Archive for small business

31 Tips For Successful Outsourcing

Posted in Business start up, Outsourcing, Virtual Assistance with tags , , , , on December 18, 2010 by virtualcitypa

Here are 31 tips to make your outsourcing experiences as smooth as possible.

Come to an Agreement

One of the most important elements of subcontracting is making sure you and the subcontractor are on the same page and that there are no surprises. Keep these things on your list to help facilitate a smooth working relationship:

1.  Use a contract
2.  Make sure you agree on payment terms up front
3.  Don’t pay in full until the job is complete
4.  Be clear on how and when you plan to pay the subcontractor
5.  Agree on a timeline for the work
6.  Include a non-disclosure/non-competition provision in your contract
7.  Determine how you will receive project updates
8.  Clarify confidentiality expectations
9.  Build in a “de-bugging” provision that identifies a specific period of time the subcontractor will be on call to fix potential problems that arise
10.  Clarify the ownership of the project in writing

Protect Your Business

When you outsource, you are giving up some of your control over the project. Consider these tips to help you protect your business, interests and reputation:

11.  Check references
12.  Review the subcontractor’s portfolio
13.  Verify skills
14.  Consider a small test project first
15.  Be prepared to review all work before turning it over to the client
16.  Be very clear about expectations
17.  Don’t leave any details out when relaying the project request to the subcontractor
18.  Send all work requests in writing
19.  Schedule an initial call and regular check-ins, if necessary
20.  Be available throughout the duration of the project
21.  Track all payments for your books

Client Relations

The goal of the project should be to meet and exceed the client’s needs. In order to do that, follow these tips to manage your relationship with your client:

22.  Be the middleman
23.  Tell your client you are using a subcontractor, if appropriate
24.  Pad the time estimate provided by the subcontractor in your estimate for the client
25.  Don’t forget to add in time for your management role
26.  Be accountable for your work AND your subcontractor’s work

Aside from the Work

Remember the importance of the personal side of your subcontractor relationship. Here are some ways to do that:

27.  Don’t overlook the importance of complementary personalities
28.  Respect the subcontractor’s time
29.  Make sure there are no communication gaps
30.  Give praise and appreciation for a job well done
31.  Ask the subcontractor how it went at the end of the project and provide feedback

What other tips would you add to this list?

Successful outsourcing will not only allow you to focus on what you do best, but also find other ways to satisfy clients and expand your business. By building relationships with your subcontractors that are based on trust and respect, you will be able to create a team that can accomplish just about anything…and give you a day or two off in the process.

http://www.sitepoint.com/blogs/2009/04/09/31-tips-for-successful-outsourcing/

Alyssa Gregory is the owner of avertua, LLC, a full-service virtual assistant firm. She has been designing websites since 1995, and has a passion for supporting small businesses. Alyssa provides business tips, advice and news through her Small Business Idea Generator blog.

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Differentiate or Die in a Downturn

Posted in Business start up, Marketing with tags , , , , on August 13, 2010 by virtualcitypa

Differentiate your businessWhen money gets tighter, people get pickier. Which means, if want to continue to not only survive, but thrive, you’re going to need to dig a bit more deeply into the differentiation well and publicly showcase why you are the woman, man or business that people should be handing their money over to.

Perfect example. Walking down the block looking for a place to grab lunch with my wife on a weekday, we passed 7 or 8 restaurants and every single one was close to being empty. Then we poked our heads into the local pub. We’d never been there before. And, it was packed.

Not because people were drinking their troubles away. They were all sitting and eating. And, 75% were moms in their 30s and 40s. Whaaa?

It wasn’t long until we figured out what was going on. This little pub had figured out a way to shine, while all the restaurants around them stumbled. Along with their standard menu, we were each given a long, 6 inch wide piece of paper and a red pen.

On the paper were about 50 different options for chopped salad mix-ins. We each sat choosing our salad items and, a few minutes later, two giant finely-chopped salads arrived at our table. We dove in, couldn’t finish either and reveled about how we never about this hidden salad gem before. But, clearly others had.

Since then, this little grill has become our go-to place for taking out, ordering in and the occasional dinner with friends, family style.

Because … they get it.

People are looking for value more than at any other time in decades. And, if you can’t strongly differentiate yourself, you and your business become fungible … replaceable … interchangeable.

And, that’s an awful place to be in a down economy.

So, how will you differentiate and showcase your unique value in 2009?

* * * * *

Jonathan Fields, hedge-fund lawyer turned lifestyle entrepreneurAbout the Author: Jonathan Fields is a former hedge-fund lawyer turned serial lifestyle entrepreneur, copywriter, Internet and direct marketer, speaker and writer. You can find him blogging on entrepreneurship and lifestyles at Awake At The Wheel, crafting high-impact copy for clients at Vibe Creative or training people to become entrepreneurs and career renegades at Career Renegade. His next book, also called Career Renegade, is due out from Random House/Broadway Books In January 2009.

Franchising – 5 reasons why its worth considering

Posted in Business start up with tags , , , on August 12, 2010 by virtualcitypa

1. Proven Model

When you purchase a franchise, the thing that you are really purchasing is a business model. You are purchasing the rights to use someone else’s idea. This someone (the franchisor) has put their idea into an organised, easy to follow operations manual. In other words, you are replicating the franchisor’s business. The obvious advantage is that you don’t have to “invent” anything of your own to start a business. It’s already been invented.

2.  Formal Training

Once you have written a check for the Franchise Fee, and signed the franchise agreement, you are officially a franchisee. It is now on the franchisor to teach you their system, in a formal fashion. Training can last from three days all the way up to two weeks. It depends on how complex the franchise concept is.

You’ll be trained on the use of their computers and software, their operational procedures, marketing and advertising, human resources, and sales. Some franchisors even have online training modules set up, so that you actually can start training from home, a few weeks before you head to their corporate headquarters.

3.  Marketing systems

Marketing techniques employed by franchisors, are usually top notch. That is because part of the franchise development process includes testing. Some franchise offerings end up using direct mail marketing to get customers, while some may find that radio advertising proves to be the most effective way to find and retain customers.

The point is this: You are not the one who has to try out nine or ten different marketing ideas in order to find the one that works the best.  It has been done for you already. In most cases, the franchisor knows what works. They just have to show you how to implement it.

4.  Technology

The franchisor needs to have great technology. Twice. First of all, the franchisor must make things as efficient as possible for it’s franchisees, so they can concentrate on business growth and development, not payroll, and scheduling. Most franchisors have software programs of their own for their franchisees, who pay for them as part of their initial investment.

The franchisor must also have top notch software for their own internal operations. Things like franchisee sales figures, royalty payments, email marketing metrics and website statistics are all measured, so that management can stay on top of things, and keep the system growing.

5. The Franchisee Network

This may be the best part of the franchise business model. As you learn more and more about the franchise offering that you are interested in, you will find that the franchise director or salesperson can only go so far in dispensing pertinent information about the franchise opportunity. It will be time for you to reach out and talk to the network of franchise owners who are in the business that you may want to get into yourself.

You should call 10-15 franchisees of the franchise concept you are interested in. You will be able to get a lot of your questions answered, but it gets better. Undoubtedly, you will find some commonality with a couple of them. These are the franchisees that have given you permission to call them back if you happen to have more questions before you make your decision. Hold on to these names and numbers. These will be the folks you call after you become a franchisee. You could be calling them to get some much needed advice during those challenging start-up months.

These people will usually go out of their way to help you. They probably had similar help during their own start-up phase, and are more than willing to give it back. Sometimes, close friendships even emerge. After all, they probably went into a business of their own for some of the same reasons that you are thinking of doing so. Talk about a natural bond.

Joel Libava on 2008 franchise trends About the Author: Joel Libava is President and Life Changer of Franchise Selection Specialists. He blogs at The Franchise King Blog.

Efficient office moves

Posted in Business start up, Office Management, Virtual Assistance with tags , , on January 18, 2010 by virtualcitypa

Office moves are certainly an area where virtual PA’s can help to smooth the transition by getting systems in place ahead of time to avoid costly disruption to everyday business. This article from http://www.allbusiness.com documents the stages well regarding what needs to be done.

Moving your office without a checklist is asking for trouble. Instead of planning as you go — which is really not planning at all — create a checklist that will help you stay within budget and on deadline.

The best way to avoid moving pitfalls is to be prepared. The list is likely to change
over time, and that’s OK. The goal is to have before you a blueprint that you can refer to again and again. Here’s a model to work with. You checklist may look slightly different depending on the size and type of office you’re moving:

• Create a moving task force. You don’t have to shoulder the entire burden of a move. Indeed, that could be an impossible task and, therefore, a guaranteed failure. Establish a task force consisting of key employees who can offer assistance and guidance during the entire moving process.
• Meet with a space planner and/or interior designer. Trying to fit everything into a new space with little or no expertise is asking for trouble. Make sure you enlist the help of professionals.
• Take inventory and discard what you don’t need. Moving can be an excellent time to clean house. As you’re taking inventory (do this so that you can make sure everything has arrived safely following the move), consider getting rid of extraneous equipment, papers, and other items that the office has amassed.
• Interview moving companies. It’s never too early to begin collecting information about moving companies and then following up with interviews. Be sure to thoroughly check references, too.
• Meet with communications staff. Knowing how the phone system and computer facilities will operate at the new location is a must. It’s incumbent on you to make sure that service will not be interrupted. The best way to ensure minimal disruption is to meet with communications staff on a regular basis.
• Contact appropriate utilities. You’ll need to contact your local utility companies for various services like phone, electricity, and water. Provide them with stop and start dates and schedule any necessary appointments that will require your presence.
• Take care of the details. Remember to make changes to office stationery and alert your customers that the company is moving with change-of-address cards. This is an excellent opportunity to remind your customers that the company is always looking for ways to improve and this move is just one example of the firm’s commitment to excellence. Let your vendors know about the relocation as well.
• Provide employees with orientation. Meet with employees before, during, and after the move to explain how any new functions such as the security and phone systems work. Also, offer guidelines for any new procedures that will be put in place as a result of the move.
• Arrange for new services. You want the transition to occur as smoothly as possible, so try to make move-in day easy and stress-free. Make sure, for example, that ample parking is available for your company’s employees. Order new keys, too, so that people can actually get inside!
• Meet with movers to review plans. Stay in close touch with your movers as move-in day approaches. Make sure you set aside enough time to actually sit down to review and confirm furniture and floor plans. Waiting until move-in day will frustrate the movers, your colleagues, and you.
• Conduct a walk-through. On move-in day (or before) walk through the new space with staff to indicate new work areas. Make them feel welcomed and respond to any questions they may have.
• Plan a party and celebrate. Don’t forget to reward yourself and other employees with a move-in party. Celebrate the success of the move and congratulate everyone on his or her contribution.

When moving your office, advance planning, clear communication, and a willingness to live with a little chaos go a long way.

Should you need help/support or advice regarding your office move please do not hesitate to ask on 0844 884 3890 or email enquiries@virtualcitypa.com

How to make more sales

Posted in Business start up, Sales with tags , , on September 7, 2009 by virtualcitypa

The image of the bright white-toothed salesperson knocking on your door, suitcase in hand, sends most people in the UK running in the opposite direction. Over-enthusiastic sales can be annoying and seems false. So what can you do as a small business owner to ensure that you don’t turn into the door-to-door type?

SmallBusiness.co.uk spoke to Grant Leboff, self-titled ‘most pessimistic salesperson in Britain’ and author of Sales Therapy: Effective Selling for the Small Business Owner, for some tips on generating sales.

Where does the image of the over-bearing salesman come from?
A lot of the books on sales techniques come over from America, where being in sales is thought of as something to be proud of. In the US, sales isn’t a dirty word like it is in the UK.

Most traditional sales courses teach clichéd lessons, telling you to concentrate on the benefits of your product or service rather than the technical features. They also tend to over-emphasise the need for enthusiasm, which is all very well in the States, but it’s just not what people respond to in the UK.

So do you think the answer is to be pessimistic? Why?
British people want a dose of reality, they want to hear it the way it is and being a bit downbeat is part of that – it’s all part of the British stiff upper lip.

In the UK, you need a raw edge to your sales techniques; a more cynical angle and to be aware that people don’t really like being sold to. You can still couch the description of your product or service in positive terms, but the trick is to be subtle, not pushy and to try to be yourself.

Do you think it’s better for people without sales experience to leave it to the experts?
In an ideal world you would be able to hire a top salesperson, but in a smaller company that’s not always possible because of monetary constraints, so everybody needs to do a bit of selling. It’s worth making sure that all your employees in the organisation have had some form of sales training, just so they are able to spot opportunities, even if they can’t convert them into sales.

Do you have to be a good salesperson to run a small firm?
Small business owners can be brilliant at running a business but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are as good at selling. There are different types of selling, it’s not just about getting people to buy products.

Think about giving a presentation to an investor: to a large extent you aren’t just selling the business, you are selling yourself too. Investors are buying into the idea of you running and growing the business to get them a good return. The trick is to draw on your skills and stick to what you are good at.

Can you point to the most common mistake that small business owners make when selling?
The most common mistake is not to fully understand buyer motivation. By that I mean that a lot of SME owners don’t really know what is it that will make people buy your product or service over your competitors’. You can become so enthused about your product that you totally forget to identify a clear route to market.

You need to understand why your product will be valuable for your customers. If you can do that, you can start to understand the areas of the market and the methods of selling and marketing that will generate the most sales.

Any other tips?
You must make sure that you understand the problems your customers are trying to solve. Think of the selling process like a doctor-patient relationship. If you went into your doctor’s office and he told you to take some pills, three times daily, without asking what was wrong, you’d walk out again.

People in sales do this all the time, concentrating on what they have to offer, rather than thinking about the needs of the client. Start with a client interview and try to identify any areas that in which your product or service could add value for the customer, rather than just trying to peddle your wares.

http://www.smallbusiness.co.uk/channels/sales-and-marketing/selling-to-customers/guides-and-tips/316446/how-to-make-more-sales.thtml

Keep It Simple – Start Up Tips

Posted in Business start up, Marketing with tags , , , on August 11, 2009 by virtualcitypa

No doubt you’ve heard the term ‘core competency.’ It refers to that which a company or person does best.

The best way to build a business is to start out offering only what you do best.

Why? For a couple of reasons:

  1. It gives you one thing to focus on; to build a marketing message around.
  2. It helps you define your target market – those people who need that thing.
  3. It helps others land on who you are and what you offer.

In short, it provides clarity. It keeps you and your prospects from getting confused.

Too often small business owners try to offer everything under the sun. They think there’s value in being a one-stop shop and they’re afraid that if they don’t offer more things they’ll miss out on business.

The irony is that with too many things offered, they lose out on business because there’s no clarity. When people can’t land on what it is you do, they walk away. So, these owners end up creating the situation they were trying to avoid.

If your message is too big, it will be overwhelming. Think about how you react to feeling overwhelmed. It’s not a good feeling, is it? Don’t create that sensation for your prospective clients.

Set yourself up for success by starting out simply. Focus on the thing you do best and market that product or service to that target market. Build your business from the foundation of your core competency.

Once you’ve established your company as a solid entity, you can add products or services and develop a menu of offerings. Be sure to add things that make sense – things that go along with your core product or service.

For example, if you are offering accounting services, don’t add printing services. You may think printing is something you can do, but that doesn’t mean it’s something you should do. Now, you may think I’m being ridiculous, but I’ve seen this happen. Sometimes as oddly as my example and other times more subtly. They are equally inappropriate.

Know what you do well. Understand what you offer. As you determine what additional items to add to your product line make sure they go along with your main line. Maintain continuity with your products or services. This will help you reinforce your position in the market. 

When you add items gradually you can enhance your business in a couple of ways: 

  1. Adding complementary services or products increases the value of your core offering.
  2. Adding items gradually provides you with additional opportunities to put your business in front of prospective clients.
  3. Adding quality products or services can expand your prospect base.  

When you create a plan for growing your business include a process for developing your menu of product offerings. Take advantage of the benefits of starting with one core item and building gradually from there. When the plan makes sense to you, you can be sure it will make sense to your prospects. That wisdom will result in solid growth for your business.  http://smallbiztrends.com/2008/11/start-out-simply.html

Diane HelbigAbout the Author: Diane Helbig is a Professional Coach and the president of Seize This Day Coaching. Diane is a Contributing Editor on COSE Mindspring, a resource website for small business owners, as well as a member of the Sales Experts Panel at Top Sales Experts.

Tips for outsourcing your small-business needs

Posted in Outsourcing, Virtual Assistance with tags , , , on August 1, 2009 by virtualcitypa

Yes, small businesses can benefit from outsourcing too. More and more of them are turning over parts of their operations to outside experts, allowing owners to focus on critical needs and growth.

Following the trend of larger companies, small-business owners are outsourcing a range of services, from HR to finance and accounting to customer services. But the outsourcing process requires some time and investment to find the right vendor, build a working relationship, and allow your employees to adjust.

First, define your core

Generally, the smart strategy is to hold on to operations or areas that define the core mission of your business. Then, consider outsourcing the other operations that are not as strategic.

If, for instance, your point of difference is customer service, make sure you have enough friendly and attentive full-time employees to make good on that. If, however, you promise rock bottom prices, then relying on an outsourcer, such as a Web-based virtual assistant, an automated phone system or an overseas call center, might make more sense.

..Virtual assistants, or independent entrepreneurs who provide administrative, creative or technical support, are a growing phenomenon. They work on a contractual basis via online or electronic communications, handling functions, such as keeping your schedule or your files or your customer intelligence database up to speed. You can find out more by visiting the nonprofit International Virtual Assistants Association (www.ivaa.org).

Expertizing, based in Newton, Massachusetts, uses virtual assistants for a variety of projects. “We’re a small company that helps people achieve media attention for their businesses, and have outsourced a lot of work to several virtual assistants,” says CEO Fern Reiss. “It completely changed the way we operate. We meet ‘live’ once a month for a long catch-up, and in between correspond via email and occasionally by phone. We have increased productivity by about 30% to 40%, and have finally gotten many of our back-burner projects out the door.

http://www.microsoft.com/smallbusiness/resources/management/recruiting-staffing/tips-for-outsourcing-your-small-business-needs.aspx#Tipsforoutsourcingyoursmallbusinessneeds