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Make 2014 A Great Year For Your Small Business

| Blog | January 1, 2014

When the clock struck midnight, you promised yourself to start working out, attend church more often and make a point of going outside your comfort zone. With a new year, of course, comes new year resolutions.

But new year resolutions just aren’t about personal goals. You should also set some resolutions for your small business. By being proactive about these goals, you can make 2014 a great year for your small business.

Commit To Technology

It’s easy to get carried away with various technologies — software, apps, hardware, etc. — when running your small business. There can come a moment, however, where too much technology is slowing you down. That’s why it’s important to commit to only the technology your business truly needs.

Some easy ways of doing that: Get everyone using the same type of email system, make sure your accounting software is working to its fullest ability (there are plenty of features when it comes to these software solutions) and find the best mobile device apps that help your business run as smooth as possible.

Do a spring cleaning on your current technology and really decide what’s helping your business move forward efficiently.

Don’t Just Digitally Connect With Customers

Technology is great, but nothing beats an eye-to-eye handshake. For 2014, make a point of seeing your customers face-to-face more often. Customer service is a critical component to whether or not a customer returns to do business with you. By making the effort to say, “Thanks for the business,” you’re showing that customer that you’re truly passionate about your business and appreciate the support.

The next time a client orders a product, instead of having a delivery guy send it over, or have it mailed through a postal service, deliver it yourself. Ask if the customer has any suggestions and questions. A little effort goes a long way.

Recommit To Social Media

Whether you have tens of thousands of fans on Facebook or just a couple hundred on Twitter, everyone needs to take a few steps back from their small business’ social media accounts and examine what’s working and what isn’t.

Are you posting too much? Not posting enough? Are you on all the networks? Maybe you Pinterest or Instagram this year. When it comes to social media, your potential customers are everywhere, so you need to be to.

And because social media is such a fast, changing world, it’s important to at least be familiar with all of the major networks out there today. No one thought Twitter’s micro-blogging platform would take off, but today’s it’s one of the top used networks on the Internet.

Reinvent Your Marketing Efforts

Your small business likely has its go-to advertising preferences, be it print or digital, or a combination of the two. Constantly ask yourself: Is there more that I can do? Can I innovate to get my brand in front of more eyeballs?

In the digital world, everything is measurable, so make sure to examine how your ads performed in the past year and then re-evaluate what you can do to improve those numbers.

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Flush Away Your Worries: Office Building Plumbing Inspections

| Blog | September 10, 2013

file0002142133484Whoever said “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” never had to pay a plumber to fix a damaging and expensive problem that could have been avoided with a little preventive care and maintenance. If you own an office building, neglect its plumbing at your peril; that burst pipe that could flood a bathroom in a single-family home could cost you a lot more.

A plumbing disaster that prevents people from using the bathroom, wreaks havoc on the electrical system or requires a building closure (for fire safety reasons) leads to lost productivity, angry employees and, ultimately, fewer renters. So it behooves you to have your commercial building’s plumbing inspected regularly.

The importance of regular plumbing inspections

Hire a professional plumber for regular, annual inspections of your building’s plumbing system. Even if all the toilets, sinks and drinking fountains seem to be working fine, pipe gremlins could be gearing up for an attack.

Cracks, leaks, loose fittings and sediment build-up occur over time and can lead to low pressure, burst pipes and wasted water (that you have to pay for). And it isn’t just incoming city water that you and your plumber need to consider; wastewater pipes and controls that are blocked, cracked or leaking can turn a think tank into a stink tank, not to mention a health hazard.

Inspection of waste removal systems should include an examination of your main sewer line. Tree roots can cause cracks or misaligned joints, and sludge build-up and foreign objects can cause sewage to back up. Full repair of these problems is not cheap if they get worse.

If your business or one of your renters’ businesses rely on water in their daily dealings — a laundromat, for example — regular inspections become even more important. You should encourage (or even require) these types of renters to regularly have a plumber inspect their own pipes, valves and connector hoses for leaks, cracks and corrosion.

Don’t forget your fire suppression system

Don’t forget to include your fire suppression and sprinkler system in your inspection schedule. A professional inspection of your fire suppression system involves checking valves and sprinklers for corrosion or blockage, examining pipes for signs of obstruction, verifying that emergency fire hoses aren’t damaged and testing the system to make sure all is working as it should.

Tenant safety should be enough of an incentive to get your emergency systems inspected, but if it isn’t, this surely is: Imagine the fines and hassle if authorities find that your commercial building falls short of code regulations and local safety ordinances.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound — or, in this case, a gallon — of cure. Small fractures or loose fittings in your plumbing can turn into big, expensive problems if they’re left untreated. Paying a plumber to inspect your plumbing once a year is a small price to pay when you consider the possible catastrophes that could result from neglect.

 

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Managing Across Industries

| Blog | July 29, 2013

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No matter what industry you work in, managing is a tough job. Whether you’re managing 2 or 400 people, you have a ton of responsibility. You’re a leader. The role of a manager varies from industry to industry, company to company, but some tasks — like planning, organizing, ordering and coordinating — cross all boundaries.

Retail management

Retail managers have to keep their stores looking organized and neat. Like restaurant managers, they must train their employees in customer service and help increase sales. Retail managers need a strong background in sales so they can understand what needs to be ordered and stocked.

Retail managers also have to be up-to-date on market trends. If the store doesn’t carry a certain product or service, managers need to know the best alternative or help customers find what they need.

Office management

Office managers probably have the most paper work of any type of manager. More than other managers, an office manager has to watch for employee efficiency and productivity. Office managers don’t always understand the specifics of the workflows within the office, which differentiates their job.

Many office managers do not have the same customer service skills that others do. Sometimes they may not interact with customers at all. Like other managers, office managers are in charge of hiring staff members.

Fleet management

Fleet managers are in charge of a large number of vehicles such as buses, moving companies or semi-trucks. A fleet manager must be aware of driving laws – especially those that vary by state or location. In the case of semis, a fleet manager has to monitor each employee’s driver log to look for speeding or uneconomical practices.

Fleet managers need to keep an eye on the weather in wintry months in some parts of the country as driving conditions can become hazardous. They’re also responsible for maintaining the vehicles in their fleets.

For other managers, delivery time to the customer is important. For fleet managers – it’s crucial. If those “fresh” fish don’t make it to the grocer on time, the grocer may not want to pay. Fleet managers need to know exactly how long it will take for a route.

Restaurant management

Like other managers, restaurant managers are responsible for controlling inventory and ordering new supplies. The restaurant also has to keep expiration dates and food consumption rates in mind when placing orders, which adds stress to the job. If the retail manager orders too many skirts, the store will have a sale. If the restaurant management orders too many skirt steaks, the restaurant loses profit.

One critical task that restaurant managers face is controlling food safety. In most other cases, the manufacturer is accountable for any incidents involving the product. In this case, if food illness occurs, the restaurant is liable.

Each type of manager has industry concerns to worry about within their job. However, every manager is responsible for making the systems in the business run efficiently. They each also have certain rules and regulations to follow. What other industries have specific management tasks?

 

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Ways for Customers to Find You

| Blog | July 20, 2013

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When you’re a new restaurant owner, getting found is half the battle. The restaurant industry is already competitive, and it’s becoming even more competitive with the rise of sites like Groupon and LivingSocial. Knowing how to reach customers is important for succeeding in the restaurant business. How can customers find you? How can you help customers find you? These 4 tips can help you learn how to put yourself in a position to be found by potential customers.

1.         Local SEO & Internet Marketing. Even if your restaurant doesn’t yet have an official website, you can still rank in local search. If you set up a Google+ Local page, you can use local SEO to help customers find you even without a website. Your local SEO efforts could also benefit from a few customer testimonials on other sites that contain links back to your page. You should also set up profiles and claim your business listings on sites like Yelp and CitySearch. Be sure that you have customers leave you favorable reviews on all sites where you claim your business listing. Reach out to regular customers that know and love your restaurant and ask them if they would mind writing you a good review. Claim your listing on additional local directories including Facebook Business pages, Best of the Web Local and Merchant Circle. Reach out to local newspapers, blogs and organizations to see if they’re willing to link to your restaurant website or Google+ Local page online. You can even publish a press release about your restaurant’s latest events and ask newspapers to run the release with a link back to your page.

2.         Promote Deals & Discounts. Potential customers will likely be more willing to try out a new restaurant if they have a killer deal or discount that makes it worth their while.  Offer deals on sites and apps like Groupon, LivingSocial, Amazon Local, Plum District, Scout Mob and more. The deal or discount should be well worth the customer’s time, but you have to remember that you need to make money as well. Offer a discount on your most popular dish or dessert – something that doesn’t cost you much to make, but that will keep customers coming back.

3.         Direct Mail & Flyers. If your restaurant is close to an office park or residential area, you should consider advertising with direct mail and flyers. Offer a deal or discount to any customer that brings in the flyer or have your coupons put in mail circulation coupon packages. Be sure to include contact information for your business both through phone or email and include your social media, Google+ Local listing and other local listings as well.

4.         Community Fundraisers & Involvement. A good way to get word out in your community is to get involved. Host a fundraiser to benefit your favorite local charity and be sure it’s a cause that you care about, are connected to personally or have a passion for. For a simpler fundraiser, you could choose to donate a certain amount of your profits for the night to the charity. Or you can host a bigger event with donations and raffle prizes. Offer food from your restaurant at the event and be sure to promote yourself as the event’s host.

Getting found as a new local restaurant can be hard. Even if you can just reach a few initial customers with these 4 simple tips, you can hope to turn those early customers into regulars. Word of mouth is really the best way to get new customers, and your regulars will be more than happy to spread the word about your restaurant to friends and family.

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One Size Does Not Fit All: Choosing the Cloud for Your Business

| Blog | July 10, 2013

Laptop with CloudsCloud computing promises to take IT infrastructure and management out of enterprise hands, which is a relief to businesses that want to focus on customers instead of IT. Vertical markets want to jump into the cloud, but predicting how it will develop in the next five years is essential.

Corporations in education, manufacturing, retail and healthcare all have different cloud computing needs. This means we’re in for a huge cloud computing playing field. Already, OpenStack, the cloud collaborative group, boasts over 150 members. It’s just the beginning.

The right cloud for your business

The best cloud for your business depends on your company’s need for scalability, customization, security and cost. Just as your business will change in the future, so will your cloud computing needs. Below are the main types of cloud technologies for your enterprise to consider.

SaaS cloud computing allows companies to access applications from the Internet, which may include online banking, document creation and email. The downside is these applications are controlled by the provider and provide little to no customization.

PaaS cloud computing is great for developing applications without. These applications can be developed, tested and deployed without purchasing hardware, software and hosting. The downside of Paas is customers have no control of underlying infrastructure, making audit requirements in some industries difficult, if not impossible.

IaaS clouding is a complete outsourcing of operations infrastructure. One of the strongest advantages of this type of cloud is its accessibility and flexibility. You don’t have to pay for an entire cloud infrastructure deployment, either. You can get pure cloud storage or computing power; you can also mix and match based on your needs. The downside is this system is heavily reliant on an experienced IT administrator.

The battle of public, private or both

Public clouds are beneficial in that enterprises share resources and only pay for usage. If your enterprise should evolve its business, it’s simple to change systems, as long as your provider uses a non-proprietary deployment.

A private cloud requires a greater investment, as the company has to purchase and deploy its own hardware and software. This gives your company the freedom to completely customize your system and design security procedures and features specifically for itself.

A hybrid cloud brings enterprises a combination of public and private. Some companies need different levels of security and customization for various departments. A combination of public and private may work best.

There are so many options that vendors from all industries are collaborating to stay one step ahead of customer needs. The IEEE World Congress on Services hosts a cloud conference alongside four other technology seminars to help the industry remain updated on the latest developments. No technology works in isolation and your corporation will benefit from ongoing innovation.

The type of cloud computing most beneficial to your business will require assessing and prioritizing your company’s needs. For example, a manufacturing company would need to assess whether a SaaS cloud would be workable depending on its invoicing and order processing needs. A university perhaps would benefit from hybrid cloud computing, using SaaS clouds for document sharing and PaaS for researchers and data analysts.

Whatever your corporation’s needs are, make sure you go with a flexible cloud solution. In IT, very little remains the same. The cloud industry will see more vendors, more brokers, more options. A larger playing field is great news for companies that want to return to their core business focus.

Image credit: bplanet on Freedigitalphotos.net

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Responsive Design is a Bandwagon You Want to Be On

| Blog | July 3, 2013

photo credit: johnpolacek.github.io

You’ve heard it before: responsive website designs are important. This message has been shared so many times online that it’s beginning to feel like nothing more than idle noise. Yet if you’re ignoring it, your bottom line is suffering. It doesn’t matter how effective your home page is or how perfect your marketing funnel is. If you don’t pay attention to responsive design, you are losing customers.

A look at the statistics

In 2013, experts expect 100 million tablets to be sold. By 2014, the number of tablets sold is trending to be more than the number of notebooks. Nielsen indicates that most U.S. mobile phone users have smartphones, not traditional phones. Mashable reports a 30 percent rate for traffic from mobile users, and they expect that to increase to 50 percent by the end of 2014. Yes, that’s a lot of numbers, but in the marketing field numbers are important. Those statistics indicate that your site is being accessed on screens of all shapes, sizes and resolutions.

On the surface this looks beneficial. The more screens available, the more people who are interacting with your site each moment. The problem lies in the fact that your site doesn’t render the same on the various sizes of screens. A smartphone can’t show the same amount of text and graphics that a 15-inch monitor can. If your web design isn’t responsive, those users using the tablet and smartphone, which is a growing number, can’t access it.

Users are using devices interchangeably

It’s no longer sufficient to try to guess which type of device your users are using the most, and then tailor your site to them. If you have a customer who has a laptop, tablet and smartphone, which is becoming commonplace, he’s going to try to access your site on all three. If it can’t adjust, he’s not going to switch to the screen you designed the site for. Instead, he’s going to become frustrated as he tries to swipe or zoom in to use his mobile device, and he just might go to your competitor.

Apps no longer are sufficient

Getting around this problem by creating an app for your mobile consumers may seem like the right solution, but it doesn’t work anymore. “There’s an app for that” worked as a slogan for Apple in 2010. This is 2013. Consumers no longer want to rely on apps for everything. They want to be able to go directly to your site and interact with it.

Your goal for your site is to get conversions. Adding an app to the mix is like putting a barrier in front of your customer, blocking them from making a purchase and preventing you from getting the conversion you desire. Don’t make it harder on your customer. Make your site responsive.

Responsive web design is no longer a nice feature to add to your site. It’s now a necessary part of your fundamental design. Without it, you’ll alienate potential customers and make interacting with you more difficult for existing customers. If your site isn’t responsive, make the change today before you lose more time and customers to your responsive competitor

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Dear VCs: Here’s the first thing to look at in a media deal

| Blog | June 5, 2013

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By Bryan Goldberg On June 3, 2013Venture Capitalists tend to ask a lot of questions. And when they are looking at media deals — which are intimidating in their unpredictability — they ask a ton of questions. But they can save themselves a lot of time, because there is one question that is so important…

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Is your Commercial Space Safe?

| Blog | May 31, 2013

As a business owner, you’re responsible for maintaining the safety of your workplace. Not only do you want to avoid injuries on the job and costly worker’s compensation claims, but you also want your employees to feel safe in your commercial space to allow them do their jobs more effectively. Regardless of the type of business you operate, there are several areas of concern to pay attention to within the confines of safety. Use this checklist to evaluate the safety of your business in four major areas.

Are there clear paths to the exit? Getting out of the building quickly in the event of an emergency can be the difference between life and death. Employees need to have clear paths to the exit, so remove all obstructions—such as cords or equipment—that may block the pathway. In addition, all exits should be clearly marked with signs that will still work in the event of a power outage; all emergency exit doors should be able to be opened without a key.

Do you have fire extinguishers and fire safety equipment? Fires are a major commercial safety concern—and particularly electrical fires as circuits in older buildings can easily become overloaded. Employees need to know where to find fire protection equipment quickly in the event of a blaze. Fire extinguishers, hoses, flame-retardant blankets and escape ladders are just a few of the pieces of equipment your business should have on hand in an accessible location.

Do employees have adequate ventilation? Especially if you use hazardous materials or operate machinery in your workplace, it’s important to be cautious about the presence of fumes that are dangerous if breathed in high concentrations. Therefore, you need ventilation in your workplace to provide fresh air. Even in a basic office building, ventilation and air cleaning measures like HVAC filters and live plants can make the workplace safer.

Are hazardous materials properly labeled and stored? You may be surprised to learn how many hazardous materials you have in your workplace, even if your business doesn’t use or produce them in the manufacturing process. Cleaning supplies are often flammable, as are acidic or caustic items. Everything needs to be clearly marked and stored in a secure location away from heat, flames and machinery.

Taking the time to assess your workplace safety now can make a big difference in the future. Although every business owner wants to believe there will never be an accident on site, they can and do happen—especially if you aren’t paying attention to safety. The work you put in now may save you the time and expense of recovering from a major safety-related incident at work.

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3 Ways to Increase the Value of your Commercial Real Estate

| Blog | May 28, 2013

The real estate market is competitive – particularly when it comes to commercial real estate. Whether you’re ready to sell or lease your property right now or you’re just looking to the future, you want to increase the value of your office or other building as much as possible – especially if you can do so without investing too much up front. Take advantage of these simple and affordable improvements to make your property more desirable and therefore more valuable.

Inspect, repair and update electrical systems

Technology has changed dramatically over the last couple of decades. In many cases, the way the electrical system is set up in older buildings may not be adequate to meet the needs of today’s Internet-powered businesses. Faulty wiring can lead to frequent power outages and other problems, so make sure you have an appropriate electrical distribution system .

Some electrical problems can be fixed cheaply, but others might require extensive updates. If you do need to upgrade your whole system, don’t stop just at the minimum requirements for businesses today – think about what businesses might want to be in the building, and whether electrical systems would meet their needs.

Go green

According to Energy Star, the single largest operating expense for commercial properties is energy use. It accounts for nearly a third of the average operating budget. Additionally, energy creation and consumption account for around 20 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the United States each year. Finding ways to make your property more energy efficient has a dual purpose. Not only does it add to the property value when it comes time to sell, but it will also save you money today by reducing energy costs.

Add amenities

People love extras. Adding amenities such as a daycare center or workout room to a business complex makes them appear more high-end and desirable. Although commercial real estate brokers recommend adding amenities as a way to boost your property’s value, make sure that the up-front investment will pay off based on historical performance in similar cases. Because of the cost, adding amenities can be one of the riskier methods of increasing value, but if you choose wisely, the payoffs can be huge.

Your commercial property is likely one of your biggest investments. It only makes sense to do everything you can to improve its value and help you get the most you can from it, now and in the future. Spend time researching what other nearby buildings have sold for and what those owners did or did not do to improve the value. The lessons learned from other property owners can help you make the right choices to attract the right tenants or buyers.

 

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