Voice Over IP for Businesses: Why You Need It and How to Get It

Do your employees receive a deluge of phone calls every day? Do they ricochet between the phone, their desktop, and the fax machine for hours on end?

This flood of activity can leave employees feeling drained and scattered as they run from one task to the next, attempting to keep customers happy and communication with other employees clear and productive.

But there’s a better way. One with the potential to streamline communications across all sectors of your business.

This “way” can significantly cut your operational costs, too, without diminishing your brand’s customer experience. In fact, when harnessed to its full potential, it’ll actually enhance your company’s ability to keep customers satisfied.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not.

Welcome to the brave new world of voice over IP for businesses. Read on to find out more about how today’s tech is revolutionizing business communications.

VoIP 101

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) replaces your existing analog phone line. How? By tapping into the power of the internet for all of your communication needs.

With a simple digital connection, you can nix the need for phone lines altogether. That’s because VoIP uses a digital signal to handle all of your communications, from phone calls to faxes.

No more expensive, clunky business phone systems. Or, middlemen peddling exorbitant service contracts to accompany them.

What’s more, employees will no longer have to bounce back and forth between their phone, desktop, and fax machine.

Let’s explore which business types benefit from the transition to VoIP.

Which Businesses Need Voice Over IP?

Does your business have a substantial customer service role? Do you receive many inbound calls, faxes, and other communications from customers every day?

If the answer’s yes, you need VoIP.

But what if your current call volumes aren’t manageable? Would a VoIP system do you any good?

Consider it if you have any mid-to-large sized online store that sells products or services.

After all, sales and services require communication with customers. Installing a VoIP system ensures those communications are professional.

Other Businesses that Should Consider VoIP

For restaurants who rely on a reservation system, VoIP proves crucial to your success. It keeps you organized and able to professionally accommodate customers.

Even when Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or Valentine’s Day puts a serious strain on your reservations system.

But what if you have an online reservation system? Does that negate your need for VoIP?

Nope. Here’s why.

Seventy-two percent of diners make reservations over the phone as opposed to online. If you don’t have a solid phone reservation system in place, you’re losing customers. Bottom line.

VoIP makes sense for hosting providers, too. It offers the optimal solution for staying in close contact with customers. It also allows you to offer assistance when emergencies happen, no matter how far you are from the office.

What Can VoIP Do for Your Business?

VoIP not only streamlines how you receive calls but it offers other powerful capabilities.

These include the capacity to:

  • Save contact information
  • Keep detailed logs of phone calls
  • Create and store recordings

While these represent basic functions from a telecom perspective, they’ll save your business time and money over the long haul.

When it comes to businesses that stand to profit from VoIP, they don’t stop with customer service-heavy workplaces, restaurants, and hosting providers. But these industries provide diverse examples of how VoIP can contribute to solid solutions.

In today’s business world, it’s safe to say most mid-range businesses would benefit from VoIP. Especially since Verizon and other telecoms are aggressively phasing our ISDN and analog lines.

But what’s the best way to convert your old system? Wholesale SIP trunking provides a new way for businesses to quickly get on board with the latest technology.

It represents a flexible, solid phone service. Check out this option for wholesale to learn more.

A Basic Functional VoIP System

When it comes to finding the best VoIP for your enterprise, here are some important things to look for.

Find a system that can handle a variety of communication types, from video conferences to phone calls and faxes.

A good system should allow you to communicate with your team through private messaging functionality, too.

It should permit you and your employees to use both your desktop and your smartphone to manage calls. Finally, it should let you use your own phone number.

Features to Look for in a Great VoIP System

If you’re looking for more than bare-bones functionality, check out phone service providers that offer a full suite of cloud applications.

By moving up to a mid-range system, you can better control every aspect of your company’s customer experience. This includes everything from setting up greeting messages to controlling how calls get redirected.

Remember, a great customer service experience, whether over the phone or in person, remains crucial to forging loyal relationships with customers.

Depending on the type of business you’re in and your location, you may never have the luxury of in-person communication with customers. This makes your phone and video communications even more crucial to sustaining a successful brand.

For enhanced customer service, look for VoIP systems that can configure what your customers hear the moment they dial your number. Such systems should also include streamlined features such as automatic voicemail forwarding to your email.

Why Voice Over IP for Businesses Makes Sense

If you’re serious about making your first impression your best impression, then invest in voice over IP for businesses. It’ll give you a clear advantage when it comes to communications with customers and the members of your team.

It remains the best solution for small business communications. Upgrade your legacy phone system now and start enjoying the many features of VoIP. It’s a win-win-win for you, your employees, and your customers.

At ClayWallet, we use data-driven analysis to provide you with the best in content strategy and digital marketing.

Let us put our knowledge to work for you. Browse our blog now for useful tips and news sure to give your business the competitive edge.

Building Loyalty: Tips for Making and Maintaining Happy Customers

Keeping customers is one of the most challenging things about running a business. However, if you can improve your customer retention, you’ll save time and money.

On average, it costs about five times more to acquire new customers than it does to retain current customers. Focusing your marketing dollars and time to build loyalty is going to pay off much better in the long run.

How do you make happy customers that keep coming back? It starts with you and how you treat your customers in a few critical areas.

\"Building

1. Do What You Say

First things first: keep your promises. 

Customers can quickly sniff out a company that doesn’t honor its policies. Whatever you promise for a sale, a service, or a return, make sure you follow through exactly as promised.

  • On the one hand, you want to demonstrate that you care about your customers. Righting a wrong or working with a customer to make sure they have what they need goes a long way.
  • On the other hand, unhappy customers love to tell everyone. Your reputation is always at stake. Customer satisfaction goes a long way toward earning positive reviews and customer referrals.

Offering a steadfast return policy is an excellent way to ensure your customers are happy. No one wants to live with a product that doesn’t work or isn’t what they expected.

Don’t make customers work too hard to return a product. If it’s an easy process for them to communicate with you and receive a satisfactory solution, they’ll keep you in mind for future purchases.

2. Consistent Communication

Customers love good communication. Whether it’s an update about tracking for an order or a heads up about special offers, providing consistent communication is part of making customers happy.

3. Be Proactive

Sometimes waiting too long to reach out is enough to lose a customer. Proactive communication keeps you top of mind with customers.

Be careful not to spam email inboxes with too many messages. Communicating too frequently is an easy way to make customers unsubscribe and shop somewhere else.

However, don’t wait until a customer reaches out to you. Follow-up after a sale or service. Send exclusive offers to current customers. Ask for feedback instead of waiting for a customer to come back to you.

4. Be Responsive

When a customer reaches out to you or leaves a comment on your website or social media pages, respond promptly. Don’t wait more than 24 hours to respond to a customer message.

Putting off a response to a complaint or failing to resolve a situation quickly turns customers off. A complaint doesn’t go away if you ignore it. Great companies respond to every legitimate issue with prompt apologies and a resolution.

This goes for good comments, too! Acknowledge a customer who posts a positive review or sends a grateful email.

5. Listen to Feedback

If you’re communicating regularly with customers, you’ll get plenty of feedback. It’s critical to listen to feedback and react in positive ways.

You don’t have to do everything that every customer suggests. You’ll know when you’re getting useful feedback that can help the customer experience rather than people wanting changes to try and get more out of you.

With the feedback that requires action, make sure your customers feel heard. Tell them you’re considering what they have to say and you’ll get back to them.

When customers feel heard, they feel valued!

 

6. Reward Loyalty

Customers love receiving something for nothing! They also love gifts for engaging in social media or other contests.

Be selective and strategic when offering discounts or gifts. The right incentives or thank-you gifts at the right time can help you keep loyal customers longer.

It’s essential to avoid creating a customer base that only purchases when there’s a discount or free offer. You don’t want customers who are solely motivated by what you give them.

However, with genuinely loyal customers and fans, a gift or reward goes a long way if it has perceived value. Rewards don’t have to be expensive. Prioritize thoughtful rewards over expensive gimmicks to keep customers.

Consider things like an exclusive discount, free shipping for VIP customers, or special occasion gifts. Give according to the season. Branded corporate Christmas gifts for your best customers not only makes them feel special, it’s good advertising for your brand.

7. Say, “Thank You”

If you can’t offer gifts, that’s okay! Start with what you can do.

Thanking your customers might seem obvious, but it’s easy to overlook. You can get caught up in chasing sales, shipping orders, and working on other aspects of your business. You might think you thanked your customers without really doing it.

The words “thank you” go a long way toward happy customers. If you’re wondering how to keep customers in one of the simplest, more cost-effective ways, being thankful for their purchase is simple and meaningful.

They won’t know it if you don’t tell them, but it’s important to do it right. Thanking customers—personally and individually—without asking for another purchase in your thank-you message is a powerful way to engage with customers.

Feeling appreciated helps customers come back for more.

8. Be the Expert

If you sell something or provide a service, be the expert. Customers are more likely to buy from companies that know what they’re doing.

People don’t always know what they need. When you can provide options or the solution they need, they’ll remember that you’re an expert.

Being the go-to expert can lead to more customer referrals, too.

Happy Customer Keep Coming Back!

If you’re losing customers or your business survives on one-off purchases, try focusing on what you can do to make happy customers.

It might not be about anything you’re doing wrong. It could be a matter of what more you can do right.

The more happy customers you have, the better success you’ll have for your business. Be sure to check out some of our articles about marketing and promoting your business to build your customer base.

8 Smart Reasons to Use Employee Name Badges

Have you ever had a moment where you completely forgot your co-worker’s name? If you were embarrassed then think about how the other person felt. You can try to hide it but after saying “hey man” or “hey you” for the tenth time, it will be painfully obvious that you’ve no inkling of what to call them.

Rest assured that this can happen to anyone. We’re good with faces but not with names and there’s a scientific reason for that.

This wouldn’t have happened if everyone displays employee name badges. But this isn’t the only reason for wearing name tags. Here are some of the benefits of being able to attach a name to the face of those you work with.

1. Halt, Who Goes There?

What if there’s a different reason why you forgot someone’s name? What if the reason is that you truly don’t know that person?

Theft and corporate espionage do happen in real life, not just in the movies. With name badges, you can verify in an instant whether someone is who they say they are. You can also use employee name tags to restrict access to certain areas, information, or equipment.

It’s a simple but effective method to enhance the security of your company.

2. Build Team Chemistry

It’s hard to start a conversion with someone whom you only know as “guy from accounting” or “miss chews-on-pencils.” And if people aren’t communicating with each other, team chemistry will suffer.

Name tags break down that barrier right away. It’s easier to chat someone up if you can refer to them by name and not just by how you picture them in your head.

As communication becomes better, the chemistry will follow. Stronger engagement between team members equals better performance. This is a win-win for the company.

3. Where Everybody Knows Your Name

“You want to be where everybody knows your name.” That’s a line from the theme song of the TV sitcom “Cheers.” We get a good feeling every time we go to a place that makes us feel welcome.

That’s the effect of corporate badges. Even if they’re just reading the name off of your ID, you get a sense of belongingness within the company.

The name tag with your title on it is also validation that the company recognizes your worth to the company. It can be a source of pride that you’d want to show off to all the people you meet.

4. Strengthen Accountability and Reliability

Wearing an employee badge is something to be proud of but it also comes with the burden of responsibility. It means that you represent the company’s goals, values, and culture.

With the ease of identifying who’s responsible for what, it motivates everyone in the staff to do better at their jobs. Customers and team members can hold you accountable for everything that you do, whether good or bad.

The use of a name tag system also makes it easy to keep tabs on your workers. You can track their arrivals and work schedule. It serves as a gentle reminder to not slack off during company time.

5. Employee Name Badges Help Promote Your Brand

Corporate badges aren’t just blank squares with the “Hi, My Name is” printed on it. You can think of them as tiny billboards to promote your brand.

Besides the name and the title, you can put your logo and company colors on the name tag. There’s a lot of freedom on what you can put on the badges so that they best represent your identity as a company.

Your employees are required to wear their name badges throughout the whole workday. As they meet with customers or even random people during lunch, they become walking advertisements for your company. It’s a great way to get your logo out there, with little to no extra cost to the business.

6. Keep It Professional

A well-designed employee badge adds a level of professionalism to the office look. Like a police badge or soldier stripes, it gives an aura of respectability.

When customers see the name, position, and logo on the name tag, they’re assured that the employee is a true representative of your company. Your customers will know that your company is organized, a stickler for quality, and means business.

7. Improve Customer Relations

Have you ever walked into a store and tried to get help from another shopper because they’re wearing the same color shirt as the staff? This situation can happen a lot if the business only relies on uniforms to differentiate themselves from customers.

And when this happens, the client will hesitate to approach someone else for help. They’ll leave empty-handed and discouraged to visit your store again.

With employee name tags, you don’t have to let potential business walk out the door. Customers can easily identify who has the power to help them. You can increase their comfort level and confidence in your company.

Also, name tags are, in one word, fun. Everyone likes them, kids and adults included. They create a friendly atmosphere that can entice your customers to be loyal to your brand.

8. Get Immediate Feedback

Any respectable business would appreciate feedback, whether negative or positive, from their clients. This helps the company fill the holes where needed or to make already good things better.

If a customer wants to raise a concern with someone in your employ, it’s easier to identify a person by name rather than by description. Of course, someone who caused trouble will not willingly expose themselves to be reprimanded or punished.

On the other hand, customers may distinguish an employee for excellent service. Name tags make it convenient for a client to give praise to those who deserve it. The word gets to the management quickly and they can give appropriate rewards to that outstanding individual.

A Small Accessory with Big Impact

There’s no denying that investing a tiny amount for employee name badges is one of the best you can do for your business. In sports, it’s like signing a superstar player on a rookie contract. They’ll have an impact right from the get-go and will continue to do good things for your company.

For more articles like this, feel free to browse this site.

Does Phone Marketing Still Work In The Modern Business World?

Everybody hates getting cold calls from companies and most people will hang up almost immediately. So, surely, you should just give up on phone marketing in your business because you’re not going to see any returns on it? You can just rely on social media and content marketing and find your customers that way instead.

While it’s true that digital marketing methods are a very important tool, that doesn’t mean you should write off phone marketing altogether. There are still some great ways that you can use phone marketing to find new leads and boost sales, here’s how you can make it work.

1. Generate Leads First

It’s important to generate leads first because if you just start calling up random people, most of them aren’t going to have any interest in your product. You’re putting a lot of resources into a marketing strategy that isn’t targeted at all so you won’t see any returns on it. However, if you’re calling people that are in the right demographic or have already shown some interest in your products, you’re far more likely to see positive returns on your investments.

Try to do some good market research and identify the different demographics that respond well to your products, then focus on those groups. You can also target customers that have bought from you in the past because they’re more likely to listen to your pitch over the phone as there is already some trust there.

2. Plan Call Schedules

People are more likely to respond to calls at certain times. If you’re calling people up while they’re at work or late at night, you’re not going to get much response. As a general rule, the mornings are better than afternoons and people don’t tend to like getting calls after they finish work.

However, it all depends on your target demographic. For example, if you’re marketing to retirees that are likely to be at home during the day, you can be a bit more flexible. Try to think about who you’re calling and what their schedules are likely to be, then build your schedules around that.

3. Plan Each Call

People don’t want to be on the phone for a long time, you need to get straight to the point, hit all of the key aspects of your pitch, and let them decide whether they’re interested or not. You’re not going to get a good response from people if you’re keeping them on the line for too long.

That’s why it’s important that you plan your calls properly before you make them. Think about what you want to get out of the call, exactly what you’re going to say to the customer, and what tone you should approach them with. Proper planning will help you to get better responses from your calls.

4. Direct Voicemails

One of the major downsides of phone marketing is the amount of manpower that it requires. You need staff members to be calling up those people all day long. That costs a lot of money and if you’re not seeing many returns on those calls, that might not be a good use of your resources. However, you can use a ringless voicemail service to maximize your phone marketing efforts without having to pay the salaries of lots of different staff members.

It works by sending recorded messages direct to the voicemails of your customers. That means you can spend a few hours crafting a message and then it will reach a lot of potential customers without the continued investment. This is the ideal solution for smaller businesses that can’t afford to run a large call centre with lots of employees.

5. End The Call At The Right Time

It’s easy to get carried away when you catch the interest of a customer and try to sell them more products. The thinking is that, once you’ve got them on the hook, they’ll be more receptive to any other products that you’ve got on offer so you should take advantage of that while you can. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way and it will have the opposite effect.

Customers will think that you’re being pushy and they might even decide against the initial sale as well. If you’ve got the interest of a customer, your priority should be to close that sale as soon as possible and end the call on good terms, rather than pushing it too far and losing the customer entirely.

Summary

Phone marketing is a difficult strategy to get right and it can be a poor use of resources if you aren’t seeing any returns. However, if you follow these tips, it’s a legitimate marketing strategy for your business.

9 Common Computer Problems for Small Businesses and Their Solutions

Technological advancements have allowed small businesses to compete more closely with large corporations. However, small businesses struggle with tech issues daily. This is not surprising considering that 27% of small businesses have no IT support.

This makes it difficult for owners to avoid or resolve common computer problems. The first step towards resolving these issues is learning what they are and what causes them. They can either be software or hardware related.

Most computer problems are caused by lack of routine maintenance. As a small business owner, you need to understand that computers need a routine check-up.

The more you learn about these problems, the easier it will be to control and solve them. Here are nine common computer issues faced by small business and tips on how to solve them.

1. Slow Internet

This is among the most common problem in small businesses. Users want fast internet at all times. Slow internet reduces productivity and wastes time. The problem can be as a result of viruses or spyware. Also, sites that use a high amount of bandwidth can slow the internet service down.

Block access to sites such as YouTube and torrent during working hours. These sites take up a large chunk of the bandwidth and slow down internet services. More so, block any pop-ups that may cause viruses in the network. Also, you should get bandwidths that meet your business needs.

2. Account Login Issues

It’s quite frustrating not being able to log into an account. This is common in small business. Someone will say, but I logged in a few hours ago. Sometimes the problem is minor, such as using the uppercase when typing credentials.

The user may also be locked out after keying in the wrong password severally as a security measure. Sometimes it is a network security issue causing a denial of service.

Ensure that network security is up to date to prevent attacks that may cause a denial of service. For suspended accounts, the network administrator can restore the accounts.

3. Printer Issues

Printer complains are quite famous. Sometimes a user may have failed to turn the printer on. Other times, cable issues could be the cause. Also, one should routinely check whether the printer is low on ink and needs a refill.

It is easy to forget that printers need maintenance checks too. Ensure they are dusted and the ink refilled as required. Before printing, ensure that the printer is on and the network cable is plugged in. You should also ensure that the cable is functioning properly.

4. The Annoying Blue Screen

For those using windows operating system, this blue screen is a common problem. It is an error message when the system crashes. The operating system cannot operate after a system error hence the blue screen.

This error is resolved by performing a system restore. Ensure that your operating system updated as required to system errors.

5. Security

Are you aware that 65% of small businesses do not recover from a cyber attack? You should take your network security seriously. Most small business owners do not have any network protection measures in place. They assume that security is a problem for large companies.

Protecting your business from cyber insecurities requires one to invest in network security. Ensure that your firewall is strong and running at all times. Make use of network monitoring tools to detect and avert such attacks.

6. Data Backup and Recovery Are  Common Computer Problems

Ever heard a loud curse from an office only to rush there and find the issue is data loss? The person may have been working on a document without saving it as they progress. A user may have deleted a file and thought it is lost forever. Other times, it is a major issue such as a virus attack.

The solution is to empower your staff with basic computer knowledge. Save the document as you work on it. Let them know that the document goes into the recycle bin before it is permanently deleted.

More so, to prevent major data loss, set up a backup recovery plan. Store your data in a secondary location that you can retrieve after a data loss and continue with work.

7. Integration Issues

Today’s word is a digital one, and technology keeps evolving. The business needs to add on to its original IT infrastructure and progress with new technology. This means that different equipment and software solutions are needed to keep business running.

For every new software or equipment added, ensure there is a seamless integration. If the software development was outsourced, ensure that the developer integrates it fully. It should mesh with your existing environment before closing the project.

8. Viruses and Malware

It only takes one click to infect your computer with a virus. Regardless of how careful you are, such mistakes are likely to occur. Viruses cause many problems for small businesses.  For instance, they expose the company’s confidential data and lead to data loss.

To protect your business against viruses, ensure you have an antivirus installed in all computers. Ensure regular maintenance is done to update software. Also, run routine checks using the antivirus software. Further, caution your staff against clicking on questionable links and emails.

9. Lack of IT Plan

Small business owners fail to come up with an IT strategy. This is a big problem. Many business owners neglect this part of the business until something major happens. By the time this happens, it is already too late to salvage data or prevent a cyber-attack.

It is advisable to have an IT plan as soon as you set up. Work with an IT expert who can help you identify the IT infrastructure needed for your business. Also, you ought to budget for professional IT support for your business. Research and learn more about IT support services for small business.

IT Problems in Small Businesses

The common computer problems faced by small businesses are due to lack of maintenance. Routine checks are the number one way to prevent such problems. Don’t neglect the technology part of the business. It helps in achieving your business goals. Thus, it is important to plan and budget for any computer problems that may arise.

Contact our IT experts for more information on how to improve your business IT infrastructure.

5 Modern Business Cards That Aren\’t So 2000 and Late

If you gotta get that, you can’t have business cards that don’t have that boom boom pow! If modern business cards are your thing, here are 5 that are future-approved.

Business cards might seem like an archaic and boring thing to have. But it’s surprising how important business cards actually are.

You might think that online marketing via social media and search engines is enough. But, despite all this modern tech, there are over 27 million business cards printed each day.

Business cards are a great way to leave a good first impression on any potential client. If you’re looking for the best modern business cards, look no further!

Modern Business Cards That Make a Great Impression

You should be flaunting your business at every turn. Shameless self-promotion is the best way to get your name out there and start making some bank!

One of the most effective marketing tools you can use is business cards. It’s especially important to make ones which have a touch of personality in them. They don’t have to cost much and they’re awesome marketing tools.

If you’re trying to find inspiration for the best business card designs, here’s 5 that are future proof!

1. Comic Book Themed Cards

This business card is by a company called Applied Comics, and the card mimics a comic book design!

It’s perfect as it catches the eye, and it fits the theme of a comic book. The business is all about comic book designs for other forms of advertising or brochures.

It’s niche enough to not seem cheesy or tacky, and the minimalist design keeps it clean and easy to read.

2. Bike Tool Cards

One crafty business by the name of Broke Bike Alley has adopted a very clever design. They have created a card-sized bike tool which fits right in your pocket.

This way, people will use it to fix their bikes and it will remind them of the bike servicing business. It has all their business information on it and it’s super useful! Genius!

3. Plastic Business Cards

Plastic business cards are great for getting creative with your marketing techniques.

Plastic can be unique to your brand with whatever prints you want. A designer Dario Moneti’s cards feature a face on a transparent card. With this, you can hold up to someone’s face from afar and enjoy a cartoon he has designed!

Fun cards are always the way forward, and plastic will last much longer than a paper or card business card.

4. Temporary Tattoo Cards

Tattoo store Tatumi made their business card into a temporary tattoo!

What better way to spread the word than by having your business tattooed onto people? It’s perfect for the brand and it’s a unique, original idea which is bound to impress.

5. Plantable Seed Cards

There are companies selling plant-based products with creative business card ideas.

A great design idea which fits with the brand is cards which are actually packets. Inside these packets are seeds which you can plant and watch grow!

It’s a great, on-brand way to get your information out there and gives you something that will last.

Modern Business Cards Like These Will Take Your Business from 0 to 100

Choosing which kinds of business cards doesn’t have to be dull. With the right ideas, these kinds of modern business cards can make your business shine.

Keep it relevant, fun and memorable. These are the key to a good business card. You want them to fit in a pocket or wallet with ease so that they will be seen on a regular basis.

Most of all, have fun with it!

I hope this article helps.

Is the Business Plan Really Dead?

If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve probably come across a few articles proclaiming the Death of the Business Plan. And perhaps you breathed a huge sigh of relief and thought to yourself: “Hooray! Now I can launch my venture without doing a lot of tedious planning!” R.I.P.

Whoa. Not so fast.

These “Death of the Business Plan” articles certainly mean well, but it’s also far too easy for average entrepreneurs to arrive at the wrong (and very dangerous) conclusion after reading them. The conclusions in these articles apply to some people in some situations; however, they are fallacies, not universal truths.

Let’s look at the common fallacies some authors give to support their conclusion that business plans are a waste of time:

Fallacy #1. Investors No Longer Read Business Plans

This is a pretty pervasive argument, and if you’ve heard it enough times, you might even think it’s a universal truth. But it’s a dangerous notion for at least two reasons:

  • Your target audience probably isn’t one of these people. It’s true that some prominent folks in the venture capital community don’t like to read traditional business plans. However, venture capitalists represent only a very tiny fraction of the funding community. Out of millions of companies seeking capital during any given year, venture capital is appropriate for only a few thousand of you. Unless you run a proven, growing company in a “hot” sector like cleantech, biotech, or software, you’re probably wasting your time even thinking about venture capitalists and their preferences. More likely, you’re seeking capital from lenders, friends, family, or angel investors. In most of those cases, a business plan is still very much appropriate. Furthermore, even if your target audience IS a VC who doesn’t personally read business plans, you can be sure that the VC’s associates and attorneys will need to review your plans in detail during the due diligence process.
  • Even if your target audience doesn’t want to receive a “traditional” business plan, you still need to address the Ten Questions Every Business Planner Must Answer. Every entrepreneur needs a “conceptual” business plan – that is, your plan for how you will start and grow your business with limited resources. The medium you use to express your conceptual plan will depend on your target audience and situation: in some cases, a “traditional” narrative business plan is appropriate; other times, you’ll want to use an elevator pitch, a pitch deck, an executive summary, a financial forecast (which is just a business plan expressed in numbers), a multimedia presentation, a business model canvas, a bunch of diagrams on a whiteboard, a product demo along with verbal commentary, a private placement memorandum, a loan application, a grant proposal, or perhaps something else. These are all equally valid ways to express your conceptual business plan, and you need to match the medium to the situation. But no matter what medium you end up using, make no mistake: you need to put in the same effort to fully develop the underlying conceptual business plan.

Fallacy #2. Things Change Too Fast

It’s true that things can change quickly, especially in the tech world. Does that make it a good idea not to do any planning? Of course not. A business plan – no matter which medium you express it in – is a living, breathing thing that will incorporate the best information you have at the moment, and it will evolve and adapt as the known world changes around it.

Think of the business plan as a road map for a long trip. You’re going to encounter detours along the way, and you might discover points of interest that you hadn’t planned on at the beginning of the voyage. Maybe your planned destination will experience a plague of locusts and you’ll decide to do a pivot (in common startup parlance) and head elsewhere on your vacation.

But it’s still a good idea to start the journey with a pretty good idea of where you want to end up. Just be ready and willing to make adjustments on the fly as you receive new information.

Furthermore, disruption isn’t quite as common as some people think. Companies like Google and Facebook are exceptions, not the rule. Most markets don’t get reshaped overnight. Most change is gradual; a good plan gives you a framework for evolving and adapting.

Fallacy #3. It’s Impossible to Predict the Future

You can’t argue with that (if you could, you’d be a trillionaire by now, and not reading this article). So what’s the point of trying to predict how the future will turn out? At a fundamental level, a business is a collection of cause-and-effect relationships. R&D leads to innovations. Hiring the right software engineer results in faster, more stable code.

Generating good web content produces inbound leads. Sure, the exact nature of the cause-and-effect relationships can be uncertain, and a lot of serendipity can be involved.

The forecasting process requires a lot of hard thinking about the nature of these cause-and-effect relationships and the resources you’ll need. You’ll discover that the fate of your future depends more critically on some assumptions than others.

This thought process will help you prioritize your testing so you can identify and fix the flaws in your plan more quickly. You don’t need your predictions to be spot-on in order to get value out of the process.

Fallacy #4. It’s Futile to Plan in Isolation

Many authors argue that the act of retreating secretly into a bunker to write a brilliant business plan for how your incredible idea is going to be the next Facebook is an exercise in futility. They argue that you should talk to people about your ideas, design a minimum viable product and get it in the hands of potential customers so you can test product-market fit, blog about it to the world, and so forth.

And they’re absolutely right. I agree completely that planning and shaping your business and product should not be done in isolation. You absolutely need to interact with the market so you don’t waste years of your life toiling away on something that nobody will buy.

Planning is an interactive, iterative process. In the language of science, your current plan is your null hypothesis – your best guess as to how things will develop. Your market tests represent the experiments that will determine whether or not your hypothesis needs revision.

Fallacy #5. You Don’t Need Investors, or You Already Have Investors

Most people think of business plans as tools for raising money, and if you plan to bootstrap your company, or if you already have money from investors, you no longer need a business plan. Seriously? A business plan – regardless of how it’s documented – represents the collection of strategies and tactics you intend to implement in order to build a successful venture. Without it, you’re flying blind. I sincerely believe that one of the main reasons most businesses fail is because they either followed a flawed plan or didn’t have a plan to begin with.

Finally, it’s important to recognize that most of the value of a business plan comes from the planning process – thinking through and validating your business model, your market dynamics, your competitive positioning, your distribution strategy, and so on. A careful planning process can help identify fatal flaws early before you’ve ventured too far down the wrong path.

You also need a plan so that you’ll understand what resources you’ll need at what times – just as a blueprint tells builders when and how much concrete, lumber, copper pipe, and paint will be required. A good business plan – regardless of the medium it is expressed in – gets you and your entire team rowing in the same direction, in the right sequence.

Business Planning Remains Essential

Whether you run a startup at the idea stage or an established firm planning the coming years, business planning is an essential activity. Once in a while, you’ll hear about a celebrity entrepreneur who manages to raise money without a business plan. You can be sure of two things in this situation.

First, the entrepreneur is a rock star with a track record of building successful ventures. Second, the entrepreneur has a very clear business plan in her mind, even if it hasn’t been committed to paper in the form of a “traditional” business plan.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for the individual authors who have written that the business plan is dead. However, it’s too easy for novice entrepreneurs – heck, even experienced entrepreneurs – to misinterpret what they have written. None of these authors, as far as I know, are telling you to go out and wing it, without any planning at all.

So plan carefully, express your plan in a medium that is suitable for your needs, and be prepared to change course often. Long live the business plan.

10 Questions Every Business Planner Must Answer

Are you getting ready to pitch investors? Then you need to make sure that your materials – your pitch deck, executive summary, and business plan – answer ten critical questions.

Conversely, if you find yourself including a lot of material that isn’t directly related to one of these ten questions, you may be better off leaving it out of your documents.

Here are the ten critical questions to answer:

1. What’s the problem?

First, you need to explain what problem you solve. If you aren’t solving a problem that people are willing to pay you to alleviate, then you probably won’t see much demand for your product or service.

The more acute the problem, the more attractive the market. Some problems are dramatic: thousands die each year from pancreatic cancer. Others are more mundane: there isn’t a decent burger joint within 8 miles of this intersection.

2. What is your solution, and what makes it special?

Next, you need to explain how your product or service is going to meet the need created by the problem. This is where you describe your offering. Try not to get into excessive detail – focus on showing how your business will be viewed from your customer’s point of view.

3. How big / severe is the problem?

This is where you describe your market potential: how many people in your target markets are willing to spend money to make their problem go away, and how much they’re willing to spend. This is the “total addressable market” that you and your competitors are collectively targeting.

4. How will you make money?

This is what many people call the “revenue model” or “business model.” For most businesses, this is fairly obvious: you will sell your product or service for some advertised price. Other markets – particularly those that involve licensing, subscriptions, bundling, and other strategies – can be more complex. If you’re a startup, it’s best to start simple and make refinements down the road.

5. Who will buy it, and how will you sell it to them?

You need to identify your target customers and demonstrate an understanding of their buying habits and how you plan to buy from you instead of from somebody else. In other words, this is your marketing strategy.

6. Why are YOU the best team to do this?

Most investors say that the startup team is more important than the idea itself, because a good team can fix a mediocre idea, but a mediocre team is likely to fail even if they are pursuing a great idea. Therefore, you need to convince the investor that your team has what it takes to turn their money into a successful business.

7. Who are your competitors, and what makes you better?

No matter what you may think, you do have competitors. You need to think about all of the different ways in which consumers are currently dealing with the problem that you solve. Some will be direct competitors, some indirect, and some will be substitute products (to a parent trying to keep a child calm on an airplane, a coloring book is a substitute for a Game Boy).

You need to describe what makes your product superior, and how you intend to stay one step ahead of the competition (say, in the form of patents or other sources of competitive advantage).

8. What have you done, and what will you do?

Investors want to know that you have a track record of achievement – that you’ve been busy building your business over the past instead of just dreaming about your idea. They also want to know that you have an aggressive but achievable set of planned milestones for turning your idea into reality – in other words, they want to know you’ve thought things through.

9. What are the economics?

Investors tend to think in terms of numbers, so show them the key metrics for your planned business, and let them know how your business will compare to industry norms. Some examples include per-unit profitability, revenue per employee, expense per employee, revenue per customer, cumulative units to break-even, and so forth.

10. How much do you need, and what will you do with the investor’s money?

Finally, you need to show the investors that you have a concrete plan for executing on your business plan – that you know what resources you’ll need at what time in the future, and that you understand how cash flow works. Ideally, you want to show them that you can achieve profitability soon after receiving your investment.

Note that the exact order in which you address these questions depends on your specific situation. You have a unique story to tell, and you need to think about what order makes the most sense in your situation.

13 Best Business Card Design Ideas to Clients

Did you know that business cards started back in the 15th century and served as calling cards to announce entrance with other individuals? Well, you now have a heads up!

Today, business cards are meant to share your contact details with prospective clients, but it doesn’t mean that it has to be dull or boring.

To make your card stand out from others in your potential client’s cardholder, it takes some creative thinking. This way, in a short time they’ve got to know and remember who you are.

Rather than a boring card that is easily forgotten, use one of these business card design ideas so potential clients won’t forget you.

1. Add Graphical Images

Most businesses will have their logo on a business card. However, if a prospective client doesn’t have an idea on what your business entails, the chances are that the logo will not mean a lot to them.

That said, you should consider incorporating imagery or graphics to remind your clients what your business is all about. Such quick visual representation can also help you stand out from your competitors.

2. Take a Minimalistic Approach

Your business card doesn’t have to bright so that it stands out. Sometimes, taking a minimalistic, refined approach can get you the desired result.

For instance, if you’re looking to convey a sophisticated message, a two-tone card with plain topography printed on thick, matte paper can come in handy.

You should also consider simple color palettes as they embody the print techniques of the past, which were best known for their minimalistic approach.

3. Bright and Playful

One of the most overlooked approaches is the use of bright colors with a fun concept. It only takes a few splashes of color, and prospective client is going to love it.

If your business is light-spirited or fun, this type of approach will blend in with your clientele.

4. Take a Textured Approach

One of the aspects that will make your card stand out is the fact that it can be touched. If your business card is textured, the feel will remain etched on your prospective client’s mind. This way, it’ll be at the back of their mind when they’re ready to buy.

5. Gentle and Elegant

If you’re in the wine, jewelry, or other industries that portray elegance, using soft earth tones are not just soothing to the eyes, but they feel attractive to clients who’re gentle by nature.

Alternatively, you can use a stylish silhouette of a forest scene at night to create a quiet mood that’s in tune with nature.

6. An Alternate Agenda

While a business card is designed to sell your product, you can still turn it into something different. However, you have to make sure that your alternate use is relevant to your business.

For instance, if you’re a gardener, you can design your business card into an envelope full of seeds.

7. Get Sticky

When giving out your card to a prospective client – at a conference – the chances are that they may lose it in the stack of others. While they may be interested in your business then, they may not have a way to get in touch with you.

You can turn this around by designing your business card as stickers. This way, your clients can pin them on their laptop, phone, or notebook, so they’ll hardly forget who you are.

8. Incorporate Social Elements

Your business card may be a physical way to reach out to your potential clients, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t drive clients to your online home. One way of doing this is by incorporating your social media details on the card.

You can list all the channels or feature a QR code that prospective clients can scan with their phone so that they can be redirected to your website.

9. Try Out Different Shapes

If square feels a little mainstream, you should try to break free, and design it into a completely different shape. You can go for diamond or circular shapes or take inspiration from the product or service you’re offering.

This not only helps your business stand out, but it gives prospects insights on what your business is all about.

10. Get Creative With Colors

The first thing your prospective client will notice about your card is the color. So, it’s essential that you work on this to your advantage if you want to seal a deal.

You could try experimenting with different contrasts using a color wheel or splash your brand’s colors for a more eye-catching approach. This concept can be implemented on any outdoor advertising, and you can always learn more so that you’re always ahead of your competition.

11. Consider Alternative Concepts

It’s worth trying out trend-breaking ideas that embrace circular shapes and originality.

It could be light reflecting card edges, specially-chosen holographic pink paper, or interchangeable card designs. These concepts embrace quirks in different businesses and are worth a shot.

12. Weird and Wonderful

It’s vital for your business card to reflect the personality of your brand. For instance, if you’re a law firm representing people in the finance industry, you wouldn’t want to hand in a card scrawled in childish fonts.

So, you have to figure out how to “sum up” the purpose and values of your brand in your business card as it will help prospects to recall who you are.

13. Maintain Its Elegance

Your card elegance gives it a professional look, and this transfers to your business as well. For instance, a black background stands out against white colors

If you want to add a little sophistication, you can make imagery and font bronze, gold, and silver.

Here Are The Business Card Design Ideas You Should Consider!

There are different business card design ideas to consider, but it’s essential not to overlook approaches that use bright color with a fun concept. Also, a textured feel makes your card stand out as prospects can easily relate.

If you’re in the wine or jewelry industry, soft earth tones are not just attractive to prospects whore gentle, but they’re soothing to the eyes.

Are you looking to diversify your marketing campaign? Check out our blog to learn about the marketing tools you need at your disposal.

How to Find the Best 3D Printing Service for Your Business

In 2018, 70 percent of businesses increased their investments in 3D printing technology, and that number is expected to rise in 2019 and beyond.

3D printing is especially beneficial to folks working in the aeronautics industry, but all kinds of businesses are making use of 3D printing technology.

Are you interested in using 3D printing for your business? If so, it’s a good idea for you to pair up with a reliable 3D printing service.

Read on for some tips that will help you choose the best service that will help you achieve your business goals.

Why Hire a 3D Printing Service?

There are lots of benefits that come with investing in 3D printing services. Some of the greatest perks include the following:

1. Save Money on Prototyping

Prototyping is an essential part of the 3D printing and development process. It can definitely be expensive, though.

If 3D printing isn’t going to be a regular part of your business and you won’t be making prototypes very often, it’s probably not worth it for you to invest in an in-house 3D printer.

You’re better off outsourcing and hiring a printing service.

2. Increase Sales

When you invest in 3D printing, you can offer a wider range of products to your customers.

3D printing may also allow you to offer your products at a discounted rate since it can make the manufacturing process easier.

Both of these benefits, in turn, can help to increase your business’s sales and help to boost your profits.

3. Get Jobs Done Faster

When you work with a professional 3D printing service, you’ll often get jobs done faster than if you were printing with an in-house printer.

3D printing services have access to the latest 3D printing technology, and they can print items much faster while still ensure they’re of the highest quality.

4. Work with Experts

What’s the point of investing in an in-house 3D printer if you don’t know how to use it? Do you really want to spend a lot of time learning how to use the printer?

If you don’t have the time or energy for that, why not let the experts who run a 3D printing service handle the job for you?

This will take a lot of stress off your shoulders and ensure that you get high-quality finished products every time.

Choosing the Right 3D Printing Service

There are plenty of benefits that come with outsourcing 3D printing and working with a printing service.

If you’re ready to start working with a 3D printing service, these tips can help you make sure you choose the right one:

1. Know Your Goals

Before you start shopping around to find a 3D printing service for your business, it’s important to take a step back and think about what you want to accomplish when you work with them.

What kinds of products are you going to be printing? How often are you going to be placing orders with the company? Do you want to work with a local business, or are you okay with hiring an overseas service?

2. Consider Available Materials and Tech

No matter which 3D printing service you choose, they ought to have high-quality materials and the latest technology available.

Don’t spend money working with a service that uses outdated equipment or shoddy materials.

Make sure the service’s materials match your needs, too.

For example, jewelers who want to make use of 3D printing technology ought to find a service that has a variety of precious metals available.

3. Consider Design Assistance Options

How much help do you need when it comes to creating a 3D printed product? For example, do you need help with the actual product design process?

If so, it’s important to find a printing service that offers this help.

Otherwise, you’re going to spend a lot more money than you’d planned making sure your product can be printed to match your specifications.

4. Know Your Budget

How much money are you willing to spend on 3D printing?

Do some research and look into different services’ rates so you have an idea of how much you’ll need to spend to get the kind of products you’re looking for.

Price shouldn’t be the only factor you consider when looking for a 3D printing service, but it definitely needs to play a role in your final business decisions.

5. Focus on Quality

While you do need to stick to your budget, make sure you’re not skimping on quality just to get a lower price.

As with most things, you get what you pay for when it comes to 3D printing.

Remember, too, that if you spend less now, you might end up paying more later to correct problems or make up for unsatisfied customers.

6. Consider Customer Service

The company’s customer service matters, too. Make sure they respond to questions and concerns thoughtfully and in a timely matter.

Avoid working with a service that is hard to contact or that doesn’t seem concerned about the quality of their finished products.

7. Read Online Reviews and Testimonials

Last, but not least, be sure to read online reviews and testimonials when you’re looking for a 3D printing service for your business.

Pay attention to what past customers are saying and what their experience was like.

You might want to ask the printing service for references, too.

When you reach out to those references, be sure to ask plenty of questions and find out what they liked and didn’t like.

Find out whether they’d work with this company again. Ask if they would recommend them to a friend as well?

Get More Hiring Advice Today

Now that you know more about the benefits of hiring a 3D printing service — and how to choose the best printing service for your business — it’s time to start shopping around.

Keep these tips in mind and it’ll be much easier for you to sort through your options and make the best decision.