How Have Business Networking and Communications Changed?

Business NetworkingOh, the good old days of doing business!  And I am not talking 20-30 years ago I am only talking 6-7 years ago.  There was always an expectation that business people would join business groups like Lions or Rotary to network with other business owners, but that necessity is changing rapidly.

In fact if you are relying on those networks for your business in 2009 you are almost considered ‘out of the loop’.  Business these days is conducted on the internet via social sites and emails.   Interesting that they call them social sites because people who join these sites for business are not  in many of cases, very social.  Often it is a matter of targeting specific clients or groups and building relationships for business purposes only.

It is a fact that even company meetings have changed.  More and more companies are changing to having meetings on the internet with attendees being anywhere from down the hallway to half way across the globe.

How is this affecting your business?  Are you losing that personal contact with staff or with your customers?  Obviously virtual business is infiltrating our systems more and more, but business owners need to be extremely careful that they do not lose touch with their clients.

One step that major companies have taken because of this factor is to improve their customer service divisions.  Even in only the last 2 years there has been a noticeable difference in customer service.

Microsoft cuts jobs – time for entrepreneurs to flourish!

lightbulbsglobeThe news that Microsoft is making its first mass layoffs in its 34-year history (according to the The Associated Press) is big news here in the Seattle-area as all of us are directly or indirectly impacted by the job cuts.  Microsoft is one of the Northwest’s largest employers and everyone in Seattle either works for Microsoft or has a family member, friend or neighbor working at Microsoft.  Whether or not someone we know loses their job, we know how difficult it can be working for a company undergoing an unprecedented internal transition. Champion Assistants is headquarted in Kirkland, just a 15-minute drive from Microsoft’s Redmond campus and we greatly value the impact the company has had in our region – providing jobs to so many and boosting the level of technological-savvy and development in the region.  Champion Assistants is a registered partner with Microsoft and we’re always keeping an eye out for what Microsoft is innovating.

In addition to Microsoft, the Puget Sound region is also known as being a region where entrepreneurs flourish – especially for minority-owned businesses according to Prosperity Partnership.org.  According to Washington State, women are considered minorities in business and therefore 51% majority women-owned businesses qualify for special loan rates as well as business counseling services from organizations such as the Community Capital Development Washington Business Center.  There are a number of free resources available to small business owners and entrepreneurs both nationally through the SBA and in Washington State.  I always recommend starting with free resources and exhausting them before paying for advice.

With layoffs being announced across various industries and company sizes, I think this economy will present innovators with an excellent opportunity to develop their ideas and go into business for themselves.  Being layed off can be discouraging, but realizing creative talent and ambition while working from home is tremendously rewarding.  I strongly believe that home offices will become micro-power centers of innovation over the next couple years.  Good talent rarely sits idle.

With the convenience of the home office and low barrier to entry for online sales, there is tremendous opportunity for small business to capture niche market share and sell online with extremely low overhead costs.  It isn’t all doom and gloom with layoffs.  Now is the time to fulfill dreams and stay productive at what we all do best and are passionate about.  Carpe diem!  If you are one of the many being affected by restructuring and layoffs, now is the time to develop your ideas and sell online.

Best,

Heather

InfusionSoft – Think twice before sinking your money in this CRM tool

Champion Assistants Technology TeamI’ve seen a number of clients invest in CRM tools that are far more powerful than their businesses require – and more expensive than they can currently afford – because their business advisers have told them that they should invest in technologies now that will support their future business plans.  These business advisers instill the fear  in their clients that their company won’t be prepared in the future when their prospects and clients outweigh the capability for the company to manage them.  I have never witnessed a case where this was the reality.  In reality, the sudden onslaught of clients never comes, and even if it were to, most CRM systems are built so that all current data can be easily migrated with a learning curve for using the technology.

The biggest example I have seen in unfortunate CRM purchases is InfusionSoft.  I have seen InfusionSoft touted by so-called industry experts and gurus (think Dan Kennedy, Bill Glazer, Ali Brown) who advise info-marketers to invest in this CRM solution now in preparation for future business.  InfusionSoft has a number of drawbacks like not being able to paste text in various modules and difficulties pasting links to name a couple quick irritants.  The biggest thing about InfusionSoft is that it is NOT for info-marketers.  InfusionSoft is for businesses with actual sales teams.  To use InfusionSoft effectively the business needs to be sales-oriented, equipped with a multi-person sales force, have a database with hundreds of thousands of contacts AND have the budget to effectively implement this technology.  The time to migrate data, implement the tool and train a salesforce how to use it – and continue to update it – is extremely time intensive.  This is not the responsibility of a business owner either.  This is the responsiblity of an IT Leader.  While Champion Assistants provides the service of IT Team Lead, we are very careful to only work with clients who have a business that is both financially and mentally prepared for a company-wide CRM rollout.

Sadly, I have seen a number of solo-preneurs buy InfusionSoft on the recommendation of their marketing or sales advisor and start implementing the software only to find that it’s extremely cumbersome to use and their business only requires a fraction of the power of the tool.  InfusionSoft is not for contact management.  It is in fact a full-scale CRM tool.  Also, I have seen that the people referring this software get a handsome referral bonus, and I know there are ulterior motives at play as well.  For instance the Dan Kennedy – Bill Glazer Inner Circle has made huge amounts of money through their referrals to InfusionSoft.  They make so much money they actually hold presentations on buying InfusionSoft at their SuperConference and InfoSummit conferences!  It’s great business for them, but not necessarily the right decision for all of those people trying to follow the Dan Kennedy – Bill Glazer methods.

I advise against purchasing any technologies that require your business to grow into.  It’s difficult to predict if the tool will be outdated by the time you need it or if there would have been a better solution based on what your business actually needs at the time. Save yourself time and aggravation and focus on strategic growth instead.

Best,

Heather

Considerations When Doing Business Internationally

If you are considering doing business abroad there are likely many questions running through your mind. What products sell well in that market? How do I market in other countries? Do I need a separate website? These are all very important questions, but the most important question has nothing to do with your business. Do you know and understand the culture in the country you wish to do business in? If you don’t, than you will need to start researching.

Human culture drives our every decision. From what we buy, what we eat, to how we interact with one another. Every aspect of our lives is centered by our cultural beliefs. For businesses this means adapting to each culture’s needs and desires. In order for a business to succeed internationally they must be flexible, ready for change, and well informed. It may be necessary to change how you do business in order to make doing business possible in some instances.
A culture is more than just its people. Culture, as defined by wikipedia, is generally referring to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activities significance and importance. You will need to take into consideration the language, the environment, habits, and religion. All of these will factor into what products you offer and how you market those products. Different cultures have different buying triggers. By learning about the culture and what is expected, you will also cue into these triggers.

Know your competition. There are very few uncharted waters in the world of business these days, which makes it a lot easier to get where you want to go. By reviewing your competition and speaking with them, you will have a better idea of where to start without repeating their mistakes.

Another good idea is to talk with an international business adviser before taking that final step. An adviser can help you hone your ideas and plans so that they will be more effective in the market you wish to do business in. There are a number of government organization dedicated to trade advancement, and they are an invaluable free resource. These organization can connect you with trade representatives in intended countries of trade, provide statistics, and advise you based on your trade strategy.
What is some of the best advice you’ve been given about doing business internationally?
Best, Kristi


Localize Your Website – Adapt, Organize and Translate!

Nothing is more frustrating than a site you can’t navigate for a product you need or want. If you want to keep the customers you draw in you need to make sure it’s easy for them to understand you. Whether your intended audience is down the street or across an ocean it is imperative to speak the language. Keep in mind that language is more than just words, but also how those words are used. There are three principals to keep in mind when localizing your website, and all of them will help your target audience identify with your website message.

Translate: Take the initiative and translate your site into the language of the area you wish to do business in. Don’t forget that translating is more than just word for word. The use of local phrases and concepts will set the tone for your translated site and give a boost to your credibility.

Organize: If you know your target audience, chances are you also know your competition. How a website is organized says a lot about a company. There are generally accepted formats for websites which differ from region to region and country to country. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to organize your website properly. Dramatic effects are great for artists, but can and will hurt a websites credibility. Sites with too many or disruptive effects will make a sight feel gimmicky.

Adapt: You expect the store down the street to speak your language and sell the products you like, so why wouldn’t an e-store be the same? Different cultures expect different things from a website. By learning and adapting to those differences you will set yourself apart. The Chinese, for example, expect as much information as possible on a website, thus the highly trafficked sites in that region look very busy. In the US, the most trafficked websites are clean and simple. Put aside the notion that the way you have been doing things is best. It’s time to go with the flow!

Localizing your website to each individual culture will draw more people who will be more likely to buy. If you want to be taken seriously you need to do your research. Know the culture, the expectations, and your target market, and remember that no two cultures are identical.

Please contact us if you have any questions or would like help localizing your website.

Best,

Kristi

What Do You Charge?

Deciding what to charge clients is a complex process based on factors including cost of goods or services, overhead and business expenses. Lately there is a lot of talk about charging a client what you think you’re worth, which seems vague and possibly self-defeating. What you charge should probably take into account your value to them!

In addition to the above factors, the price you charge depends on the following:

  • Who you attract. Price according to your target clients. If you market to upscale clientele your prices should reflect that.
  • Effective sales process. Define the sales process and make sure it works smoothly every time. Many of us have left a business frustrated by not being able to make a purchase simply because of the inability of the salesperson to take an order, ring it up and deliver. It may seem simple, but make sure your sales process is clear and functional.
  • Persuasive sales language. Using persuasive sales language creates images in prospects’ minds of what they can have by choosing you. A positive image will result in them choosing you and willingness to pay more for what they expect.
  • Congruency of the movie in their mind. Some prospects have a mental image of what their experience with you will be like before they even meet you. Living up to this expectation underscores your value.
  • Be honest about what you can or can’t do. People will pay more for honesty and accurate results.

I would welcome your thoughts and insights on this topic! What factors influence your pricing strategy?

Kind regards,

Heather