All posts by Jason Barnes

How to Make Your Business More Customer-Accessible

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How to Make Your Business More Customer-Accessible

Customer-accessible business services are rapidly changing, but it remains a critical aspect of customer service. While the customer-accessible business sphere is increasingly moving toward automation, sometimes those voice message prompts can be more frustrating than they are helpful. 

People tend to choose businesses that are more customer-accessible and efficient. Implementing customer service hacks can help businesses achieve both.

Here are a few customer-accessibility tips you can start addressing today:

1. Implement Online Appointment Software

If the service you provide is appointment-based, then you need to implement online appointment software as soon as possible. This single piece of software will completely transform your business in the best ways possible. Not only will it make your business more customer-accessible, but it will also automate and streamline a lot of the time-consuming tasks that can bog appointment-based businesses down. 

For starters, your phone lines won’t be ringing off the hook anymore with customers looking to book appointments or inquire about availability. They can do that themselves with the help of appointment software. This model of self-service is often preferred by customers who want to limit unnecessary interactions, and it allows businesses to focus their energy on other tasks.

Another great aspect of online appointment software is that it can work around the clock. If a customer is interested in booking an appointment, they can do so at any time of day or night. No longer will they have to wait until business hours open to call and hope for an opening. 

2. Add a Customer-Accessible Chatbot 

For businesses that don’t operate through appointments, a website chatbot can provide similar results. Chatbots can answer frequently asked questions and direct internet visitors to key resources without the need of a human agent. Because it runs itself, a chatbot can assist everyone from the night owls to the early birds searching the internet outside of operating hours.

Unfortunately, chatbots are limited. Artificial intelligence is growing and improving rapidly, but there will still be unique questions and problems that can only be resolved by an employee. Nevertheless, a chatbot can help with a lot of basic needs and even provide a quick and direct way for customers to send inquiries that require the assistance of a live agent. 

3. Optimize Customer-Accessibility for Every Device

Not everyone does their online shopping and internet research on a desktop computer anymore. Browsing with a mobile device is increasingly common. Businesses that optimize their websites for smartphones and tablets make their products and services more customer-accessible to users of all devices.

Due to different screen proportions, mobile web pages require different dimensions and formatting in order to remain user-friendly. The theme can remain the same, but changing the mobile layout to be more scrollable will enable mobile users to ingest information more easily.

Many businesses have found success by developing mobile apps instead of focusing on optimizing their browser capabilities. Developing an app requires a little more work, but it can boost retention rates by making it easier to receive notifications and access your business’s services. 

4. Try New Types of Customer-Accessible Communication

Phone lines and online chat boxes aren’t the only ways to communicate with customers. In fact, your customers might prefer something more direct than an email but less formal than filling out a request form on a website. Opening up new lines of communication caters to the communication needs and desires of every customer you have.

A growing trend in customer communication is social media. Businesses can use a Twitter thread, for example, to diagnose a customer’s problem and provide them with a solution. Opening up direct messaging from Facebook and Instagram will also enable customers who see your content online to send a quick message before the moment passes.

Another great reason to communicate through social media is to better take advantage of these platforms’ other resources. For example, numerous social media sites have built-in shop links where you can post your products for quicker and more customer-accessible sales. Social media browsers interested in buying can send a message on the platform to solidify their intent to buy in a matter of moments. 

5. Outsource Customer Service

Is your business scaling faster than you thought? As a short-term solution, consider outsourcing your customer service until you can gain control of your rapidly growing organization. Enlisting a call center to help take care of customers is better than letting your voicemail fill up and leaving potential buyers hanging. 

Customer service solutions such as call centers are still quite common, but they don’t tend to resonate well with customers. Customers appreciate self-service and want quick solutions, so prioritize your other customer service methods even if you implement this one. And if you do choose to go the call center route, vet your provider carefully. 

6. Develop Quality Content

As noted above, customers sometimes have complex questions that can’t be answered by a virtual assistant. Still, those same customers expect quick results even if their problem is one you haven’t had to deal with before. One way to address even the most obscure of customer concerns is through content development.

Maintaining a blog might not be what’s on your mind as an entrepreneur, but a blog can really expand what your brand is capable of. Blog posts can contain information on the most niche of topics, making them more customer-accessible. Customers can search for answers to their unanswered questions within your blog, finding solutions on their own.

A blog will also increase your brand’s visibility over the internet. Consumers who aren’t part of your customer base can ask the same sorts of questions. They can do so on search engines, such as Google, which will then lead them to your blog. This gets them one step closer to making a purchase. 

By making your business more customer-accessible, you encourage loyalty and retention by always being there for your customers. With new customers, you often only get one shot, so start upping your accessibility game today. 

7 Tips for Making the Best Use of Your Resources

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7 Tips for Making the Best Use of Your Resources

Just as there aren’t a lot of shortcuts to success, there’s no foolproof formula for driving your particular business ahead. Establishing your brand and business presence will take time.

This is especially the case when you’re up against established competitors. Business growth and development will be an ongoing process. To succeed, you must consistently put in your best effort and remain focused on your business goals.

While there’s no secret path for surpassing other businesses, there are several proven methods for reaching growth milestones and moving on to your next level of success. One of the best ways of achieving this is to make optimal use of all your existing resources. Listed below are seven strategies that can help.

1. Put the right people in the right places.

Connecting the right person to the right position can have many positive outcomes. It can boost performance, enhance employee value, and ensure consistent, high-quality output.

Far too many companies don’t do a great job with this simple process. To determine the right person for the right job, managers must accurately assess employee skills and compare them to overall company goals. They must then make the best possible use of those skills by placing that employee in a position where opportunities to excel exist.

It’s important to maintain focus on your company’s goals as you seek to achieve better productivity throughout the organization. Before that can happen, you must put together a solid team with the necessary skills to help you achieve those long-term goals.

2. Focus available resources on customer experience.

Every now and then, we all need a reminder that our customers are the reason why we’re in business. The way they perceive your business can make or break your hoped-for future. Customer experience is one area where you must maximize your focus.

Marshall the resources you do have to remain committed to delivering great experiences in terms of quality and service. Over time, your customers will place your brand on a social media pedestal. Falter in this critical area, and they can pull down your brand in no time.

A quick look at the strategies of the most successful businesses will reveal that they all have customer service as the topmost priority. They keep customers happy by offering new and innovative products and services. They make sure customer complaints are addressed quickly and satisfactorily. This helps achieve brand loyalty and long-term customer relationships.

Going one step further, engaging with your social media audience is also helpful. Personalizing their brand experience can ensure a strong bond and repeat business.

3. Avoid waste by developing your ability to adapt quickly.

Successful companies typically embrace the trait of adapting quickly to market demands and responding to change successfully. The ability to switch directions without missing a beat — or losing a customer — represents a huge win. Assuming anyone ever was skeptical of the value of a quick pivot, 2020 served to erase those doubts entirely.

Test different approaches to your audience and then compare various efforts to the resulting analytics. Put numbers to all of your campaigns. Give your team freedom to explore new ideas as a way to discover what works best for your market. At times, you may fail. However, an agile approach will help you pick yourself back up again and keep going.

4. Conduct adequate research on your competition.

Competitor research is one resource you must leverage with a high degree of accuracy. You absolutely must know what your primary competitors are up to. Failing that, it will be incredibly difficult to create a clear marketing strategy for your business.

Identify your competitors. Seek to find what has worked for them. After that, work out how your business can chart a different course. Doing so will help you identify, develop, and implement a different strategy. Competitor research typically leads to a more productive business strategy which, in turn, can lead to better sales and profitability.

5. Practice corporate social responsibility.

Consumers today not only look at businesses as commercial enterprises but often as social platforms as well. They are demonstrating an increased preference for businesses that are passionate about social causes. This frequently goes way beyond “reduce, reuse, recycle.”

Make a habit of practicing corporate social responsibility. Making meaningful contributions to your local community and lending support to causes that make the world a better place are good for your bottom line. They improve your image and earn customer respect.

Express your support publicly. Seek out underserved communities, retirement homes, the physically challenged, environmental causes, and others. You can find many ways of being a socially responsible business. Find and focus on a few that all your employees can affirm.

6. Host community events.

Attending and actively participating in local events can be a great way of growing your network. However, hosting your own events within the community can have a more profound impact on your reputation and brand visibility.

Whether managing a fundraiser or sponsoring a local event, put your best foot forward in an agenda-free fashion. Doing so will help create a better awareness of your business. More importantly, it can create a unique and personalized experience for your customers. The likely outcome will be fostering more personal relationships with your target audience.

7. Participate in (and host) networking events.

Nowadays, networking is one of the most important and influential methods for driving your business prospects. You’ll need to do it regularly to build long-term relationships with customers, vendors, and experts. Your presence at industry-specific events can not only help you learn new things but can also prove to be fertile ground for generating new ideas.

Networking provides the perfect platform for learning from others and sharing your views with industry leaders. Every business needs a solid support system to help sustain and surpass benchmarks. Networking can help you build and maintain that support system.

Summing Up

Businesses must constantly innovate and improve their processes to remain relevant and competitive in their niche. While you might wish you had an unlimited budget for pursuing all these tips with abandon, you live in the real world. You can start small with these ideas and then expand on them as your efforts gain traction.

Making the best use of your available resources is vital for maximizing your ROI. There are many other ways of improving your business prospects, but you have to work with what you have. Keep looking for opportunities, then act on them quickly … before your competitors do.

6 Reasons Why People Love Appointment Software

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How to Use Appointment Software to Get More Customers This Fall

Whether you’re a small business owner or you manage a large group of people, you could probably benefit from appointment software. Not only does this software provide your customers with 24/7 service, but it can also make your life much easier. Instead of having to manage your own calendar, it can be managed for you. The best part is because appointment software offers mobile-friendly features, you can keep track of your schedule wherever you are. 

In this article, we highlight six reasons why people love appointment software: 

1. Schedules Appointments for You

You might not realize it, but scheduling appointments can be very time-consuming. Checking your personal calendar against your client’s availability, sending out appointment invitations, and setting up reminders takes time. Even just 10 minutes a day can add up, especially when you’re scheduling meetings with multiple clients throughout the week.

With appointment software, you don’t have to spend that time. The software will update your schedule for you and even tweak appointments so they fit better within your schedule. Some appointment-scheduling solutions can color-coordinate your calendar, identify first-time clients, schedule recurring calls, and more. 

2. Offers a Mobile-Friendly Interface

Let’s face it, having the capability to schedule appointments on the go is a game-changer. Luckily, several types of appointment software come with their own apps, some of which users can download and use on their mobile devices. This makes it easy for business owners to navigate their schedules regardless of where they’re located. 

Alternatively, some appointment software features a mobile-friendly interface. Users don’t have to download the app to schedule a meeting or make a payment. Instead, they can take advantage of the website’s mobile design and do everything from there.  

3. Offers Enhanced Security Features

Security is another benefit of online appointment software. These days, systems of all kinds have become more advanced in their efforts to deter potential security breaches. The same is true with appointment software. Most appointment systems you can use today include features to help keep both you and your guests safe. 

A majority of these solutions use cloud storage, which prioritizes cybersecurity. Instead of putting pen to paper (and risking your clients’ information being seen by untrustworthy eyes), appointment software keeps everything in a central, safe place. 

You can also set up most appointment software systems to default to your chosen virtual meeting platform and corresponding phone number to facilitate virtual appointments. Whether you prefer Zoom, Google Meet, Webex, or another meeting space, you can connect without giving away your personal phone number. 

4. Schedules Your Breaks for You 

Chances are, you’ve heard how important it is to take breaks while you’re working. But do you? Probably not. If you have a demanding job, stepping away from your computer might seem more like a luxury than a necessity. Well, according to a University of Illinois study, taking breaks in the workplace is critical.

The study discovered that the human brain’s attention decreases when working on a single task for a long period of time. While you might want to keep going until a project is finished, doing so could negatively impact your work. To ensure you’re performing at your best, schedule breaks during the workday. Luckily, appointment software can help you with that. 

All you have to do is schedule breaks the same way you’d schedule recurring calls with clients. Just make sure you follow through with your breaks, instead of ignoring them. 

5. Helps You Stay on Top of Your Finances

Appointment software doesn’t just keep your calendar organized. It can also help manage your company’s finances. By integrating appointment software into your business, you avoid the chance of missing important financial deadlines that could negatively impact your company.

For instance, you can schedule reminders for bill payments to vendors. Expecting an important payment? You can set up notifications for when invoices are at their 30-, 60-, or 90-day due dates. And of course you can use appointment software to schedule important tax filing deadlines. 

6. Creates a Better Customer Experience

As a business owner, you know the importance of providing your customers with a great experience. With so much competition out there, you need the ultimate booking software to make your life and your customers’ lives easier. An online appointment solution means you’re always available whenever your clients need you. 

This is important, especially when you consider the statistics. According to research, 25% of clients under the age of 35 will only book appointments online. Believe it or not, 35% of clients would rather schedule appointments after hours than during the workday. So consider integrating 24/7 appointment software so your clients can reach your business at the time that works best for them. 

Your business might be doing well. But chances are, it could be doing even better by integrating the right kind of software. Given all the reasons to love it, online appointment software could be your best choice.

4 Tips for Revamping Team Synergy Now

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Revamp Your Team Synergy

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Two heads are better than one. Many hands make light work.

There are so many ways we talk about working together, but one word seems to pop up a lot: synergy. However you choose to characterize work, synergy is the way companies get things done. Synergy leads to higher productivity, fewer duplicative efforts, and optimal use of talent. But these days, it’s not always an easy dynamic to achieve.

Remote and hybrid working arrangements can make achieving synergy among teams and across departments challenging. You might once have thought these measures were temporary and things would return to a pre-pandemic normal. But the workplace has changed forever, and your team’s expectations have changed right along with it. Here are four tips for revamping your team’s synergy now.

1. Give the Gift of Time

The pandemic has changed the way we think about time when it comes to work. Normal routines have been altered by closures, safety concerns, and the voluntary cessation of unnecessary activities. The distortion is particularly acute to those working remotely.

Nonetheless, work life goes on. There is still a need to schedule appointments, meetings, and interviews, even if they’re going to be virtual. These interactions still need to occur with customers, with clients, within teams, and across departments.

You can increase synergy by using scheduling software that uncomplicates the entire process. Give everyone 24/7 access to everyone else’s calendar, and anyone can put a meeting in an open slot. It’s also a hassle-free way to accommodate the work schedule for remote workers who may not be clocking in for a traditional 9-to-5 work day.

You can’t cultivate synergy without encouraging people to spend quality time together. If you give your team an easy way to make that happen, they’ll have more opportunities to collaborate. And that is the timeless way to make them measurably productive no matter where they are.

2. Blow Lines of Communication Wide Open

Clear, open, and honest communication is a cornerstone of team synergy. Without that type of communication occurring at all levels, teams become breeding grounds for misinformation. That, in turn, feeds distrust and anxiety, which are completely antithetical to creating positive synergy.

Synergy also relies on the exchange of information and ideas, so communication must be a two-way channel. You may be the person charged with setting goals for your team, but you shouldn’t do so in a vacuum. Remember, you’ve hired some talented people, so give them a shot at weighing in on the discussion.

Many team members may work remotely all or part of the time, so make sure your team has the tech tools they need to keep ideas flowing freely. Messaging, meeting, and collaboration software are essential to synergy.

One-on-one, team, and departmental communication isn’t as easy as walking down the hall anymore. Providing a safe space for frank discussion and expression of ideas, and the tools required to facilitate them, keeps everyone part of the conversation. Remember that many voices make for good synergy.

3. Switch Up the Players on the Field

You can have all the very best talent on your team, but it won’t be a winner without the right chemistry. Given the changes to the work environment, the formula might have changed. If so, you might need to switch it up to get your synergy back on.

Of course, the differences between individual team members are critical. A football team needs slow, fast, beefy, svelte, feet-on-the-ground, and fly-through-the-air players to win. A field full of quarterbacks only will fail miserably.

To foster your team’s success, you need to have the right combination of players in the right positions, using their individual strengths to play as a unit. A pre-pandemic team leader might need to take a supporting role due to work-from-home realities. Another might be stepping up in unexpected ways. Aim to synthesize everyone’s strengths while honoring the new realities of how they work. 

You are the coach in this analogy, which means it’s your job to shake up the lineup if the team’s synergy is waning. It’s OK if you don’t get the combination right the first time. But once you do, make no substitutions as long as your team is on a winning streak.

4. Empower Your People

There’s always the temptation for leaders to micromanage team members, but never more so than when they can’t keep an eye on them. Don’t merely resist the temptation. Do the opposite.

Lead with generosity by giving your team more control and being less of an overlord. You might be disappointed with some results but ridiculously delighted with others. You will be providing your team with some valuable lessons that will encourage them to be better employees.

Among the benefits of empowering team members are increases in creativity, collaboration, and corporate loyalty. This doesn’t mean you hand over total control, since, after all, the proverbial buck will continue to stop with you. Your empowered team will still count on you for input and guidance.

Team members are not unlike students who want to impress the teacher. But what they’ll realize is they can’t complete an assignment without the talent and insight of the other members of the team. For that, they need synergy.

There Is No “I” in Synergy

Synergistic results are unpredictable because you never know for sure what solutions will emerge from the intersection of diverse talents and skills. Not to worry — innovation is unpredictable.

What is predictable is that teams without synergy are lackluster and unproductive. Time, communication, and empowerment were easier deliverables back in the day. Although more challenging, they aren’t impossible to deliver now.

All it takes are the right tools, agile leadership, and a commitment to getting all those moving parts working together. The team may look a little different now, but there’s still no “I” in team — or in synergy.

How Implementing New Tech Tools Can Improve Team Efficiency

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How Implementing New Tech Tools Can Improve Team Efficiency

Everywhere you turn, there’s a new tech tool promising to offer you more time, energy, or sales. They sound amazing on the surface, but if you choose the wrong one, they can produce more frustration than solutions.

The good news is, there are productivity and efficiency tools that are worth your time. In this article, we’ll cover some new tech tools and how you can introduce them to your team. After you’re done reading, you’ll be inspired to integrate them into both your work and personal life.

Collaboration Tools

Organizing your team’s workload is essential to accomplishing your goals and should be the first place you pursue improved productivity. Adding collaboration software to your arsenal is a great way to harness the power of your team. 

Team members today are often working remotely, off-site with clients, or scattered throughout the office. This makes managing workflow a challenge if you don’t use tech to bridge the gaps. 

Project management tools like ClickUp and Asana break projects down into discrete tasks and allow you to assign responsible parties for each one. The entire team can see when deliverables are due, which tasks depend on others, and who gets the baton next. Prioritizing how team members collaborate, plan, and execute can be the difference in whether or not they reach their goals.

Calendar Management Tools

It’s no secret that time, the best-known nonrenewable resource, is gold when it comes to business and life. Calendar management can be a game-changer when it comes to wrangling the hours your team has available to work. Identifying the time spent in meetings, pursuing new business, or completing administrative tasks can pinpoint where to improve efficiency. 

Giving team members and sales prospects the opportunity to self-schedule commitments can eliminate time waste as well. Just think, how many emails have you exchanged trying to find a mutually beneficial time to meet with a colleague or client? Using a tool to help tackle calendar chaos makes managing your team’s time, and efficiency, effortless.

List Management Tools

Oh, lists. Don’t we love them? They can be so satisfying to write down, check off, and — ideally — move on from. 

But at what point do we step away from all of the list-making and get to the task-doing? Luckily, there are list management tools that tech pros praise and use to get their most important work done. The best part? Many of them integrate with other much-loved and -used tools that help you manage your schedule, team, and conversations. 

Use list managers to keep track of work responsibilities, and you and your team will be checking off completed tasks in short order. Apps like Todoist and Any.Do even allow you to share tasks with another person and assign priority levels. 

Messaging Tools

Say you’re working from home and so are your colleagues. What’s the most efficient way to reach out for a project status? If you send an email, chances are you’ll wait hours for a reply. When your team is spread out (and even when it’s not), real-time messaging platforms like Slack and Google Chat can be a godsend. 

They’re also more efficient. How many times has a traditional check-in been derailed by a debate about the latest blockbuster? Messaging platforms provide channels where you can keep the sales team’s eyes on #sales and the teamwide discussion of “Black Widow” in #entertainment. 

Messaging tools keep it simple, keep it focused, and — even better — keep a record. You can easily check back to what was said or committed to as a way of tracking progress and assignments. Employees can get instant answers to questions, removing obstacles to making progress. That’s a win-win, whether you’re in the office or working remotely.

How to Get Started

So you’ve decided to implement some of the new tech tools you’ve learned about with your team. But where do you begin? First, you’ll want to determine which ones you’d like to prioritize. As with any behavioral change, a clear message from team leadership is critical. For simplicity’s sake, it’s best to integrate one new tool at a time to have the best chances of it sticking. 

Second, be intentional. Once you’ve chosen a tool, have a conversation with your team about why you want to implement it and how you think it will help. In high-performing teams, transparency, buy-in, and active listening are key. 

Hold a meeting with a set agenda, leaving space for conversation and questions. At the meeting, share how you selected this new tool, provide research, and pitch its features and benefits. Be sure to establish expectations on how the team will use it and how you’ll monitor its effectiveness. 

Finally, reinforce the new tool and be its champion. As the leader of your team, you’ll be looked to for guidance, pointers, and reassurance. Educate yourself, devise a plan, and execute it as you implement this tool and others with your team. With your new tech assistants, you’ll become productivity masters in no time. 

How to Prep Your Home Office This Summer for a Productive 2022

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How to Prep Your Home Office This Summer for a Productive 2022

Home offices saw a lot of use over the past year and a half. This is thanks in large part to the wave of remote workers who settled in at home during the Covid-19 pandemic. Working from home kept individuals and families safe from the spread of the virus while still enabling them to get their jobs done.

Since restrictions have been lifted, numerous workers have opted to keep working remotely at least part of the time. Being closer to family, enjoying greater flexibility, and avoiding tedious commutes are some of the many reasons why more people are choosing to stay home. The rise of hybrid work — toiling at home some days and in the office on others — is an interesting trend to follow.

If hybrid work is calling to you, you’ll have some preparations to make. Your home office will be glad that you’re still putting it to use, but there are a few alterations you can make this summer to prepare for a brand-new year of work in 2022:

Deep Clean

When your home office becomes a part-time arrangement, the last thing you want to do is have to tidy it up on the days you work remotely. Since summer is usually more flexible, use the time you have to deep clean your home office so that it’s spotless and orderly for the winter months. As you settle into a hybrid schedule, you won’t have to worry about your office not being ready for use.

In addition to giving the physical space a deep clean, the computer system you use to stay connected with work could also use a reboot. Clear your computer of unused data or documents that might be slowing it down or taking up space. Cancel any software subscriptions that you’re no longer using or will no longer need as you transition away from full-time remote work. 

Optimize Your Efficiency

After you’ve handled the tangible aspects of your home office, it’s time to work out the kinks in your system of operations. Quarantine habits aren’t always the greatest, and there are probably a few things about your home office that should be changed to ensure maximum productivity.

While sheltering in place, you might have gotten too accustomed to the flexibility of schedule you were able to enjoy. Clients, customers, and co-workers could call or message whenever because they could largely count on you being at home. Now that life and work are reverting back to normal, this won’t always be the case.

In this situation, you would benefit greatly from implementing appointment software into your system of operations. Use scheduling links and an online calendar to book meetings and phone calls so that your new hybrid schedule doesn’t get tangled up. Look for other tools to help improve your efficiency as well as productivity hacks that will make your hybrid work setup run smoothly. 

Enable Easy Transitioning

During the long months of lockdown during the pandemic, workers settled into their home offices and got comfortable. Now many companies are expecting their employees to show up at least a few times a week to the main office. If you fall into this hybrid category, you’ll fare much better by arranging your home office for easy transitioning. 

Start by determining how many things you need to take from home to your work location. If all you need to transfer is your laptop, this will be easy. However, if you have other materials and paperwork that need to be moved back and forth, you’ll need to be better organized.

For example, you can implement a filing system that allows you to quickly withdraw any needed paperwork from a folder or cabinet to take to the office. You won’t have to go hunting it down, and a neat folder can be easily slid into a backpack or briefcase. Keeping your favorite writing materials or other office supplies in a carrying case also enables easy transitioning from site to site. 

Take Advantage of Back-to-School Sales

Classes are starting up again in August and September. Each year this means stores are putting on sales for all back-to-school essentials, from backpacks and three-hole punches to jackets and jeans. While these sales are geared toward students and their parents, you’ll be able to stock up on materials for your home office, too. 

If your line of work relies on a number of paper products, hit up a back-to-school sale to stock up on everything you need at a more affordable price. This ensures that your home office will always be equipped even if you don’t know for certain the next time you’ll be working remotely. 

Upgrade Your Video Technology

At the beginning of the pandemic, having poor video quality or a bad microphone was fine since the shift to remote work was new to many. Employees were doing the best they could to manage with the resources available during lockdown. Now that businesses are fully reopened, if you plan on working from home at all, you will be expected to do it right.

In anticipation of any team meetings or customer calls over videoconferencing software, amp up your home office with a better camera and mic system — if you haven’t already. You can purchase an inexpensive microphone with a USB plug-in that will work much better than your generic Apple earbuds or the microphone built into your computer. A simple webcam will give you an enhanced video feed, which will leave a better impression on any clients or shareholders you may ever meet with online. 

As you continue to utilize your home office, don’t shy away making improvements to it this summer and beyond. It is yours to mold, and it doesn’t have the same restrictions a cubicle might. Above all else, prioritize productivity, and your home office will be the residence of one of America’s best workers.

How Analytics Can Help Your Small Business

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How Analytics Can Help Your Small Business

In our increasingly digital age, it can be all too easy for a small business owner to become overwhelmed by a sudden glut of available data. It seems like every new gadget or operations upgrade connects to the internet and includes an opportunity to accurately measure something or other to which they previously gave very little thought.

Some business owners make the rookie mistake of collecting as much data as possible, meticulously entering it into spreadsheets, and more or less leaving it at that. Successful entrepreneurs, on the other hand, understand that increased opportunities for data collection can be helpful, but only when those analytics are leveraged. Simply stated, they know the difference between raw data and actionable data.

The time to be impressed by internet-enabled devices that spit out new forms of previously uncollectible data is over. Small business owners, in particular, need to bring an increased level of discernment to data that’s merely “cool” vs. data that can help them increase efficiency and profits.

The best place to start is not by compiling all the data available to you but instead pausing long enough to write down a few simple questions. Only after you’ve decided which questions you’d like to answer can you begin to assess which analytics might actually prove helpful. Listed below are four questions just about any small business owner can adopt or adapt, along with pointers for how newer forms of data can help provide actionable answers.

1. Where are we wasting time?

The difference between time and money is that money can be replaced. Business owners and managers should be setting the tone in terms of effective time management during office hours. When management consistently demonstrates respect for the value of time, that attitude tends to filter down to the frontline staff. Conversely, managers who call meetings for no apparent reason can’t reasonably expect employees to place much value on anyone’s time.

Nowadays, there are many scheduling apps that include reporting features that will allow you to more effectively track how you’re spending time and whether or not that investment is paying off. For example, time-tracking analytics can be cross-referenced against customer billing numbers to assess ROI. This relatively simple exercise can be eye-opening in terms of surfacing high-maintenance individuals who, as it turns out, are not contributing all that much to revenue. 

Is the relationship worth the ongoing effort? Time-reporting analytics can help you decide whether to limit specific client contact to certain levels of time commitment or not.

2. Which demographics are falling away?

An investment in customer relationship management (CRM) software can provide individualized feedback on customer preferences, allowing your business to tailor its offerings accordingly. Marketing campaigns can be tweaked to highlight products and services that seem to strike a chord with your regulars. Emails can include a higher degree of personalization. Special events can be designed to respond to feedback.

Additionally, CRM data can chart changes in your customer base and help you do a little exploration. For example, visits to your salon by your 50+ customers may have driven the lion’s share of high-end sales, but those visits have declined precipitously. Is the falloff in any way related to how your business is operating in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic? Or did your product or service line shift such that your more mature customers are no longer interested? 

If the latter, are you OK with that shift? Analytics provided by just about any CRM package should provide the data you need to analyze who your customers are, what they care about, and how you can tailor your business to their needs.

3. At what point do our website visitors lose interest?

Website analytics, in particular, are one area where it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of available data. This is where your ability to formulate relevant, niche-specific questions before you start excavating data is most likely to save you from being over-informed and under-actioned. In particular, owners of appointment-based need to pay close attention to website bounce rates and abandoned scheduling forms.

Did you lose the booking when they read your terms and conditions or when you requested prepayment? Was the user confused by being presented with too many options too soon? Website analytics can provide the when, but you might need to investigate further to find the why.

If, for example, you notice a high bounce rate on a website resource that features one of your most popular offerings, that definitely merits a closer look. The problem might be tied to something as complex as mobile browser compatibility or something as easy to fix as a lousy photo. As you study online analytics, scan for any anomalies as your first step.

4. What do our Wi-Fi analytics reveal about peak business hours?

By encouraging customers to freely use your on-premises Wi-Fi, you can learn a lot. What days and times of the week see the most walk-in traffic? You can use this information to make sure you have enough staff on hand to serve these impromptu clients.

If users sign on via their social media accounts, you can glean further insights from demographic data. Are certain age groups more apt to patronize your business at certain times of day? You can tailor everything from promotions to in-office music choices accordingly.

Proceed with caution, though. There’s a fine balance to be struck between using Wi-Fi analytics to enhance your bottom line and being too nosy. Customers are growing increasingly wary of the data that any service provider collects, so you’ll want to be proactive about this. 

A simple disclaimer informing customers that you collect data to enhance their experience with your business is typically sufficient. Not every customer will agree to your terms and conditions, but many will, thereby helping you increase the overall effectiveness of your staffing and outreach.

Analytics can be powerful tools … or they can be powerful distractions.

There is no denying that objective, empirical data is a good thing. The question every business owner needs to address is whether or not specific forms of data can be utilized to foster growth. Depending on the niche you occupy, newer forms of analytics might be interesting but not helpful. Focus on data that facilitates needed changes.

Don’t fall into the trap of collecting and charting data merely for the sake of collecting and charting data. As you encounter newer forms of analytics that can be conducted, stop and ask yourself whether you should. By keeping an ongoing log of relevant business issues you hope to address with data, your data-sifting process will become much simpler.

9 Pro Tips for Conducting a Hybrid Meeting

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9 Pro Tips for Conducting a Hybrid Meeting

As companies return to having employees in the office, they may realize hybrid operations are a must. 

Now instead of having meetings with everyone in person or everyone online, you need a hybrid solution. However, this solution creates a new set of meeting challenges to overcome. 

Here are a few smart tips for including video attendees in important in-person meetings without making it awkward for everyone.

1. Share the Agenda

Meetings run smoother when you have an agenda and stick to it during the meeting—sharing it before the session helps attendees prepare. It also helps keeps remote workers connected so they know what is going on and meeting expectations. Add any online references or links to resources that everyone will need. The central information center will help keep the entire team in sync.

2. Use the Most Current Technology

If your conference room equipment hasn’t been updated in a while, now is the time to do it. After a year of everyone being on video conferencing, people expect to see and hear everything clearly. As a result, old conference room telephone systems and outdated audio need to be replaced to keep remote participants engaged.

Don’t forget to check for software updates too. For example, platforms are adding emoji options to give video participants ways to react and share feedback without disrupting the meeting. Some providers are also developing new tools so participants in the room can use chat along with online members. 

3. Show Everyone’s Face if Possible

Remind online participants to keep their videos running and show their faces. If that isn’t possible, encourage them to use a professional headshot for their off-video setting. You also want to have cameras set up in the conference room to capture people’s faces in the room. 

It also helps if you can use a big screen to show the gallery view of participants. Helping everyone be able to see each other’s faces and expressions builds a connection with online participants. In addition, it helps remind speakers to make eye contact with people not in the room by looking at the camera as another person in the room.

4. Start the Video Before the Meeting Starts

Assign someone to start the online meeting room before the official start of the meeting. This can serve a couple of purposes. First, it’s a good time to troubleshoot any technical issues. Second, it gives you a chance to ensure video and audio are working so you can save the meeting time for the agenda.

Finally, it also gives online participants a chance to accomplish a tech check of their own. They’ll be more engaged and less stressed if they aren’t trying to fix their tech issues after the meeting has started.

As a bonus, they’ll be able to take part in the informal conversations and watercooler talk that happens between in-person attendees while they are waiting for meetings to start.

5. Discourage Side Conversations

Online members can’t hear what’s being said clearly when more than one person is talking. Microphones will pick up the side conversations, even whispered sounds. It’s a sign of respect to your video participants to make sure only one person is talking. That way, everyone can hear and participate.

Sometimes the conversation may get exciting, and people try to talk over each other. You may want to add a touch of humor and a trick to moderate this by using a physical “talking stick.” The only person allowed to talk is the person with the stick. When they are finished, they can pass the stick to the next person. The meeting leader should proactively make sure that online members get a virtual stick and a chance to speak too. 

6. Be Deliberate to Include Online Members

It’s easy to overlook people who aren’t in the room. To keep them connected and engaged, be deliberate about making sure to include them. For example, when the meeting starts, greet them by name and ask them to recap their weekend. Giving them a chance to share helps people in the room connect with the virtual audience as well.

As the meeting occurs, don’t forget to ask those on video if they have questions or comments. And remember, silence can be your friend here. It may take people a moment to come off mute, so don’t be in a rush to fill the quiet.  

At the end of the meeting, go around and ask everyone for their takeaway from the meeting. And start with those online. That guarantees members have a chance for any final questions or comments they needed to add. 

7. Plan Facilitation Help

Meeting leaders may find it helpful to ask a co-worker in the room to act as a facilitator. Their role here is to watch the online participants for indications they need to add a comment. For example, virtual members may turn off mute or use the raise hand function to indicate they want to speak. If members in the room don’t notice, the facilitator should mention it to the room so the online members can share. 

8. Use Group Collaboration Tools

Many times, meetings include whiteboard activities. Most platforms have added virtual whiteboards that video participants can also see. If the virtual whiteboard isn’t an option, make sure you have a way of showing the papers in the room on camera so that everyone can read them.

Another good practice is to use polling software that can consolidate responses from people in the room and online. That may mean employees in the room also need to have an online device with them in the meeting. Let them know this ahead of the meeting to have their device with them and the app installed.

9. Get Feedback

As people start returning to offices and in-person meetings, hybrid meeting practices will grow and evolve. Seek feedback from meeting attendees. Ask them to rate the meeting and provide suggestions for how to improve the experience. It may also help to make sure facilitators occasionally attend hybrid meetings virtually. This first-hand experience will help them get a feel for the online experience and what can be done better.

Conclusion

A recent survey conducted by McKinsey shows that nine out of ten executives expect to have hybrid work. Moreover, as people return to in-person operations, most people expect more remote work than before the pandemic.

The tips above can help make sure your hybrid meeting runs smoothly and keep everyone engaged wherever they happen to be located.

How to Use Appointments to Improve Your Decision-Making

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How to Use Appointments to Improve Your Decision-Making

Snap decisions often cause regrettable damage to our finances, relationships, and overall well-being. When confronted with a difficult decision, especially one that evokes an emotional response, it’s important to take your time and think through it from several angles. Try to let the emotional side take a back seat and consider your decision objectively.

This can be admittedly difficult to do. These decisions and the stress they cause can weigh on your mind and consume your time. How can you think about work or other important matters when such big decisions loom?

Sometimes, putting a placeholder on your calendar can relieve immediate stress and help you assess a wide range of situations more dispassionately. Doing so can also allow you to put the decision out of your mind so you can focus on tasks at hand. Your calendar placeholder ensures you won’t forget to revisit the decision, meaning you don’t have to fret it about in the meantime. That alone will give you some peace of mind.

Block Out Time for Projects and Decisions

Sometimes we have so much to do it’s hard to sit down and concentrate. Scheduling our time through our online calendars and apps can help us get important things accomplished. 

Look at everything you need to get done for the day. Then schedule out blocks of time for each task. This will enable you to really focus on one thing at a time and boost your productivity. 

Doing this also helps declutter your mind. Keeping all your tasks for your professional and personal life in your head can add to your stress and anxiety. Getting it all down in your calendar enables you to clear your mind so you can actually complete your to-dos.

You schedule appointments to get things done at work all the time. Why not do the same for your personal life? Add in your haircut or your kid’s soccer game. The less you have to keep in your head, the freer you are to be fully present. 

Adding appointments for time to reflect or do research will facilitate your decision-making as well. You might schedule time to pore over your budget to see if you can buy the SUV you’ve been eyeing. You might also set aside time to compare various models and the dealer incentives different brands are offering. Taking this prep time lets you keep your purchase a priority but prevents you from recklessly signing on the dotted line at the urging of a smooth-talking sales rep.

Assess How You Use Your Time

As you begin to schedule time for decision-making purposes, you might feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done. How can you decide on the best uses of your time? Start by learning exactly what takes up your time at work and at home.

Calendar analytics can show you what you’ve been up to and inform your decisions about how you spend your time. Are you in meetings all day? Do you devote lots of travel time getting to a shared work space? Do all your kids’ sports have you on the road several days a week? With calendar analytics, you can learn the distribution of your calendar appointment types and see the locations of your meetings. 

With this information, you can re-evaluate and make necessary changes so you can make the most of your limited hours. If you need to schedule a time for decision-making purposes, it can open your eyes to the best days and times available.

Use Dead Time for Productive Purposes

After reviewing your calendar analytics, you might discover blocks of wasted or dead time. You might find yourself waiting at the doctor’s office or when picking your kids up. Maybe you have a 30-minute gap between meetings or a long commute. You can make better decisions about how you spend this time, too. These little blocks of time can really add up!

You can leverage this time to learn a new skill or catch up on an enriching podcast. These solo moments could also be a good time to come to a decision on an issue at the office or at home. When you see that gap, go ahead and add an appointment to your calendar. For example, “Reflect on ways to save money this month.”

Improve Your Time Management

When deciding on the best use of your limited hours, it all comes down to time management. Effective time management will increase your productivity and help you stay on top of your obligations both at work and at home. If you find yourself routinely completing work tasks at the last minute or paying your rent late, you’ll need to find ways to be more organized.

After all, disorganization can spill over into those big life decisions as well. Poor time management can cause you to have to make a quick, last-minute choice that you’ll regret later. 

When it comes to big decisions, giving yourself plenty of time to make informed, cool-headed  choices is key. Setting calendar reminders for these moments can give you the space and mental clarity you need to to set yourself up for a great life.

Time Blocking and Appointment-Making: 6 Tips to Get Started

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Time Blocking and Appointment-Making: 6 Tips to Get Started

The jig is up. It’s time to admit that multitasking is not a productive strategy for getting stuff done. Research actually proves that the opposite is true. Multitasking makes you less effective at all of the tasks you’re juggling, but time blocking can solve this issue.

The question now is, how can you hope to get multiple tasks done in a single day without multitasking? If you’re using an appointment software package, the answer is right in front of you. This program can be leveraged to use time blocking to increase productivity. Here’s how to get started:

1. Get to Know Time Blocking

To get started, you first need to understand what time blocking entails. This is a time management practice that involves the use of a calendar or scheduling tool to organize your time. 

You start by dividing your daily schedule into blocks of time. Each block is then assigned a specific task. During that time period, all of your attention is focused on the task at hand until the time block transitions to the next.

For example, let’s say you have a bad habit of checking your email throughout the day, diverting your attention away from other tasks and projects. You can use time blocking to set specific times during which you’ll read and respond to emails. Outside of those time blocks, email will be left out of the picture. 

2. Create a To-Do List

How do you figure out which tasks belong in which time blocks? Start by creating a daily to-do list. Write out everything you need to accomplish in the coming days, both small tasks and large-scale projects.

Next, rank your tasks in order of importance. Some tasks will require more time and attention, while others have specific deadlines that must be met. Prioritizing these tasks as such will give you a better idea of how to organize your time blocks. 

Now that you have your list, it’s time to transfer it to your schedule. Make time blocks for your urgent tasks early in the day. Follow up with larger time blocks for your other projects and fill in the cracks with meetings, breaks, and anything else worthy of your time. 

3. Practice Discipline

Time blocking will not work if you don’t practice discipline. Your appointment schedule will mean nothing if you constantly allow outside forces to penetrate your time management plan. 

If you find yourself struggling to stick with the same task without getting distracted, try using the Pomodoro Technique. This time management approach is a spin on time blocking that helps you break down your schedule into manageable pieces. 

It works like this. You schedule your time out in small windows, or blocks, anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour. During that time you focus on nothing but the task at hand. After the block ends, take a scheduled break of five to 10 minutes to recharge. These small sprints will keep your focus level high and help you accomplish tons of tasks in a single day. 

4. Ease Into It

Time blocking will take some getting used to. It can be overwhelming to attempt to schedule out every minute of your day if you haven’t done so before. Instead of diving right in, ease yourself into time blocking for a smooth transition.

There are a couple of ways you can ease yourself into a time blocking schedule. First, consider setting only large blocks of time that don’t come with the stress of a tight deadline. Keep each time block at least an hour long to get started.

Another method is to use time blocking for only a portion of your day. For example, intense time blocking can help you have a productive and structured morning, while the afternoon is left more open and free. 

5. Make Time for Everything

One of the most common mistakes people make when time blocking is not leaving enough time to complete tasks properly. Not everyone can be like Elon Musk, who schedules his day in five-minute increments. You’ll almost always be better off blocking off more time than you anticipate needing for a task.

Let’s use a team meeting as an example. Normally these meetings would last about an hour. Instead of blocking off exactly 60 minutes in your schedule, block off 75 or even 90 minutes. This ensures you have the necessary buffer time to move to another meeting or project even if this meeting runs a bit long. 

If you finish a task before your time block is up, there’s no need to stress. Rather, do just the opposite. Use that extra time to stretch your legs and organize your thoughts before moving to the next time block. When your schedule is laid out to your liking, you don’t need to move things up when extra time appears. 

6. Get Some Rest

It’s been mentioned a few times already, but getting rest is so important that it deserves its own subheading. While time blocking can help you accomplish more with your day, it’s not meant to burn you out quickly. Blocking off time for rest and relaxation is key to unlocking your full productivity. 

Using the Pomodoro Technique builds in some short breaks, but to really stave off burnout, you need to schedule more rest than that. Use time blocking to get more done in less time so that you can get home to your family earlier or take that fishing trip you’ve been longing for all summer. You’ll feel just as accomplished and have more time to enjoy life outside of the office. 

Time blocking will show you just how much you can get done in a single day. Start using your appointment software of choice to organize your time and see just how much more you can accomplish with this time management technique

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