5 Simple Phone Tactics to Overhaul Your Image

Have we gotten too casual on the phone? Are we being lazy when communicating with clients or prospective clients? Don’t just phone it in—or maybe you can! Give your image a facelift by taking these quick and easy actions toward improved phone communication.

Most small businesses facing the challenge of improving their image in the marketplace are staring at major investments of time and money. Properly planned and launched, those investments can earn significant positive results.

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    But what about the rest of us with similar needs but no deep pockets to pull all that off? Are we doomed to endure the mediocre or amateurish image we’ve created by what we’ve done or not done since we started our businesses?

    Not to worry. Here are five simple and easy phone tactics to overhaul your image. So easy you can phone them in. They require no investment—only some creativity and effort. Start small and simple. See how many you can add to your small business tool kit and start using them immediately.

    Simple and easy tactic No. 1: Personalize you voice mail greeting

    Most small businesses use a voice mail greeting when they can’t answer incoming calls. This message might be the first impression a prospect or new customer gets of the company’s style and values. And it might reinforce those impressions with repeat callers. Listen to your voice mail greeting like a caller would. How do you feel about the business and the people running it? Do you want to do business with them?

    What kind of impressions does this recorded message cast?

    “Your call is being forwarded to an automated voice messaging system … 475 338-0298 is not available … “           

    Probably not favorable. More like lazy, dumb and cheap. How simple to invest a few minutes to personalize that greeting?

    “Hi, this is Ben Dover with Glitztronics. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you by the end of the day.”

    Job done—concise, courteous and helpful. Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

    Simple and easy tactic No. 2: Listen to what callers hear

    So, what do callers hear when you do answer the phone? What kind of an image does your greeting cast? “Hi …” is a good start, but it needs help: “Hi, this is Ben with Glitztronics …” is better, but “Hi … this is Ben Dover with Glitztronics. How can I help you today?” really works well. Which one casts the best image of Ben? Which is the most like yours?

    Simple and easy tactic No. 3: Turn a problem into a pleasure

    What do you say when a caller needs help, asks a question or just says, “Thanks”? I do have a problem with responding, “No problem”, which seems to be most everyone’s default response these days. Simply say, “You’re welcome” instead. And even better is, “My pleasure.” While the shift from “problem” to “pleasure” is subtle, it does say something about your attitude.

    Simple and easy tactic No. 4: Review how you place out-going calls

    When you place an out-going call, what do they hear first after answering?  Consider a concise and courteous statement such as, “Hi … this is Ben Dover from Glitztronics … Is this a good time to discuss next week’s meeting?”

    And if the other person says it’s not a good time, no need to apologize. If you knew that, you wouldn’t have called and also, remember, they picked up the phone in the first place.

    Because most people have some version of Caller ID installed on their phone, make sure the read out isn’t lame like “unknown caller”, “not available” or blank. Those all signal a robo or spam call. Would you answer a call like that yourself? If I don’t recognize the name or number, I let the call go into voice mail where they hear my concise and courteous message. Most don’t leave a message, which tells me they were robo or spammers.

    Simple and easy tactic No. 5: Please leave a (complete) message

    When you do leave a voice message, what do they hear? “Hi … This is Ben returning your call” Is a good start, but not enough to really be helpful. “Hi … This is Ben Dover with Glitztronics returning your call. I can meet with you Tuesday at 10 or Thursday at 3. Let me know what works for you at 459-703-3162.’ While longer, it’s a more courteous and complete communication.

    Little effort, big results

    As you’ve seen, it doesn’t take much time or effort to phone in your image-casting make-over tactics that differentiate your business from the competition who don’t think it matters or have even bothered to try.

    Everything your customers and prospects hear over the phone should be on purpose and for a purpose. What kind of an image-casting score would they give your business?

    Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, www.communicate-confidently.com, 440-449-0356, and empowers business leaders to communicate confidently. A popular trainer and executive coach on workplace communications and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative.
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    Next up: 5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Holiday Downtime

    5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Holiday Downtime

    Things can get a little bit slow around the holidays. But that’s not an excuse to let your productivity lag! Here are five ways to take advantage of any slowdowns this holidays season.

    For many companies—excluding, of course, retail—business slows down during the holidays as people take vacations and defer new decisions on purchases for the following year. This downtime creates a wonderful opportunity to reenergize yourself and your business.  

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    Here are five ideas on how to leverage your downtime this holiday season:

    Idea No. 1: Organize and refresh your space. Like many of you, I struggle to keep my business organized and clean. Clutter builds up, files get disorganized and the environment gets stale. The holidays are a great time to purge extra clutter, reorganize your files and update your décor. By concentrating on these tasks during the “offseason,” your team will be more productive and engaged throughout the rest of the year.

    Idea No. 2: Evaluate opportunities. Whether it’s identifying process improvements, talent needs or new innovations, now is the time to look at your business and see what opportunities exist for improvement.

    Idea No. 3: Plan for next year. The holidays are a great time to reflect on the past year’s goals, accomplishments and challenges and set new goals and plans for next year. Your planning can include setting new sales targets, adding new products and services and instituting new processes to improve efficiency.

    Idea No. 4: Conduct teambuilding and employee engagement activities. Teambuilding and engagement should be a year-round activity. However, the holidays create a unique opportunity to amplify efforts to improve your culture. The spirit of the holidays means appreciation for others and creating a feeling of family. Volunteering to serve food at a kitchen, throwing a holiday party and providing a gift to your team are great ways to bond and to show your staff how much you value them.

    Idea No. 5: Work on yourself. Many of us work long hours and wear many hats. Our time is stretched. As a result, we have less time to work on self-improvement. With downtime during the holidays, you can read an extra leadership book, brush up on skills and work on areas that can help you become more successful in business and life.

    By doing one or all of these activities, not only have you set up your business for more success next year, but you have figured out how to gain personal value at a time when business is slow. Keep in mind that, above all else, it is important to take time to enjoy this time with family and friends. That is what the holidays are all about! 

    Nevin Bansal is the president and CEO of Outreach Promotional Solutions. 


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    Next up: 5 Ways to Recognize Millennial Employees (Without Digging Deep into Your Pocketbook)

    5 Ways to Recognize Millennial Employees (Without Digging Deep into Your Pocketbook)

    Sure, money talks, but so do these five ways of recognizing the amazing work your millennial employees are doing.

    It’s no secret millennials are job hoppers. On average, Millennials change positions four times within the first decade they graduate from college and that number is only increasing. What’s more telling is why. They are looking to grow and for opportunity. Often times that comes with a new job and maybe a better salary, but there are other ways to help millennials grow without offering them a promotion or salary raise.

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    Consider these five tips to keep your millennial employees satisfied.

    Tip No. 1: On the job skills and training

    Do you have a millennial employee who is hitting it out of the park? Recognize this individual by giving them special projects and such to work on. Show them you appreciate what they are doing and are going to give them ways to grow inside the company. Sure, that college degree matters, but what matters more is real life experience and getting as much of it as possible.

    Tip No. 2: Acknowledge their work

    This can be done by giving them a title that accurately reflects their work. After some time, if your administrative assistant is really the office manager, give him or her that title. This shows you are understanding of the extra work they are putting in and are acknowledging it.

    Tip No. 3: Provide professional development opportunities

    Encourage your millennial employees to participate in professional development opportunities that will help them to grow and pay for it. Many of these seminars are relatively inexpensive, but will show your staff that you care about them and are supporting their growth.

    Tip No. 4: Suggest your employees get involved in civic organizations

    They can join a young professionals group, a nonprofit board, etc. There is nothing harder than managing volunteers, so not only will they learn to give back to the community, they will learn some new skill sets that will help them grown and transfer back to the company. How is a young professional supposed to get management experience to get promoted if they are not supervising anyone? The answer is through civic experiences. You can help by paying the dues, becoming a member, etc.

    Tip No. 5: Sell them on Northeast Ohio

    Sure, someone can leave their $50,000-a-year job in Cleveland for a $70,000-job on the West Coast, but they will also be faced with a much higher cost of living. Help your millennials grow by showcasing how much Cleveland has to offer them. There are a few sayings I live by in Cleveland, “You can be a big fish in a small pond” and “There is one degree of separation between you and most other Clevelanders.”

    What’s your strategy for recognizing the amazing work your millennial employees are doing? Let us know on Twitter!

    Ashley Basile Oeken is president of Engage! Cleveland, a nonprofit whose mission is to attract, engage and retain young, diverse talent to the Greater Cleveland area. Learn more about her organization’s work by clicking here.

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    8 Essential Habits of Entrepreneurs

    What goes into the entrepreneurial mindset and process? Turns out, entrepreneurs seem to share the same eight traits.

    What goes into the entrepreneurial mindset and process? Turns out, entrepreneurs seem to share the same eight traits.

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    Next up: 8 Essential Habits of Entrepreneurs

    8 Essential Habits of Entrepreneurs

    What goes into the entrepreneurial mindset and process? Turns out, entrepreneurs seem to share the same eight traits.


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    Next up: 9 Smart Money Ideas to Get Your Business Off to a Great Start in 2018

    9 Smart Money Ideas to Get Your Business Off to a Great Start in 2018

    From consolidating debt to putting a succession plan in place, here are nine ways you can ensure your business is well-positioned for 2018.

    Smart companies realize three things:

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    No. 1: The importance of making their balance sheets healthy.

    No. 2: How to access the extremely low cost of available capital.

    No. 3: Recognizing the demand in our economy is rising at a healthy 3% growth. 

    All three of these realizations will help your company to maintain or expand market share.  

    Now is a good time to review, correct and forecast your financial strategies to better leverage your firm for growth. This year-end review and forecast is important, due in part, to the changes underway on Capitol Hill and new federal policies on finance and regulations. The federal changes will have impact on most all businesses, no matter the size.

    Here are nine ideas that could help your 2018 get off to a roaring start.

    Idea No. 1: Taxes. The Big Elephant in the room. Contact your accounting firm to ensure you are taking full advantage of all your options to reduce taxes based on the new federal tax laws currently underway in Congress.  This also applies to your personal taxes.

    Idea No. 2: Investments. For most, this has been a robust year in the investment arena.  Review with your investment advisor your yearend picture to determine if there is a need to make any changes to better reflect your risk in the market on both the company and personal investment side. The deadline for your investment changes is Dec. 31.

    Idea No. 3: Insurance. Look over all company and personal insurance policies to ensure your assets are fully covered. These policies could include:

    • general liability insurance
    • professional liability insurance
    • business owner’s policy
    • directors and officers insurance
    • data breach
    •  property insurance
    • commercial auto insurance
    • worker’s compensation
    • homeowner’s insurance
    • renter’s insurance
    • life insurance
    • personal automobile insurance.

    Idea No. 4: Debt consolidation. Interest rates have been at historically low rates. Look at all outstanding loans, consider consolidating outstanding notes for a better rate. Credit cards continue to offer great rates for as low as 0% until 2019 when you consolidate debt from other credit card companies. Make sure you understand the fine print. Analysts forecast the Fed rate will increase before year end, and again slightly in the new year, however, will remain low in 2018, following retiring Janet Yellen’s past performance.

    Idea No. 5: New capital acquisition. Growing companies require more working capital for operations, inventory and equipment.  It takes money to make money. While conventional banks have kept interest rates attractively low, overall 12-month business loan growth is at the lowest since 2013. But they are still lending. Consider reviewing alternative financial options including interviewing potential private equity or venture capital partners, joint ventures/alliances with compatible companies that compliments your business strategy, large corporate sponsorship or grant funding,  public/private government sponsored funding. The beauty of preparing your 2018 business plan and forecast, is that you will be able to strategically see where and when you need funding. When you do sit down to negotiate new financing, most capital sources will ask to review many of the items listed here. Know where your realistic capital options are, including the requirements to secure the capital, before you need it.

    Idea No. 6: Leases. Capital spending on equipment leasing in the first three quarters of this year has risen at 7.3% annual rate, fastest in the past three years. Instead of outright purchasing equipment—whether a $5,000 video-conference system or a $500,000 injection molding machine—seriously consider leasing rather than tying up this capital that could be better used elsewhere. Additional leasing benefits include $1 buyouts at the end of the lease and the ability to upgrade equipment during the term of the lease to take advantage of newer technology platforms.  The trend today is for  larger equipment to have  built-in computer and artificial intelligence.

    Idea No. 7: Owner draws and distributions. Review with your CPA how your firm is paying out draws and/or distributions and how this impacts your overall tax picture.  The difference between a draw and a distribution is significant for tax reporting purposes. A sole proprietor or single-member LLC can draw money out of the business—this is called a draw. It is an accounting transaction, and it doesn't show up on the owner's tax return. A distribution or distributive share, on the other hand, must be recorded (using Schedule K-1) and it shows up on the owner's tax return. Further, depending on your tax bracket and forecasted 2018 compensation, determine if it would be better to take money out in 2017 or 2018. 

    Idea No. 8: Succession plan. Discuss and review any needed business succession planning updates. During the year were there retirement events, disability or death of an owner or other foreseeable events affecting the company? Review age of the owner(s) and family stage, business stage, size of the business, direction of the business and future leadership. Ensure that succession viability, retirement exit strategy, transition strategy in place.  In the event of death or disability of an owner, take into consideration tax planning, family law considerations, shareholder’s agreements and determining the selection a successor and future management to liquidation of assets or sale of business.

    Idea No. 9: Estate plan. Review and update your will to reflect current situation. Consider a trust if you have property and you don’t wish to have your survivors to go through the sometimes long and arduous task of going thru probate court.  Review and update health care directives, financial powers of attorney, beneficiary forms, protect your children’s property, estate taxes, funeral arrangements and expenses. Store your documents with your attorney-in-fact and/or your executor, the person you choose in your will to administer your property after you die. You will sleep better knowing your wishes are in place.

    Marsha L. Powers, a finance and strategic development professional, author, entrepreneur and investor is the founder of Powers Advisors and Shale Capital Resources. She has been a contributing writer on Finance for Crain’s Cleveland Business for nine years. Her management consulting areas of expertise includes finance – ranging from senior debt, government finance programs to private equity, market strategy, operations, marketing communications and economic development.  She’s a recognized award-winning leader with proven strategic direction and leadership to over 1500 companies, from early stage to Fortune 50 companies. You can reach Marsha at (216)965-3633, marsha@powersadvisors.com and www.powersadvisors.com to learn more about how she can help your company succeed.

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