables: This one is similar to the process you might go through to value your home. Here, you look at the value of other, comparable companies that have either a) been recently sold, or b) have, in one way or another, publicized their value.

 

The big flaw with this method might be obvious: There is almost always more than meets the eye. By assuming your company is comparable to another, you could be overlooking a whole gamut of variables, and thereby making a fatal apples-to-oranges comparison.

 

Professional valuation: To find out what your company is truly worth, the best thing you can do is hire a business broker and get a professional opinion. A complete valuation is a thorough evaluation and appraisal of your business – its assets, earnings, debts, future potential, etc. Anything you might accidentally overlook with your own quick valuation, a professional, complete valuation will make sure to account for.

 

Yes, this process is costly, but it’s also the most foolproof way to be sure you aren’t making a costly mistake, and that the bears won’t chase you out of your business. Taking the time to value your business for exactly what it’s worth will set you up for a sale you will feel confident in and won’t regret. Make sure to diligently research and weigh options so you know what is the best for your situation.

 

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss.

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Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2017 Bank of America Corporation

Your customers already can praise or criticize your business across social media or online rating and review sites. So do you really need one more way to measure customer opinion? Yes.

 

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a simple but meaningful measure that can help any business quickly and efficiently calculate how well it's doing in its customers’ eyes.

 

What is the Net Promoter Score?

The concept of NPS originated in a Harvard Business Review article and was further refined by Bain & Company. All you have to do is ask customers: How likely are you to recommend our business to a friend or colleague? Customers respond on a 10-point scale, where 10 means “definitely likely” and zero means “not at all likely.”

 

The beauty of the NPS lies in its simplicity—who doesn’t have time to answer a one-question survey? Here’s how you analyze the results.

 

  • Those who respond with a 9 or 10 are “Promoters.” They’re loyal customers and advocates for your business.

  • Those who respond with a 7 or 8 are “Passives.” While they are currently satisfied, they could also be persuaded to switch to your competition.

  • Those who respond with a 6 or less are “Detractors.” At best, they consider your business “meh,” which means they aren’t likely to recommend it, and could openly criticize it.

 

In addition to scoring individual respondents, you’ll also need to figure out your NPS. To do this, calculate how many people responded, the total number of Promoters, and the total number of Detractors. Then subtract the percentage of Detractors from the Percentage of Promoters to arrive at your score. 

 

If you have the same percentage of Detractors as you do Promoters, your score will be zero. Any score over zero is considered good; a score of 50 or higher is considered excellent. Scores of over 70 are considered world-class; at this level, you find companies like Apple and Amazon.

 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ARTICLES FROM SMALL BUSINESS EXPERT RIEVA LESONSKY

 

How to Do an NPS Survey

You can create your own NPS survey and tabulate the results manually, or you can save a lot of time by using apps designed to conduct NPS surveys. They help you automate when surveys are sent, collect and sort responses, and generate reports that let you track trends over time and spot changes that might be important indicators of customer sentiment. (For example, did your NPS score take a dive right after you raised the price of your service?) Delighted, AskNicely and YesInsights are three NPS solutions to consider.

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NPS Survey Questions

To get the most out of an NPS survey, you must have insightful questions. It is better to start off with an easier, less intrusive question. For example, “How did you hear about us?” It is a great icebreaker because not only is it easy for the respondent to answer, but it also provides you with information on how customers hear about your business.

You’ll collect better information to help you improve if your NPS survey includes an open-ended follow-up question: What’s your most important reason for giving us that score? This gives customers room to either rave or rant about you. Both responses are useful. However, try not to include too many open-ended questions – two to three max.

 

Send an additional thank you email to the respondent after successful completion of the survey. For example, “Thank you for your time. Your opinion is very important to us and it will help us better serve you in the future.” 

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Understanding Your Ideal Customer

 

How to Use Your NPS Score

Don’t expect to beat Amazon, but do compare your score to other companies in your industry to see where you stand. Check out this NPS benchmark resource or the industry NPS benchmarks from Satmetrix.

 

Of course, the benchmark that really matters is whether your own score is improving over time.

 

Once you’ve gathered feedback:

  • Reach out to Detractors and
  • Reach out to Promoters to say thank you and ask if they’d be willing to write an online review for your business (send them the link), provide referrals or give you a testimonial profiled in a case study.
  • Look for

 

The NPS score allows you to check-in with your customers, evaluate their feedback, and grow your business.

 

About Rieva LesonskyRieva Lesonsky Headshot.png

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN,The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.

 

Web: www.growbizmedia.com or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America,its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2017 Bank of America Corporation

There are plenty of viable cost-cutting measures and small businesses should take advantage of every one of them.

Why spend thousands on a top-quality cherry wood conference room table when a pine table – not to mention a second-hand model – will look good at a fraction of the price? Unfortunately, cost-cutting does not always make sense and can cost your business more than it saves over time.

 

Here are 6 areas where spending more money can provide economic benefits to your business.

 

1. Employees and contractors

If your core team is comprised solely of entry-level workers, you will save money… until their lack of skills and experience lose customers for your business. Good decision-makers and customer-facing personnel will cost more, but they help your company prosper and grow.

Build your team out of the best employees you can afford and supplement their efforts with skilled contractors. These are the people who can later train less-expensive entry-level employees, who may become top-tier team members over time.

Also, compensating employees well gives them less of an incentive to leave, which saves you money in terms of head hunting, retraining and more.

 

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2. Accounting services

Well-designed, intuitive business accounting software is universally used to save on bookkeeping costs. If you choose your software carefully and learn how to use it, this is a valid cost-saving measure.

But don't count on software to make financial decisions for your company. You need to send the numbers to the best accountant that you can find. Look for someone who reads and interprets numbers like you read the news. A good accountant can instantly spot positive and negative trends in your business — and has the intimacy with federal and local tax codes to help ensure that you take every available tax break, while avoiding potential penalties. They can also help you set up pension and benefit plans and do other work that’s very valuable for you and your business.

 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM SMALL BUSINESS EXPERT CAROL ROTH

 

3. Legal support

Your cousin Lenny may be a wonderful personal injury lawyer who took business courses in law school – but he is not a corporate legal expert.

Even an off-the-shelf contract must be carefully reviewed to ensure that it preserves your unique interests. Strong legal counsel in your corner can make a tremendous difference when negotiating deals or disputes, while helping you avoid the stress of a courtroom battle. Perhaps, you can't afford to put a top business lawyer on retainer, but you still need to find someone who has the in-depth understanding of the state and federal laws your business needs. With dedicated legal support, you can save money by getting fair treatment from other parties — and stay out of trouble.

 

4. Software and technology

Low-priced web hosting can save you a great deal of money if you're ready to take a do-it-yourself approach to build your site. But do you know what designs and techniques make your website effective? If you don't understand how to design a site that attracts customers bring in a web developer with a good track record.

This is just one example of when you might want to spend more on technology. Don't count on a student from your local technical school to program a custom system to keep control over inventory. And if you can afford to hire an in-house technical support person, you might avoid wasted downtime while waiting for a technician to fix something on an as-needed basis.

Free software programs can get you started but aren’t robust enough to provide the level of tools that you need to grow your business and analyze data properly.

 

5. Education and training

Do you and your employees have the knowledge needed to keep up with your competitors? It is possible to obtain decent free online training in some cases, but think of the negative results when this type of ready-made training goes awry. Without proper guidance, students can misunderstand pertinent facts and carry misconceptions deep into your business operations.

When your team members need more knowledge than they currently have, do the research needed to get quality training. You might be able to save money later if your properly-trained employees can share their knowledge with future new hires.

 

 

RELATED ARTICLE: LISTENING TO SOCIAL MEDIA CAN GROW YOUR BUSINESS

 

6. Disaster planning tools

Nobody gets excited about paying high prices for insurance but just one natural disaster or major theft can quickly change a business' attitude toward this important recovery tool. Bring in a knowledgeable insurance agent who can explain the merits of obtaining the right amount of coverage for your business and whether business interruption and other types of insurance make sense for your company.

Since insurance is only one part of disaster planning, you should also consider purchasing off-site or cloud-based data backups, storing extra inventory at another location and more. Investing in a disaster-planning consultant might be money well-spent to quickly recover after a catastrophe.

 

I will also add cybersecurity planning into this mix, as small businesses are becoming targets more often. Not investing upfront can cost you a lot on the back end.

 

Cutting corners can be an expensive proposition

Finding the best deals can be wise but make sure that you consider long-term costs and the time that you might have to invest to fix problems. Before you spend good money on reduced-quality services or merchandise, gaze into your crystal ball to envision the future results of your decisions. Spending less money upfront can easily lead to bigger losses down the road.

 

About Carol Roth

Carol Roth Headshot for post.png

Carol Roth is the creator of the Future File™ legacy planning system, “recovering” investment banker, billion-dollar dealmaker, investor, entrepreneur, national media personality and author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Entrepreneur Equation. She is a judge on the Mark Burnett-produced technology competition show, America’s Greatest Makers and TV host and contributor, including host of Microsoft’s Office Small Business Academy. She is also an advisor to companies ranging from startups to major multi-national corporations and has an action figure made in her own likeness.

 

Web: www.CarolRoth.com or Twitter: @CarolJSRoth.

You can read more articles from Carol Roth by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Carol Roth to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Carol Roth is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Carol Roth. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.  ©2017 Bank of America Corporation

Every small business owner strives to attract more customers. But if you’re just trying to get more customers, you’re selling yourself short. Instead, you should aim to get more of your ideal customers.

 

Ideal customers can have a lot of characteristics in common. They may be your most loyal customers, the ones who visit your business the most often, the ones who spend the most money, the ones who serve as brand advocates for your business or the ones who are the easiest to deal with. In business terms, however, your best customers are those with the greatest customer lifetime value, or CLV. (This article and interactive tool will help you calculate CLV.)

 

Once you’ve identified the customers with the greatest CLV, dig into the data you’ve collected about them f46356005_s.jpgrom purchasing records, loyalty software, customer relationship management (CRM) software or other records. Identify key characteristics and look for similarities.

 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ARTICLES FROM SMALL BUSINESS EXPERT RIEVA LESONSKY

 

For consumers, elements to consider include your best customers’ age, race or ethnicity, gender, marital status, household income, whether they have children, education level, occupation, where they live and whether they are homeowners. Beyond these basics, you can also look at behavior such as which websites, publications or social media they use, their hobbies and their interests.

 

For businesses, elements to consider include how long the company has been in business, annual revenues, industry, number of locations, geographic location, and how many employees the company has.

 

Whether your customers are businesses or people, in order to identify your ideal customer, you also need to ask these questions:

  • How did your best customers first learn about your business?
  • What prompted them to buy from you?
  • Why do they remain loyal to your company?
  • When buying products or services like yours, how do they research the decision?
  • What information sources do they use in the research?
  • What are their biggest pain points/needs regarding products and services like yours?
  • Why do they prefer your business to your competitors?

 

To go beyond the numbers in your records and answer these questions, you’ll need to do some additional legwork.

  • Go online: Use social listening to see what your best customers say about your business on social media. Are they sharing photos of your latest restaurant dish because it’s rainbow-colored and ideal for Instagram?  Are they on LinkedIn writing stellar recommendations for their account service rep? In addition to seeing what specific customers are saying, be sure to keep tabs on your businesses online ratings and reviews. What do your five-star reviewers say about your business? You’ll undoubtedly find many commonalities.

  • Do a survey: Ask your best customers questions using an online survey, mailing a survey form or calling them. If you have a B2C business, you’ll get more responses by offering customers a reward, such as a discount or gift, in return for completing the survey. If you have a B2B business, make the survey part of an annual or biannual “checkup" making sure the customer is satisfied.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: The New Consumers: What Do They Want?

 

Using all the information you’ve gathered, you should be able to come up with a pretty clear picture of your ideal customer/s. (You might have more than one ideal customer.) For example, a B2C clothing retailer might discover that its ideal customers are single women in their 20s who live in suburban areas, make between $36K and $55K a year, are avid Instagram users and get their fashion ideas from bloggers and social media. A B2B restaurant supply company might find that its ideal customers are upscale, independent restaurants in urban areas that purchase sustainably manufactured or recycled flatware, linens and dishes.

 

By understanding your ideal customers, you can focus your advertising, sales and marketing efforts on others like them. That boosts your ROI and your profits.

Rieva Lesonsky Headshot.png

 

About Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN,The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.

 

Web: www.growbizmedia.com or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America,its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2017 Bank of America Corporation

With apologies to musician Paul Simon, there are a lot of ways to leave your business:

 

Just slip out the back, Jack

Make a new plan, Stan

Just drop off the key, Lee

And get yourself free!

 

Inevitably, there comes a time for almost every business owner to call it quits. Whether it’s age, health, retirement, finances, or just wanting to do something new, many entrepreneurs eventually say goodbye to their beloved business.

Steve Strauss Headshot SBC.png

 

Typically, these are the main routes people choose to get out of their business:

  1. Pass on the business to a family member
  2. Sell the business
  3. Transform the business into something new entirely
  4. Close the business and sell assets

 

While each situation will require different considerations, and only you know what those considerations might be, it is important to understand the pros and cons of each option:

 

1. Pass on the business to a family member: This is the desire of many entrepreneurs, and often the reason someone starts a business in the first place: to create something of value to give to, or share with, the kids. 

 

The benefits of ending an entrepreneurial career this way are pretty clear:

 

  • You share a valuable asset with your children
  • Your business will be in the hands of somebody you trust
  • You won’t have to say goodbye entirely to your creation

 

Are there downsides to this plan? You bet. The first and main one is that your children may not want to, or may not be ready to, own or run your business. Your dream may not be their dream. So, long before you decide that you are going to give or sell your business to your kids, you better be darned sure they want it.

 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ARTICLES FROM SMALL BUSINESS EXPERT STEVE STRAUSS

 

2. Sell the business: This is a great option because it puts money in your pocket. There are essentially two ways to sell your business:

 

  • An outright sale: You hire a business broker (typically), find interested buyers, and sell them the business;
  • A gradual sale: Here, you might find a buyer who does not have the financial wherewithal to buy the business outright and, in that case, they make ongoing payments to you.

 

3. Transform the business: Maybe you're not ready to retire but are more than ready for a different adventure. The good news is that as an entrepreneur you have the potential to add new features to, and take away old ones from, your existing business. Indeed, that is one of the beauties of self-employment.

 

This will feel a lot like the early stages of a startup (which is likely what you want.) You will need to test the waters (again) to find out what works and what doesn’t, and you will go through the long route of experimentation/process of elimination. If this is your plan, this all probably sounds great to you.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Why Small Business Owners need a Retirement Plan – Now

 

The risk here is that you will certainly lose some customers and clients in the process. So you need to be prepared for this loss and have a plan for how to re-brand, re-market, and ultimately re66663758_m.jpgcover.

 

4. Close the business and sell assets: For some, liquidation makes the most sense. By selling your assets, you can either pay off debts quickly or have a solid chunk of cash to put in the bank. Liquidation is also as quick as it is a straightforward, no-strings-attached activity.  For more information, check out the SBA page on closing your business here, and liquidation here.

 

Whatever route you choose, leaving your business is a process.

 

Just slip out the back, Jack, and set yourself free!

 

 

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss.

 

Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

 

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2017 Bank of America Corporation

Customer service can make or break your small business—especially when it comes to millennial customers. More than half (54 percent) of millennials report they have stopped doing business with a company because of poor customer service—more than any other age group.

Rieva Lesonsky Headshot.png

To make sure they don’t stop doing business with you, pay attention to these six things millennials want from customer service.

 

  1. Ease of use. Whether you’re using live chat on your e-commerce website or transferring a customer on phone support, millennials’ default expectation is the technology you’re using will function seamlessly. Long delays on chat responses or getting cut off mid-transfer won’t fly and can send them heading over to your competitors. Make sure the customer support technologies you use work well with each other, too.

  2. Social media responsiveness. Offering customer support through social media may not be practical for many small businesses, but you at least need to monitor what customers are saying on social platforms and reach out to those asking for support. Since millennials spend so much time on social media, it’s a natural place for them to ask for help from businesses. Popular platforms for millennials to post comments or questions are Facebook and Instagram. Contact social media users who post complaints, questions or requests and direct them to a a customer service experience such as chat, email or a phone conversation with a customer service rep.

  3. Accountability. Millennials don’t want to be passed to multiple faceless customer service employees. Have your reps use their names in interactions including email, chat and phone calls. If possible, have the same rep handle the customer throughout their transaction. For example, if a customer is returning a product they bought from your e-commerce site, and Susan responds to their initial request, Susan should also be the one to alert them when their return arrives in your mailroom and how their refund will be credited. It's OK if Susan is a bot—millennials are fine with that.

  4. Self-service. According to IBM, almost three out of four millennials would rather solve their own customer service issues than deal with a customer service rep. Provideways they can answer questions or resolve problems themselves if that’s their preference. This can range from the basic, such as FAQs or Troubleshooting Tips on your website, to the more complex, such as online videos or tutorials showing them how to use your product, or a user community where customers share tips and answer each other's questions. Self-service options enable millennial customers to get answers 24/7, which fits with their lifestyles.

  5. Options. A whopping 77 percent of millennials believe companies should offer customer service in a wide range of communication styles. While 40 percent would prefer customer service to be purely online, there are still times when in-person contact is necessary. Provide multiple options for contacting customer service, including email, phone, chat and text (36 percent of millennials would contact businesses more often if they could just text them).

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ARTICLES FROM SMALL BUSINESS EXPERT RIEVA LESONSKY

     6. Personalization. There’s no reason your business shouldn’t be able to access customer information with a few keystrokes, so don’t

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make millennial customers repeat their information over and over or input data and then say the same thing to a phone rep. Almost three-fourths (72 percent) of consumers expect customer service reps to know their contact information, service history and product details as soon as they engage with a business, says the 2016 Microsoft State of Global Customer Service Report

. Millennials are very comfortable sharing their personal data, as long as it benefits their customer experience, so take advantage of that openness to collect and use information to provide better customer support.

 

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Convenience is What Customers Want Most - Here's How To Deliver

 

Now that you’re informed on how to better serve your millennial customers, pull ahead of your competitors, and earn customers for life.

 

About Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN,The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.

 

Web: www.growbizmedia.com or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America,its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2017 Bank of America Corporation

Remember when social media first became a “thing” and businesses were obsessed with their number of followers, friends and likes?

 

Today, smart businesses use social media for much more sophisticated purposes—including “social media listening,” or monitoring what customers are saying on social media.

 

Some 42 percent of businesses in a recent report by Clutch say social media listening helps improve customer relationships, while 86 percent use it to monitor customers questions, concerns and requests. More than three-fourths use social media listening to monitor their competitors, 75 percent use it to monitor their own brands, 61 percent monitor industry trends and 60 percent monitor influencers in their industry.

 

Social media listening can show you:

Rieva Lesonsky Headshot.png

 

  • What questions your customers are asking
  • What problems your customers have
  • Which competitors your customers patronize
  • What your customers complain about
  • What your customers care about most
  • What your customers’ interests and passions are

 

Here are some questions to ask in your social listening and what you can learn from the answers

 

What are customers saying about their needs? Suppose you own a furniture store and you see a lot of customers in your target market complaining on social media that they can't find sofas to fit in small homes or apartments. You've just uncovered an unmet need—and by stocking more small-scale furniture and promoting it, you’ll grow your sales—and your business.

 

What are customers saying about your competition? Are people complaining about your competitors on social media or praising them? If your restaurant is open only for lunch and dinner, but your competitor down the street is getting lots of love for their weekend brunch, maybe you should add breakfast items to your menu and open earlier on weekends.

 

What problems do customers have with your business, your product or your services? When we see negative comments about our businesses on social media, it’s natural to want to hide our heads in the sand. But social listening requires responding to all comments—positive and negative. When dealing with critics, don’t get defensive. Start by acknowledging the person's feelings and apologizing for any problems. Then take the conversation off-line to resolve the issue, and post your solution online when it’s handled. You’ll impress the complaining customer and build a positive image with prospects as a company that listens to customer complaints. Create a professional business account on popular platforms, such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, where customers tend to write reviews.

 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ARTICLES FROM SMALL BUSINESS EXPERT RIEVA LESONSKY

 

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What are your customers’ interests and passions? Become your own trend forecaster by listening to what your customers are interested in. Do you own a children’s clothing store and online boutique? Perhaps you see a few customers posting on social media that their little girls aren’t into pink and purple anymore and want more gender-neutral clothing. Is it a trend or just a fluke? If more and more people join the conversation and express the same interest, it’s probably a trend. Carrying more gender-neutral clothing can put you on the cutting edge—and ahead of your competition.

 

What are industry and market influencers saying? Influencers are social media users who have an outsize influence on others. They may include journalists, bloggers, industry experts or just individuals who have large followings. Connecting with the right influencers can expose your business to more prospects. Are influencers talking about your competition, but not about your business? Reach out to get on their radar by joining the social media conversation and sharing what you offer (without making a hard sell). Look for group events like TweetChats or Facebook Live discussions to join.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Harness the Power of Emotion in Social Media Marketing Campaigns

 

Need some help staying on top of the chatter?

  • Google Alerts and Social Mention offer a simple way to track mentions of your company, competitor, brands, products, services, and executives.
  • Mention, Sprout Social, Hootsuite and BuzzLogix are social media management tools with more sophisticated features for monitoring and responding to all your business’ social media accounts in one place.

 


 

About Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN,The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.

 

Web: www.growbizmedia.com or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America,its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2017 Bank of America Corporation

Retirement might seem like a far off notion to you.

 

It shouldn’t be. Your IRA or 401(k) should be your best friend. And, like any friendship, it takes time, commitment, and trust.Steve Strauss Headshot SBC.png

 

Now, it may be that you are young and more concerned about funding a college savings plan  for the kids than a retirement plan, or that you have no real plans on retiring, or whatever the case, but the same inspiration that led you to entrepreneurship should also lead you to planning for retirement – no matter what your age or situation.

Think about it: Why did you start your own business? It is likely because you had an idea for a business that took hold that you could not ignore. But equally, it’s very likely that you chose entrepreneurship because you believe in yourself and you wanted to create something of value that would provide long-term security for yourself and your family.

 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ARTICLES FROM SMALL BUSINESS EXPERT STEVE STRAUSS

 

And that’s exactly why you need to think about funding a retirement plan, right now.15491704_s.jpg

 

Consider all of the reasons a retirement plan makes as much sense for you as starting a business did:

 

It provides financial security: Let’s face it, Social Security is neither a viable retirement option for most people nor a lock to be there 10, 15, or 20 years from now. By the same token, the income generated by your business now may not be the same 10, 15, or 20 years from now.

 

You create a hedge against both possibilities by starting to fund a retirement plan right now. It is your security against old age and outside risk.

 

Things change: Maybe right now you have no plans on retiring, or maybe your business income is such that you don’t think you need to worry about retirement income. But if you have been around the small business block a couple of times, you know that one of Buddha’s truths is that everything changes.

 

  • Your business can change
  • You might get sick
  • You might get bored
  • Life happens etc.

 

Whatever the case, the solution is the same: The funding of a retirement plan now puts you in control.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: How To Enjoy Vacation and Keep Your Business Humming

 

Control: Speaking of control, if you are an entrepreneur then you probably like control. Among other reasons, you likely started a business because you wanted to control your career and the type of work you do. You certainly like having control over your schedule. And if all that is true, then it follows again that creating a retirement plan makes sense because it puts you in control of your finances and your future.

 

Potential age discrimination: If you are a professional, if you sell yourself and your services, one thing you may encounter as you get older – that you may not be aware of now – is age discrimination.

 

Oh sure, if you are a doctor, patients will appreciate your gray hair. But will your employer? Might they want to replace you with a younger, cheaper, healthier version? Or what if you are a self-employed salesperson? At some point customers may think that someone younger “knows the market better,” or whatever.

 

Solution? A funded retirement.

 

Slowing down: The last reason creating a retirement plan now makes sense is you might want to  slow down a bit, but not fully retire.

 

Saving for retirement as soon as possible seems like a simple concept, but many Americans don’t know where to begin. Now that you know why you should start investing in your future, here’s a tip to kick-start your savings.

 

Use the 50/20/30 rule to budget for retirement

 

There is certainly no shortage of ways to spend your way. The first step in prioritizing your retirement is budgeting. If you tell your money where to go, you won’t have to wonder where it went.

 

50 percent of Your Income – Fixed Expenses 

 

These expenses typically don’t vary month to month. For example:

  • Housing
  • Food
  • Transportation, etc.

 

20 percent of Your Income – Savings and Retirement

 

Set automatic payments to your savings account each month.

  • Building an emergency fund
  • Paying down credit card debt
  • Retirement – IRA and 401(k)

 

30 percent of Your Income – Personal Lifestyle Expenses

  • Gym memberships

  • Coffee shops

  • Eating out for dinner

 

If you are looking to cut costs, this is the best category to forgo. Try limiting eating out to once or twice a week, going for a run, or bringing coffee from home.

 

Your business savvy is what helped start your business, now apply that same go-getter mentality to your future self. After all, funding a retirement plan now makes a lot of sense.

 

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss.

 

Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.  ©2017 Bank of America Corporation

Steve Strauss Headshot New.pngDid you hear the one about the guy who drove for Uber and Lyft, and worked for Task Rabbit on the side, and rented out his extra room on Airbnb on weekends?

 

Neither did his girlfriend since she never saw him.

 

By now, you’ve probably heard some buzz on the “gig economy.” If not, the “gig economy” refers to people who support themselves from one contract or project – one gig – to another. Gig workers could be almost anything:

 

  • Musicians and artists
  • Web and graphic designers
  • Carpenters and painters
  • Drivers and shoppers

 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM SMALL BUSINESS EXPERT STEVE STRAUSS

 

And apparently there is no shortage of gig workers today. According to US News, one-third of all workers are now part of the gig economy:

 

“A new study published by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates the U.S. holds between 54 million and 68 million “independent workers,” which it defines as “someone who chooses how much to work and when to work, who can move between jobs fluidly and who has multiple employers or clients over the course of the year.”

 

There certainly are a lot of benefits to being a gig worker. The first, and perhaps the most obvious, is the opportunity to be your own boss. Needles to say, making your own schedule, setting your own prices, working wherever and whenever you want, not having a boss, and doing work you (hopefully) enjoy are all very desirable things.

 

However, the gig economy also comes with its share of downfalls and challenges.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: 6 TIPS FOR WORKING BETTER WITH FREELANCERS

 

For starters, in the gig economy, being your own boss means finding your own gigs. So, not only must you be able to do the task you are hired to do (play that song, create that content) but you must also be a master marketer. This in turn makes the prospect of a steady, reliable income pretty uncertain. When you worked for someone else, work was assigned to you; you didn’t have to go look for it.

 

46722376_s.jpgMoreover, working for yourself means that nobody is paying for your health insurance or vacations. That’s also big change from the world of employment.

 

Being a contract worker similarly requires an incredible amount of self-discipline. Setting your own schedule and hours can be great, but that means that it’s up to you – and only you – to decide what your deadlines are and what your rules are. A gig worker needs to be able to resist the desire to procrastinate and act on impulse – so self-discipline is key.

 

So, this all begs the questions: Is the gig economy worth it?

 

The numbers don’t provide black and white answers, but they are certainly illuminating. Consider that 71% of gig workers have had positive experiences working in the gig industry, yet 58% of gig workers also agree that the gig economy exploits a lack of regulation. These conflicting statistics make it tough to come to any clear-cut conclusion on the gig economy’s ultimate effects and consequences.

 

What we can be (mostly) sure of is that the rise of the gig economy appears to have been born of the confluence of digital technology and the still recent recession. It is no coincidence that 51% of gig economy workers are in the 18-34 age range: yes, Millennials are generally thought of as being the most technologically savvy, as well as the most unlucky in terms of entering the job market. Since 2007, finding jobs has only gotten harder and harder, whereas using technology has gotten easier and easier. That’s the void the gig economy filled. Apps like Postmates, Lyft, and Airbnb have made it significantly easier and less expensive to find a gig.

 

It really comes down to your personal work style and the things you value in work. If your goal is to supplement your primary source of income, then part-time gig work would be great for you. If you’re an artist who wants to take your career into your own hands, then yes, absolutely. If you know how to discipline yourself, handle stress well, market yourself, and be patient, then by all means, the gig economy might be exactly what you’re looking for.

 

While the gig economy began as a means of managing unfortunate economic circumstances, it can be a great way to make a little extra cash while also taking control of your career and getting your work out there.

 

If you want to, you could be your own boss today. And that’s pretty incredible.

 

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss.

 

Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2017 Bank of America Corporation

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