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Low Cost Ways to Test your Business Idea

So you’ve got a great idea for a new product or solution and you think it’ll be a sure-fire hit.

Not so fast. To find out if your idea has traction, you need to test it.

It’s an often-overlooked step that can help you refine your offering and ensure a successful go-to-market strategy. So before you put pen to paper and write your business plan, get out there and assess the validity of your product.

Here are six low cost tips on how to best test your business idea.

Find your Idea’s Fatal Flaw

SCORE offers some great tips on how to validate your idea. In this article, guest contributor, Daniel Kehrer, stresses the importance of banishing the idea that your product or solution is perfect. It isn’t. It may have one, two, or multiple flaws. Ask yourself:

What am I missing? What possible pitfalls am I not seeing? How might my competitors respond? What…makes me think that my business or product idea will work when…others don’t?” Once its flaws have been identified, find a way to fix them.

Related: Corporation or LLC? What’s Best for Your Company?

Test Outside your Network

There’s a lot of advice out there about testing your idea on friends and family. Not always. Also writing for SCORE, Jeanne Rossomme, recommends that entrepreneurs refrain from soliciting input from their immediate network, including their team. Instead focus on those whose opinion matters – your target market.

One way to do this is to crowdsource your market research. Form a focus group. This can be done virtually or in-person. Simply advertise for volunteers (Craigslist is a good place to start). Then provide these people with free samples of your product to test. Alternatively, assemble your focus group in one place and have them try out your product, alongside the competition’s, and see what results you get.

If your idea is less tangible or you don’t have a prototype in place, walk the streets and find out what people want. What’s missing in their market? What is the competition not providing? If your solution was available to them, would they take advantage of it?

3. Tweak It, But Not Too Much

As you test your idea you’ll encounter lots of feedback. In many cases, it can be overwhelming. This is especially true if your trying to get investment or are pitching a concept or prototype to a new client (particularly one who promises to buy it in bulk). It can be tempting to edit your idea to the point where it becomes so customized to the needs of a single customer, that you rule yourself out of the rest of the market, or waste precious resources trying to check all boxes.

Instead focus on the must-haves that translate well across several markets or customer profiles. There’s plenty of time for customized flavors of your idea down the line once you make a profit and can start diversifying.

Related: Marketing Tools Entrepreneurs Should Keep Handy

4. Perfect your Elevator Pitch

You see this all the time on TV show’s like Shark Tank. You need to pitch your idea in 30 seconds or less. What challenge does your product address, how? How is it different to the competition (what’s your differentiator?). And what is the outcome for the buying customer. People buy outcomes, not products. Your elevator pitch is something you will take with you for the lifetime of the idea – whether you’re pitching to investors, customers, manning a tradeshow booth, or briefing a marketing agency.

5. Create a Mini Version of your Idea

Creating a full-blown version of your idea can be expensive. Smart Passive Income’s Pat Flynn, has some great ideas for creating a mini-version of your idea to test the market. He uses the example of the food truck industry, which is often used as a platform to test an idea, concept, and menu before the owner commits to building a bricks and mortar restaurant. But the theory can be applied to other industries too. If you run a hair salon and want to start a massage therapy business at a new location, you could test demand by starting small by dedicating a small area of your current location to provide the new service on a part-time basis.

Likewise, if your product can be experienced without launching a full-fledged version, such as a piece of software, music, literature, and so on, test it as such.

Related: Tax Obligations for New Businesses

6. Run Dummy Marketing Campaigns

This is an increasingly popular and effective way to gauge market demand. Promote your idea for a product or service as if it’s already available on the market.

One way to do this, suggests entrepreneur advisor Evelio Pereira of Epicster.com, is to create a landing page to promote your idea. This could be hosted on your website or on a new domain. Include sales information, product/solution features, etc. Be sure to include a “Buy Now” or “Learn More” button.

Obviously you have nothing to sell yet, so when the site visitor clicks through take them to a page featuring the message that the product isn’t available yet, but if they fill in the form they’ll be notified when it’s launched.

You can use various outlets to promote the page – run an email marketing campaign to your existing customers. Or, if you have the budget, invest in Facebook ads (targeted to your geo-location and demographic) or Google Adwords or Bing Ads.  Your click through data will also provide valuable insight into whether your idea is in demand!

Related: Productivity Tools You Need In Your Toolbox

Credit: Caron Beasley via Small Business Association

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Tax Obligations for New Businesses

If you’re new to business, then wrapping your arms around your tax obligations can seem like an uphill task. The first question you need to ask yourself is which tax laws impact your business from the get-go? It may be safe to assume that your tax obligations kick in once you start making a profit. Not necessarily. Each business is different.

If you hire employees, you’ll have payroll tax obligations. If you operate a retail business, there’s sales tax to deal with. Then there are quarterly estimated tax payments (the self-employed equivalent of withholding).

To help you navigate the business tax landscape, here’s a quick overview of key tax obligations that may impact you.

Related: Behaviors of Successful People

Understand how your Business Structure Impacts your Tax Obligations

How you legally structure your business will affect your tax situation. For example, if your business is an LLC, the LLC gets taxed separate from the owners. While sole proprietors report their personal and business income taxes on the same form (Form 1040).

At the state level, you will encounter several tax obligations – sales tax, property tax, income tax, unemployment insurance tax, and more. The SBA offers more information on how your business structure determines your tax obligations (plus links to the necessary forms and portals for registering your business with the right tax authority):

Get a Federal Tax ID

An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is the business equivalent of your social security number. It’s is required by businesses who have employees, operate as a corporation or partnership, and other obligations. For the most part sole proprietors don’t need and EIN and can operate using their social security number. Does your business need an EIN and how do you get it? Learn more.

Related: Make The Entrepreneurial Difference

Pay Estimated Taxes

This one is easily overlooked, especially if you are new to business and previously had all your income tax payments taken care of through withholding. Each quarter, self-employed business owners must estimate their federal and state income tax payment and send a check to the IRS and their state treasury. This “pay-as-you-go” model applies to sole proprietors, partners, and S Corporations who expect to pay $1,000 in income tax in one year. The threshold drops to $500 for Corporations.

To help you calculate your estimated tax, check out the IRS Estimated Tax guide. Consult your state’s treasury office (you’ll find website links for each U.S. state here) to get the appropriate tax voucher or pay online.

It’s very important that you set aside sufficient to meet your estimated tax payments or you risk a cash flow problem. And don’t forget to keep good records of your income and expenses. The latter can be used to offset how much estimated tax you pay.

Sales Taxes – Does It Apply to You?

Sales tax applies to certain retail products (rarely services) and if your business has a physical presence in a state, such as a store, office or warehouse, you must apply for a sales tax permit and collect applicable state and local sales tax from your customers. That tax is then passed on to your state revenue office on a monthly or quarterly basis. Determining whether your business qualifies as having physical presence in a particular state (say, if you own a warehouse in Virginia but sell your services in Pennsylvania) and the implications on sales tax collection can be confusing. Certain states are exempt from sales tax including Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon.

Related: Marketing Tools Entrepreneurs Should Keep Handy

Employment Tax – Withholding and Matching

If you start your business and immediately have employees on payroll, you’ll need to withhold Social Security (FICA), Medicare and federal and state income taxes from their salaries. You must also match your employees FICA and Medicare taxes and pay this matching along with your employee’s tax.

The IRS Employment Taxes guide has all the information you need to understand how you deposit and report employment taxes, key due dates, and more. Take a look at this guide to hiring your first employee too.

Working with Freelancers and Independent Contractors? – Know your Tax Obligations

Bringing on a self-employed contractor brings with it additional tax ramifications, especially if your business accidentally or deliberately misclassifies that individual as an employee. Read more about why it’s important to know the difference and how it can impact your tax situation.

Bookmark Tax Reporting Season in Your Calendar

The new year brings with it several tax obligations for employers. While you’re busy thinking about getting your income tax return filed, don’t forget your wage reporting obligations (W2s must be filed) and 1099 forms must be filed and issued to independent contractors you’ve worked with during the tax year.

Related: Corporation or LLC? What’s Best for Your Company?

Property Tax

Your local government (town, city, or county) collects property tax for business assets such as vehicles, computer equipment, software, and more. Likewise, if you do business in a commercial real estate location, the state will collect property tax on it. Check with your local tax authority to find out what you need to do to register your property and the process for assessing and making payments.

Additional Resources

For more small business tax help visit SBA’s Filing and Paying Taxes guide. The IRS Guide to Business Taxes is worth a bookmark too.

Related: Productivity Tools You Need In Your Toolbox

Credit: Caron Beasley via Small Business Association

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Actions to Make You a Better Leader!

Startups provide business leadership with new products, services, and new revenue models, but leadership startups can only be built by entrepreneurs who are leaders themselves, and incent leadership in the team around them. Leadership which incents other people to be leaders is called “contagious leadership.”

John Hersey, in his classic book “Creating Contagious Leadership,” describes nine required skills or habits for inspiring a contagious leadership culture within a startup, as well as within other types of businesses, or even life in general. He and I believe that leaders have to make the overt decision to acquire these skills, and don’t have to be born or trained into them:

  1. Spotlight leadership acts of others. This is the habit of focusing attention, directly or indirectly, on leadership efforts and accomplishments of another team member or group. For managers and non-contagious leaders (contained leaders), the spotlight seems to always be on themselves.
    Related: 100 Great Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Ask
  2. Cultivate positive character qualities. Contagious leaders have a habit of highlighting effective choices about “how” things were accomplished, and not just “what” was accomplished. It’s not just about the numbers, but how character played a role, and who made the right decisions along the way.
  3. Provide in-depth recognition. Don’t just articulate specific actions that deserve praise. Contagious leaders tell Harry why and how he did a good job, whereas managers and contained leaders just say “Good job, Harry.”
  4. Emphasize strengths, leading to greatness. Conventional managers focus on people’s shortcomings and point them out as often as possible. Contagious leaders nurture the habit of recognizing others strengths, and help them extrapolate these to greatness.
  5. Communicate often and effectively. The habit of constantly exchanging information, thoughts and feelings openly and honestly builds morale, enhances productivity, and fosters contagious leadership. Too many managers “tell ‘em only what they need to know and not a moment before they need to know it.”
  6. Provide an unobstructed vision. Contagious leaders foster the habit of focusing actions on a clear and sensory-rich picture of the desired result. Managers tend to have only a vague picture of where the company is going, so they are unable to share a coherent vision with others.
  7. Really touch people’s lives. Nurture the habit of truly knowing your most valuable asset – people. Managers avoid any real, deep involvement. Most don’t know if the people reporting to them are married or single, or anything about them. Contagious leaders know their people personally and do things for them, not because it’s good for business, but because they truly care.
  8. Passionately support your people. Managers are always controlled, rather than being fully committed and willing to take a risk. Contagious leaders are quick to support their team, and always stick up for them, even in the face of adversity.
  9. Mentor a permission mentality. Contagious leaders mentor their team to always assume they have permission to do things their way. They try to extend the concept of contagious leadership, rather than constrain it. Managers want a staff of imitators and followers. They want people to do what they want, and to do it their way.

Related: 10 Common Career Killers

In summary, leaders are not the same as managers. Managers focus on the process, while leaders focus on the people. Leaders influence people to make things happen, rather than tell people to make things happen. Contagious leaders create a culture that inspires everyone to be fully engaged in the startup. The result is that your whole startup will be a leader.

Credit: Marty Zwilling via StartupProfessionals.com

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CMG Business Group…. Propelling Industry to New Heights!

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Compensation Tactics To Help Retain Employees

 

Guest columnist Ron Volper discusses how a well-thought out compensation plan can help retain your best employeees.

Small and mid-sized businesses that lose top performers incur the costs of hiring and training new employees, but they face an even greater risk: damaging relationships with existing customers and eroding the morale of other employees. Proof of this is that the companies that are the most profitable usually have the highest employee retention.

A study the Ron Volper Group conducted, in 2011, across a range of industries, confirmed that the number one reason for “unforced turnover” is employee dissatisfaction with their compensation. Moreover, 80 percent of employees who voluntarily left their company took a higher paying position with another company.

Here’s how you can use your compensation plan to retain and motivate employees and up your sales in a down market.

1. Pay employees salary and incentives. The companies with the highest employee morale and productivity pay a mix of salary and incentives. The salary compensates employees for performing all the tasks required of them and provides them with a consistent income. The incentive (which can be commission for salespeople and a bonus for others) motivates them to meet and exceed their goals and gives them the opportunity to increase their earnings.

Related: Get The Most Out of Your Startup Team

Pay employees the salary portion of their compensation monthly or bi-monthly. Pay employees the incentive portion of their compensation as soon after they meet their goals as feasible. Thus, quarterly incentive payments are usually more motivating than annual payments and monthly incentive payments are often best.

2. Keep the incentive part of your plan simple. The test of a good compensation plan is that the incentive part measures no more than two to four performance factors, and all employees can accurately explain the plan in the time it takes to walk from the front door of your office building to your receptionist’s desk.

3. Establish SMART goals. SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Ambitious, Realistic and Time-bound.

For salespeople, that means establishing monthly and annual revenue goals and/or goals for opening new accounts. For other customer contact people, establish goals for the ratio of customer compliments versus complaints, and/or the number of customer complaints they resolve on the first phone call. For employees in accounts receivable, consider basing goals on how much outstanding revenue they collect against specific targets. For those in manufacturing, consider basing goals on the number of products they manufacture free of defects.

While it’s okay to pay a small part of the incentives based on the team’s overall results, most of the incentive should be based on individual results.

Related: Make The Entrepreneurial Difference

4. Determine what your competitors are paying. One way to attract and retain top employees-and keep them motivated is to pay them as much or more than your competitors. Every few years, you should determine what your competitors are paying and adjust your compensation plan accordingly. You can do this informally by asking employees with other companies that you interview about their compensation plan, or more objectively by hiring an outside consulting firm to benchmark your plan against others and advise you on how to adjust it.

5. Modify salaries based on employees’ geographic location. While the incentive plan for employees working in different cities should not change, you should adjust the salary portion to reflect the local cost of living, so as not to penalize employees who live in more expensive cities.

6. Use merit increases to reward top performers. In a misguided attempt to keep all employees happy, many companies misallocate the funds they budget for annual merit increases by giving all employees essentially the same merit increases. Your first priority should be to retain and motivate star employees, your second priority to retain and motivate satisfactory employees. Therefore, award the largest salary increases to your stars, much more modest increases to satisfactory performers, and no increases to employees whose performance falls below expectations.

7. Provide employees with non-financial rewards. Besides cash, employees are motivated by other forms of recognition and rewards. For example, consider establishing an annual trip to reward employees who have achieved certain annual goals. Besides increasing motivation, company-sponsored trips build camaraderie and teamwork. How you train, develop and manage your employees also drives retention and performance. However, paying them as well as you realistically can — based on their performance — is one of the best ways to heighten their motivation.

Related: Get The Most Out of Your Startup Team

Credit: Ron Volper via CNBC.com

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CMG Business Group…. Propelling Industry to New Heights!

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How to Deal With Difficult People

Most of us encounter unreasonable people in our lives. We may be “stuck” with a difficult individual at work or at home. It’s easy to let a challenging person affect us and ruin our day. What are some of the keys to empowering yourself in such situations? Below are ten keys to handling unreasonable and difficult people. Keep in mind that these are general rules of thumb, and not all of the tips may apply to your particular situation. Simply utilize what works and leave the rest.

For more in-depth tools on how to effectively handle difficult individuals, download free excerpts of my publications (click on titles) “How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People(link is external),” “Communication Success with Four Personality Types(link is external),” and “How to Successfully Handle Passive-Aggressive People(link is external).”

1.    Keep Your Cool 

Benefits: Maintain self-control. Avoid escalation of problem.

How: The first rule in the face of an unreasonable person is to maintain your composure; the less reactive you are, the more you can use your better judgment to handle the situation.

When you feel angry or upset with someone, before you say something you might later regret, take a deep breath and count slowly to ten. In most circumstances, by the time you reach ten, you would have figured out a better way of communicating the issue, so that you can reduce, instead of escalate the problem. If you’re still upset after counting to ten, take a time out if possible, and revisit the issue after you calm down.

Related: Quick, Easy Ways to Improve Your Focus

2.    “Fly Like an Eagle”

Benefits: More peace of mind. Reduce risk of friction.

How: Some people in our lives are simply not worth tussling with. Your time is valuable, so unless there’s something important at stake, don’t waste it by trying to change or convince a person who’s negatively entrenched. As the saying goes: “You can’t fly like an eagle if you hang out with turkeys!” Whether you’re dealing with a difficult colleague or an annoying relative, be diplomatic and apply the tips from this article when you need to interact with them. The rest of the time, keep a healthy distance.

3.    Shift from Being Reactive to Proactive

Benefits: Minimize misinterpretation & misunderstanding. Concentrate energy on problem-solving.

How: When you feel offended by someone’s words or deeds, come up with multiple ways of viewing the situation before reacting. For example, I may be tempted to think that my co-worker is ignoring my messages, or I can consider the possibility that she’s been very busy. When we avoid personalizing other people’s behaviors, we can perceive their expressions more objectively. People do what they do because of them more than because of us. Widening our perspective on the situation can reduce the possibility of misunderstanding.

Another way to reduce personalization is to try to put ourselves in the difficult individual’s shoes, even for just a moment. For example, consider the person you’re dealing with, and complete the sentence: “It must not be easy….”

“My child is being so resistant. It must not be easy to deal with his school and social pressures…”

“My boss is really demanding. It must not be easy to have such high expectations placed on her performance by management…”

“My partner is so emotionally distant. It must not be easy to come from a family where people don’t express affection…”

To be sure, empathetic statements do not excuse unacceptable behavior. The point is to remind yourself that people do what they do because of their own issues. As long as we’re being reasonable and considerate, difficult behaviors from others say a lot more about them than they do about us. By de-personalizing, we can view the situation more objectively, and come up with better ways of solving the problem.

Related: Behaviors of Successful People

4.    Pick Your Battles

Benefits: Save time, energy and grief. Avoid unnecessary problems and complications.

How: Not all difficult individuals we face require direct confrontation about their behavior. There are two scenarios under which you might decide not to get involved. The first is when someone has temporary, situational power over you. For example, if you’re on the phone with an unfriendly customer service representative, as soon as you hang up and call another agent, this representative will no longer have power over you.

Another situation where you might want to think twice about confrontation is when, by putting up with the difficult behavior, you derive a certain benefit. An example of this would be an annoying co-worker, for although you dislike her, she’s really good at providing analysis for your team, so she’s worth the patience. It’s helpful to remember that most difficult people have positive qualities as well, especially if you know how to elicit them (see keys #5 and 6).

In both scenarios, you have the power to decide if a situation is serious enough to confront. Think twice, and fight the battles that are truly worth fighting.

Related: Negotiate Your Salary Without Playing Hardball

5.    Separate the Person From the Issue

Benefits: Establish yourself as a strong problem solver with excellent people skills. Win more rapport, cooperation and respect.

How: In every communication situation, there are two elements present: The relationship you have with this person, and the issue you are discussing. An effective communicator knows how to separate the person from the issue, and be soft on the person and firm on the issue. For example:

“I want to talk about what’s on your mind, but I can’t do it when you’re yelling. Let’s either sit down and talk more quietly, or take a time out and come back this afternoon.”

“I appreciate you putting a lot of time into this project. At the same time, I see that three of the ten requirements are still incomplete. Let’s talk about how to finish the job on schedule.”

“I really want you to come with us. Unfortunately, if you’re going to be late like the last few times, we’ll have to leave without you.”

When we’re soft on the person, people are more open to what we have to say. When we’re firm on the issue, we show ourselves as strong problem solvers.

Related: Improve Business Profits and Make My Business More Profitable

6.     Put the Spotlight on Them 

Benefits: Proactive. Equalize power in communication. Apply appropriate pressure to reduce difficult behavior.

How: A common pattern with difficult people (especially the aggressive types) is that they like to place attention on you to make you feel uncomfortable or inadequate. Typically, they’re quick to point out there’s something not right with you or the way you do things. The focus is consistently on “what’s wrong,” instead of “how to solve the problem.”

This type of communication is often intended to dominate and control, rather than to sincerely take care of issues. If you react by being on the defensive, you simply fall into the trap of being scrutinized, thereby giving the aggressor more power while she or he picks on you with impunity. A simple and powerful way to change this dynamic is to put the spotlight back on the difficult person, and the easiest way to do so is to ask questions. For example:

Aggressor: “Your proposal is not even close to what I need from you.”

Response: “Have you given clear thought to the implications of what you want to do?”

Aggressor: “You’re so stupid.”

Response: “If you treat me with disrespect I’m not going to talk with you anymore. Is that what you want? Let me know and I will decide if I want to stay or go.”

Keep your questions constructive and probing. By putting the difficult person in the spotlight, you can help neutralize her or his undue influence over you.

Related: The Art of the Pitch

7.    Use Appropriate Humor

Benefits: Disarm unreasonable and difficult behavior when correctly used. Show your detachment. Avoid being reactive. Problem rolls off your back.

How: Humor is a powerful communication tool. Years ago I knew a co-worker who was quite stuck up. One day a colleague of mine said “Hello, how are you?” to him. When the egotistical co-worker ignored her greeting completely, my colleague didn’t feel offended. Instead, she smiled good-naturedly and quipped: “That good, huh?” This broke the ice and the two of them started a friendly conversation. Brilliant.

When appropriately used, humor can shine light on the truth, disarm difficult behavior, and show that you have superior composure. In “How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People(link is external),” I explain the psychology of humor in conflict resolution, and offer a variety of ways one can use humor to reduce or eliminate difficult behavior.

Related: Staying on Top of Your Social Media

8.    Change from Following to Leading 

Benefit: Leverage direction and flow of communication.

How: In general, whenever two people are communicating, one is usually doing more leading, while the other is doing more following. In healthy communication, two people would take turns leading and following. However, some difficult people like to take the lead, set a negative tone, and harp on “what’s wrong” over and over.

You can interrupt this behavior simply by changing the topic. As mentioned earlier, utilize questions to redirect the conversation. You can also say “By the way…” and initiate a new subject. When you do so, you’re taking the lead and setting a more constructive tone.

9.    Confront Bullies (Safely)

Benefits: Reduce or eliminate harmful behavior. Increase confidence and peace of mind.

How: The most important thing to keep in mind about bullies is that they pick on those whom they perceive as weaker, so as long as you remain passive and compliant, you make yourself a target. Many bullies are also cowards on the inside. When their victims begin to show backbone and stand up for their rights, the bully will often back down. This is true in schoolyards, as well as in domestic and office environments.

On an empathetic note, studies show that many bullies are victims of violence themselves. This in no way excuses bullying behavior, but may help you consider the bully in a more equanimous light.

“When people don’t like themselves very much, they have to make up for it. The classic bully was actually a victim first.” — Tom Hiddleston

“Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others.” — Paramhansa Yogananda

“I realized that bullying never has to do with you. It’s the bully who’s insecure.” — Shay Mitchell

When confronting bullies, be sure to place yourself in a position where you can safely protect yourself, whether it’s standing tall on your own, having other people present to witness and support, or keeping a paper trail of the bully’s inappropriate behavior. In cases of physical, verbal, or emotional abuse, consult with counseling, legal, law enforcement, or administrative professionals on the matter. It’s very important to stand up to bullies, and you don’t have to do it alone.

Related: Make The Entrepreneurial Difference

10.     Set Consequence 

Benefits: Proactive not reactive. Shift balance of power. Win respect and cooperation when appropriately applied.

How: The ability to identify and assert consequence(s) is one of the most important skills we can use to “stand down” a difficult person. Effectively articulated, consequence gives pause to the challenging individual, and compels her or him to shift from obstruction to cooperation. In “How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People(link is external),” consequence is presented as seven different types of power you can utilize to affect positive change.

In conclusion, to know how to handle unreasonable and difficult people is to truly master the art of communication. As you utilize these skills, you may experience less grief, greater confidence, better relationships, and higher communication prowess. You are on your way to leadership success!

 

Related: Get The Most Out of Your Startup Team

Credit: Preston Ni M.S.B.A. via PsychologyToday.com

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CMG Business Group…. Propelling Industry to New Heights!

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Developing Effective Work Relationships

You can submarine your career and work relationships by the actions you take and the behaviors you exhibit at work. No matter your education, your experience, or your title, if you can’t play well with others, you will never accomplish your work mission.

Effective work relationships form the cornerstone for success and satisfaction with your job and your career. How important are effective work relationships?

They form the basis for promotion, pay increases, goal accomplishment, and job satisfaction.

The Gallup organization studied indicators of work satisfaction. They found that whether you have a best friend at work was one of the twelve key questions that predicted job satisfaction.

Related: Improve Business Profits and Make My Business More Profitable

A supervisor in a several hundred person company quickly earned a reputation for not playing well with others. He collected data and used the data to find fault, place blame, and make other employees look bad. He enjoyed identifying problems but rarely suggested solutions.

He bugged his supervisor weekly for a bigger title and more money so he could tell other employees what to do.

When he announced he was job hunting, not a single employee suggested that the company take action to convince him to stay. He had burned his bridges.

These are the top seven ways you can play well with others at work. They form the basis for effective work relationships. These are the actions you want to take to create a positive, empowering, motivational work environment for people.

Related: Negotiate Your Salary Without Playing Hardball

  • Bring suggested solutions with the problems to the meeting table. Some employees spend an inordinate amount of time identifying problems. Honestly? That’s the easy part. Thoughtful solutions are the challenge that will earn respect and admiration from coworkers and bosses
  • Don’t ever play the blame game. You alienate coworkers, supervisors, and reporting staff. Yes, you may need to identify who was involved in a problem. You may even ask the Deming question: what about the work system caused the employee to fail?But, not my fault and publicly identifying and blaming others for failures will earn enemies. These enemies will, in turn, help you to fail. You do need allies at work.
  • Your verbal and nonverbal communication matters. If you talk down to another employee, use sarcasm, or sound nasty, the other employee hears you. We are all radar machines that constantly scope out our environment.

In one organization a high level manager said to me, “I know you don’t think I should scream at my employees. But, sometimes, they make me so mad. When is it appropriate for me to scream at the employees?” Answer? Never, of course, if respect for people is a hallmark of your organization.

Related: Behaviors of Successful People

  • Never blind side a coworker, boss, or reporting staff person. If the first time a coworker hears about a problem is in a staff meeting or from an email sent to his supervisor, you have blind sided the coworker. Always discuss problems, first, with the people directly involved who “own” the work system.Also called lynching or ambushing your coworkers, you will never build effective work alliances unless your coworkers trust you. And, without alliances, you never accomplish the most important goals.
  • Keep your commitments. In an organization, work is interconnected. If you fail to meet deadlines and commitments, you affect the work of other employees. Always keep commitments, and if you can’t, make sure all affected employees know what happened. Provide a new due date and make every possible effort to honor the new deadline.
  • Share credit for accomplishments, ideas, and contributions. How often do you accomplish a goal or complete a project with no help from others? If you are a manager, how many of the great ideas you promote were contributed by staff members?

Related: Quick, Easy Ways to Improve Your Focus

Take the time, and expend the energy, to thank, reward, recognize and specify contributions of the people who help you succeed. This is a no-fail approach to building effective work relationships.

  • Help other employees find their greatness. Every employee in your organization has talents, skills, and experience. If you can help fellow employees harness their best abilities, you benefit the organization immeasurably. The growth of individual employees benefits the whole.Compliment, recognize, praise, and notice contributions. You don’t have to be a manager to help create a positive, motivating environment for employees. In this environment, employees do find and contribute their greatness.

If you regularly carry out these seven actions, you will play well with others and develop effective work relationships. Coworkers will value you as a colleague. Bosses will believe you play on the right team.

You’ll accomplish your work goals, and you may even experience fun, recognition, and personal motivation Work can’t get any better than that.

Related: Get The Most Out of Your Startup Team

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Compensating Your Employees’ Base Pay

Compensation begins with a base pay of some kind. But how best to structure it—by the hour or week?It depends on what type of business you’re in, as well as how established your company is. Salaries are more typical for managers and employees in white-collar positions, while hourly pay is more common for temporary or part-time employees as well as consultants and workers in certain blue-collar jobs. When your company is just starting up, you might be more inclined to hire part-time rather than full-time staff, until you’re confident enough to staff on a full-time, permanent basis.

It’s also important to consider that your core team of employees—the ones critical to your business’s basic operations and delivering on your company’s promise—should typically be full time.

Commissions
Commissions are most suitable for jobs that involve generating income — often selling positions. Commissions give employees an incentive by rewarding them for their success in achieving objectives. Some jobs might have a base pay plus commission. Think about what makes the most sense for each position and for the company.

Related: Negotiate Your Salary Without Playing Hardball

How much do you pay?
Another key question is how much to pay each employee or each position. Begin by establishing a minimum for your pay scale as well as a maximum. You could set the floor based on market rates. Also, be aware of state minimum wage rules, which you can find online via the U.S. Department of Labor website.

As for deciding on a maximum, think about how valuable a person is to your company. Also, consider the competition. If you pay less, the best talent may seek employment with your competition. And, your existing employees may be tempted to jump ship.

Finally, remember that you should hire for the long term, and provide a career path. Successful employees will want raises and promotions—and providing these will help to keep them satisfied and feeling appreciated. Pay fairly in the beginning, but realize you may have to offer more in the years to come.

Also, make sure it is clear whether someone is an employee or a contractor. Employee misclassification has become a major focus of the US Department of Labor.

Related: Improve Business Profits and Make My Business More Profitable

Learn more at the U.S. Department of Labor website.

GAME PLAN

  • To find out whether it’s appropriate or legal to compensate a particular position through hourly wage or salary, and to learn more about the rules covering wages and hourly pay, you could consult with an employment lawyer.
  • To learn more about labor laws, visit the Department of Labor website.
  • To get more information about salaries and market rates based on position and geography, visit www.salary.com.
  • To learn more about how other small business owners feel about raising the minimum wage, check out the findings from the 2014 Small Business Success Study.

Related: Get The Most Out of Your Startup Team

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CMG Business Group…. Propelling Industry to New Heights!

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100 Great Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Ask

 

There’s no Superman versus Iron Man face-off between questions and answers over which is the better tool for innovation. But if there were, questions would be winning. Questions ignite imaginations, avert catastrophes, and reveal unexpected paths to brighter destinations. Jim Collins, Marshall Goldsmith, and other thinkers have compiled their own stocks of questions, which they urge leaders to pose to themselves and their teams. The right questions don’t allow people to remain passive. They require reflection, followed by action.

Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question, praises inquiry’s ability to trigger divergent thinking, in which the mind seeks multiple, sometimes non-obvious paths to a solution. Asking good questions and doing so often “opens people to new ideas and possibilities,” says Berger.

To compile this list of provocative questions for business owners, we reached out to entrepreneurs and management thinkers, scanned blogs, and revisited our favorite business books. (Though we tried to identify the origin of each question, some had competing claims of authorship. In those cases, we made our best call.) Have you got a great question that you use at your company? We welcome you to add your own to the list via the comment box below the story. Rigid mindsets are dangerous things. We hope the following will keep your mind supple.

Related: Marketing Tools Entrepreneurs Should Keep Handy

  1. How can we become the company that would put us out of business? –Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group          
  2. Are we  relevant? Will we be relevant five years from now? Ten? –Debra Kaye, innovation consultant and author
  3. If energy were free, what would we do differently? –Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. Hsieh explains, “This is a thought experiment to see how you would reconfigure the business if you had different resources available or knew that different resources would one day become available. Another question might be, what if storage was free? Or what if labor costs half as much or twice as much?”
  4. What is it like to work for me? –Robert Sutton, author and management professor at Stanford
  5. If we weren’t already in this business, would we enter it today? And if not, what are we going to do about it? –Peter Drucker, management expert and author 
    The late Drucker posed a variation on this question to Jack Welch in the 1980s. It inspired General Electric’s “fix, sell, or close” strategy for exiting or restructuring unprofitable businesses.
  6. What trophy do we want on our mantle? – Marcy Massura, a digital marketer and brand strategist at MSL Group. Massura explains, “Not every business determines success the same way.Is growth most important to you? Profitability? Stability?”
  7. Do we have bad profits? –Jonathan L. Byrnes, author and senior lecturer at MIT. Byrnes explains, “Some investments look attractive, but they also take the company’s capital and focus away from its main line of business.”
  8. What counts that we are not counting? –Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality and head of global hospitality for Airbnb 
    Conley explains, “In any business, we measure cash flow, profitability, and a few other key metrics. But what are the tangible and intangible assets that we have no means of measuring, but that truly differentiate our business? These may be things like the company’s reputation, employee engagement, and the brand’s emotional resonance with people inside and outside the business.”
  9.  In the past few months, what is the smallest change we have made that has had the biggest positive result? What was it about that small change that produced the large return? –Robert Cialdini, author and professor emeritus of marketing and psychology at Arizona State University
  10. Are we paying enough attention to the partners our company depends on to succeed? –Ron Adner, author and professor at Tuck School of Business. Adner explains, “Even companies that execute well themselves are vulnerable to the missteps of suppliers, distributors, and others.”
  11. What prevents me from making the changes I know will make me a more effective leader? –Marshall Goldsmith, leadership coach and author
  12. What are the implications of this decision 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years from now? –Suzy Welch, author
  13. Do I make eye contact 100 percent of the time? –Tom Peters, author and management expert
  14. What is the smallest subset of the problem we can usefully solve? –Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator
  15. Are we changing as fast as the world around us? –Gary Hamel, author and management consultant
  16. If no one would ever find out about my accomplishments, how would I lead differently? –Adam Grant, author and professor at Wharton
  17. Which customers can’t participate  in our market  because they lack skills, wealth, or convenient access to existing solutions? –Clayton Christensen, author, Harvard Business School professor, and co-founder of Innosight
  18. Who uses our product in ways we never expected? –Kevin P. Coyne and Shawn T. Coyne, authors and strategy consultants
  19. How likely is it that a customer would recommend our company to a friend or colleague? –Andrew Taylor, executive chairman of Enterprise Holdings. “Taylor’s use of this question at Enterprise Rent-A-Car inspired Fred Reichheld to create the Net Promoter Score, a widely used metric for customer loyalty.
  20. Is this an issue for analysis or intuition? –Tom Davenport, author and professor at Babson College. Davenport explains, “If it’s a decision that’s important, recurring, and amenable to improvement, you should invest in gathering data, doing analysis, and examining failure factors. If it’s a decision you will only make once, or if for some reason you can’t get data or improve the decision-making process, you might as well go with your experience and intuition.”
  21. Who, on the executive team or the board, has spoken to a customer recently? –James Champy, author and management expert
  22. Did my employees make progress today? –Teresa Amabile, author and Harvard Business School professor. Amabile explains, “Forward momentum in employees’ work has the greatest positive impact on their motivation.”
  23. What one word do we want to own in the minds of our customers, employees, and partners? –Matthew May, author and innovation expert. May explains, “This deceptively simple question creates utter clarity inside and outside a company. It is incredibly difficult for most people to answer and difficult to get consensus on–even at the highest levels. Apple = different. Toyota = quality. Google = search. It’s taken me three years to get one of my clients, Edmunds.com, to find and agree on their word: trust.”
  24. What should we stop doing? –Peter Drucker, management expert and author
  25. What are the gaps in my knowledge and experience? –Charles Handy, author and management expert
  26. What am I trying to prove to myself, and how might it be hijacking my life and business success? –Bob Rosen, executive coach and author
  27. If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do? –Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel. In 1985, with the company’s memory-chip business under siege, CEO Grove famously posed this hypothetical to Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, leading them to ditch memory for microprocessors.
  28. If I had to leave my organization for a year and the only communication I could have with employees was a single paragraph, what would I write? –Pat Lencioni, author and founder of The Table Group. Lencioni explains, “Determining the substance of this paragraph forces you to identify the company’s core values and strategies, and the roles and responsibilities of those hypothetically left behind.”
  29. Who have we, as a company, historically been when we’ve been at our best? –Keith Yamashita, author and founder of SYPartners
  30. What do we stand for–and what are we against? –Scott Goodson, co-founder of StrawberryFrog
  31. Is there any reason to believe the opposite of my current belief? -Chip and Dan Heath, authors who teach at Stanford’s and Duke’s business schools, respectively
  32. Do we underestimate the customer’s journey? –Matt Dixon, author and executive director of research at CEB 
    Dixon explains, “Often, companies don’t understand the entirety of the customer’s experience and how many channels may have already failed them. They don’t understand that the customer goes to the website first, pokes around but can’t find the answer to their question, and then tries to start up a chat with an agent, only to get frustrated by the delayed response. Only then do they go to the Contact Us tab and call. From the company’s perspective, the call is square one. The customer sees it as, you’ve already wasted 15 minutes of my time.”
  33. Among our stronger employees, how many see themselves at the company in three years? How many would leave for a 10 percent raise from another company? –Jonathan Rosenberg, adviser to Google management
  34. What did we miss in the interview for the worst hire we ever made? –Alberto Perlman, CEO of Zumba Fitness
  35. Do we have the right people on the bus? –Jim Collins, author and management consultant  
  36. What would have to be true for the option on the table to be the best possible choice? –Roger Martin, professor, Rotman Business School. Martin uses this question when members of a group bring diverse opinions to a decision. It allows people to step back from their strongly held beliefs and contemplate a range of circumstances that might–or might not–support each option.
  37. Am I failing differently each time? –David Kelley, founder, IDEO
  38. When information truly is ubiquitous, when reach and connectivity are completely global, when computing resources are infinite, and when a whole new set of impossibilities are not only possible, but happening, what will that do to our business? –Jonathan Rosenberg
  39. Do we aggressively reward and promote the people who have the biggest impact on creating excellent products? –Jonathan Rosenberg
  40. What is our Big Hairy Audacious Goal? –Jim Collins
  41.  Is our strategy driving our strategy? Or is the way in which we allocate resources driving our strategy? –Mark Johnson, co-founder, Innosight 
    Johnson explains, “You might think you have a strategic plan, but your people may be doing things on a day-to-day basis that are undermining it. It’s essential that people believe in the strategy so they can make the daily decisions that support it.”
  42. How is the way you as the leader think and process information affecting your organizational culture?  –Ari Weinzweig, co-founder Zingerman’s Community of Businesses 
    Weinzweig explains, “Describe the culture you’d love to have in your organization. Then check the desired characteristics of the culture against the way you think and process information. Are they congruent?  Do you want collaboration but think in isolation?  Do you want a flat organization but think hierarchically?
  43. Why don’t our customers like us? –James Champy
  44. How can we become more high-tech but still be high touch? –James Champy
  45. What do we need to start doing? –Jack Bergstrand, CEO, Brand Velocity
  46. Whom among your colleagues do you trust, and for what? –Charles Handy. Handy tells this story: “One CEO had a problem with his best subordinate, who was very good at his job. But he was also personally ambitious, so the CEO could not trust him to be totally loyal. The dilemma was whether to keep him because of his abilities or lose him because he couldn’t be sure of him.  The answer was for the CEO to either assign the subordinate jobs where his loyalty wasn’t relevant or to confront him with his feelings. After some pushing from me. the CEO did the latter, and it cleared the air.”
  47.  Are you satisfied with your current role?  If not, what is missing from it? –Charles Handy
  48. Do you keep 50% of your time unscheduled? –Dov Frohman, engineer and executive, author 
    The 50% stat may be somewhat arbitrary. But Frohman’s point, laid out in his book “Leadership the Hard Way,” is that leaders should make sure they maintain sufficient “slop” in their schedules to allow space for reflection and the assimilation of lessons learned from experience.
  49. What would I recommend my friend do if he were facing this dilemma? –Chip and Dan Heath
  50. What kind of crime could a potential new hire have committed that would not only not disqualify him/her from being hired by our organization, but would actually indicate that he/she might be a particularly good fit?  -Pat Lencioni 
    Lencioni explains, “In this case “crime” is a metaphor.  This question speaks to values. A particularly idealistic organization may be okay with hiring someone that was previously reprimanded for standing up for his beliefs or blowing the whistle on something. A particularly competitive organization may be okay hiring someone who in prior positions was reprimanded for being overly arrogant or difficult to work with.”
  51. If our customer were my grandmother, would I tell her to buy what we’re selling? –Dan Pink, author
  52. If our company went out of business tomorrow, would anyone who doesn’t get a paycheck here care? –Dan Pink
  53. What is something you believe that nearly no one agrees with you on? –Peter Thiel, partner, Founders Fund
  54. Do you have an implicit bias for capital investments over people investments? –Tom Peters. Peters explains: “Capital enhancements are important. They’re also cool. You can get your picture taken next to a new robot. People investments are invisible and hard to measure. The tendency is to favor the hard stuff over the soft stuff. But the soft stuff is invariably more related to long-term strategic success than the hard stuff.”
  55. Do we have enough freaky customers in our portfolio pushing us to the limit day in and day out? –Tom Peters
  56. Who are you going to put out of business, and why? –Brad Feld, managing director, Foundry Group
  57. What happens at this company when people fail? –Bob Sutton and Jeff Pfeffer, Stanford professors
  58. How will you motivate the dishwashers? –Bill Keena, independent casino consultant. Job interview questions comprise a genre unto themselves, so we chose not to include them in this article. With one exception. Keena says the only correct answer to this question, posed to manager candidates in a hotel chain, is “If they are overloaded I would roll up my sleeves and start washing right alongside them.” That speaks to the candidate’s ability to create employee engagement. Turned inward, however, the question reveals even more about culture. Ask yourself this: Are we the kind of company that cares whether our dishwashers are motivated?
  59. Do your employees have the opportunity to do what they do best everyday? –Marcus Buckingham, author
  60. Where is our petri dish? –Tim Ogilvie, CEO. Peer Insight
  61. What Microsoft is this the Altair Basic of? –Paul Graham
  62. Do we say “no” to customers for no reason? –Matt Dixon
    You may have created your customer policies at a time when you lacked resources, technology wasn’t up-to-snuff, or low service levels were the industry norm. Have those circumstances changed? If so, your customer policies should change too.
  63. Instead of going to current contacts for new ideas, what if you reconnected with dormant contacts–the people you used to know?  If you were going reactivate a dormant tie, who would it be? –Adam Grant
  64.  Do you see more potential in people than they do in themselves? –Adam Grant
  65. Are you taking your company in the direction of better and revenue or cheaper and cost? –Michael Raynor, director, Deloitte Services LP
  66. Would you rather sell to knowledgeable and informed customers or to uninformed customers? –Don Peppers, founding partner, Peppers and Rogers Group. Partly it’s a matter of values: uninformed customers can be easy targets who swallow your pitch without pushing back. Selling to knowledgeable customers, by contrast, “is a mark of a trustable firm–one that is working to advance its customers’ best interests,” says Peppers. And there’s another benefit: “Your most valuable customer references are not the ones who spend the most, but the ones who have the most expertise and authority. That gives them credibility with their peers.”
  67. What are we challenging, in the sense that Mac challenged the PC or Dove tackled the Beauty Myth? –Mark Barden and Adam Morgan, founders, eatbigfish. Barden and Morgan explain that for companies challenging market leaders with greater resources, competing on the status quo is death. Instead they must assault the dynamics of a category (the dominance of PC) or a cultural meme (what society defines as “beautiful” in women).
  68. In what way can we redefine the criteria of choice in our category in our favor, as Method introduced style and design to cleaning and Virgin America returned glamor to flying? –Mark Barden and Adam Morgan
  69. In the past year, what have you done (or could you have done) to increase the accurate perception of this company/brand as ethical and honest? –Robert Cialdini 
    Cialdini explains: “Of course, the preferred way to increase the perception of a company as ethical is to foster ethical practice within the organization. However, sometimes a company can be ethical without a corresponding perception in the marketplace that this is indeed the case. Therefore, companies should strive not only to enhance and reinforce an ethical culture but also to arrange for a warranted perception of that ethicality to be part of their brand.”
  70. To whom do you add value? –Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood, co-founders, The RBL Group
  71. Why should people listen to you? –Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood
  72. How would our PR, marketing, and social media change if we did not use outside agencies? –Guy Kawasaki, founder, Garage Technology Ventures and Alltop. Kawasaki explains, “Let’s see what happens when a company can’t abdicate these functions to hired guns. I’d bet that employees, because they know and love their product more than any agency, can do a much better job at less expense to boot.”
  73. What was the last experiment we ran? –Scott Berkun, author
  74. Are your clients Pepsi or Coke drinkers?” –Marcy Massura 
    Massura explains: “This is a symbolic question that gets at how deeply you have researched your target clients. Business leaders can find out more about their customers than ever before thanks to the ability to collect data on a grand scale. Such detailed information allows the company to interact with targets in new ways and to assess current product development and marketing roadmaps.”
  75. What is your BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement)? –Roger Fisher and William Ury, negotiation experts
  76. What’s the best design framework for an organization in a post Industrial-Age if the top-down, command and control model is no longer relevant? –Traci Fenton, CEO, Worldblu
  77. Who are four people whose careers I’ve enhanced? –Alex Gorsky, CEO, Johnson & Johnson
  78. Where can we break convention? –Shane Snow, co-founder, Contently
  79. Whose voice (department, ethnic group, women, older workers, etc) might you have missed hearing from in your company, and how might you amplify this voice to create positive momentum for your business? –Jane Hyun and Audrey Lee, partners, Hyun & Associates
  80. In retrospect, of the projects that we pulled the plug on, what percent do we wish had been allowed to keep going, and what percent do we wish had ended earlier? –Ron Adner
  81. Do you, as a leader, bounce back quickly from setbacks? –Bob Rosen
  82. Who do we think the world wants us to be? –Geoffrey Moore, organizational theorist and management consultant
  83. How will we build a 100-year startup? –Phil Libin, CEO, Evernote
  84. What successful thing are we doing today that may be blinding us to new growth opportunities? –Scott D. Anthony, managing partner, Innosight
  85. If you could go back in time five years, what decision would you make differently?  What is your best guess as to what decision you’re making today you might regret five years from now? –Patrick Lencioni
  86. What stupid rule would we most like to kill? –Lisa Bodell, CEO, FutureThink
  87. What potential megatrends could make our business model obsolete? –Michael A. Cusumano, professor, MIT
  88. What information is critical to our organization that our executives are ignoring? –Max Bazerman, professor, Harvard Business School
  89. What have we done to protect our business from competitive encroachment? –Tom Stemberg, managing general partner, Highland Venture Capital
  90. If you had to rebuild your organization without any traditional competitive advantages (i.e., no killer a technology, promising research, innovative product/service delivery model, etc.), how would your people have to approach their work and collaborate together in order to create the necessary conditions for success?” –Jesse Sostrin, founder, Sostrin Consulting
  91. What are the rules and assumptions my industry operates under? What if the opposite were true?Phil McKinney, innovation expert
  92. Do the decisions we make today help people and the planet tomorrow? –Kevin Cleary, president, Clif Bar
  93. What is your theory of human motivation, and how does your compensation plan fit with that view? –Dan Ariely, professor, Duke University
  94. How do you encourage people to take control and responsibility? –Dan Ariely
  95. Who do we want out customers to become? –Michael Schrage, professor, MIT
  96. How do I stay inspired? –Paul Bennett, chief creative officer, IDEO
  97. Do I know what I’m doing? And who do I call if I don’t? –Erin Pooley, business journalist
  98. Do they use it? –Howard Tullman, CEO, 1871
  99. What is our question? –Dev Patnaik, CEO, Jump Associates

The Final Question is most important at all times. How is business? Why? –Thomas A. Stewart, executive director, National Center for the Middle Market. Continually asking yourself theses questions and finding solutions to said questions will make for your companies’ best chance for success.

Related: Behaviors of Successful People

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Photo Credit: RealTrends.com

CMG Business Group…. Propelling Industry to New Heights!

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30 Useful Tools for Efficient Management of Your Ecommerce Startup

 

Ecommerce startups face many challenges while managing their business operations. They have to work with a limited number of personnel and a limited budget. They face difficulty in convincing people to buy their products. These businesses have to compete unfavourably against their better placed and more resourceful competitors. Shipping costs, taxation, invoicing, inventory management and effective customer support are some of their prime concerns, though there can be many other issues to deal with.

But they can still pull off things if they use the right tools. These will enable them to efficiently manage their operations, processes and activities and be on top of them. So the going will be much smoother for them.

Listed below are 30 useful tools in their respective categories that can help ecommerce startups perform better:

Click on the images to go to the product’s web page.

Related: The Decline of American Entrepreneurism

Online E-commerce Store Builder

Shopify

Startups can easily, quickly set up their online store with this ecommerce website solution. Its apps help to improve their stores’ functionality.

Magento

Magento ecommerce platform enables large and fast growing businesses to flexibly manage their content. They can enhance the looks, functionality of their ecommerce store.

WooCommerce

This WordPress ecommerce plugin allows businesses to sell a variety of products online. They are able to set up their own online store. Businesses can better handle their inventory, shipping, marketing and taxation functions.

Related: Seven Secrets of Self-Made Millionaires

Online Project Management Software

ProofHub

A simple project management tool which enables enhanced planning, organization, collaboration and management in projects.

LiquidPlanner

With this project management software, proper scheduling of tasks can be achieved by collecting, analyzing their realistic time estimates for completion. Collaboration, time tracking and reporting are its notable features.

Podio

This project management tool improves collaboration, communication among team members working together in projects. They can create their own workspaces through apps, share files and properly manage their tasks.

Related: Productivity Tools You Need In Your Toolbox

Video Hosting Website

YouTube

Businesses can use Youtube, the most popular video hosting website for disseminating content among users. They can highlighting their brands, products by uploading and sharing videos.

Vimeo

Vimeo is the best video hosting website for putting up professional, high quality videos. Its videos are larger, cleaner and free of any ads. It improves users’ viewing experience.

Wistia

Businesses can better market themselves by sharing their videos on this video hosting site. Thus they can improve viewers’ engagement and responsiveness. Businesses can accurately measure the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns.

Related: Make The Entrepreneurial Difference

Accounting and Billing Management Software

FreshBooks

Accounting can be done easily with Freshbooks, a time tracking and billing software. It is useful for creating invoices fast, flexible billing, time tracking and expense monitoring.

QuickBooks

QuickBooks organizes all the business and financial information at one place. So businesses can make better decisions. They can track expenses, sales and perform invoicing, billing and bookkeeping.

Xero

This online accounting software lets businesses create invoices and schedule payment of their bills. It facilitates team collaboration over finances.

Related: Words To Get Your Customer’s Attention NOW!

Email Marketing Software

MailChimp

With this email marketing software, businesses can uniquely design their emails and send them as scheduled to their subscribers in their marketing campaigns. They can track their sales and website activity through reports.

Aweber

Aweber enables businesses to quickly send email newsletters to subscribers for marketing purposes. Analytics help to analyze subscribers’ response and success of marketing campaigns.

Campaign Monitor

CampaignMonitor grants businesses the ability to design beautiful emails in a flexible, rapid manner and well execute their email marketing campaigns.

Related: The Art of the Pitch

Social Media Management Software

Hootsuite

Businesses can appropriately manage their social networks with HootSuite. They can schedule messages and monitor audience engagement. Success in a business’s social media efforts can be measured through analytics, so these can be improved further.

TweetDeck

TweetDeck, a robust Twitter tool enables improved organization, engagement and real time tracking. It helps to monitor multiple timelines, schedule tweets for future posting and filter searches.

Buffer

Buffer allows businesses to post content on social media in an easy and scheduled manner. This reduces time spent on social media, boosts site traffic and improves user engagement.

Related: 10 Small Businesses You Can Start Today With Little To No Money

Customer Relationship Management Software

Salesforce

With Salesforce, businesses can better manage their sales, marketing and customer service related concerns. They can know more about their customers, their behaviors and analyze them minutely. So they can better serve their clients and customers.

Base CRM

This enterprising solution enables businesses to better manage their sales, customers and track their leads. Reports help them to find any inconsistencies in their sales team’s workflow and rectify them for increased gains.

Highrise

Businesses can flexibly manage their contacts with Highrise. They can track conversations held with various people and categorize contacts into different groups.

Related: How to Start a Consulting Business

Bug and Issue Tracking Software

Bugzilla

With Bugzilla, developers can track bugs and resolve them through team collaboration. It improves organization, communication in software development projects, so these can be successfully executed.

Exceptional

Exceptional, a bug tracking software is useful for issue tracking, error handling and exceptional handling. So these anomalies can be fixed quickly.

Bugify

Bugify helps to track issues and manage them in a simple manner.

Related: Behaviors of Successful People

Web Analytics

Google Analytics

A business can use Google Analytics for tracking its marketing campaigns and measure their effectiveness. It can know from which sources traffic is coming to its site and how users are interacting on the site. This helps it to further improve its marketing strategy and campaigns.

KISSmetrics

KISSmetrics collects real data about website visitors and prospects. So businesses can identify bottlenecks in their marketing campaigns and correct them accordingly for improved conversion rates.

Clicky

Clicky gives real time data about website visitors. This enables a business to properly study visitors coming to its site and know how they are acting, responding to its goals. So it can fine tune its marketing campaigns for improved response.

Related: 100 Great Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Ask

A/B Testing Software

Optimizely

Optimizely allows businesses to flexibly test the changes they want to bring in their website and understand how users are responding to them. So they can know which changes to opt for improved engagement and conversions.

Visual Website Optimizer

With Visual Website Optimizer, businesses can create multiple variations of their website and know which of them are improving user engagement and responsiveness. Thus they can plan their marketing campaigns accordingly.

Unbounce

This tool enables businesses to quickly build, publish and test variations of a mobile responsive landing page. So it can be known which variation is able to hold users’ interest and improve the conversion rate.

These tools will enable businesses to function in a smooth, productive manner and grant them various benefits. So they can grow and develop more.

Related: Improve Business Profits and Make My Business More Profitable

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CMG Business Group…. Propelling Industry to New Heights!

 

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Improve Business Profits and Make My Business More Profitable

Improving business profits is often a challenging project. There are a lot of moving parts in most companies. To get them all working together and delivering a decent bottom line can be frustrating. It leaves entrepreneurs wrestling with the question: how can I make my business more profitable?

There’s an approach that consistently delivers solid results

It’s proven approach and it works very well. Most companies can start implementing it right away. It’s a step-by-step process that certainly does involve some work, but it’s work that almost anybody can do. One thing you should be aware of is that an interesting challenge will appear  – right out of the gate. Solving this problem involves looking at it from a different viewpoint.

What’s next is a short Irish Parable that shines a light on a more practical, more powerful perspective. It opens up the shortest route to a consistently profitable company.

Related: Hobby or Startup? Important When Filing Your Taxes

The Irish Parable

Not long ago over in Ireland three business-people arrived a couple of days early for a conference. They rented a car and set out for a day of sightseeing through the lush green countryside. As evening approached they became lost. They spotted a farmer up ahead on the road leaning on a fence and they stopped to ask him for directions.

“If you were going to Dublin from here, which way would you go?”

“Well”, the farmer replied, “if I was going to Dublin, I wouldn’t start from here!”

The three business-people didn’t like the farmer’s answer and they drove away, eventually becoming even more lost. As it started getting dark they spotted a country inn and pulled in. They asked if they could stay for the night. The desk clerk checked the guest register and replied that he only had one room left. The business-people then asked if they could pay with American money. The clerk looked up the conversion rate and told them it was $30.00. They each pulled out a $10.00 bill, paid the clerk, and they headed up to the room.

A while later the desk clerk realized that he’d made a mistake with the conversion. The room should have only cost $25.00. He called over the bellboy and gave him five one dollar bills to take up to the tourists’ room.

Related: Marketing Tools Entrepreneurs Should Keep Handy

The tourists realized that they couldn’t divide the five dollars equally by three so they each took a $1.00 bill and tipped the bellboy $2.00.

Now each of the three guests has paid $9.00 and three times nine equals $27.00.

The bellboy has $2.00. His $2.00 plus the tourist’s $27.00 equals $29.00, not the $30.00 they initially paid.

Where did the other dollar go?

If you’re puzzled by this riddle you’re not alone, it stumps a lot of people. Although interestingly enough, once you see the solution it will never fool you again. Don’t worry, the answer to the vanishing dollar riddle is coming up. Keep reading and you’ll find it soon enough.

A lot of business-people find themselves in strangely similar circumstances. They work hard, they grow their business, but their profits keep vanishing and there’s just not as much money in the bank account as there should be for all the effort they’re putting in. On one level this seems like it should be easy to solve, but on another level there’s concern that you may never figure it out.

The solution comes to light when you look at the riddle from a different perspective. The front desk has twenty five dollars, the bellboy has two, and the three business-people have one each. That makes thirty. There never was a vanishing dollar. It just appeared that way because a rule of mathematics was broken in the telling of the story. The solution comes from using a different approach. When you forget multiplication and focus on addition the riddle solves itself.

Related: 10 Small Businesses to Start With Little To No Money

Back to: How Can I Make my Business More Profitable?

It pays big dividends to revisit the title: how can I improve business profits and make my business more profitable? Let’s look at the challenge from a fresh perspective. Take the farmer’s advice and start from a different place. Perhaps then we can see the solutions that have been eluding us.

This might seem counter-intuitive, but people don’t own businesses. What they actually own are companies that do business with markets. If customers can give you their business and take their business elsewhere then realistically how can you own it?

Long-term success in business comes from a clear focus on building a strong company. Many owners focus almost entirely on the business they are doing and that’s when their profits can vanish. This is more common than people expect. Many companies are doing a substantial amount of business without having reasonable profits to show for it. That’s when people quietly wonder: how can I make this business more profitable?

Here’s a good place to start. All companies should be designed and built to profitably deliver value to their target markets. When business-people start with this in mind or adopt this perspective then the challenge of achieving long-term success becomes much easier to tackle. If they simply go into business and keep their focus on doing business then the vanishing dollar riddle emerges to frustrate them. Their expected profits don’t materialize.

Related: Your Startup is up and running. What now?

The Five Key Elements of a Profitable Company

  • A clear focus on a solid business opportunity where there are enough customers willing to pay high enough prices so the company can operate profitably. This sounds obvious, but the ability to identify profitable business opportunities – even within markets – is a learned skill set. In almost every market there are companies making exceptional profits.
  • A marketing plan that effectively connects the company to the clients it’s designed to serve, and then continues on to build great relationships with them. A solid base of clients is one of the most valuable assets any company can have.
  • Solid Financial Information Systems that provide good feedback so the owner can make adjustments as required and monitor progress. If a company has been up and going for a while and is doing a fair amount of business and their profits are still vanishing it is highly likely that they have poor or very poor Financial Information Systems. Typically when owners have good information they naturally steer their companies towards success and avoid the vanishing profits.
  • A method for creating accountability and building responsibility in the employee leads to smooth operations and satisfied customers. Systems are always part of a strong company. Choosing a system to systemize is good place to start.
  • A plan for creating and sustaining the kind of momentum you want your company to have.

Related: Seven Secrets of Self-Made Millionaires

When all five elements are in place you will have a strong company and strong companies do good business. If the Irish farmer by the side of the road was a successful business-person he would tell you to start by strengthening your company and then chase growth later. That’s the unexpected answer to: how can I make my business more profitable?

Strengthening your company is a straightforward project when you have a proven road map to follow. 

 Business-people actually try to break the laws of mathematics.

A business-person’s ultimate objective is to make
1 + 2 + 3 = 123
 To make a business opportunity
+
invested resources
+
their time, effort, and knowledge
=
a strong company that profitably delivers value. 
A great company is worth more than the sum of the parts that created it.

 

Related: Make the Entrepreneurial Difference

Credit: John Cameron

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CMG Business Group…. Propelling Industry to New Heights!

 

#cmg #cmgbusinessgroup #business #commerce #smallbusiness #startup #resource #program #management #resource #trade #sales #retail #economy #logistic #advocacy #ecommerce #federal #local #municipal #contract #market #staffing #advertise #professional #sixsigma #iso #entrepreneur #green #initiative #negotiate #consult #strategic #sourcing #strategy #presentation