Business: a few things to remember

Running a business is easy!

I lied, sorry. There are a lot of important things to do and mistakes to avoid in building and running a business. I’m sure you know plenty of these, but so do I and I’ve still managed to repeat a mistake here and there. This is as much a reminder for myself as it is advice for others. If you take anything away at all, remember that the only constant in business (and life) is change. Embrace it!

  • Plan to run the business for your forever rather than to exit: This may be a wholesale change in mentality forcing a long term vision and a focus on planning out projects and goals without the distraction of short term objectives. If you can’t get away from it, you are more likely to be cautious in operating it and meticulous relative to the details and strength of its foundation. This also allows for a more relaxed and deliberate management/operational environment.
  • Be conservative with your finances and do the math before you spend: Particularly important and so easy to overlook in a young and rapidly expanding business. I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but beating this drum a few more times in hopes of helping others can’t be a bad thing. Get a growth calculation tool and plug in some numbers. One thousand a week for 10 years can grow to more than $600,000.
  • Get your financing in line (and keep it in line) before you need it: By this I am referring to working capital and credit. As clearly demonstrated by banks and lenders this past year, when times are tough, purse strings are tight. If you had a bad year and need some cash to help get back on track, it is often likely that the help will not be there, at least not in the form of anyone with a reasonable interest rate.
  • Hire slowly, fire quickly: Oh man, I wish I remembered this one every day when I woke up. There is little of greater importance than having the right people on your team(s) and when you find out an apple has gone bad or a you found a worm in a seemingly perfect apple, get rid of it asap! The old adage is often true, ‘some dogs can’t hunt‘.
  • You get what you inspect: I’ve spouted off about this one more than once also. When the company grows beyond just you and it comes time to delegate the things you used to do with your eyes closed, don’t hand it off and walk away. You absolutely have to circle back, more often than you’d like, and make sure that the work is being done the way you want it done before the results come back as something completely different and often useless. You get what you inspect, not what you expect.

Some good reminders for all of us, especially myself. There are hundred of more things to remember and mistakes to avoid. Add your comments and words of wisdom if you have time.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) for Business (any size)

IVR is a truly amazing technology!Can Phone

I get so excited when I talk about the potential it has to offer nearly any business, I honestly want to get on the phone and call every one of my customers to explain how it can help them. That, the explaining of ‘how’, has always been an issue with Interactive Voice Reponse. You’ve all been exposed to the concept and many understand how it works, but not too many explore the real potential of connecting your database to the telephone (land or mobile) of your customer base.

Examples of IVR for Business:

  • Voice Broadcasting (or SMS): Mass distribution of a message, via telephone, text message or fax (if you still have one). Let’s say you are a school and you need to notify all 500 parents that the buses are running 20 minutes late because of weather. With the click of a button and a recording of the message you want to send, all 500 people can be called and/or text’d within a matter of minutes (I mean 2 minutes, not 30). Another example; say you are a gas company and you have a pipe burst in a particular neighborhood. With this IVR Voice Broadcasting, you can call every one of your customers instantly and inform them of the outage.
  • Inbound or Outbound Surveys: Who doesn’t want to know more about their customers and get unbiased answers to their questions or concerns? Setting up a satisfaction survey for your customers to call in, answer some questions and provide you with the information you need to thank your staff or find areas to improve. If you are looking to collect some marketing data, turn that survey around and call your customers, ask them to participate and then ask your questions. This can all be done without a single person dialing a single number. Even better, all of your data is stored in a database to report on and is available instantly.
  • Dynamic Phone Numbers:For marketing folks and owners of their own business, do you have any idea how many of your inbound phone calls are generated by organic (non paid) links on the Internet? Could it be that there is some obscure web site out there that is bringing in an exponential number of your new customers? With this technology, if a web visitor clicks on a link within Google.com, it displays 800-555-1212 as your phone number but if they click on a link within Yahoo.com it shows 888-777-1212. Integrating this with your analytics program on the web and you have a very robust set of data telling you not only where your web traffic comes from but also those that prefer to talk on the phone.

Those are a few basic implementation of the technology. I could literally go on for hours and hours detailing how it can help any business and what the other applications out there are. If you want to know how it can help your business, post a comment on this blog and I’ll be happy to discuss it with you.

Got an idea for your business?

If you want to air your IVR idea with a company that can help you get it up and running, I would encourage you to contact ifbyphone.com (877-532-5970) or IVR Tech Group (800-438-1709).

If you mention the ‘VoIP Supply Discount’ or tell them ‘Ben Sayers’ sent you, your services will be available at a reduced rate.

Business: Recovery or Wholesale Change?

Recovery may not be the right word to describe it.

VoIP Supply - Get More
VoIP Supply - Get More

For the record, I’m a pretty optimistic person about most things and not siding with recovery as the answer, the end result remains upbeat. Looking back at recent history for us and most in the telecom/technology retail space, spending jumped off the cliff back in August or so.

While we (VoIP Supply) have seen some stabilization and slight upticks in revenues, far more important changes have occurred and been highly visible. The customer has changed and I’m pretty sure the old one has gone away. We may well be in the midst of a “recovery” but it is more like a rebirth of a more fiscally responsible customer. Gone are the days of spending to spend, spending to meet budgets and buying just to have the latest features and widgets. This is a good thing in my opinion.

We’ve changed and so has our customer.

Interestingly enough, the change has not been our customers running away in search of a less expensive seller (many of our competitors) as the need for value remains despite the need to spend less money. Instead of simply heading for the lowest cost, our customers are just being more careful in their selection, less in need of fancy bells and whistles and more in need of a partner that understands. Rather than drop our pricing to make sure customers are not heading away in search of lower costs, we have increased our offerings and rolled out programs for the customers that offer alternatives and configurations that meet their needs without breaking the bank. They seem to like it.

While I believe we’ve seen a bottoming in the economy, I’m not planning on a V shaped recovery here, I’m pretty sure this is the recovery phase and we’re seeing a new breed of customers. If I’m wrong, the upside is a faster recovery, if I’m right then we’ve got no worries and a lot of value to offer. If I’m really wrong and we haven’t seen the bottom, we’ll be here offering value just the same.

Young Entrepreneurs – Hiring great people

Great employees, friends or foes?

Hiring the best and brightest, even those more gifted than yourself is key to success and growth in any business. Even if you can run a business, it certainly doesn’t mean you are without weaknesses in certain areas. In the early days, you most likely need to be a jack of all trades. As things progress and business grows, embracing delegation is of great significance. (I had a hard time with this in my first company). Once you do delegate, don’t forget the golden rule; You get what you inspect, not what you expect. If you do choose to or are forced to delegate tasks, it remains your responsibility to follow up on them and ensure they are being completed to your specifications or you may be sorely disappointed when the work is “completed” and it is no where close to where it would have been had it been your handiwork.

What happens when you hire great people, they perform well but have greater aspirations above their current role(s)? Do you support and encourage them or stifle them to (as you might hope) your own benefit? This has happened to me more than once and is difference each time, but your core values need to remain firm. Me personally, I don’t have any issue with people pursuing their dreams and am extremely interested in helping them for their sake alone so long as there is no conflict of interest, thievery or competition. I encourage it yet the result is nearly always the same.

What to do?? If you do encourage them and offer support yet they go behind your back anyway, what then? When there is no competition or conflict of interest and their work is still getting done, who are you to care?

Well, I should digress. The interview is where it starts and should be a process combined with intuition. I can say with confidence that there is not an employee at the company that I did not personally interview prior to them starting to work for the company. There are a few past employees that I did not interview and the result was usually the same. Last in line, after HR and management, my interview is not planned without specific questions. Who is this person and why should they work here is all that is of importance. To each their own style, but I’ve got some great people working for the company and many have been there for 6-7 years now without any regret on my part.

The interview:

  • Start with a phone interview, listen to how they represent themselves.
  • Have your management team interview them but don’t ask for feedback until you’ve interview them.
  • Are they on time? Are they dressed appropriately, casual or overdoing it? Don’t over do it.
  • Are they respectful or are they cocky and/or carry a sense of entitlement? If the latter, send them packing, eighth place doesn’t get a trophy anymore.
  • Do they have any questions and did they research you and your company? They should.
  • If they are in sales or a sales related job, shouldn’t they simply ask for the sale (the job) ?
  • ‘Google’ body language and understand what they don’t realize they are telling you.

Everyone hires differently, these sort of things seem to have worked out pretty well for me despite constant re-evaluation.

What’s so good about convenience?

Suburban America in a word: Convenient

Warning: This is likely to come off as a rant.

I recently returned from a trip over the ocean to visit Ireland, one place I’ve always wanted to see. I’ve been to plenty of places in the western world, but this was my first trip to Europe. While I went on the trip to see the beautiful countryside and experience the culture, I also observed and absorbed some of the vast differences between the societies. While there I caught a few minutes of an interview with an Irishman who was currently in the US exploring and documenting the experience. His summation was the same in that he suggested getting out of the city and into the country where the real beauty and unique culture is found. His one word summary was dead on, the US is Convenient. Why?

Not being a huge fan of the pace in North American societies today, not a user of fast food, not a devout TV watcher (especially not the news) yet still a fan of sitting around a fireplace doing next to nothing in the evenings or on a weekend, this country (Ireland) was right up my alley. I realize I’m probably in the minority here, but I sure wish people in my neck of the woods would get down to earth more, away from the media, ignore McDonald’s and take some time to enjoy what’s around you without all the rush and all the noise. What’s the rush anyway?

In effort to keep this post short and being a fan of bullet-ed lists, here are some of the subtle yet significant differences experienced abroad that reminded me of better days and better ways.

  • Few Conveniences:In six days and about a dozen of the larger towns in Ireland, I counted three (3) fast food joints. Two McDonald’s and one old-school Wimpy’s. When I was hungry I had little choice but to stop what I was doing and sit down for a meal. It might take 30-60 minutes to eat, drink and pay the check, but it was relaxing, enjoyable and a lot better for me physically and mentally. I could have hit a drive-thru and kept moving on to the next sights, but the restaurant was a sight to see as well.
  • Preservation over Convenience: If you’ve ever driven the roads over there, preservation of historical landmarks, borders (walls) and overall beauty of the landscape obviously comes first over the convenience of a wide road with paved shoulders, rumple strips and guardrails for those sleeping at the wheel. Being forced to slow down and enjoy the scenery or hit a stone wall wasn’t bad.
  • The upside of Less:While the food wasn’t exactly low-calorie by any means, the number of extra large (obese) humans was noticeably less than can found all across this great country.  It’s ok to push back from the table. Does anyone really need a 64 oz. coke with their triple decker burger?

It seems interesting to me that with all of these conveniences (corner stores, fast food, drive thrus and service companies) available to us, most seem to be rushed and complain about not having enough time in the day to get things done. How did our parents do it, they seemed to have time left over?
As interesting and somewhat related is the economic conditions here at a consumer level. High debt, low or no income yet still eating fast food, shopping on the fly and blaming someone else.

What’s the point Sayers? While quite likely nothing more than a rant falling on deaf ears, what are we all doing here? Slow down and enjoy before it disappears. Please.