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By CAN Capital

November 26, 2014
Happy Employees Make For Happy Customers

The more engaged and involved your employees – all your employees – are in the operation of your business, the more motivated they will be to work to make your customers happy. And as you well know, a happy customer is not only a repeat customer, he or she is also a powerful marketing tool. Read CAN Capital’s financial blog to learn more.

​If you ask your customers for their opinions about their experience in your business, most will either offer praise or be rather noncommittal. The latter are likely unhappy with some element of their experience, but are hesitant to engage in what might seem to be confrontational. For this reason, while it is certainly advisable to seek their feedback in person (it shows that you care about their experience), it is also a great idea to provide them with an anonymous means of airing whatever complaints they might have. Providing them with this kind of anonymous forum will allow them to vent, which might save you from having a negative comment posted about your restaurant on online review forums such as Yelp.

Ironically, few patrons who offer negative feedback rank the quality of product as the main source of their displeasure. By far, the biggest complaint customers have is about the service they received. And the simple truth is that unhappy employees won’t give customers the kind of service they rightfully expect when they dine out. Therefore, if you want your customers to heap praise on your establishment, you need to be proactive in instilling a good working attitude in each and every one of your employees. Instilling a good attitude will not only make your customers happier, it will save you time, energy, and money, by reducing employee turnover and reducing the amount of time you have to spend training new employees. Here are a few tips to help you in that effort.

Be clear in your expectations. Being unsure about their duties and responsibilities is one of the main sources of employee dissatisfaction. Let them know, in no uncertain terms, what is expected of them, especially in areas that are unique to your business. A clear and comprehensive employee handbook can be a real benefit. It doesn’t have to be overly long or complex, but a description of your business mission, of each employee’s duties and responsibilities, and of unique procedures can go a long way toward making employees feel comfortable in their positions.

Encourage employees to assume responsibility. Some employees will do the bare minimum, generally because they see no need to do anything more. After all, they aren’t responsible for anything beyond their assigned duties, right? But if you show your employees that you trust them for more than the tasks they are assigned, many, if not most, will gain a sense of ownership in the establishment, and will demonstrate more incentive toward improving the customers’ experiences. Allowing employees to have greater input on things such as scheduling, daily specials, and the like can greatly increase their sense of investment in the job, and inspire them to improve their performance accordingly.

Acknowledge and reward positive behavior as assertively as you respond to negative behavior. Don’t assume that your employees have a clear perspective of how customers feel about the service they get. When an employee goes the extra mile to make a customer happy, or offers good suggestions about ways to improve service or efficiency, be sure to praise the employee, and let the other employees see you do it. The reward for good behavior could be as simple as being extra flexible in responding to the excellent employee’s scheduling. If the employee’s behavior is particularly outstanding, a more tangible reward might be in order – be it a raise or bonus in their paycheck, a free meal when they’re off duty, or other items. Don’t think of it as an added expense, because it will truly be an investment that will pay off handsomely.

(Note: Never publicly scold an employee who hasn’t performed as well as you expect. You will only embarrass them and reinforce any negative attitude they might have. While praise should be public, “attitude adjustments” should always be offered in private.)

Follow the Golden Rule in dealing with your employees. Simply treat them the way you would like to be treated. If they do something that really enhances your customers’ experience, give them the recognition they deserve. If their attitude and service needs improvement, address the situation itself, without deriding them personally. And if you are having a particularly difficult day, avoid the temptation to blame employees or vent your frustration on them. They aren’t merely servers, receptionists, or cashiers. They are also customers who have experienced poor service themselves. And most importantly, they are human beings, just like yourself. We’ve all had those bad days, and if we’re honest, we’ve all taken our frustrations out on our employees at times. If you determine that you’ve been unfair with an employee, be forthright in giving them the honest apology they deserve, and make a determined effort not to repeat your own venting episode.

In conclusion, your customers’ experience will be a direct reflection of your employees’ attitudes. The more engaged and involved your employees – all your employees – are in the operation of your business, the more motivated they will be to work to make your customers happy. And as you well know, a happy customer is not only a repeat customer, he or she is also a powerful marketing tool.

Tags: competitive advantage,happy employees,happy customers

By CAN Capital

November 25, 2014
​Hiring for Success

​​Tips to help small businesses find and hire the best. Read CAN Capital’s financial blog to learn more.

​With increased competition for candidates, the most promising hires are getting snapped up quickly. Use the following tips to hone your hiring skills and find the help you need:

Define your needs. Start by crafting a job description to help you clarify the role and pinpoint the qualifications a candidate will need to succeed. Include the following:

- Responsibilities

- Required skills, experience, degrees and certifications

- Preferred skills, experience, degrees and certifications

- Reporting structure, including supervisors and direct reports

- Performance goals and success measurements

Choose the right hiring tools. Today’s companies can tap more tools than ever to help with hiring. The trick is to choose the right ones for the position you need to fill.

- Social media platforms. Social channels like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can help you quickly spread the word about open positions and connect to qualified candidates. LinkedIn even allows members to upload and share their resumes via its website.

- Job boards. Posting open positions on web-based job boards such as Indeed.com will help you reach a broad audience of job seekers. You can also use targeted job boards to narrow your search. For example, the National Restaurant Association runs an industry job board, and job boards such as CareerVitals.com and HealthECareers.com aggregate open positions in the healthcare field. There are also geographically-focused job boards like the one run by the New York State Department of Labor to help you target job seekers in a particular region.

- Recruiters. Working with a professional recruiter may make sense if you need to fill a specialized position outside of your area of expertise or a position for which there is a lot of competition. Recruiters can also be helpful when it’s important to be discrete about your hire.

Run accurate calculations. The true cost of adding employees goes beyond salary and benefits. Your company will also need to pay for employee taxes, technology, furniture, supplies, and other overhead. Weigh these expenses against the value your hires will bring to your company. How much new work can they help you manage? What is the value of the expanded products and services they will help your company offer?

Organize the interview process. To learn the most about prospective hires, share interview questions with your internal team so each person explores a different topic with candidates. For example, one interviewer could explore preferred work styles and interpersonal skills, while another could ask about past work experience and technical know-how.

Avoid legal hot water. Employers need to avoid potential missteps when hiring. Review your job descriptions, application forms and interview questions to ensure they don’t violate the following laws:

- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This act prohibits discriminating against job applicants and employees with a disability.

- Civil Rights Act. This act makes it illegal for businesses to consider race, color, religion, gender, and national origin when making employment-related decisions.

- Immigration Reform and Control Act. Under this act, employers may hire only persons who can legally work in the United States.

- Age Discrimination in Employment Act. This act prohibits discrimination against employees and applicants age 40 and older.

Consider promoting from within. Ask yourself if you have a team member who is ready to fill the new role or one who could fill it with additional training. Promoting employees builds loyalty and job satisfaction, and the knowledge they already have about your company can boost productivity and work quality. Keep in mind that it’s never a good idea to promote someone just to keep them happy. If they’re not a good fit for the new role, help them understand why you need to make an outside hire. Crafting a detailed job description will help by making it easier to compare internal and external candidates. Determine if you need a full-time employee, a temporary employee, or an independent contractor. If you need to hire for additional support but not full-time or permanent work, supplementing your team with temporary employees and/or independent contractors may be a solution. While they often charge more per job or per hour than the amount you pay employees, they are paid only during the period of time that they work and often do not receive benefits. Make sure your relationship with contractors is structured in a way that is acceptable to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS has strict rules about what constitutes an employee, including who dictates how work is completed, where and when the work is done, and whose equipment is used. If the IRS suspects you are classifying workers incorrectly, this might spark an audit or other liability.

Craft a detailed offer letter. After you conduct background checks and make a verbal offer to a candidate, email or mail a formal offer letter that outlines the position details. The goal is to give the candidate enough information to make an informed decision while clearly stating the commitments your business is making. Details should include, as applicable:

- Annual salary

- Performance bonuses and how they will be determined

- Available stock options

- Healthcare, retirement and other benefits

- Anticipated work hours

- Paid company holidays, vacation time and sick leave

- Policy for unpaid time off

- Reimbursement policies for travel, phone and other expenses

- Expected start date

- Offer expiration date

- Option to accept or decline the offer

Tags: hiring

By CAN Capital

November 24, 2014
6 Ways to Make Your Customers Happy

​​6 Ways to Make Your Customers Happy

By Gene Marks

Small business influencer Gene Marks is a guest blogger for CAN Capital. He is a celebrated author, columnist and small business owner.

How do I know when my customers are happy? It’s simple. Read CAN Capital’s financial blog to learn more.

​By Gene Marks

Small business influencer Gene Marks is a guest blogger for CAN Capital. He is a celebrated author, columnist and small business owner.

How do I know when my customers are happy? It’s simple: they pay. When a customer pays it usually means they’re satisfied with our service, or the products we sell. But, of course, we need to do more. So we do. Let me share a few other things we do to keep our customers happy, in addition to doing good work for them.

We give stuff away. For my company it’s chocolates. Who doesn’t like chocolates? Every month I have a reminder in my calendar to send one customer a box of chocolates with a card that says thank you for being our customer. I do this randomly. It costs about $35 every month. And each time, I get an email or a call saying, “thanks.” People don’t do this enough. A simple box of chocolates. A fruit basket. A card. Every month. Each time to a different customer.

We stay in touch. Every customer in our database is flagged for follow-ups. We have an alert configured in our customer relationship management (CRM) database to let me know if any customer has not received a phone call or visit from someone in my company in the past four months. We have a monthly newsletter with advice and information to help our customers. We make it a point to “touch” everyone at least once or twice a quarter so they know we’re here and we want to help.

We respond immediately. Customers, like everyone else on this planet, hate to be ignored. We make it a requirement that when a customer asks a question, sends an email or calls us, we respond immediately. Even if we don’t have the time to fully answer his or her question, we at least acknowledge it and give the customer a time frame when we will get back. I share my cell phone, email and Skype ID with all of our customers. So does everyone else in my company.

We are available all the time. A business owner once told me that she turns off her cell phone after 6 p.m. I get this – it’s important to have balance. But, sadly, in 2015 there is no turning off a cell phone, no away message, no out of the office response. We live in a 365/24/7 world and our customers expect that. We sell to companies in different time zones. We have customers of all ages and personality types. Some of our customers work in the middle of the night, others on Sundays. And to succeed today you have to be available. That is why we have smartphones. That is why we have alerts in our CRM system. To that business owner who turns off her cell phone after 6 p.m., my advice is to hire an assistant to be available in the hours when she’s not, if only to acknowledge a request or schedule a time to fix a problem. If a customer can’t reach you quickly, you’re going to lose that customer.

We sell for them. Customers love it when you sell their services. Just like you love it when others recommend you. We do this a lot. When I visit companies, of course I’m looking to sell our technology services. But I try to keep my ears open for other needs, particularly things we don’t do. We have over 600 active customers who do 600 different things, from plumbing to landscaping to accounting to surveying to selling plastic products and corrugated containers. If I see a chance to recommend a customer to another customer, I jump on it. Everyone is happy. And that happiness ultimately reflects on my company, too.

Did I mention the most important thing? Just doing what you say you’re going to do and delivering your products and services on time and charging a fair price. Nothing means more.

Tags: good customer service,happy customers

By CAN Capital

November 18, 2014
For Small Business Saturday Shouldn’t We Give Rather Than Get?

By Gene Marks

Small business influencer Gene Marks is a guest blogger for CAN Capital. He is a celebrated author, columnist and small business owner.

​Join me for CAN Capital’s Tweetchat with Melinda Emerson on November 19th, where we’ll launch CAN Capital’s “Tell Us Your Story” contest. You’ll be asked to answer this question on CAN Capital’s Facebook page: “What is your small business planning for Small Business Saturday?” The best two answers will each win a $100 gift card and a free consulting hour with me. I’ll get to know your business and promise to make recommendations to help you cut costs, grow revenues and improve your profits.

By Gene Marks

Small business influencer Gene Marks is a guest blogger for CAN Capital. He is a celebrated author, columnist and small business owner.

Hopefully by now you’ve heard of Small Business Saturday. It’s on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, November 29th this year. The occasion began only in 2010, but it has become a phenomenon. Hundreds of thousands of small businesses are participating this year and companies that cater to small businesses are out in force showing their support. Even the President usually marks the occasion with an annual visit to a local small business. And you have to give credit where credit is due: Small Business Saturday was started as a marketing promotion by American Express and they really have done an incredible job growing it.

The prevailing approach is to advertise the importance of small businesses so that communities appreciate the value they bring to the economy. Most of the small business owners I know use the occasion as their own little marketing event. They put stickers on their shop windows, signs on their counters, and purchase ads encouraging people to “shop small.” They ask the community to buy from small businesses. They use the occasion to boost their sales. This is why Small Business Saturday is smack in the middle between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Why not let small businesses get in on the shopping fun, right?

Maybe. But I’m not sure I entirely agree. I don’t think Small Business Saturday is about selling. I think it’s about something else. I think it’s about giving.

If you’re running a small business successfully then you have a lot to be grateful for. You’re in a country that gives you the freedom to be your own boss. You have proven your independence, your intelligence, your ability to work hard, your grit. And you have provided your community of customers with a good service or product—so good that they keep coming back. And, thanks to all this, you’re truly able to realize the American dream and earn a decent living. So instead of asking your customers to do more, to buy more, to appreciate you more, maybe that day should be about something different. Maybe that day is about you appreciating them. It’s a day for you, the small business owner to say “thank you” to those customers and communities for supporting you and your business.

So, maybe this Small Business Saturday you do something different: you pay it back. You offer steep discounts. You sell things at cost. You hold a nice event at your store where you give away products or at least a glass of wine. You give away some of the profits from the day to an organization in need. You make it a point to use Small Business Saturday as a day to, not only show how important small businesses are to the community, but how important the community is to your small business. That’s the way to really celebrate Small Business Saturday. That, to me, is what it’s all about.

And to put my money where my mouth is, I’ll do the same. Join me for CAN Capital’s Tweetchat with Melinda Emerson on November 19th, where we’ll launch CAN Capital’s “Tell Us Your Story” contest. You’ll be asked to answer this question on CAN Capital’s Facebook page: “What is your small business planning for Small Business Saturday?” The best two answers will each win a $100 gift card and a free consulting hour with me. I’ll get to know your business and promise to make recommendations to help you cut costs, grow revenues and improve your profits. My typical rate for this is $250 per hour.

It’s not much. It’s just an hour. It’s just a couple of hundred bucks. But it’s something. I’d like to give something back to the small business owners, my clients and friends, who have enabled me to pay my mortgage and college tuition for my kids. It’s a way to say thank you. And I can’t think of a better day than Small Business Saturday to do this.

Tags: twitter,small business saturday

By CAN Capital

November 17, 2014
​Modern and Effective Marketing Tips

​​​Modern and Effective Marketing Tips

By Gene Marks

Small business influencer Gene Marks is a guest blogger for CAN Capital. He is a celebrated author, columnist and small business owner.

Do you want to improve your marketing? Then stop marketing. And start educating. Read CAN Capital’s financial blog to learn more.

​Modern and Effective Marketing Tips

By Gene Marks

Small business influencer Gene Marks is a guest blogger for CAN Capital. He is a celebrated author, columnist and small business owner.

Do you want to improve your marketing? Then stop marketing. And start educating. Things have changed since the days of “Mad Men.” You don’t sell. You nurture. You help. You teach. You stay in front of your prospects and customers as often as you can, without being too intrusive, and provide them with helpful information to make their lives better. You can’t put a gun to your prospect or customer’s head and say “buy from me NOW!” All you can do is keep yourself and your company in their thoughts so that when they do need something that you provide they’ll think of you first.

The good thing is that there are plenty of great, inexpensive technologies to help you do this. For example:

There are email services, like Constant Contact, Jangomail, MyEmma, MailChimp and others. These are reputable and popular ways to keep in touch with your prospects and communities. They’re inexpensive. They have easy-to-configure templates and great metrics to track who is opening, reading and clicking on links in your emails. No matter what business you run, you should be sending newsletters, updates, bulletins or helpful hints and messages to your audience using an email service. And not just one email either. You need to segment your database and send multiple groups of emails that are relevant to your recipients, not just one generic message.

There are printing services. Yes, printing. Because not everyone reads their email. So look at Vista Print, Print Place or the many other companies who provide similar services. Here you can create a simple, but effective postcard to mail out to your community. Put a photo on the front and a story on the back – don’t make it all about you. Use good, free stock photography from MorgueFile or Getty Images. Even with postage it costs about a buck a card to send, and if you do this for a long enough period of time, people will expect to get your messages and read them.

Send voice and text messages. I like VoiceShot for calls and Tatango for texts. There are people in your community who prefer to get phone calls. There are others who only want texts. Now there are services like these that can do this for you en masse and inexpensively. Remember, these are “OPT IN”….you always want to get permission from your customers or prospects to contact them in this way. But once you do, you can use services like these to update them on important issues, price increases, new products or service concerns of interest.

And don’t forget social media, of course. That’s because, depending on your customers, you may have a large community on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. And if that’s the case, you’ll want to devote resources (i.e. people) to monitor your sites there, update them with new information, keep things active, respond to customer messages and build your community.

In 2014 (and 2015), there are plenty of marketing technology tools available to help you stay close to your community. But the most important thing to remember? Don’t use the marketing tools for marketing. Use these tools for education. Offer tips, advice, helpful hints and content that will be interesting and helpful to read. This will keep your community involved and interested. And it will ultimately lead to a closer relationship and more sales.

Tags: marketing tips,effective marketing,small business marketing

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: This is not investment, tax, or legal advice. Should you have questions, please consult your own attorney, tax accountant, or other appropriate expert having expertise in the area of your question or before making important decisions in these areas.​