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.

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 Things to Know About Working with Big Companies

    5 Things to Know About Working with Big Companies

    As part of our ongoing series, we sat down recently with Investor-Level Member Jan Davis from Noble Davis Consulting, Inc. to find out what it’s like to be a small business working with large companies.

    Noble-Davis Consulting, Inc. helps companies to design and maintain their retirement plans. Since 1987, the company has been taking responsibility for your retirement and welfare plans so clients can focus on their business. They make plans smart, simple and worry-free. Jan Davis joined the company in 1995, understanding nothing about 401(k) plans. She worked her way up through all positions in the firm to become the president and owner.

    Mind Your Business sat down recently with Davis to find out a little more about what it’s like working with larger companies.

    MYB: What’s one thing you’ve learned from working with bigger companies?  

    Davis: We have learned that the key to pleasing big customers is to be nimble and able to adapt quickly to their needs. As a small company, we are more easily able to wrap ourselves around the needs of the client and make a big impact in solving a problem or providing a needed service.

    MYB: What do small business owners need to do to be prepared to work with large companies?  

    Davis: You need to really think about the scale and volume of working with a large company. It can range from figuring out how much of your staff’s time you need to dedicate to a large company to get the job done well, all the way to making sure you have enough supplies in stock to be able to fulfill a 20-page employee mailing for a customer with 1,000 employees on short notice.

    MYB: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve found in working with big companies? How did you overcome it?  

    Davis: The biggest challenge for us is that we have to have highly trained people to be able to service the large companies. If that large company decides to leave our services, it can leave us overstaffed very quickly. It will take a lot of smaller customers to fill the hole that a large company leaves. Also, we often don’t have the same resources that a national firm may have. We try to leverage the things we can do better than those national firms—such as having one point of contact and outstanding customer service—to offset the millions we don’t have to invest in something like a website.

    MYB: What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve found working with big companies?  

    Davis: The most surprising thing is they are often the most appreciative of the simple things, like being responsive and providing them with a quick and accurate response. I think having one point of contact and being able to speak with the person who actually services their account can be quite refreshing for a large company. 

    MYB: How do you go about finding these larger customers? Do you have any recommendations for our COSE members who might be interested in seeking larger companies as clients?  

    Davis: For us, the key to finding any customer is the relationships we have and can make. We have found our larger customers through the same channels as our smaller customers. We establish most of our customers from referrals. Working on retirement plans, we need to have partnerships with investment advisors, accountants and attorneys. If we can show that we do a good job with our clients who have a smaller number of employees, we will also get an opportunity to service customers with a larger number of employees. Since we are known as problem solvers, we are often referred in to help a customer who had a bad experience and needs more hand-holding and the expertise that we are able to offer.

    MYB: What are some of the benefits you’ve found in being a COSE member?  

    Davis: I find the opportunities for networking and COSE events have been the biggest benefit of being a COSE member.

    Learn more about the benefits of being a COSE Member by clicking here. Or, contact our Membership Team directly via email at memberservices@cose.org or by phone at 216-592-2355.

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  • Next up: 5 Traits of Transformational Entrepreneurs

    5 Traits of Transformational Entrepreneurs

    It seems as though business disruptors are everywhere these days. Do you want your company to become as big of a transformational force also? If so, here are five traits the visionaries behind these disruptors all share.

    Throughout 2018, Mind Your Business will be reviewing the highlights of the 2017 BizConCLE event hosted by COSE and the Greater Cleveland Partnership. Today’s article focuses on the five things that define influential entrepreneurs, according to investor extraordinaire Mark Thompson. Read the other stories in this series here.

    From Amazon to Tesla, there is plenty of disruption happening in the marketplace today. These companies are connected to their customers, and they are disrupting by zeroing in on exactly what their audience needs.

    During a keynote address at BizConCLE, early investor in companies such as Facebook and Netflix Mark Thompson said there are five characteristics demonstrated by entrepreneurs who share this knack for disruption.

    Trait No. 1: A disruptive dream

    Thompson said the most disruptive companies have the same characteristics as a space mission: a big, hairy, audacious goal. They have a clear mission. And, beyond that, these business owners have a passion and sense of urgency, too.

    Game-changers such as Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and others didn’t get ahead by playing it safe, he said. They understood that big companies should never be disrupted and weren’t afraid to take risks.

    These luminaries also understood, Thompson said, the importance of building a strong team and that disruptors work best when they work together.

    Trait No. 2: Fanatic discipline and continual learning

    .Tesla’s Elon Musk is a terrific example of a disruptor who is not afraid to continue learning about his customers. Crowdsourcing insights into how customers use your product is a fantastic way to stay connected to what the fans of your business want.

    Trait No. 3: Productive paranoia

    Think about the worst possible thing that could happen to your business. If you had to rebuild your business from scratch, would you rebuild it the same way? Leading disruptors are thinking about this all of the time, Thompson said. And they’re not afraid to break conventional wisdom to keep their business fresh.

    Trait No. 4: Partnership

    As was alluded to previously, transformative businesses differentiate themselves through partnerships. Your technology and your processes can be copied. The strategic alliances you have, on the other hand, cannot.

    Thompson added that sustainable success is only possible when you give it to others, such as your customers, your team, etc. Relatedly, if you can identify who is making the buying decisions, it will make it easier for your business to be successful.

    Trait No. 5: Defining success

    No two people are going to define success exactly the same way. In fact, Thompson said Virgin’s Richard Branson addresses this at the beginning of a lot of his meetings by asking his associates, “What does success look like for us on this project?”

    It’s important for entrepreneurs to not assume that everyone who’s important to your business defines success the same way you do. Again, it’s critical to stay connected to your customers and consistently deliver what they want.

    Find out more about the 2018 chapter of BizConCLE and the inspiring speakers and educational sessions that are in store for you.

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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.  

    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.

    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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  • Next up: 5 Signs of a Networking Slug—And What to do Instead

    5 Signs of a Networking Slug—And What to do Instead

    They’re pushy and disrespectful of your time, just to name a couple signs of Networking Slugs. Make sure nobody can accuse you of Networking Slug behavior with these alternative approaches.

    I hate Networking Slugs—I really do. And so should you. They typically create negative first impressions at networking events by doing lots of dumb things. They probably didn’t plan to behave like Slugs and what they do is often out of mindless habit or lack of focus. But, the results are just as lame—and just as annoying.

    Most Slugs are real amateur networkers, but not all. I’ve encountered some veteran schmoozers who elevate Slug Behavior to the level of an art form. So have you. When you see them coming, you turn and run. Or, at least, start talking to someone else.

    •          RELATED: Phil also hates elevator speeches, and here’s why you should too.

    To help ensure no one ever accuses you of being a Networking Slug, here are five signs of Networking Slug Behavior and the Non-Slug Alternatives they—and you—should consider instead. No need to thank me–it’s my job!

    Networking Slug sign No. 1: They give you their business cards up front. And of course, most of the cards wind up in the trash can on the way out of the venue. I’ve even seen Slugs going around the room passing out cards to everyone, as if they were candy we’d all enjoy. Lame. Very lame. And I’ve been known to put on my curmudgeon hat on occasion and comment ‘I don’t recall asking for your card’ just to mess with them.

    Non-Slug alternative No. 1: Wait for people to ask for your card. Or, ask them if you can give them one. Wait until the end of a short conversation to initiate a possible follow-up. And ask for theirs first—that usually prompts the return request. 

    Networking Slug sign No. 2: They don’t respect your time. Slugs talk too much, too long, mostly about themselves and launch right into their sales pitch monologue when they call you. It’s all about them and what they’re selling, because they don’t realize—or care—that networking and selling don’t mix.

    Non-Slug alternative No. 2: Don’t dominate the conversation or talk too long. Tell less and ask more. Talk less and listen more. The conversation should be more about them than you. And never mix networking with selling. When you do follow up with a call, always ask within the first few seconds, “Is this a good time for a brief follow-up chat on…?” 

    Networking Slug sign No. 3: They don’t interact with class and style. If they suggest a coffee meeting, they show up late, expect you to pick up the check and can’t be bothered to confirm plans. And, again, they talk too much—about themselves.

    Non-Slug alternative No. 3: Send a confirming email or text the day before. Show up on time, if not early. If you initiate the meeting, always pick up the tab. Keep it short and simple, and focus on how you might be able to help each other.

    •          RELATED: Stop loathing networking and start love kibitzing.

    Networking Slug sign No. 4: They ask for something before they give. You’ll encounter two basic kinds of people at networking events—givers and takers. Slugs are takers—always thinking ‘what’s in it for me?’ And if you do help them, instead of a note of thanks, you usually get another request for your help. They rarely offer to return the courtesy.

    Non-Slug alternative No. 4: Ask what you can do for them before asking them for anything. And when you do need to ask first, make sure you have earned the courtesy. Believe that ‘givers gain’ and ‘what goes around comes around,’ and prove it by your courteous and consistent behavior.

    Networking Slug sign No. 5: They send you stuff you didn’t ask for. When following up, Slugs kill a lot of trees by sending you unwanted material that goes directly into your recycling bin. At an event, they shove brochures, resumes—even swag—in your hands without asking if you want any of it. Like they’re doing you a favor.

    Non-Slug alternative No. 5: Ask what is wanted or needed up front. Then, only send or give them what they asked for. Ask when they want it and respond accordingly. If they say they don’t want anything, honor that by not sending anything. Simple as that.

    •          RELATED: Read more on effective communication by Phil Stella.

    So, if you now realize that you hate Networking Slugs as much as I do, make sure no one can ever use that term to describe you. It’s all about networking with simple courtesy, class and style. No one will hate that!

    Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, www.communicate-confidently.com,

    440 449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, communication styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. 

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