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By Debbie Gregory.

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All small business owners have attempted to take a vacation that is inevitably interrupted with yet another crisis at work. You are currently on vacation and you are supposed to be relaxing and having a good time. Your phone won’t stop, your emails keep flowing in and instead of relaxing, you are furiously typing and scrolling away on your laptop.

 

It is easy to fall into the trap of working while on vacation. Most business owners never fully unplug from the office while supposedly vacationing. While this sounds like a good plan, you are unfortunately setting yourself up for more stress, anxiety, and total burnout.  Additionally, people who do not take at least one 1-week vacation a year are 30% more likely to have a heart attack and this number increases dramatically for women. So do yourself and your overall health a favor, and take a real vacation!

 

So, how do you truly let work handle itself for a while as you get some much needed R&R?

 

Setup a vacation plan:

Once you have selected your getaway, make sure that you work wit your team to be able to handle business while you are away.

  • Delegate tasks
  • Create backup plans
  • Make your communication boundaries clear
  • Make your availability clear
  • Make sure each employee knows what is expected of them
  • Empower your staff to handle problems should they arise

 

Setup a return plan:

You know that your first day back into the office will be a nightmare game of catching up. Your inbox will be full and your to-do list will be long. Take the time to pre-organize and prioritize what you will need to do once you return to work.

 

Use the three Ds – Delete, Delegate, and Deal.

  • Delete everything your team is already managing.
  • Delegate what you can have someone else handle.
  • Deal with what you need to take care of.

 

Setup a schedule:

If you absolutely must check in with your business, establish a daily and timed routine for checking in and stick to it. Deviating from your schedule, can lead you down the rabbit hole of emails, calls, and other work issues.

 

Only respond to real emergencies:

Not every situation requires your response. Make sure that you only engage if you absolutely have to.

 

Taking a true vacation can seem impossible for a small business owner.  With some careful planning and a bit of letting go, you can finally get the rest and relaxation that you desperately need. Now Unwind, relax and enjoy!

 

Simple Ways to Get More Done in a Day

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By Debbie Gregory.

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There never seems to be enough time in the day to finish everything you need to do. This is especially true for Veteran Small Business Owners.  Below are some ways to help better manage your time and fit more into your day.

 

1.) Take care of the toughest tasks first thing in the morning:

Getting done the most unpleasant, or time-consuming tasks first thing does a few things for your entire day.  It will provide you a feeling of peace as you move onto tasks that are more appealing.  It will also start your day in a very productive way and can help you clear your head.  Often we have more energy first thing in the morning and as the days go on, we are use it up.

 

2.)  Group similar tasks together:

When you group similar tasks together and get into a “groove” of accomplishing them, you will end up saving yourself a ton of time. Switching gears can be tricky and you tend to lose your momentum getting ready for the next task.

 

3.)  Focus:

Multi-tasking is not a great idea when you are trying to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time. Keep your focus on one task at a time. Trying to tackle too much all at once can feel overwhelming and will slow you down.

 

4.) Track your time:

You know how long it takes you to accomplish most of your day-to-day tasks. Try to plan your day according to how long it will take to do the things you need to get done.

 

5.) Take breaks:

This may sound counter-productive but taking short breaks can help you be MORE productive. A short break can help you restore your focus, clear you head, rejuvenate some energy and balance your mental state. We are all human, not robots. Even if you only take a five- or ten-minute break to take a quick walk outside, you will feel better and be able to focus more on the tasks you need to complete.

 

6.)   Plan for tomorrow:

At the end of your day, it is always a good idea to plan ahead for the next day. List out the most pressing or difficult tasks to tackle first thing in the morning and budget the rest of your time based on what you already know about how long each task will take you.

 

Taking the time to really understand your time needs and planning appropriately will not only save you time, it will make you much more productive.

Loan Mistakes That Can Harm Your Business

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By Debbie Gregory.

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At some point most businesses need to borrow money. Choosing the wrong type of loan can do irreparable damage to your business’s bottom line. There are countless financing options out there and the key is to choose the right one that fits your business needs and your ability to pay back the loan.

 

Choosing the wrong option can translate into less short-term on-hand cash for your business to spend.  It can also mean smaller overall profits as you pay down the loan, and a longer and more stressful search for your loan in the first place.

 

In order to select the correct option for your needs, you should make sure you avoid these mistakes:

 

1.) Not knowing your credit score:

Your personal credit is always a factor when applying for a business loan. It shows your creditworthiness and your ability to pay the loan off to the lender. A score of 700 or higher is considered good for a personal score.

 

These are credit reporting services where you can check your personal credit score:

 

These are credit reporting services where you can check your business credit score:

 

2.) Not doing your research:

It always pays to be prepared for the worst. Do not until you and your business is in dire need of cash to start the process of researching lenders and applying for loans. Do your research well in advance and keep a list of credible lenders on hand just in case you find that you need one.

 

3.) Not knowing your options:

Rates, fees, and terms for financing can vary greatly depending on where you go to obtain a loan and even the time of year you do it in. Make sure to do your due diligence and thoroughly research the options you are presented with.

 

4.) Not applying for enough money:

You never want to take out a loan only to find that you need another loan a few months later. Running a business comes with some uncertainty and unforeseen expenses that can pop up.   These may include new competition, equipment breakag, or employees quitting. Make sure that you are borrowing enough money to cover your immediate needs as well as anything unexpected that may come up.

 

5.) Not knowing your payment options:

Getting cash fast when your business is in a slump is very important, but you need to make sure that you will be able to pay the loan off once you are back on your feet. The payment schedule needs to fit with you and your business. If you cannot keep up with the payments, it can damage your credit and potentially lead to your business’s failure.

 

Getting the loan that you need shouldn’t be a stressful or scary experience. With proper planning and in-depth research you can be prepared for any possible disasters or downturn in your business. Taking out a loan is never something a business owner does lightly but done correctly it can add up to one result, a thriving business.

How To Reduce Small Business Lawsuits & Some Advice

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By Debbie Gregory.

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Small business owners will face the threat of a lawsuit at least once over the lifetime of their business. The financial impact of such a lawsuit can be devastating and can even put the company totally out of business. The lawsuit can also damage the company’s reputation, place stress on you and your employees and take valuable time away from other important parts of your business.

 

Small businesses are sued for a variety of reasons which are usually dependent on their industry.  Some reasons for lawsuits include but are not limited to product defects, noncompliance with regulations, breach of contract, and more.

 

Unfortunately, most lawsuits against small businesses are from unhappy employees. Employees that feel they have been treated unfairly, terminated unjustly, or disciplined in a way they felt was too harsh are more likely to sue if they feel they can gain financial compensation for their perceived mistreatment.

 

The most common employee-led lawsuits include:

  • Discrimination (age, sexual orientation, gender, religion, etc)
  • Harassment
  • Injury due to negligence
  • Wrongful termination
  • Salary and/or compensation violations

 

Occasionally the lawsuits will come from an unhappy customer. Most are legitimate claims against the business but of course occasionally you may run into a frivolous lawsuit.   There are some people who make a living out of filing lawsuits.  Regardless,  the negative impact to your business will be the same.

 

The most common customer-led lawsuits include:

  • Discrimination
  • Personal injury
  • Refusal of service
  • Unlawful activities (such as a hidden camera in the bathroom)

 

How can you reduce the threat of a lawsuit?

  1. Protect your assets with the proper insurance coverage. Business liability insurance can protect your personal finances as well as the business finances. Seek the advice of an insurance professional to find the right coverage for your business.
  2. Make sure you have good legal help ready and waiting just in case. It is always best to get to know a good lawyer that you can turn to for advice or representation when needed.
  3. Be careful with what you do and say. Never over promise, don’t make ludicrous claims, try to avoid saying anything that may harm you in the future, and never make overly specific claims about your products or services. This includes what is said and done with employees. Make sure all of your policies are clearly written out, easily accessible, consistent with federal, state and local laws and are followed.

 

If you do happen to get sued, or are threatened with a lawsuit, stay as calm as possible. Your first step will be to contact your lawyer and let them know the situation. Your legal counsel may be able to help mitigate the matter before it goes to court. After speaking with them, if necessary, your second call will be to your insurer to make certain you know the process to file a claim should you need to do so.

 

Facing any sort of legal matter can be incredibly difficult and highly stressful.  Try to keep a cool and level head about the situation. Keeping calm and optimistic can help you focus on the task as well as help you continue to run your business while the matter is handled.

 

Being prepared is always the best route to go. Make sure your assets and company are protected well before there is a problem and you will be in a better place to either curb a potential lawsuit or tackle it quickly.

Customer Service for Small Businesses – Part 1

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By Debbie Gregory.

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Please enjoy this 3 part Customer Service Series

 

Providing exceptional customer service can be a challenge for businesses of all sizes, but particularly for small businesses. Whether you are just starting a business, or you’re an established small business, customer service is a priority.  Learning how to deliver great customer service can mean the difference between happy customers who keep coming back and those that make it a point to share with others to avoid you.

 

Provide stellar customer service by addressing these important factors:

  • Know what outstanding customer service looks and feels like
  • Create a culture of exceptional service within your business
  • Put in place systems, management tools, and reporting that make it easier to communicate with and please your customers
  • Train and empower your employees to solve problems
  • Consider outsourcing

 

Great Customer Service Is Good Business

Customer service is more important to consumers than price or product. Poor customer service will cost you lost revenue and customers and can tank your business.  Negative word-of-mouth, stories of poor service can spread instantly via viral videos and social media posts.

On the flip side, excellent service can boost you above your competition.  Treat your customers as individuals. You need a system in place that identifies your customers’ needs and be ready to meet them.

 

Create a Small Business Customer Service Plan

Take time to really look at your business, the services or products you provide, and all the ways you currently satisfy your customers or clients. Look at all of the ways your customer service has gone wrong in the past and what you could have done differently for a better customer outcome. It makes sense to obtain customer input too.

Once you know where to focus your energy, you can design a workable plan to address problems. You may also want to consider bringing in a customer service consultant.

 

Choose the Right Customer Service Tools

There are many tools available — from social media, to chat, to CRM systems — that can make it easier to serve your customers. Consider these small business tools to help provide stellar service:

-CRM System

A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is an essential customer service tool. Not only will a CRM provide you with the reports you need to monitor your customer service, but it also can help you organize and streamline other aspects of your business including operations and marketing.

CRM helps you manage your customer relationships by letting you store and analyze data about your customers, create customized reports, and send custom emails. CRM also lets you slice and dice data so you can analyze patterns and trends.  You will need to find the right CRM system at the right price for you.

 

-Live Chat

Customers today expect instant gratification. Different customers prefer to reach out to you in different ways. While some might like email or phone, chat is essential for any small business. CRM systems do not offer chat functionality that allows a customer to “chat” with you about issues online. If this is a service you wish to offer you will need to use another platform, such as social media.

 

-Social Media

Your small business should be found on all major relevant social media platforms. Make sure that your business pages are consistently branded, filled out properly, and have information on how your customers can reach you. Social media is not just a place to post about your new products or an award you won; they are essential customer service channels that need to be monitored and used to interact with customers and address concerns.

 

-Team Communication Technology

Desktop and mobile apps can help your customer service team communicate issues quickly with each other and with you,

 

Get the Right Reports to Identify Your Customer Service Issues

It is critical to monitor uour customer service. Take the time to review service reports on either a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. You should be monitoring and reviewing the following reports:

Complaints Report

Make sure that your employees log all complaints so that you can review which customer complained, what it was about, how big the customer is, and what is being done.

 

-Glitch Report

These reports are not necessarily complaints but common issues that customers bring up about your service or product. Look closely at every open service ticket, what was last done to resolve it, and what is the next scheduled action.

 

-Time-to-Close Report

This report focuses on how long it’s taking to resolve customer problems. You can use this report to set customer service goals to improve your service.

 

 

Amazing customer service can help make your business a success, but it’s also easy to make service mistakes that can tank your business. A great place to start is the website for the U.S. Small Business Administration. They offer quite a lot of free online resources and training materials to help boost your business’s customer service – take a look here:

https://www.sba.gov/course/customer-service/

 

Keep an eye out for Part 2  and Part 3 of this Series.

Part 2 will feature Customer Service for Small Businesses : Train Employees to Provide Excellent Service.

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