6 Tips to Help a Struggling Small Business Stay Afloat

It’s a fact that most new small businesses struggle. It’s part of the process. And though some don’t ultimately survive, those that can power through early problems can emerge strong (and profitable). Still, reaching that point is difficult, particularly in a rough business climate. However, there are certain steps you can take to keep you from feeling as though you’re drowning and to help keep your business financially healthy.

Tip 1: Set Yourself Apart

In a recent look at common struggles of small businesses, we talked about the problem of having too many competitors. There, we suggested that business owners use competition to inspire innovation. More simply, use this problem as motivation to figure out how to set yourself apart. In the early stages, that might come down more to messaging than actual business products or services. But the sooner you make your company appear distinct among its competitors, the faster you’ll gain customers.

Tip 2: Address Your Debts

The idea of tackling debts before seeking more gains is actually an investment principle many adhere to — whether or not they’re running businesses. The idea is that debt is usually a compounding burden, with interest mounting over time, and should thus be addressed as efficiently as possible. This is particularly important for a small business in which time is of the essence. While it’s not always as simple as deciding to pay off debts, small business owners should start prioritizing debts. The sooner they’re addressed, the sooner the business can be free to grow.

Tip 3: Take Reinvestment Seriously

When you’re running a small business, it’s important to consider the idea of reinvestment. This is basically the idea that it can be beneficial to take some of the company’s profits and invest them directly back into company needs.

Whether that means marketing efforts, a new employee, better technology, etc., it’s sometimes recommended that you reinvest half of what the company makes. It’s seen as a way of fostering fast growth, and it can also build the business up such that you have to do less on your own. In that sense, reinvestment can double as an investment in your own time as well.

Tip 4: Consider Personal Investment as Well

While there’s always some risk involved, you might also be able to expand your own funding by doing some light personal investing. However, you’ll want to do so carefully. If you’re looking to invest in the most traditional sense — in the stock market, for instance — it may be best to do so through alternative methods. Full-on trading is essentially a job, and it’s a lot for any small business owner to take on, particularly without the requisite expertise. However, there are other ways to grow funds in the market.

If you still want some say over your portfolio, CFD trading is an option to explore. This is a method that allows the trading of shares purely with regard to whether they’ll increase or decrease in value. So, rather than buying a share of stock and timing your sale correctly to maximize profits, you merely make a decision of whether you want to buy it (anticipating gains) or sell it. CFD trading also enables stop-loss orders, which can allow careful investors to automatically limit their losses. If this is still a little too hands-on, there are also more automated or hands-off trading options such as mutual funds or apps that will trade on your behalf.

Tip 5: Cut Costs Where You Can

Usually, a struggling small business will already have cut costs wherever possible. However, it never hurts to do another thorough, numbers-based assessment of where you stand. Is there something you paid for in helping to launch the business that you no longer need? Are you using a supplier you might be able to move away from in favor of a cheaper alternative? Is there anything you have the time and ability to take on your own that you’re currently paying someone else to do? These are all questions worth asking when you’re struggling to make the business work.

Tip 6: Employ Freelancers Where Possible

This is not a suggestion that your small business should be staffed entirely by freelancers. You’ll need some employees to build a sustainable operation. However, where possible, you might want to look into freelance contributions. In-depth analyses have shown that freelancers cost less money, and these days — with so many people unemployed and/or looking to work remotely — they’re theoretically more available than ever. So, for the odd job here or there or for regular contributions that don’t necessarily demand full-time employment, you might want to explore the freelance market.

There are ultimately no guarantees for a struggling small business. Each company’s strategy should be distinct, and a little bit of luck comes into the picture as well. With these tips though, you might hope to keep the business afloat — in a challenging climate or when future struggles arise.

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/6 Tips to Help a Struggling Small Business Stay Afloat/
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How to Write an Effective Email the First Time Around

What does the perfect business email look like? For some go-getters, it might be the 21st century of War and Peace: it’s long, it leaves no stone unturned, and it contains enough detail that anyone who reads it will be impressed by your work ethic and flowery language.

This is wrong.

A good email is less art than it is science. It’s a means to an end, with a clear objective: get someone else to understand something that you already understand. Whether that means a project just finished or you have a new proposal, a well-crafted email should be clear, efficient, and engaging—without demanding too much from the reader.

We spend some 1/3rd of our office time checking and managing our email. It only makes sense to get it right.

Here’s how to construct one without constantly editing yourself:

The Basic Rules of Email

Before you optimize the efficiency of every email you send, let’s get rid of some of the simple mistakes that are only making your written communication worse.

First, double-check that you’re sending it to the right people. In one famous mistake, Aviva Investors sent an email meant to fire one person…to a list of 1,300 people.

Before you hit “Reply All,” take a few seconds to consider what “All” includes. Here’s an example of a faux pas you can avoid if you were to double-check the email recipients every time:

“OK, so I was online dating a lot,” Shirley Goldberg remembered. After each date, she liked to send a summary to her girlfriend. “On the day I hit ‘Reply to All,’ I had four emails open, one of them directed to the entire staff of my school. Somehow I got the emails mixed up.”

This can be even more damaging in the professional environment. That’s why you should aim to keep each email as professional as possible. After all, email still counts as written communication. If you don’t want yourself on record as having said something, don’t email it. In company-wide email threads, it’s possible that even if you don’t send the email to the wrong person, what you wrote can still end up in someone else’s text.

Unsure if your writing is grammatically correct? Consider adding an app like Grammarly to your browser if you’re using web-based email.

Focus on Clarity

The ancient Roman rhetorician Quintilian once said:

We should not speak so that it is possible for the audience to understand us, but so that it is impossible for them to misunderstand us.

Before you do anything else, make sure that your email is clear. That usually means the shorter it is, the better—there will be fewer opportunities for misinterpretation in a 100-word email than a 1,000-word email.

  • Write short sentences. Turn to HemingwayApp for help here. It will point out where you’re over-stuffing your sentences and making too many demands on the reader.
  • Use active voice rather than passive. “I finished the project” is clearer than “the project was finished by me.” It’s also more efficient. 
  • Organize your email paragraphs by topic. Similar to the way you’d structure a high school essay, keep your organization simple: one topic per paragraph.
  • Don’t “bury the lead.” Burying the lead happens when you hide an important nugget of information somewhere within the content. This leads to less emphasis on the important point. If you’ve ever wondered how you can write someone an email and they forgot about its most important message, it sometimes comes from buying the lead.
  • Read before sending. If you keep the email simple, you won’t have a problem reviewing it quickly before sending off. Don’t make more work for the recipient by asking them to read your mind. Make sure the email, as Quintilian recommends, is “impossible to misunderstand” from the outset.

Don’t Waste Time

You’ll enhance clarity when you stick to this rule: don’t waste time.

If you’re sending an email proposal to someone you don’t know, there’s a temptation to spend two paragraphs apologizing or explaining yourself. Don’t! Just include a brief sentence that mentions how you found their email and move on. If their time is valuable, thank them for sparing some. Then proceed to stop wasting it.

One brief sentence at the top of an email is usually enough to let someone know that you’re aware when an email might be out of the blue, or coming in some sort of strange context. If you’re networking, include a sentence that describes a mutual contact, for example. While you should focus on clarity, you’ll still want to display some social acuity when you’re emailing someone new for the first time.

When Scripts are Available (and Make Sense), Use Scripts

If you’re sick of staring at a blinking cursor and want to make some progress, you can always lean on email scripts to get you started.

The key here isn’t to copy and paste everything you write, but to remember the human touch. But once you’ve determined that you’ll do that, you can use some email scripts as reference points:

Practice Makes Perfect

You might not write perfectly effective emails every time. But as you get used to the work environment and routinely send out similar emails, you’ll get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. Pay attention to the questions people tend to ask in their replies and you’ll soon learn that you can answer them ahead of time. Over time, you’ll settle on a natural rhythm to your emails to help you avoid long email chains, back-and-forth question sessions, and even the occasional faux pas.

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/How to Write an Effective Email the First Time Around/
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Five Mistakes That Make Customers Hang Up

When a customer hangs up on you mid-conversation, it’s easy to tell what you did wrong. In fact, they probably spent the previous five minutes telling you exactly what their issue was.

But when customers hang up on your phone system before you even get to speak with them, that’s another problem.

According to some statistics, about 80% of callers will hang up on a phone system if they don’t feel like their call is going straight to voicemail. That means that you’re already missing out on most important customer calls by not having a robust, organic phone system in place.

How can you turn it around? Make sure that when you set up your business’s phone system, you avoid these other key mistakes that make customers want to hang up:

Mistake #1: Putting Them in the Driver’s Seat

It sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t any self-respecting customer want to be in the driver’s seat in an interaction with a company?

Yes and no. If you give your customer too much power—or give them too many choices—you run into the problem known as Paradox of Choice, first popularized by an author named Barry Schwartz.

In one study, shoppers were exposed to an astonishing variety of gourmet jam: 24 whole choices, with samples to boot. On another day, the available jams were limited to six.

Researchers found that while more choices attracted more initial attention, fewer choices meant that customers were ten times as likely to make a choice from the jams and bring it to purchase.

What does this have to do with your phone system? Simple: don’t give them too many choices. Give them options, sure—they need to navigate your business as well as possible. But keep the choices limited. Don’t let customers grow frustrated with your never-ending web of call forwarding.

We’ve all been in the situation of being the customer who loses all patience with a phone system and shouts into the phone, “just get me a human!” Don’t make your customers do that.

Mistake #2: Creating a Fancy, Elaborate Script

If a customer calls you on the phone, it’s important to give them a sense that you’re a real person—or at least a real company.

The problem is that some companies believe that to come across “real,” they need to simulate the feeling of authenticity by creating a script. Then they lose sight of why they created a script in the first place and simply want to create the most flowery, over-the-top script possible.

Avoid this instinct. When SoftwareAdvice.com ran a study, they found that customers had a strong negative impression of calls when they thought agents were reading from scripts. If a customer perceived a call as unscripted, their perception of the call improved 78% of the time.

If you’re building a voicemail system for directing phone calls, you will have to use automated messages to guide your customer. The way to avoid the negative-script effect is to keep things simple and professional. Get the essential information to the customer and let them move on.

Mistake #3: Weaving a Tangled Web of Call Forwarding

If you’ve ever been on a long phone call with a company, you know that it can feel like a temporary boost when you’re forwarded to the appropriate expert. That’s all well and good, but when your phone call gets passed on and on again, you start to feel like the entire effort is futile.

The same effect occurs when you create an overly complicated phone structure for answering customer phone calls. Yes, it’s important that you get the customer to the person who can solve their problem or answer their question. But if it takes too many steps to get there, customers won’t care about your good intentions. They’ll just care that they couldn’t get through.

Mistake #4: An Unprofessional Voicemail Greeting

If you have clients or customers call your personal number, it can be a bit disorienting to hear a casual and obviously personal voicemail greeting on the other end.

Even if you work out of a home office, it’s important that your phone system—or even something as simple as your voicemail greeting—displays that you have a professional business presence. Heed a few of the tips that we’ve provided in our post on voicemail greetings and make sure to:

  • Limit background noise. Hearing family members in the background is an obvious no-no. But even hearing general office sounds can have a negative effect on the quality of your voicemail greeting.
  • Smile as you record. You’d be surprised at the effect a smile can have on the tone of your voice. You want to be positive, upbeat, and professional—and sometimes, there’s no way to fake that except to smile.

Mistake #5: Too Little Information

If you’re convinced about the paradox of choice and you want to avoid an overly-elaborate script, it’s tempting to go too far in the other direction and record a Laconic voice greeting like “Hi. Leave a message at the tone.”

There’s nothing wrong with simple. But if you want your customers to stay engaged with your phone system, there’s no harm in infusing a little personality into their interactions with your automated responses. Just as long as these hints of your personality don’t get in the way of a customer perceiving you as a competent professional, they’ll likely stay on the line.

Give Your Customer a Reason to Stick Around

Just as you work hard to earn sales through marketing, analytics, and good, old-fashioned quality business practices, you don’t want the hard work to go to waste once a customer gets a hold of your phone number. Avoid these mistakes and create a simple, intuitive voicemail system that customers will understand and even enjoy. The better it is, the more likely it is you’ll retain those customers who would have otherwise given up. When it comes to your phone system and your customers, every second counts.

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/Five Mistakes That Make Customers Hang Up/
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5 Common Struggles of a Small Business Owner

Launching a business is hard, and sustaining one is even harder. As a business owner, it is very likely that you will find yourself in situations wherein you are left with no choice but to take on more than you can handle. A good example of this is the global pandemic we are all facing at the moment. To ensure that you and your business are able to stand up to challenging situations, you have to familiarize yourself with some of the typical problems small business owners face and adequately prepare for them. That being said, here are five of the most common struggles that small business owners experience:

Feeling anxious about the future

Even before the circumstances changed due to the ongoing pandemic we are all facing, lots of business owners struggled with anxiety when thinking about the future of their companies. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, 49% of entrepreneurs suffer from at least one form of mental health condition during their lifetime. To cope with the anxiety linked to the uncertainty of what the future holds for your business, it would be a good idea to set aside some time for mindful reflection and to read biographies from successful entrepreneurs to stave off the feeling of “being alone” in the midst of your struggle.

Struggling with huge changes

As explained in our previous post on ‘How to Effortlessly Connect a Team of Remote Workers’, the current situation has driven companies, big and small, to encourage their employees to work from home. This sudden change places small businesses – especially those who never experienced having remote workers before and hence haven’t instituted the right infrastructure that supports these kinds of workers – in a tight spot. To soften the blow, The Balance suggests conducting SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis frequently to help identify which areas require some improvements and a little more attention. It’s also a good idea to adopt a forward-thinking attitude and to keep a positive mindset.

Having trouble with hiring

In a recent report by Wasp Barcode Technologies, 50% of the surveyed small business owners admitted that the biggest challenge they face is hiring the right employees. Recruiting new talent has never been an easy task, even for big enterprises, but small businesses struggle more because they have limited funds and resources. A good way to address this issue is by aiming for new graduates who have a lot of potential but do not (yet) have the experience to command a large salary. It’s also advisable to provide lots of non-financial benefits that are proven to be more persuasive when it comes to hiring employees such as healthcare, flexible working options, mentoring programs and time off.

Having difficulty with cash flow

Due to the lack of available funds, the majority of small businesses tend to struggle to make payments on time. According to a recent survey on Forbes, 66% of business owners claim that delays in payment processing causes major issues with cash flow. To combat cash flow problems, many small businesses turn to loans for aid, even going down the route of personal loans when things get really bad. Marcus explains how personal loans come with a fixed payment schedule so that borrowers are fully aware of how much they need to repay. It can also be used to pay off credit card debt, finance structural improvements, cover costs associated with moving and even handle vacation costs. Aside from applying for a loan, cash flow problems can also be mitigated by expanding your payment options and by having a proper budget plan.

Having too many competitors

One of the toughest things small business owners face is getting ahead of the competition. To withstand the problem of having too many competitors, Business 2 Community discusses how it’s essential for small business owners to use competition to stimulate innovation. Innovate and be inspired to provide products and services that are better than that of your competitors. Examine your competitors – know the strategies they’ve employed before, and try to determine and understand the ones that worked for them. By doing this, it will help you steer away mistakes, thus saving you a significant amount of time, money and energy.

Entrepreneurs are known for their determination, tenacity and grit. However, before they become the very figures we all look up to, they had to go through different struggles at the beginning of their career. To come out successful, you have to power through every challenge and learn from them.

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/5 Common Struggles of a Small Business Owner/
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How to Build a Remote Customer Support Team for a Seamless Customer Experience

Did you know that 86% of consumers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience (CX)?

Also, 49% of buyers have made purchases after receiving a personalized experience and over two-thirds of businesses now compete primarily on customer experience.

Your support team is the primary (and often the only) customer touchpoint. Therefore, it’s important to build a customer care department that can deliver a seamless CX.

Meanwhile, it has become more cost-efficient for companies to leverage a remote workforce for customer support. They can take advantage of the reduced overhead cost, access a larger candidate pool, and provide round-the-clock support to customers in different time zones at no additional cost.

However, running a remote customer support team isn’t without its challenges – especially if you want to deliver a top-notch and personalized experience to every customer.

Some common hurdles include:

  • Ensuring timely communication and information sharing so every team member is on the same page.
  • Tracking work and monitoring results to help employees stay focused and productive.
  • Making sure that team members can deliver an on-brand and consistent customer experience.
  • Enabling team members to work autonomously, especially if their supervisors are in a different time zone.
  • Implementing endpoint security to protect your customer data.

Here’s how you can overcome these challenges and build a remote customer support team to deliver a seamless customer experience:

Hire Team Members With a Customer-Centric Mindset

The interaction between support team members and your customers will define the quality of the customer experience. Hiring the right people is key to delivering an outstanding contact center experience and here are some important traits to look for:

  • Basic soft skills such as patience, empathy, attentiveness, communication skills, positivity, and the ability to “read” the customers.
  • Technical knowledge about your product and general understanding of your industry.
  • Self-management and time-management skills, as well as self-motivation to complete tasks on time.
  • The drive to act proactively and make decisions autonomously.
  • Collaboration skills and a track record of working in virtual teams.
  • The ability to thrive under a low-touch and flexible management style.
  • A customer-centric mindset that drives them to think outside of the box and prioritize the delivery of an outstanding customer experience.

Use Cloud-Based Communication and Collaboration Tools

Cloud-based software applications, such as project management, communication, and file-sharing platforms, allow team members to collaborate cost-efficiently from anywhere with an internet connection.

Meanwhile, a unified communications (UC) platform and contact center software enable your team to communicate with customers via multiple channels (e.g., phone, email, chat, social media.) You can have all the interactions synched up in a centralized location to ensure a seamless support experience.

Many of these platforms integrate well with each other so supervisors can manage progress at a glance on a unified dashboard. Also, they allow employees from different time zones to catch up with all the communications when they start their shifts to minimize errors and delays when they interact with customers.

Set Up a Centralized and Searchable Knowledge Base

Customers expect your support team to help them resolve issues quickly. In fact, 99% of consumers say that interacting with knowledgeable reps is an essential part of a great CX while the first contact resolution rate is a key indicator of customer satisfaction.

However, a remote customer support team member can’t simply walk over to the next desk and ask for help when she encounters a question for which she doesn’t have an answer. Therefore, you need to provide the resources your agents need to resolve customer queries independently.

To do so, set up an online searchable knowledge base (e.g., a private wiki) on which your team can access the latest information about your products. Such information should include detailed step-by-step instructions, troubleshooting procedures, and links to how-to videos that agents can share with customers.

Your team should also have the ability to update the information, ask questions, and add answers on an ongoing basis. This will create a supportive culture, increase employee engagement, and ensure that the knowledge base is current and relevant.

Implement a Customer Service Software Application

A customer service platform enables you to manage customer interactions across all touchpoints in a centralized location so any team member can pick up where the conversations have left off to deliver a seamless customer experience.

Some key features to look for in customer service software include omnichannel communication capabilities, ticketing system, live chat support, customer self-service portal, customer sentiment analysis, and survey tool.

These platforms also allow supervisors to see all customer interactions and metrics on a unified dashboard so they don’t have to micro-manage team members.

For example, managers can see the number of calls taken, the number of issues resolved, hours worked, high-priority issues, and tasks assigned to each team member to ensure that every agent is staying productive and delivering a high-quality customer experience.

Implement a Comprehensive Onboarding Process

A thorough and well-orchestrated onboarding process is particularly important for getting remote employees up to speed since they may not have immediate access to their colleagues or supervisors due to time zone differences and have to make decisions independently.

In order to deliver a seamless customer experience, your reps need to understand internal processes, communication protocols, and other operational procedures so they can resolve issues appropriately or route inquiries to the right departments.

Your team also needs to be trained on how to use all the communication and customer service applications effectively so they can optimize the tools they have at their disposal and ensure the effective functioning of the team.

In addition, since team members need to connect to your systems and access customer information using their own network and equipment, it’s important to ensure the security of the connections and the privacy of their networks.

Data breaches aren’t only costly but will also impact customer experience and erode trust. It’s therefore important to provide the necessary support and training to team members from day one to make sure your network is secure and your customer data is safe.

Educate Your Team About Your Customers

Your team requires an in-depth understanding of your ideal customers in order to deliver the most relevant CX, meet customer expectations, make product recommendations, and resolve product-related issues.

Create customer avatars/buyer personas and share them with your support team. Educate your agents about your audience, such as demographic information, their expectations, what they want from your products, as well as their preferences and values so your team can build rapport with your customers and anticipate their needs.

Also, enable your support team to deliver an on-brand customer experience by educating them about your company’s vision and values. When you build a team culture based on your brand identity, you can empower your agents to proactively take initiatives to surprise and delight your customers with an outstanding CX.

Final Thoughts

Delivering seamless customer experience is the key to acquiring and retaining more customers so you can increase sales and boost your bottom line.

Not to mention, hiring the right customer service agents and providing them with the appropriate tools can improve employee satisfaction and retention. These long-term employees often possess the much-needed institutional knowledge, insights about your audience, and enthusiasm about your brand that will turn any customer interaction into an outstanding experience.

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/How to Build a Remote Customer Support Team for a Seamless Customer Experience/
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Choosing a Credit Card Processor for Your Business

Whether you’re the owner of a brick-and-mortar storefront, you’re strictly an online merchant, or you run your business from a food truck, you want to ensure that customers can pay conveniently and that you understand exactly what it costs your business to make that happen.

 

With the arrival of innovative payment options like digital wallets, businesses of every size have had to transition away from accepting cash-only to choosing merchant account services and mobile payment processors that can keep up with the newer demands of potential customers.

Understanding merchant accounts and credit card processors

 

If your business will accept credit and debit card payments, that money needs a place to go, and that’s where credit card merchant accounts factor into your business plan.

 

A merchant account is a bank account that receives money collected from debit and credit card transactions. After each card transaction, the resulting payment gets transferred to the account, and from there the money can be funneled into a standard business account.

 

If your company takes both online and in-store transactions, the merchant account for card-present transactions may be different than the one you use for online purchases, but basically every modern business needs at least one merchant account to do business in the modern era. Once you have an account, you then have to think about how your customer will be interacting with your business. This will determine what sort of credit card processing solution can best facilitate those transactions.

 

If your customers come to you and most of your transactions happen inside your physical location at a traditional point of sale, your needs will vary from those of a business that’s physically mobile and brings the business directly to the customer. Likewise, if most of your transactions take place without being face-to-face with your customer, this will affect what type of credit card processor you’ll want to use. Luckily, there are several credit card processing methods to choose from to ensure your business is prepared for your customers’ payment preferences.

Selecting the processor that’s right for you

If your business is a traditional physical storefront, the most commonly used processor is a retail merchant account. This allows your customers’ credit and debit cards to be swiped (or inserted or tapped) through payment terminals at your store.

 

It’s becoming less common to see businesses that don’t also have an online component for handling transactions. To process payments online, you need an internet merchant account. You can then process both credit and debit card payments through your website.

 

In lieu of traditional point-of sale systems used with most cash registers, you can also set up your business to use smartphones and tablets as payment terminals. In these cases, you’d need mobile credit processors to allow your business to accept payments anywhere you have a WiFi or data connection. Nearly any type of business or individual can use this sales processing method, from artists selling paintings at local art fairs, to local coffee shops and beyond.

 

One payment processor type that’s less often used these days, but can still cater to a specific type of transaction, is mail or telephone order merchant accounts (MOTO). These accounts let you process payments by phone or direct mail as the name suggests, and may be necessary for some businesses.

 

There are other considerations, too. For one, if necessary, make sure the processor you’re considering supports multiple merchant account types. If you already have a point-of-sale system or website merchant page set up, make sure any processors you’re looking to work with in the future are compatible with your current setup.

Facing the Fees

 

You may think that you can credit and debit cards at your business along to your customers. This is mostly true, but be wary of adjusting your prices to accommodate this, especially if your business is in a highly competitive space where a rise in prices could put a competitor into a more appealing position in the eyes of the customer. Most merchants choose to eat interchange fees as an expected cost of doing business.

Since costs are arguably the most important factor when choosing a credit card processor, become familiar with the types of fees you can face.

 

One-Time Fees

Initial costs, like equipment installation and application fees are common one-time fees associated with credit card processors.

 

Transaction Fees

When using a credit card processor for card payments, you’ll be charged an “interchange” fee for every transaction made with a debit or credit card. These fees usually fall between 1.5%–4% of the total purchase amount. For smaller businesses where low-volume and low-cost purchases are commonplace, this can be a major hurdle when trying to remain competitive with bigger chains.

 

Several factors, including the type of card used and how the transaction takes place, can affect these fees. For instance, with less risk of credit card fraud with in-person transactions, in-store payments could cost you less than online or phone payments. There are no additional fees to use EMV chip cards at your business, but it does cost money to equip your business with EMV technology, which is basically mandatory in modern times.

 

Monthly Charges

Look out for small monthly fees, including costs for mailed monthly statements, or rental charges for the processing terminals themselves, generally around $20 to $100 a month. Some processors may charge a fee for early contract cancellation. Plus, most processors will have minimum requirements for the fees they collect every month, and if your business is shy of this minimum amount, you can be charged the difference.

 

Additional Charges

Another cost to be mindful of is the price of leased equipment, which you’d be responsible for even if you were looking to sell your business, or worse, if you were forced to close shop. Other ancillary costs to keep in mind are modern payment amenities like mobile readers to plug into devices you’re planning to use for your transactions.

 

Be sure to ask all the relevant questions pertaining to what charges you’ll have to plan for when finding a processor since every business has their own considerations.

 

The reason merchants may opt to charge customers more for using their credit cards is because they have to pay fees to accept credit card transactions.

Wrapping up

Ultimately, you know your own business the best, and therefore, the most rock-solid thing you can do when choosing a credit card processor is make the most informed decision you can that will accommodate you.

 

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/Choosing a Credit Card Processor For Your Business/
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How to Effortlessly Connect a Team of Remote Workers

Today’s world is growing increasingly remote, which means that if your office can’t handle a remote worker, it may already be out of date. And with the rise and spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19), individuals and companies around the world are rapidly beginning to question the way they conduct their business — especially during an outbreak. And this doesn’t just pertain to large businesses. Even small companies of just a few people need to be set up for success or risk major disruptions in productivity.

 Consider:

  • More people are working remotely. According to an Economist Intelligence Unit study, only 28% of those surveyed hadn’t worked remotely in the previous 12 months — meaning 72% had.
  • The technology is here. Video conferencing, Slack integration, remote diagnostics, file transfers—most of the tools you are already using are cloud based, meaning you can do them from anywhere. There’s no reason to hesitate anymore.
  • More people are going to want to work remotely. Even if some of the population hasn’t worked remotely yet, the work-at-home crowd continues to build momentum, increasing some 140% since 2005. And by 2025, about 75% of the global workforce will be millennials—a group that will come to expect more remote working opportunities in the future. While issues like the Coronavirus may be accelerating the remote working trend, it’s a trend that we believe is here to stay.

Why does this matter? With increased expectations of remote work availability, modern digital offices have to be able to facilitate today’s employee needs — especially as they pertain to health. Many companies that never believed their office required remote working options are now second guessing this belief. And not only because of the spread of disease, but to allow workers flexibility and the ability to compete for top talent.

Even if you don’t currently have a structure in place, here are some tips to help you build a remote team for the first time:

Step One: Build a Common Culture

The technology is easier than you think — especially with companies like LogMeIn who offer a full range of remote tools. It’s the company culture that can sometimes get in your way.

That means that your human resources team needs to be on board with a remote working policy that makes sense for remote workers as well as your company. Here’s what you’ll need to think about to build a culture that includes remote working:

  • Develop a policy for working from home. This should be a written policy to which any employee can refer. For example, you should have a policy for working from home on non-sick days for employees that request it. The key is to put something in writing, even if you still wish to maintain a flexible arrangement with most employees.
  • Create a basic flow for meetings with remote workers. If you have remote workers that never come in to the office, you’ll need to check in with them every so often. You may want to put in the structure—backed up by regular reminders with your project management software of choice—to make sure these employees never feel out of the loop.
  • Set goals for each remote meeting. Remote working won’t always be done via meetings, but you’ll accomplish a lot more with remote work if you can keep meetings concise. Take the “controlled burn” approach from NASA: each meeting should have a precise aim and a limited duration. And after the controlled burn, you should be able to let workers manage much of their own work for a while.

Step Two: Integrate the Technology for Better Remote Work

Many employers complain that remote work doesn’t have the same in-person connection of the office. That’s true. But with the right technology in place, you can simulate that feeling as much as possible.

The question isn’t whether the technology is here. It’s about what you should expect from your remote working technology. Here are a few features to consider as you weigh the options:

  • Easy logging in. The first step in the structure is to incorporate someone’s home computer with their work computer, especially for those who work part-time in a physical office. Can they log in with a simple browser entry and get to work as if they were at the office?
  • Workflow integration. If you already use a service like Slack, you’ll want to make sure that the technology you’re working with seamlessly integrates. Otherwise, you face the potential of back-and-forth emails as you try to figure out where every remote worker’s progress is regarding their latest project.

Step Three: Create Teamwork Even in the Absence of a Physical Team

It’s tempting to view a remote working operation as exclusively digital. But no matter how we work together, we’re all still flesh and blood. We want to feel like a part of something. When that’s accomplished, telecommuters can report lower stress levels.

But the benefits of telecommuting don’t outweigh the potential downsides if you don’t create a sense of teamwork or basic productivity. That means you’ll have to go beyond building a common culture and focus on what it takes to make people feel like a team.

The first step is creating a culture of reaching out. One study demonstrated that employees who had a chance to socialize for even as little as 15 minutes tended to have higher productivity than those who didn’t. In a remote work situation, that can be as simple as a phone call or a quick face-to-face chat.

The second step is to incorporate your team into major decisions. There’s not going to be much of a “team” if people don’t feel like they get a say. That means including them as you write your remote working policy, for example, or holding meetings about the best way to handle some projects going forward.

The third step is to create some things that employees can have in common and share with each other. That doesn’t have to be an employee newsletter. It can be something as simple as an email you share with a distributed team or a common set of guidelines to which they can all refer.

Changing Technology Means Changing Habits

So while updated technology is critical, you can’t introduce new technology without also helping employees change their current work habits. Pave the way for remote work by building a common culture and creating a policy for remote meetings and communication, integrating technologies commonly used, and creating teamwork in the absence of a physical team.

 

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/How to Effortlessly Connect a Team of Remote Workers/
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Important Tax Deadlines to Keep in Mind for 2020

It’s a new year, which means a lot of exciting things for your business. New chances. New resolutions. New goals. Opportunities to make this a defining year for your company.

But before you get ahead of yourself, it’s probably best that you remember that a new year means new tax deadlines, too.

Your Quarterly Estimated Taxes

For some people, the yearly tax return is the end-all, be-all of taxes. But for freelancers, the self employed, and other businesspeople, they’re used to the idea of filing quarterly estimated taxes. 2020 is going to be no different.

Paying your income tax by the quarter will start with finishing the previous tax season with the deadline for filing estimated taxes by January 15, 2020. Here are some of the other important dates you’re going to have to keep in mind for estimated taxes this year:

  • April 15th (same as the deadline for tax returns)—first quarter estimated taxes
  • June 15th—second quarter estimated taxes
  • September 15th—third quarter estimated taxes
  • January 15th, 2021—fourth quarter estimated taxes

January 31, 2020: Sending Out W-2s

When you’re a business who has to think about the taxes of its employees—not only its own taxes—it comes with specific responsibilities and deadlines. One of the most important: the end of January, when you’ll have to send out W-2s for any employees. Keep in mind that 1099 workers don’t fall under this category.

February 28, 2020: 1099 Reports

If you hired an individual contractor for your business activity in 2019 and paid them over the minimum amount, you’ll have to send in your 1099 reports—along with copies to the appropriate parties. This paperwork notifies the IRS about transactions, making sure that the people who collect income via 1099 are honest about their own income and that they pay all proper taxes.

You don’t have to make a tax payment at this time; this is simply a reporting filing that lets the IRS know if a transaction has taken place. For more information, see the IRS’s details on the 1099-MISC and 1099-NEC.

March 16, 2020: Specific Company Tax Dates

Partnerships and S Corporations, pay attention: this is the deadline for your tax returns. Partnerships using Form 1065 and S Corporations using Form 1102-S both have to use this same deadline, but there is a six month tax extension application available if you run too close to the deadline and aren’t sure you’ll be able to update it with completely accurate information without that extension.

April 15, 2020: Deadline for Filing Your Tax Return

Everyone knows April 15—unless that day falls on the weekend or a holiday—is going to be one of the most important days of the year. This is the ultimate deadline for your tax return, unless you filed an extension. And it’s also important to remember that this is the deadline for corporations to file their Form 1120.

In other words, you’re going to want most of your tax return finished well ahead of this deadline. In fact, it’s usually better that it’s finished weeks ahead, depending on the other deadlines and the paperwork you might be waiting on.

Keep in mind that you might be waiting on a tax refund for some time after this, so when you put together your financial calendar for the year, you won’t necessarily want to assume that you’re going to have your refund coming in by the tax filing due date.

There are also a few other deadlines here that are worth noting:

  • This is the last day to make a 2019 IRA contribution if you haven’t already funded your account fully in 2019.
  • Remember that your first quarter estimated tax payment is also due on this date.
  • This is also the deadline to fund your HAS for the previous tax year of 2019.

October 15, 2020: Extended Individual Tax Returns Due

If you filed an extension on the 2019 tax return, it needs to be mailed out by this due date. Make sure that it’s completed and fully finished well ahead of this date, as there are minimal deadlines immediately preceding this date on the tax calendar, which should give you plenty of time to have everything ready by the due date.

How to Make Sure You Hit Every Tax Deadline

It isn’t long after the end of the year that the need to take action on your upcoming taxes becomes apparent. Not only do you have to think about estimated taxes, but the filing deadline for filing your tax return is coming up faster than you might imagine. Now’s the time to track your expenses and file  the relevant reports for your 1099s, and then the tax return at the appropriate time, and before you know it, April 15th has already come and past.

The question is, how do you make sure you hit every deadline effortlessly? Are there any tax tips that will help?

There are a few options here.

You can utilize tax software that helps make the entire process easier. Turbo Tax, for example, makes it easy for you to file your tax return and enter in any and all relevant information that the IRS will want to gather. It also offers free filing if you mail the taxes in yourself.

You should also think about the tools you use to gather information throughout the year. You don’t want to scramble come March and find out that you did a horrible job of tracking expenses and income. Tools like QuickBooks and Freshbooks will help ensure that you have everything you need when it’s time to sit down with your accountant and get everything done.

It also helps to create a schedule that you can manage throughout the year. Don’t wait until April 1st to start gathering everything. The time to prepare your taxes is now—even if it’s just a small first step like trying out new tax software for the first time. That will help ensure you meet the tax deadlines, beat the tax deadlines, and get everything as accurately as possible.

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/Important Tax Deadlines to Keep in Mind for 2020/
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How to Build a Modern Digital Office Space That You Will Love

There was a time when a new worker required a desk, a computer, an expensive phone, and four walls. That time is gone. Whether you hire contracted freelancers or host remote workers at your company, today’s digital environment makes it possible to eschew the usual trappings of office life for a far more digital, remote experience. With the right structure in place, you don’t have to give up the collaboration or personal touch of a traditional office. Here are some of the tools that can help you build that office:

Cloud Storage and Office Management

It starts with your digital infrastructure. How will you store the key documents and files that you share with your co-workers and employees? How can you collaborate on these same documents to ensure that work gets done on time? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Google Drive and Google Docs. Whether comparing notes on content for your blog or building group projects for business presentations, you’ll have just about everything you need for remote word processing and more with free Google accounts. Google Calendar syncs neatly with plenty of apps these days so you can automatically schedule meetings and tasks without having to take on additional steps.
  • Dropbox. Many business owners today choose to supplement their cloud storage with at least one Dropbox account—just to have a backup. Dropbox’s free account currently offers enough storage for most people to handle the demands of a modern business, but there’s also a Dropbox Business account for more robust team needs.
  • Microsoft OneDrive. People who use PCs often find that OneDrive fits in neatly with the infrastructure they already have in place. OneDrive’s easy offline access features also make it possible to handle a variety of business needs even when the Internet’s down—though if you have remote workers, this isn’t usually a concern.
  • Use Zapier to automate your most common processes; for example, you can use new tasks on Trello to automatically create Google Calendar reminders for new project assignments.

Meetings and Online Conferencing

What defines a modern digital office is that it’s not limited to the four walls around your computer. But to keep tabs on a remote team, you’ll have to be able to check I from time to time. That means online meetings and conferencing:

  • GoToMeeting. GoToMeeting is one of the most popular solutions for handling remote workers, with some 18 million users per month across the globe. They offer easy screen sharing, high-quality video/audio, and great features like commuter mode, voice commands and cloud recording.
  • join.me. This easy-to-use meeting tool allows for one-click screen sharing, personalized URLs, and the everyday features you rely on such as audio, recording, scheduling and remote control.
  • Calendly is a nice tool for avoiding the game of email tag that usually happens when you’re trying to match schedules with someone else.

Phone Calls and Voicemail Systems

You no longer need a landline in the modern digital office. But that doesn’t mean a smartphone alone will suffice, either. We recommend that you split up your personal and business calls with a phone system that easily delineates between the two, giving you a separate business phone number.

Grasshopper’s solutions include a separate toll free number for your business, a voicemail system, multiple extensions, call forwarding, and even business texting through your usual phone.

Strategies for Remote Working

A modern digital “office” means you’re not always tethered to one specific location. As long as you have the software and infrastructure in place to handle it, you can simply use an Internet connection to get most of the work done. Zapier has highlighted a wide range of different home offices where many people can get by with a simple Internet connection and a laptop.

But just because it’s easy doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan effectively. Here are some tips for keeping work going while you’re handling business from the home or on the road:

  • Get off of paper as much as possible. Even if you have a business presence that requires a lot of paperwork, there are still some ways to reduce paper usage, including software that tracks printer usage and arranging for as many paperless statements as possible. It’s also a good idea to digitize essential documents to have electronic backups in the case of emergencies.
  • Set clear rules and guidelines for remote workers. If you hire a remote worker, make sure that you work with them early on in the process so they understand the expectations of a remote office. How much work will you expect them to do? What are your policies on sick days? Vacations? One rule of thumb is to keep your business running like a traditional business, even if many of your workers now handle their job from a remote location.
  • Find co-working spaces when you can. If you work in a digital office from home, you might find it beneficial to find co-working spaces when you can, such as working out of coffee shops with free WiFi or seeking out a co-working space in your area.
  • Use an “upside-down pyramid” schedule. In other words, start with the foundation of your work as soon as you can. Begin with the most important task of your day. If you work out of a mostly digital office, it’s possible for your work day to run into all sorts of non-office issues that can derail your productivity. That freedom can be a great thing. But it also means you’re responsible for getting things done without the traditional 9-5 structure. Get the most important work out of the way first to ensure that even if your day gets disrupted by mid-afternoon, you can still recover the next day.

Building a Flexible Digital Office

There is enough technology out there that you can handle most work with a laptop and an Internet connection. But if you want to maintain the standards and function of a larger office, it helps to supplement these basic tools with the infrastructure to maintain the appearance of a full corporate presence—without all the expense.

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/How to Build a Modern Digital Office Space That You Will Love/
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No More Lost Leads: How to Capture and Keep Potential Leads

How many leads did you lose last month?

Trick question. It’s hard to tell the opportunity cost when those leads never went your way to begin with.

But there is a type of lead that companies too often ignore: the potential leads that for some never became full-blown leads for your company. This can happen for a few reasons:

  • Leads might jump into an order form and fill up a “shopping cart” only to abandon the cart and close out the window.
  • Some leads may come to the cusp of signing up for a newsletter, only to decide at the last minute that they’d rather keep surfing the web.
  • Other leads might bookmark your lead page for later—only to never return.

In each case, you’re capturing potential leads, but for some reason or another you’re not keeping them as genuine leads for your business. Here’s a guide for rectifying that situation:

Evaluating Your Current Lead Strategy

The first step is to better understand what your current lead strategy is—and how well it might be working out for you. Here are a few tools to help in that process:

  • Use a tool like Website Grader to get a sense of how you’re currently doing with potential leads. This will yield you insights like your page size, page speed, and mobile responsiveness to ensure that you’re not turning away leads before they ever happen.
  • Supplement your Google Analytics with tools like Leadfeeder or Ahrefs. Leadfeeder gives you more insight about who’s visiting your website, which helps you craft a strategy for capturing these leads more specifically. With Ahrefs, you’ll get more insights as to the strategies your competition is using to capture more data-driven leads.
  • Integrate A/B testing into your lead strategy. If you have multiple ways of capturing leads, it only makes sense that you’ll want to test which ones need optimization and which ones are delivering the kind of performance you need. For example, you might start with multiple versions of a “contact us” page to see which one tends to yield more results. The key to testing effectively is that you’ll identify the “invisible” leads you could have captured with a better lead form, but never knew because you never tested alternative pages.

Optimizing Your Website to Point Your Audience Toward Lead Conversion

Once you have a sense of where your opportunities may be lost, it’s time to create new strategies to capture the leads you’ve been missing. Here are a few to consider:

Create more landing pages.

According to HubSpot, companies with 30+ landing pages tended to generate about 7 times as many leads as companies with only 1 to 5 landing pages. This doesn’t mean that more is necessarily always better, but it does suggest that the companies that are actively creating landing pages and testing them for specific purposes are finding better results. If you only have one landing page that you never test, now’s your wakeup call.

Consider integrating live chat.

Live chat (42%) is beginning to outpace even email (23%) and social media (16%) as the “leading digital content method.” That means that it’s also expressing its potential to drive visitors to transform into leads. As visitors ask questions and explore the live chat feature, they can easily be swayed toward a landing page of the company’s choice—preferably one that’s already been optimized for someone asking those same questions.

Give your leads something to do.

Evaluate your site from the audience’s perspective. Live chat (see above) works because it gives customers something to do. But there are other ways to encourage people to move through your lead funnel, including:

  • Download incentives. One of the most popular lead capture tools in the world is to create a factsheet worth downloading and encourage people to trade their email address in exchange. Download incentives are popular for a reason: they work.
  • Create valuable content. Whether that valuable content comes in the form of an insightful blog post or an online tool visitors can use for free, it doesn’t matter. What’s key is that you create something that people will find worthwhile and use that content to drive their attention toward your lead generation funnel.

Add a personal touch.

With personalized calls-to-action converting some 42% more people than the basic CTA, one thing is clear: we like the sound of our own name. That’s one reason that personalized email headlines tend to do better, even if we already know as the recipients that it was an electronic form that enabled that level of personalization.

How to Retarget Leads that Never Became Leads

Sometimes, you’ll just lose out on leads. It happens. You may not have any explanation for it. Heck, even your leads may not be able to explain why they clicked away.

In that case, you can use a strategy of retargeting to influence how many of these leads you retain.

For example, Google Adwords Remarketing allows you to create advertising for very specific cases. You can create advertisements tailored to those who might have browsed your website but never fully made a decision one way or the other.

You can also use Custom Audiences on Facebook to reach out to highly specific customer segments. By implementing a Facebook pixel on your site, you can even create a custom audience of people who have already visited your website. As is the case with Google Adwords Remarketing, you can then construct advertisements specifically tailored to those who didn’t pull the trigger on an order.

Retaining More of the Leads You Worked Hard to Create

Before you go out and spend money on advertising or SEO, you should focus on making your site a better place for the people already visiting it. Retarget your customers, increase the personal touch, and begin testing your lead funnel solutions to ensure that you retain more of your visitors and turn more of them into leads. Then, the next time you spend a dollar on advertising, you’ll be confident that your site has what it takes to generate a worthy ROI.

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/No More Lost Leads How to Capture and Keep Potential Leads/
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