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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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Developing Your Building’s Checklist

| Blog | April 22, 2013

A lot of startups do not have the capital to purchase their own building. Leasing is almost always the best choice when trying to keep overhead low, but cost is far from the only concern. Startups that look for the cheapest option are often overlooking how their workspace affects their productivity and their long-term possibilities.

The right work building needs to be carefully chosen after considering how your company’s operations will be complemented and benefited by this potential work environment. Naturally, the physical condition isn’t your only concern — you also need to consider the terms of the lease and accompanying features of the property such as parking and security.

To assist companies in making the right choice, here’s a quick checklist to cover the bases when seeking out a new home for your budding business.

Working space layout

Every business will utilize space in a different way. You need to form your vision of daily operations before considering how properties will work. Review a prospective property with your work vision in mind. If the area is too small, don’t squeeze yourself in. If the square footage is too large, don’t lease with plans to greatly expand. Choose the right fit for that specific moment and adjust as the company changes.

Identify areas for improvement

Most landlords expect to make improvements on a property between tenants. Don’t be overly accommodating when deciding on a business site. Make your expectations known and find out whether property management will be able to meet your business’ needs. Verify that your preferred changes are in effect before you sign a lease.

Locate circuit breakers, phone and cable jacks, and outlets

For both businesses and homeowners, it is a common experience that cable jacks, electrical outlets and circuit breakers are either in odd spots or nowhere to be found. Access to a breaker box will also be critical if and when fuses go out or other electrical tasks need to be performed. Identify the location of these features on your first walk-through. If a breaker box is nowhere to be found, make sure there is space so a hookup can be added. If a property doesn’t offer these basic features, move on to the next option.

Additional features

The interior workspace is important, but exterior features also matter. Find out about parking availability and what, if any, security is provided by the building. Ask about additional storage space, even if you don’t see an immediate need for it. And consider location: Are you in the part of town you need to be? Will location affect operations? Don’t compromise just to cut costs if you could also be limiting your revenue opportunities.

By conducting your due diligence before finalizing a property lease, businesses have the chance to mentally walk through their anticipated daily operations. You’ll also be minimizing your risk in an aspect often overlooked. With a great workspace in hand, you can put your effort into the many other demands of any burgeoning startup.

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Is your Business Ready in Case of Emergency?

| Blog | April 8, 2013

Image courtesy of veggiefrog

As much as we’d like to ignore the many possible types of emergencies that might sideline our small business, it’s not just a fact of life to be acknowledged and hoped to never happen. In order to avoid being one of the 40 to 60 percent of small businesses the Small Business Administration estimates never reopen after experiencing a disaster, proprietors must plan ahead to mitigate damages and help ensure that their businesses are among the survivors.

It’s difficult to carve the necessary time away from your already overburdened days to plan for maybes; however, the list of potential disasters—natural disasters, fire, human error, computer system hackers, robbery, terrorist acts or even the seemingly routine loss of electrical power after a thunderstorm—can result in enormous damage to equipment, office buildings, business security, customer trust and more lost hours than you could potentially imagine. It’s crucial to plan ahead to mitigate possible damage.

A Meteor Strike?

The business organization website sponsored by the Small Business Administration, PrepareMyBusiness.org, offers a Risk Assessment checklist to help businesses identify the estimated probability of particular risks (partially related to geography) and the estimated impact of such an event upon the business. Each of these assessments is rated on a scale from 1 to 5, or lowest to highest, and then multiplied together to indicate the overall importance of planning for that particular disaster. Despite the form beginning with an example of a meteor striking the earth, it remains a valuable tool for help you begin to identify where to start your planning efforts.

For instance, the second example provided to interested users is a much, much more likely scenario involving a lightning strike to a nearby transformer with a subsequent loss of power for a week while the damage is repaired. Establishing even a basic plan in the event of a power outage—such as plans to work from home, cloud-based data storage and the use of surge protectors for voltage regulation—will help minimize interruption to your business and damage to your electronic equipment.

Tips to Mitigate Business Downtime in the Event of an Emergency

Ignoring the possibility of a meteor strike with the presumption that your competitors would be shut down as well, the Small Business Administration (SBA), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Red Cross and even the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) all offer small businesses tips to prepare for and minimize damages. Some of these tips include:

  • Establishing company-wide Emergency Preparedness Plans to order to protect employees, machinery, appliances, computers, supplies and data.
  • Re-evaluation of the Emergency Preparedness Plans at least twice a year.
  • Evaluation by an experienced business insurance expert regarding the purchase of necessary insurance policies and coverages to replace equipment, protect continued business operation off-site if necessary and guarantee continued employee paychecks during the recovery period.
  • Utilize simple yet effective protective measures such as surge protectors, braces to secure tall furniture such as bookcases and storage shelves to the walls, lipped shelves to minimize falling objects and an emergency kit with flashlights, batteries, and other items deemed necessary.
  • Consider cloud-based or off-site storage systems to protect data in the event that computers and hard drives are damaged.

Plan Now to Save Time & Money Later

Whether you’re a gas station or a dot-com, it usually requires just one power outage of unknown duration to stop your business in its tracks. Without a fall-back plan, this will be the time you’ll be able to observe just how much wasted time, duplicated effort and useless activity takes place until someone takes over with a viable and workable plan. Prepare now to skip the drama and proceed directly to continuing to operate or protect your business from the ongoing emergency.

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What Every Entrepreneur Should Know About Training Videos And Conversion

| Blog | March 27, 2013

Statistics show that online videos are 5.33 times more effective at engaging viewers than text.  Viewers are more interested in getting information by watching a video than reading through a lengthy paragraph or even a short snippet of text.  Recent studies have also shown that customers are eighty five percent more likely to purchase a product once they have viewed a video associated with that product.  With numbers like these, it’s becoming essential for companies to utilize an online video platform in order to reach more consumers and essentially sell more products.

Why Online Videos Increase Conversion

There is no complicated formula to why video postings can help to increase a website’s conversion.  The simple fact is that the average consumer is more engaged with a video than with a text.  It is easier to catch and keep the attention of your website’s viewers with a short video than a paragraph of text.  A huge majority of consumers will choose to watch a short video over reading text about a product or service every time.  This fact makes it absolutely necessary for each company to adapt website design and marketing techniques to reach the consumers who are increasingly less dependent on text and more engaged by video.

Using videos and movies on your website doesn’t just work to engage your customers.  It also increases your site’s ranking in Google search results, making it more likely that customers that are looking for your particular product or service will make it to your site first.

How To Maximize Videos As A Conversion Tool

When you create training videos and product videos for your website, follow a few simple rules to ensure that you are optimizing this engaging tool, catching the eye of your viewers, and selling your product all in one short video.

First, compel your viewers.  Watching a boring video may even be worse than reading boring text.  Hook your viewers within the first fifteen seconds with your videos.  Use good script and visuals that are appealing to catch and keep the attention of your customers at the beginning of your video.

Second, keep it short and sweet.  Consumers are more engaged with videos because they simply don’t have the time and the energy to read through a paragraph in a fast-paced world.  Educate your customers on what your company has to offer and what it does with a quick video.  A lengthy video about your company is not something your customers are looking for – they want a short and simple way to find out what you can offer them.

Next, make sure you test your video on an audience that is unbiased.  It’s difficult to gauge the effectiveness of a video once it is created without the proper testing.  Ask a group who is unfamiliar with your company or product to view the video and determine if it gives the right information and is engaging enough.  Ask questions after the viewing to determine if your consumers are learning what you want them to learn.

Finally, include a call to action in your video.  Give your viewers information on how they can sign up for your service or purchase your product.  The objective of creating and posting your video is to increase conversion rates for your site, and you can’t do that if your viewers are still confused about the process.

A Changing Business World

Where text and pictures may have worked previously to engage and interest your customers, these tactics simply aren’t doing the trick anymore.  Customers want quick information, and they want it in a way that is engaging and informative.  You can give them what they want by creating videos on your website that are engaging, to the point, informative, and encouraging.  Turn viewers into customers quickly with a simple change in the media you offer to customers when reaching out to them.

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4 Tips for the Overseas Business Traveler

| Blog | March 11, 2013

Traveling for business isn’t exactly the same thing as traveling for pleasure, but if you plan ahead, the trip can be a lot smoother and more carefree than you think. A first-time business traveler might not even know how to start preparing for an overseas trip. So before you head out on your own professional adventure, consider the following guide to overseas business travel.

1. Apply for a passport

If you don’t already have a passport, apply for one as soon as possible, since they can take anywhere from four to six weeks to process and deliver. On the other hand, if you already have a passport, you might want to get it renewed in the event that it expires close to your trip. Even if the expiration date is a month or so away from your expected return date, have it renewed just to be safe.

2. Get immunized

Different countries have different diseases and health risks that could affect you during your stay. Depending on where you’re going, you may be required to get a yellow fever vaccination beforehand. You can check for specific recommended vaccinations on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Women who are pregnant or people who have compromised immune systems may need additional vaccinations.

Visit your doctor four to six weeks before your trip so the vaccine can take full effect. However, if the trip is scheduled on a shorter notice, you’re better off getting it a little late than not at all.

3. Plan for fun activities

Who says business and pleasure can’t mix? Even though you want to stay focused and productive on your trip, there’s no reason you can’t have a little fun while you’re in a foreign country, and taking some time to enjoy your surroundings may help you feel more relaxed when you head to your first business meeting in foreign country. Take a look at your schedule and plan some time for seeing the sites, so you can fully take in the area’s culture and atmosphere. If you plan on traveling with co-workers, this could be a fun experience to get to know one another and relieve some stress that comes with business events overseas.

4. Prepare for the unexpected

International medical insurance ensures that you’ll get the best medical care possible, if you should suffer from an illness or injury overseas. Ask your employer what kind of coverage you can count on, under the company’s policy. If there’s any doubt that your medical expenses would be covered, ask for the company to cover an international medical policy. And if you’re self-employed, arrange your own coverage.

Once you get the logistics out of the way, take some time to research your destination, so you can prepare to experience a whole new culture. Check the U.S. State Department’s website for information about travel warnings, security and what to do in cases of emergency. The better prepared you are, the better you’ll come across in your professional relationships overseas.

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The Social Shift In Customer Service (Infographic)

| Blog | February 22, 2013

All start-up’s need to be cognizant of the fact that good customer relations are essential to long term success. but what is the most effective way to connect with them in todays modern social media rich world? According to this infographic from social customer service software provider five9.com, the call center is still very much the king when it comes to building a relationship with the people who actually buy your product.

Social Customer Service Infographic by Five9

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How Not to Lose A Website Visitor: Eight Steps to A Great User Experience

| Blog | February 4, 2013

Everyone’s seen them at some point or another–those websites that are so horribly designed that you can’t close them fast enough before they leave a lasting impression on your mind. Once your eyes have the chance to recover from overly bright flashing neon graphics or music that starts blaring over your speakers and startles your colleague out of his 4 p.m. sugar coma, you wonder how on earth someone can put something so tacky online as a way to represent their business.

These may be dramatic examples, but there are also millions of sites out there that are breaking vital design best practices and turning away visitors–and paying customers–with no hope for a second chance. An article at Business2Community reminds website owners that getting the customer’s attention is difficult enough—keeping it is even harder.

To make sure that your site doesn’t end up in the 2013 edition of Web Pages that Suck, take some time to do a review of your site and see how it stacks up.

Step 1: Make Navigation Simple- Sites that are intuitive and offer information that’s clearly laid out will keep your visitor’s attention. They’ll quickly find what they came for, and then have more time to browse your archives in search of other golden nuggets.

Step 2: De-clutter the Ads- Ads have their place on a website–after all, the bills gotta get paid–but by having them plastered all over your site, you tell your customer that you’re concerned about bringing in the Benjamins more than helping people. Limit ads to the sidebars and below the fold so that visitors are welcomed with your content, not someone else’s product.

Step 3: Organize Your Content- They probably had to search to find you; don’t make them do the same to find the content that they want. Make sure your “About” page is comprehensive and actually includes your contact info, which is the one thing that’s responsible for losing up to half of all sales.

Step 4: Keep Videos and Music Unobtrusive- Remember that some of your visitors will be stopping by while their kids are asleep or from an office where excessive noise is unwelcome. Ask permission to show visitors your latest video, and you’ll be surprised how many do want to see it—once they’ve grabbed their headphones.

Step 5: Limit Pop Ups- Don’t create barriers between you and your customers. Pop ups requesting registration are off-putting, whereas subtle calls to action with the promise of something “free” in exchange for access to their inbox, will get results.

Step 6: Create Interesting Content and User Experience- With every new visitor, you risk them being a one-time visitor, so give them a compelling reason to return. Include pictures with your blog posts, start a forum or make sure the comment section is lively to engage visitors.

Step 7: Use Legible Fonts- They wouldn’t write a white paper in a font that looks like their three-year-old’s handwriting, so why do some people use it for copy and blog posts? That’s a question for another day, but limit fonts to two or three different types that are all easy to read.

Step 8: Update Regularly- Search engines like sites that keep content fresh, so writing a weekly blog post will help your rankings, allowing you to be found by even more people.

So, even if your site is pleasing to the eyes, it’s worth taking a close look over it, using these eight steps as your guidelines. Make it a priority to fix any minor offenses, and if you find that the skills required to do so are above and beyond your technical abilities, it’s worth investing in a professional to redo your website design so that those hard-won visitors of yours aren’t put off by the design, but rather, are blown away by your amazing content and have an overwhelming urge to follow your call to action.


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How to Attract New & Return Customers

| Blog | February 4, 2013

Image courtesy of BizzBuzzMedia

Attracting new customers is certainly an essential for any business, but in all the effort to reach new audiences, business leaders often forget to address existing customers. In many industries, return customers account for the bulk of a company’s success, so it is only right that potential returning customers are treated just as enthusiastically as the newer crowd.

Unfortunately, keeping older customers engaged can be a bit of a more complicated process than attracting new customers. Simple flash may be enough to bring on a new customer or client, but it won’t work on its own in the long run. Instead, you will need to utilize a combination of techniques. A few of the more effective methods for retaining customers are detailed below.

Social media

Social media is a proven, effective tool for building a community of dedicated customers. Through sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, you can keep customers interested in your company and excited to engage with you on a regular basis. Social media will not bring back return customers if you fail to use correctly, though. Your social media pages need to be consistently updated at least once per week. Anything less and customers begin to lose interest. Additionally, when your pages are updated, these updates need to add value to the viewer’s social media experience. A page that only includes reasons for shopping at a company’s store or making a deal with a particular client is very boring. Add something of value, whether it’s a link to a well-written blog post or a funny picture. Obviously, it’s best if this content relates to your main product or service, but it should still have intrinsic value outside of the sales pitch.

Web design

Social media is a helpful tool for keeping your customer base interested, but you should avoid the common mistake of heavily investing in social media at the expense of your company’s website. Although seemingly archaic compared to today’s flashy social networking sites, a professional website is still an effective tool for both recruiting and retaining customers. However, while your social media page comes pre-designed for the most part, websites don’t. In order to attract and retain customers, you will need to present a vibrant and organized design space. If design is not your forte, hire a graphic designer.


You’ve got a website and you’re attracting visitors: mission accomplished, right? Not really. Take a look at your visitors’ browsing habits. How many people add an item or two to their cart and then leave without checking out? Find those people and the ones who view multiple items and start retargeting them. Maybe they left to go check out another site and forgot to go back or are still trying to decide whether they really need that blue sundress with pink polka dots. Keep reminding them that their items are still available and they have a better chance of coming back and completing a purchase.

Online coupons

At one time, coupon clippers were viewed as unfortunate souls from the working class. This perception may still exist to some extent, but it is no longer true of those utilizing online coupons. In fact, electronic coupons are most commonly used among those with high incomes, and they are becoming more popular by the day. In a 2009 survey from eMarketer.com, coupon use was revealed to be at an all-time high, with 47 percent of respondents claiming to use coupons on at least an occasional basis.

Hanging on to customers is not impossible, but you can’t attract return customers the same way you find new ones. You have to show them they need to come back and that it’s worth their time. Don’t just show them pictures, give them a deal or let them know when the product they recently viewed drops in price. If you find the right mix for your customers, you’ll have happier, repeat business and a more stable customer base.

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How Should I Explain Being Fired To Potential Employers?

| Blog | January 17, 2013

As you go through the job search process, you may wind up thinking of the human resource manager as the enemy. After all, HR is more than just handling payroll for a company; these individuals are generally the first people you meet when going through the application process. Searching for a job is difficult for anyone, but if you have a black mark on your record, it can seem even more daunting. If you have been fired from your last job, it’s important to go into the application and interview process prepared to handle the inevitable questions that will come up regarding your former job and how you were let go. In addition to following normal interview tips, taking some specific precautions can make it much easier for you to get a job.

What do you say when you are asked, “Why were you fired?” While you don’t want to completely dodge the question, you do want to start by framing the firing as being a positive in your life. Saying something like one of the following before you get into the details is often best:

  • In reality, losing my job was a blessing. It has given me the opportunity to find a position that better suits my interests and qualifications.
  • Circumstances beyond my control did cause me to leave my last job; however, I did get along well with my coworkers and superiors. I feel that perhaps I simply did not understand the expectations of the department and wasn’t given the chance to fully prove myself.
  • My last job did not work out well for me, so my boss and I both agreed it was time for me to find a position for which I would be better suited.
  • Looking back, I realize I should have done certain things differently in my last position. Working for [my former company] was a learning experience that has made me a much wiser person.

After you turn the question around so your termination isn’t quite so negative, you do need to be honest with your potential employer about what happened. Trying to hide or cover up will probably not work and it can lead to more uncomfortable situations in the future. In all honesty, many employers are impressed by an applicant that comes into the interview ready to lay it all out on the table.

Another important piece of advice is to update your resume to de-emphasize the position from which you were fired. Following some simple resume writing tips to help you look like a more well-rounded applicant. In fact, if you can write your resume properly, you will be more easily able to spin that firing into a positive for your future opportunities.

In today’s busy world, more human resource departments are outsourcing certain tasks like payroll and paperwork to give the busy professionals a better opportunity to stay in touch with new applicants like you, as well as those who are already working for the company. Do what you can to make the job of hiring you easier. Improve your resume and think carefully about what you will say in the interview. The fact you were fired may not be as big of a deal as you originally thought.

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