5 Tips to Choose a Customer Loyalty Program for Small Businesses

Have you ever thought of deploying a customer loyalty program to drive more repeat business?  And what about offering gift cards for your customers to purchase?

Customers love these kinds of programs.  What’s more, done right they achieve real financial benefits.  For example, a University of Chicago study found that loyalty programs increase purchases by 20%.

A few months ago, our Small Business Trends team made a visit to the Innovation Lab at First Data headquarters in Atlanta. Our interviewer, Brent Leary, sat down with Jim Allen, First Data’s Senior Vice President Product Delivery, small business products.

The video above is a portion of our exclusive interview. (See part 1 of the interview here.)

First Data is known, of course, for its line of Clover point of sale (POS) systems.  But as Jim Allen points out in the interview, Clover is actually a platform with associated mobile apps and it is much more than a POS. Its offerings include a loyalty program for small merchants, as well as a gift card program.

Tips for How to Choose a Loyalty Program

Based on the interview and other ideas, we’ve come up with five tips for what to look for when you choose a customer loyalty program. Some of the tips apply as well to choosing a gift card program.  Look for these attributes when choosing a loyalty program and/or a gift card program:

1. Easy to Use

Time is money. So if a loyalty program takes a lot of manual time to set up and maintain, it’ll either eat up all your profits or soon be abandoned or replaced.

Look for programs that are out-of-the-box simple to get started with. Does the vendor provide materials to help display and market your programs in store or digitally, or or is that something extra you have to create?

Also, look for technology that automates and saves you time. For example, does the loyalty program integrate with your point of sale system, or will you have to hire a consultant to integrate specially?

And what if customers want to manage a gift balance or have questions — does the program have technology to help?

2. Customizable for YOUR Business

Consider what kind of loyalty program you want to offer:

  • Are you most comfortable with a punch card program, where customers earn for each cup of coffee, dry cleaning order or other purchase they make?  This type of loyalty program is simple, but doesn’t have a marketing feedback loop. So you can’t use it to collect data to shape your future marketing, like you can with a tech-oriented solution.
  • Or perhaps your customers would prefer a loyalty program that accrues points.  If your customers are tech savvy, they may appreciate a points system with a mobile app.

Similarly with a gift card program, consider how your customers may want to purchase and send them.  Plastic gift cards are well known. But more and more customers want the ability to purchase digital cards online or on a mobile device, and send them electronically to recipients.

3. Marketing Feedback Loop

Today’s best breed of loyalty programs and gift card programs give you something in return.  Look for a program that is technology based, so it can help pull out “big data” to inform you how to market better.

Also check to see how hard or easy it is to analyze and use that data.  Look for programs with built-in analytics to easily discover buying habits you may not have noticed. That way you can identify special perks and when to offer them to your most loyal customers, to encourage cross-sale opportunities or accelerate repeat sales.

4. Best Practice Ideas

One of the biggest challenges in a small business is that we often don’t have a marketing department.  A good vendor can help make up for that lack.

Look for a solution that helps you learn as well as do.  Does the vendor’s solution automatically guide you to develop best practices? Does it trigger ideas for how to make the most of a loyalty program, such as how and when to stay in touch with customers?

And when it comes to gift cards, you want materials to entice customers to buy them, such as in store signage.

5. Modest Cost to Implement

Last but certainly not least, look at the cost.

Look for programs oriented toward small business merchants.  An offering suitable for Walmart won’t necessarily be right for your business — and could be too expensive. See if the vendor’s website has a section called “small business solutions” or uses the words “small business” frequently.

This article, “5 Tips to Choose a Customer Loyalty Program for Small Businesses” was first published on Small Business Trends

What You Can Learn About Marketing a Local Business – from Pokemon Go

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What You Can Learn About Marketing a Local Business - from Pokemon Go

News headlines blare “Pokemon craze takes over Houston park” and “Pokemon Go Is Influencing Baby Names” and “Bride stunned to discover her wedding venue was a Pokemon Go gym.”

With headlines like that daily on your local news, it’s clear that the Pokemon Go mobile game has burrowed its way into American culture.

Those little digital Pokemon creatures are just too cute to ignore!

Pokemon Go started as a kids card game two decades ago and then became a mobile game. As a mobile game it quickly grew to 20 million daily active game players as of July 2016.

As it turns out, Pokemon Go isn’t just for kids. Teenagers, young adults, parents supervising their Pokemon-playing kids, and anyone “addicted” to the mobile game, have all gotten into the action. As of October 2016, Pokemon players had taken 144 billion steps — steps that could lead them right near your place of business.

Whether the Pokemon craze will continue with the same intensity during 2017 is anyone’s guess.

Regardless, there are some great marketing lessons to be learned. In fact those lessons can be especially applicable to small businesses because we’re nimble enough to take advantage of trends quickly. As independent business owners, we have a distinct advantage when it comes to pivoting our marketing quickly.

If you want to learn about how to leverage the virtual world and the consumer’s enthusiasm for mobile devices, into real paying customers in the physical world, then Pokemon Go is a great case study.

Join Anita Campbell, renowned small business expert and founder of the Small Business Trends community serving over 2 million small business people per month, in  a FREE WEBINAR hosted by Verizon. We will explore these marketing lessons, including:

  • How to leverage the world of local “check in” apps and games to lure in foot traffic.
  • What Pokemon Go can tell us about being found in mobile devices.
  • How to make your business appear attractive online and on mobile devices — attractive enough to get people into your shop, restaurant or other place of business.
  • Strategies such as hosting Pokemon events, joining teams, buying Pokemon lures, and other activities to participate in the trend.
  • What you MUST know about the 5 ways people interact with their phones today, that impact what local places they visit and how they purchase.

We’ll also discuss techniques for how to manage the downsides of Pokemon Go traffic, including security issues and disruption to your business from non-paying customers.  And how to turn these issues into positives.

There is much to be learned from the Pokemon craze — and we’ll explore it all and answer your questions with concrete examples and marketing tips.

So join us for this webinar on March 22, 2017 at 2 pm Eastern Time.  It’s free, but be sure to register in advance to save your place.  Go here to register.

Register Now

Pokemon Go Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “What You Can Learn About Marketing a Local Business – from Pokemon Go” was first published on Small Business Trends

In the Age of Trump, Workers Fight Back

In the Age of Trump, Workers Fight Back as American Apparel Workers Appeal to President Trump

It used to be that when companies announced they were moving jobs offshore, employees felt they couldn’t do anything.

Not anymore.

In a world where the President of the United States tweets about saving American jobs and keeping factories in the United States, workers are catching on that they have a potential ally on their side.

They are fighting back, using the media.

Take, for instance, an email that we received here at Small Business Trends this week.

The subject line was: “Anita, you’re my only hope. Seriously.”

Now, I knew this was a bulk email even before I scanned it. But how could you resist opening an email with a subject line like that? I had to see it, if just to marvel at the writer’s creativity.

I expected a marketing pitch. What I didn’t expect was a plea from a worker asking journalists to write about their plight to appeal to President Trump. The message read in part:

“I found your email through a public list of journalists and I hope you can help me and thousands other people who work in AmericanApparel.

Here is the situation in a nutshell.

A foreign company Gildan is buying American Apparel a famous American company and firing thousands of workers including myself and moving our jobs overseas. Thousands of more jobs will be lost as Gildan continues to dissolve the manufacturing.

Please help us spread this message and (hopefully) to bring this to the attention of Donald Trump so we can stop this terror.”

I’m probably one of hundreds if not thousands to receive this email.

You have to give points to the union or individual workers who came up with this idea, for their creativity.  And of course, you can’t help but feel for the workers whose lives are being upset.

How much the workers’ campaign is likely to change things is very uncertain.

The American Apparel story is a sorry one all the way around.  The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in late 2015, and then again about a year later in November 2016. The company has been beset with problems including a steep drop in sales, a hyper-competitive environment and a nasty legal battle with its ousted founder.

So this was a company on the ropes.

It’s a very different situation from the highly publicized ones that President Trump has been involved in such as with automakers.  In those cases the companies he talked with are viable and healthy enough.  They announced plans to keep jobs in the United States instead of moving them to lower labor rate countries.

American Apparel was already failing. The company had no choice but to look for a buyer. Company management had tried to insist that any deal keep the manufacturing plant in the United States, according to a Reuters report.

But that wasn’t to be. Canadian firm, Gildan Activewear Inc. (NYSE:GIL), bought the assets.  That sale closed in February 2017.

Still, the Trump effect on manufacturing might have some sway on Gildan. According to Gary Bell, a Gildan spokeman who was quoted in an LA Times report, “Gildan hasn’t ruled out making some American Apparel products in the U.S., especially given the current focus on local manufacturing, Bell said … ‘The political climate in the U.S. has made things very fluid for a lot of companies,’ Bell said. ‘We will evaluate all these options.’”

However, most industry observers suggest that American Apparel’s high-cost California manufacturing plant probably would not remain open in any event.

One takeaway from this situation is this: The next time companies announce factory closings, don’t be surprised if workers refuse to take the decision lying down. They may just launch a campaign to appeal to the President.

American Apparel Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “In the Age of Trump, Workers Fight Back” was first published on Small Business Trends

Nimble Gets $9 Million Funding to Deliver Smarter CRM

Nimble funding

Nimble, the CRM that says it “builds itself,” announced today that it has raised $9 million in Series A funding.

The Nimble funding will be used to scale the company’s growth, according to CEO Jon Ferrara. Nimble plans to add to its product engineering team and accelerate sales efforts.

Nimble, headquartered in Santa Monica, has been developing its product since its founding in 2009 — and the years of dedicated effort show.

Nimble stands out in the CRM world because it aggregates data into a CRM database automatically. What that means is, Nimble pulls in information from outside sources and builds a CRM database for you.

Ferrara pointed out that users today spend too much time adding and maintaining data in CRMs. That, he said, results in low adoption of CRM systems.

However, with Nimble, a lot of the information is pulled together for you from public sources such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other websites. Then it’s synced with other data you already have, such as your email and calendar data. So that means you spend less time entering data manually into your CRM, or trying to figure out how to port data from one app to another. Nimble handles much of that automatically.

The CRM that Displays Everywhere

Another impressive feature that sets Nimble apart is the way it shows a pane of information about a contact no matter what screen you happen to be in.

If you’re using Microsoft Outlook email, for instance, you can see the Nimble information for that contact right alongside the email from that person. See the screenshot above – the panel on the right side of the screen is the Nimble app appearing next to an Outlook email.

The benefit, of course, is that you don’t have to interrupt what you’re doing and dig into your CRM system to look up a contact. Core information is displayed right there on whatever screen you’re on.

According to CEO Jon Ferrara, Nimble is a CRM designed to fit seamlessly into your existing daily workflow. It doesn’t force you to change your work habits for your CRM. “Nimble lives where users work: in email, the browser, and on their mobile devices.”

In an interview earlier this week Ferrara told us, “At Nimble, we believe a business is built on the contacts you have. When you go to a contact record today in either Office 365 or G Suite, there’s no cross referencing to social media or other interactions you’ve had with that contact. Nimble automatically synchronizes your contacts with such interactions.”

The ability to work natively together with Microsoft Office 365 is a key part of Nimble’s recent development push. Nimble also earlier this year launched a mobile app for use with Outlook Mobile.

Ferrara said making Nimble work with Office 365 is especially significant because he sees the Microsoft product coming on strong, especially among small businesses. “Today about half of our new customers are using Office 365, compared with a year ago when most were using G Suite.”

Vision: Be the Relationship System of Record

Ferrara told us that his vision is for Nimble to be the “relationship system of record.” Nimble is a unifying application because it unifies and syncs data from multiple sources, he said.  (See graphic above.)

“Today, most people have contact records in Office 365 or G Suite. The problem is, that’s not the only place where you have contact data and records. You have them in calendars, CRM, your accounting system, other types of business apps, as well as social media sites,” he pointed out.

Nimble is able to bidirectionally sync data from multiple sources and apps, Ferrara said.

Nimble is designed so it can be used as a small business’s sole CRM because it has advanced CRM features such as follow-up reminders, lead capture, sales forecasting, automation and more. But due to its automatic data aggregation and “display anywhere” capabilities, Nimble is flexible enough to be used with existing CRM systems, too.

“A small business can use Nimble in conjunction with an existing CRM you already use, or as your sole CRM. We deliver value either way,” Ferrara said.

Nimble’s Series A financing was led by Imagen Capital Partners. Other investors in the Nimble funding include Mark Cuban’s Radical Investments, Google Ventures, Indicator Ventures and a consortium of strategic angels including Jason Calacanis, Howard Lindzon and Don Dodge.

Nimble previously raised $3.5 million in seed funding. CEO Jon Ferrara has a long history of accomplishment in the CRM industry, as an early player who co-founded one of the first CRM applications, called Goldmine. He sold it in 1999.

Image: Nimble

This article, “Nimble Gets $9 Million Funding to Deliver Smarter CRM” was first published on Small Business Trends

Linda McMahon is Confirmed as Small Business Administration Head

7 Reasons Why Linda McMahon Is a Great Pick for SBA Administrator - Small Business Administration

Linda McMahon, the wrestling business entrepreneur turned billionaire, was confirmed today as the new Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration.  She will become part of President Trump’s cabinet.

McMahon’s confirmation passed by a vote of 81 to 19 in the U.S. Senate. Unlike a number of other Trump Administration appointments, McMahon had bipartisan support both in the earlier Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee hearing where she testified back in January, and in today’s full Senate vote.

McMahon has suffered the trials and tribulations of other mom and pop business owners. During her confirmation hearing, she told the story of how she and her husband had an earlier business that failed. For a brief time they were on food stamps, she recalls. And their car was repossessed from their driveway.

The couple bounced back in a major way. Their business, World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. or WWE, (NYSE: WWE) eventually grew into a publicly traded company. Today it has a market cap of over $1.7 billion.

McMahon stepped away from the company several years ago. Yet it’s still somewhat of a family business. Her husband since 1996 and co-founder, Vince McMahon, is the Chairman of WWE. Their daughter, Stephanie McMahon, also plays a key executive role in the business today.

As pointed out a couple of weeks ago, McMahon seems like a good choice to run the Small Business Administration due to her experience growing a business. It’s hard to effectively address the needs of small businesses if you haven’t actually experienced what small business owners and startup entrepreneurs go through.

Failure might seem like an odd thing to admit to during a confirmation hearing. But it is not a black mark in the world of small business. Failure is actually a badge of authenticity and experience. Most successful entrepreneurs have had at least one failure — and learned from it. Some have had multiple failures.

She testified in January about why she should be the new SBA head, recalling, “I remember the early days every month when I had to decide whether to continue to lease a typewriter or whether I could continue to buy it. Yes, believe it or not, that $12 a month at that time made a difference in our budget.”

“Like all small business owners, I know what it’s like to take a risk on an idea, manage cash flow, navigate regulations and create jobs,” she added.

Image: CSPAN.org

This article, “Linda McMahon is Confirmed as Small Business Administration Head” was first published on Small Business Trends

7 Reasons Linda McMahon Is a Great Pick for SBA Administrator

7 Reasons Why Linda McMahon Is a Great Pick for SBA Administrator

Linda McMahon was nominated by President Donald Trump to be the next Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration back in December.

She answered questions before the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee on January 24, 2017. A final confirmation vote will most likely be held next week.

If she is confirmed, McMahon would replace Maria Contreras-Sweet and become the 25th SBA Administrator.

McMahon has a number of attributes going for her, including her direct experience starting and growing a family business.

Why Linda McMahon?

Here are seven reasons why Linda McMahon would make a great pick for head of the U.S. Small Business Administration:

1. McMahon Has Actually Made Payroll

Along with her husband, Vince McMahon, she built World Wrestling Entertainment (NYSE: WWE) into a billion dollar company — no small feat.

By all accounts Vince and Linda McMahon grew their company from nothing. Eventually they bought out Vince’s father’s business.

In her testimony before the Senate Small Business Committee, McMahon said: “My husband and I started out from scratch. We started out sharing a desk. Over decades of work and strategic growth we built it into a publicly traded global enterprise with more than 800 employees.”

“I remember the early days every month when I had to decide whether to continue to lease a typewriter or whether I could continue to buy it. Yes, believe it or not, that $12 a month at that time made a difference in our budget.”

She went on to say, “Like all small business owners, I know what it’s like to take a risk on an idea, manage cash flow, navigate regulations and create jobs.”

2. McMahon Has Bounced Back from Business Failure

Every small business owner has faced business difficulties.

What counts is what happens after we go through the bad times. Do we throw in the towel? Or do we continue on?

McMahon testified before the U.S. Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee that she and her husband had to file for bankruptcy after an early business failed. They then had their car repossessed. Yet they bounced back and eventually decades later became billionaires.

“It’s not how you fall, it’s how you get up that matters,’’ McMahon testified.

3. McMahon Wants to Keep the SBA a Separate Agency

Over the years there have been calls to tuck the SBA under the wing of the Commerce Department. That is a bad idea, as we’ve pointed out.

Small business issues are very different from large company issues. The challenges are different, and they require different solutions.

Mix small business issues with large business issues, and which businesses will get short shrift? You guessed it. Small businesses will be the ones that get swept aside.

There are 28 million small businesses in the United States. We need someone focused on ensuring our issues get aired and solutions found.

At one point McMahon publicly advocated that she was in favor of combining SBA and Commerce, but testified on January 24 that she does not believe that today. “I am a firm believer SBA needs to be a stand alone agency,”she said.

We’ll take her at her word.

4. McMahon Wants Fast Disaster Relief for Small Businesses

Small businesses are particularly vulnerable following any type of disaster. Many can’t endure extended shutdowns of more than a few weeks, sometimes a few days.

“Disasters don’t pick a time. They happen. We need to be prepared for those disasters,” McMahon said during the hearing.

McMahon says she wants to take a look at the disaster relief program that the SBA currently is responsible for. She emphasized the importance of small businesses getting access to financial relief fast in the event of a disaster.

To get her point across, McMahon was critical of a previous SBA response to a disaster, Hurricane Sandy.

“When Sandy hit … there was a delay in the time of response from SBA. We have to be ready with disaster relief. When our small businesses are put out of business for a while, the economy suffers.

“We need to get those funds to them,” she said.

5. McMahon Wants to Ease the Regulatory Toll on Small Businesses

Many people talk a good game, and have the best intentions, but fall short because they don’t really understand the reality of running a business.

They’ve never had to juggle the demands of serving customers, bringing in sales, getting everyone paid — and still keeping regulators happy.

McMahon, however, understands it.

“I think we forget sometimes small businesses, especially mom and pop companies starting up … I have a special place in my heart for them. They’re the chief cook and bottle washer, CEO, CFO, every other thing. When they get a packet of regulation forms they have to fill out in order to comply with regulation, (a) they don’t know what to do with it, and (b) they can’t afford to hire lawyers to get through the regulatory environment. So either they become more at fault and not in regulatory compliance or they take time away from their business to do it. It is really difficult for small businesses to suffer under the burden of that type of regulatory environment,” McMahon testified.

6. McMahon Knows the Power of Belief

When others ridiculed the wrestling business, McMahon and her husband stuck with it.

But it’s hard to laugh at a business with a market capitalization today of nearly $1.5 billion.

Professional wrestling is hardly a traditional type of business. Half sport, half entertainment — it took a unique path.

Many small businesses start by finding a market niche that larger companies do not even see. It takes vision and determination. And belief in yourself.

7. McMahon Has Been an Advocate for Entrepreneurs, Especially Female Entrepreneurs

Since stepping down from the WWE in 2009, she unsuccessfully ran for office in Connecticut. Two years ago, McMahon started Women’s Leadership Live, an advocacy and support community for women entrepreneurs.

In the Committee hearing she explained why. “I always say entrepreneurs with the best ideas sometimes need wind beneath their wings.”

And that’s exactly the sort of attitude we need in the highest office in the land for small businesses.

Image: CSPAN.org

This article, “7 Reasons Linda McMahon Is a Great Pick for SBA Administrator” was first published on Small Business Trends

5 Benefits of Collaboration In Your Small Business

5 Benefits of Collaboration In Your Small Business

Want to make your business more efficient, reputable and profitable? That might seem like a lofty task, but there’s one key thing that can lead to improvements in all of those areas.

That thing is: collaboration.

Collaboration is not just a nice thing to do. By fostering a collaborative environment you can drive better bottom line results. Here are five key benefits of collaboration for small businesses.

More Efficient Processes

Have you ever encountered an organization where “the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing”?

What happens in such an environment? Lots of duplicated activities. Things fall through the cracks. Someone drops the ball on something, and a mini crisis ensues. Employees end up having to re-do work or fix errors that could have been avoided in the first place.

And what’s the impact on the company? Projects take longer to finish. Customers are unhappy and may go away. The company ends up spending more time, people resources and money than necessary, hurting the bottom line.

But through better collaboration, your employees gain clarity in their roles. Clarity helps each person know what they are supposed to do. They know what others are doing — or not doing. Clarity through collaboration frees employees to focus on specific parts of your mission, at specific times — without costly overlap or gaps. Things flow more smoothly and get done right the first time. And that means lower costs for the business, and faster turnaround times.

And the good news is, inexpensive technology tools can aid collaboration. Cloud collaboration tools like Microsoft Sharepoint eliminate gaps and make hand-offs of activities easier to do. Processes flow more smoothly. Get good collaboration tools in place, and your team can work together in a way that’s effective, leading to more efficiency.

Better Communication

If you don’t have a true collaboration system for your team, that likely means that your team has to rely on communication methods like phone systems, text chat or email. While phone and email are essential, they can lead to fragmented, incomplete or siloed information.

Instead of important information being readily available to all those in the organization who need to know it, it’s buried in individual inboxes. Or one person was told about something, but never shared that with others on the team who need to know.

In short, despite all the communication tools, you have an information gap.

But with one of the many cloud-based collaboration options available like Microsoft Teams, for example, information is more widely available to everyone who needs to know. Remember, information is only valuable if it’s available to the right people at the right times, so they can make use of that information for your business.

Tapping into Employee Strengths

When you encourage your employees to work together on projects, you also get the benefit of each person being able to work on activities that are most suited to their specific strengths. Projects can be divided up more effectively based on skills. In other words, you are able to tap into your employees’ strengths.

When employees are doing work they are suited for and good at, they will do a better job. And they will achieve more – for themselves and for the company.

This gets you improved productivity over the long run and also saves you money on things like hiring and training new employees.

Access to Better Workers

Through use of cloud collaboration tools, you widen the potential pool of employees. For instance, with today’s collaboration tools like Yammer, you may be able to hire more remote workers who otherwise wouldn’t want to relocate. Also, employees may be able to work from home a few days a week (something important to those with family obligations).

In essence, you can attract and retain valuable workers by giving them geographical flexibility.

Instead of limiting yourself to just those in your immediate area, you can hire the person who’s best for the job, regardless of their location. And if you’re able to hire the best possible workers, you’re more likely to get more done and be more effective as a business owner.

More Satisfied Customers

There’s a direct correlation between happier, more effective workers along with more efficient processes — and the level of satisfaction among customers.

When you have team members who are happy at work, good at what they do and able to work in an efficient way, that will translate into better service for your customers as well.

Once again, the benefit of collaboration tools like Skype for Business in the mission of satisfying customers is clear. In a recent Twitter chat David Smith, Microsoft’s VP of worldwide SMB sales, tweeted that nearly half of small businesses think that cloud collaboration and similar cloud based tools have led to more satisfied customers.

Make 2017 the year that you increase collaboration to improve your company. Investigate and implement a collaboration tool, and you’ll see payback on multiple levels.

At the time of this writing, Anita Campbell is participating in the Microsoft Small Business Ambassador program.

Teamwork Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “5 Benefits of Collaboration In Your Small Business” was first published on Small Business Trends

5 Benefits of Collaboration In Your Small Business

5 Benefits of Collaboration In Your Small Business

Want to make your business more efficient, reputable and profitable? That might seem like a lofty task, but there’s one key thing that can lead to improvements in all of those areas.

That thing is: collaboration.

Collaboration is not just a nice thing to do. By fostering a collaborative environment you can drive better bottom line results. Here are five key benefits of collaboration for small businesses.

More Efficient Processes

Have you ever encountered an organization where “the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing”?

What happens in such an environment? Lots of duplicated activities. Things fall through the cracks. Someone drops the ball on something, and a mini crisis ensues. Employees end up having to re-do work or fix errors that could have been avoided in the first place.

And what’s the impact on the company? Projects take longer to finish. Customers are unhappy and may go away. The company ends up spending more time, people resources and money than necessary, hurting the bottom line.

But through better collaboration, your employees gain clarity in their roles. Clarity helps each person know what they are supposed to do. They know what others are doing — or not doing. Clarity through collaboration frees employees to focus on specific parts of your mission, at specific times — without costly overlap or gaps. Things flow more smoothly and get done right the first time. And that means lower costs for the business, and faster turnaround times.

And the good news is, inexpensive technology tools can aid collaboration. Cloud collaboration tools like Microsoft Sharepoint eliminate gaps and make hand-offs of activities easier to do. Processes flow more smoothly. Get good collaboration tools in place, and your team can work together in a way that’s effective, leading to more efficiency.

Better Communication

If you don’t have a true collaboration system for your team, that likely means that your team has to rely on communication methods like phone systems, text chat or email. While phone and email are essential, they can lead to fragmented, incomplete or siloed information.

Instead of important information being readily available to all those in the organization who need to know it, it’s buried in individual inboxes. Or one person was told about something, but never shared that with others on the team who need to know.

In short, despite all the communication tools, you have an information gap.

But with one of the many cloud-based collaboration options available like Microsoft Teams, for example, information is more widely available to everyone who needs to know. Remember, information is only valuable if it’s available to the right people at the right times, so they can make use of that information for your business.

Tapping into Employee Strengths

When you encourage your employees to work together on projects, you also get the benefit of each person being able to work on activities that are most suited to their specific strengths. Projects can be divided up more effectively based on skills. In other words, you are able to tap into your employees’ strengths.

When employees are doing work they are suited for and good at, they will do a better job. And they will achieve more – for themselves and for the company.

This gets you improved productivity over the long run and also saves you money on things like hiring and training new employees.

Access to Better Workers

Through use of cloud collaboration tools, you widen the potential pool of employees. For instance, with today’s collaboration tools like Yammer, you may be able to hire more remote workers who otherwise wouldn’t want to relocate. Also, employees may be able to work from home a few days a week (something important to those with family obligations).

In essence, you can attract and retain valuable workers by giving them geographical flexibility.

Instead of limiting yourself to just those in your immediate area, you can hire the person who’s best for the job, regardless of their location. And if you’re able to hire the best possible workers, you’re more likely to get more done and be more effective as a business owner.

More Satisfied Customers

There’s a direct correlation between happier, more effective workers along with more efficient processes — and the level of satisfaction among customers.

When you have team members who are happy at work, good at what they do and able to work in an efficient way, that will translate into better service for your customers as well.

Once again, the benefit of collaboration tools like Skype for Business in the mission of satisfying customers is clear. In a recent Twitter chat David Smith, Microsoft’s VP of worldwide SMB sales, tweeted that nearly half of small businesses think that cloud collaboration and similar cloud based tools have led to more satisfied customers.

Make 2017 the year that you increase collaboration to improve your company. Investigate and implement a collaboration tool, and you’ll see payback on multiple levels.

At the time of this writing, Anita Campbell is participating in the Microsoft Small Business Ambassador program.

Teamwork Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “5 Benefits of Collaboration In Your Small Business” was first published on Small Business Trends

Top 10 Interesting Microsoft Products for Small Businesses (Video)

Recently I visited the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond as part of its Small Business Ambassador tour (I’m one of the Small Business Ambassadors).  While there I learned about some new Microsoft products I’d never heard of, and got a deeper look at others I already knew about.

Here are 10 Microsoft products for small businesses (or individual or even larger businesses) that seemed very interesting and helpful.  See what you think and how they can benefit you, in the video above.  The products are also listed below for easy scanning.

Microsoft Products for Small Businesses – More Than an Office Suite

If Office software — Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook — is the set of products that come to mind when you think of Microsoft, then you’re in for a pleasant surprise.

Microsoft has so many more products to offer small businesses, including:

1. MileIQ:

You know how you track your mileage for IRS tax deduction purposes? Or perhaps you or your employees track mileage in order to assure you get properly reimbursed. Know what a pain it can be? Enter MileIQ. The tracking app automatically captures your miles via your mobile phone. It creates a log of your mileage – and does it automatically so you don’t have to remember.

2. Bookings: 

If your small business runs on clients appointments, you’re going to love the time that the self-service scheduler Microsoft Bookings will save for you and your staff.  Your clients will be able to book service or other appointments with you online, if you deploy this app.  There’s even the ability to tie it to Facebook, so customers can book an appointment with you directly from your Facebook page.

3. Surface Pro Tablets:

Who hasn’t heard of these nifty tablets?  The latest Surface tablet device, the Surface Pro 4, is touted as “The tablet that can replace your laptop.” This is the device for the business owner on the go.

4. Surface Studio:

One of the most innovative computers to debut recently is the Microsoft Surface Studio.  This large computer is designed for creators.  It can operate like a large tablet, and the screen/monitor slide down like a computerized drafting table.

In addition, devices such as the Surface Dial take the creative process to a whole new level of intuitive use so you can work without the technology getting in the way.

5. Office 365:

The Microsoft Office Suite moved online several years ago. Today, it’s much more than office apps, as it serves as a central hub to run your business. The business version is better than ever.

6. Dynamics for Business:

Microsoft began rolling out a version of its Dynamics 365 offering priced for small businesses called the Business Edition. Currently, the financial module is available. The company has big plans to add to it during 2017 and onward.

7. Device Finder:

The Device Finder is an online tool that helps you find the device you need based on the problem you are trying to solve or your needs.  Instead of searching by hardware features, you search by your need (which is the way it should be!).

8. Windows PIN Sign In:

Included with Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile, the PIN Sign In is much more secure than a password. Why?  Because it requires not only the PIN itself, but you have to have the device itself.

9. Microsoft Hello:

Windows Hello is another security feature. It introduces biometric security to your Windows 10 devices by your face, fingerprint or iris to unlock your device.  You need an IR camera in your device, but newer devices do have IR cameras built in.

10.Bot Framework:

Microsoft’s Bot Framework sounds techy and intimidating, but this could be the next frontier of how your company interacts with customers online.  The Bot Framework enables developers to create “bots” (think of them as automated administrative assistants). Or you can use one of the many that have already been created.

Looking for a successful year? These top 10 Microsoft products for small businesses will help you get there.

Note: This article is provided as part of my work as a Microsoft Small Business Ambassador.

This article, “Top 10 Interesting Microsoft Products for Small Businesses (Video)” was first published on Small Business Trends

Xerox Small Business Printers: Using Them is as Easy as Using a Mobile App

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Xerox Small Business Printers: Using Them is as Easy as Using a Mobile App

Wouldn’t it be great to find a printer so easy to use — so intuitive — that you barely had to think about it?

And what if operating it didn’t require the Rosetta Stone to understand cryptic commands, but instead was as simple as using your tablet or mobile app?

And what if you could be printing in under 5 minutes after unboxing?

Oh, and what if you could get all of this at an affordable cost of ownership, with fast printing speed and beautiful color quality?  

With the new Xerox Phaser 6510 color printer and Xerox WorkCentre 6515 color multifunction printer, you can get all of that and much more.

A small office, for example, can print high-quality brochures and marketing materials on site and in minutes, without sacrificing color quality. That same small office can digitize client proposals and contracts, sending these files to employees on the road and creating text-searchable versions for easy archiving.

A Product Marketing Manager’s Dream

Recently I spoke with Bradley Allan, Xerox Product Marketing Manager, a passionate champion of the new 6510 and 6515 devices.  

Brad was involved in the program for these new devices since the beginning.

According to Brad, a team at Xerox has been tirelessly working to completely redesign printers from the ground up for the small business market.

“Manufacturers often make improvements to an existing product. By starting from the ground up with a totally new design we were able to achieve breakthroughs. And we’re able to deliver much more productivity to small businesses,” he said.

So what exactly is new and different about the 6510 and 6515?  A lot, according to Brad.

“Everything’s been redesigned — from the out-of-box setup, to the user interface you use for choosing copies or other services you want. It’s a far far step ahead.”

“We even redesigned the toner formula.”

As a product marketing manager, you’d expect Brad to be excited. But it’s easy to see why. These devices really are revolutionary.

What’s Exciting About These Printers

“Here’s an example of what is so exciting about these new devices. Take the user interface you use to choose the number of copies or whether to scan or fax a document. Traditionally, printer screens have used what’s called a resistive interface. Most people are familiar with these older style screens. You have to push firmly to make a selection.”

“However, today, people are used to using touchscreens on mobile devices, with light touches and gestures. That touchscreen experience, called a capacitive interface, is what we designed into the 6515. That means choosing the print services you want on the screen is like using a tablet. And it’s what people have become used to using today. We brought that same tablet experience to printers.”  

“There’s even scan and fax preview. This is a competitive differentiator in this segment of products,” Brad added.

Xerox Small Business Printers: Using Them is as Easy as Using a Mobile App

The menu icons on the touchscreen are different colors to make them easy to read (see image above). You can customize the screen by dragging your most-used icons to the front. All icons are intuitive with clear labels.

This touchscreen approach is a first in its class, according to Brad. “You won’t find any desktop multifunction printers at this price level with this kind of tablet-like ease of use. Xerox is first with this.”

Oh and that toner that was redesigned?  Brad says that’s important to small businesses because, “these folks use their printed output to represent their business to their customers.  The color quality is fantastic and gives any small business owner the confidence needed when printing proposals, marketing materials, and so on.”

The color, he added, is crisp and that’s “important when presenting your brand in marketing materials.”

These devices bring powerful value to small and medium businesses.  “It’s not just about what the printer itself costs. Buyers making the purchase decision can be confident in their total cost of ownership as the run costs are very competitive,” Brad added. For instance, toner and imaging drums are separate, which means customers don’t potentially sacrifice imaging drum life if toner is depleted before the drum (as can happen when these supplies are combined).

A Powerful Set of Features

The Xerox Phaser 6510 color printer and Xerox WorkCentre 6515 color multifunction printer make you more productive in your business:

  • Has a 5-inch, app-based, tablet-like touchscreen with scan preview, editing features and intuitive navigation (MFP only).
  • Provides the ability to customize workflows and offers easy-to-use installation wizards for an excellent out-of-box experience.
  • Prints letter and legal size paper.
  • Has WiFi Direct connectivity for secure printing from mobile phones and tablets.*
  • Integrates with Apple, Google Cloud and Android print capabilities.
  • Scans to email, FTP, your corporate network, and USB device. You can also scan and send to multiple locations in one easy job with Scan-to.
  • Has a monthly duty cycle of 50,000 pages and print speeds of up to 30 pages per minute.
  • Scans two-sided in a single pass through the DADF.
  • Offers 1200 x 2400 native dpi for accurate color reproduction and brilliant output.

* Note: Wi-Fi is standard on DNI configurations, optional on N and DN configurations.

** Note: Mobile Link support will not be available until Q1 2017.

The Xerox Phaser 6510 color printer starts at a suggested retail price of $319. The WorkCentre 6515 color multifunction printer starts at a suggested retail price of $469. Both are available through ecommerce sites and Xerox channel partners.

See the video for more:

This article, “Xerox Small Business Printers: Using Them is as Easy as Using a Mobile App” was first published on Small Business Trends