Author: Emad Hanna

5 Easy Steps to Becoming an Environmentally-Friendly Business

Though it may seem like lightening your business’s footprint is an overwhelming task to take on, there are several small steps you can take to make your business a little bit greener without taking on more work than you can handle. This article lists some small measures you can take toward becoming a green business.

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Recycle

Never underestimate the value of recycling your used items. And it’s just as simple as throwing a piece of garbage in the trash can! Place paper recycling bins in easy-to-access areas around your office, for example, near the printer/copy room and the mail room. Be sure to place recycling bins in the break rooms and the cafeteria, if applicable. Also, if you have a cafeteria, think about investing in a compost bin and donating the compost to an employee or neighbor who enjoys gardening.

Reduce Junk Mail

Junk mail is an enormous source of waste, and it is completely avoidable. Research some of the free services that will remove your name from mailing lists you do not wish to be a part of, and remove your name from the Direct Marketing Association’s member prospect list.

Electronics Recycling

Paper, cans and bottles aren’t the only things lying around the office that can be recycled. When your old electronics no longer function, don’t just trash them. Implement a company policy that requires employees to recycle electronic waste such as cell phones, cameras and computers. Some computer manufacturers will take back programs from old computers, and the rest can be recycled for charity.

Partner with Other Green Businesses

If you’re looking to go green, it is likely that there are existing businesses near you who have already taken steps in the same direction. Do your best to network with these businesses and make an effort to use their services when needed. Look for green vendors with services such as business card creation, web site hosting or office cleaning tasks.

Make Use of Your Outdoor Space

While it may not be inherently obvious, planting trees and/or a garden near your office can make a difference in the environment. Also, if your business has a parking garage on-site, keep track of how long the exhaust fans run, and be sure to turn out the lights after hours. This will not only make a difference in the environment, but it will also decrease the amount your company spends on the electric bill.

Small Business in a Small Town

small-townSo, you’re looking to open or improve your small-town business. Where should you start? This article will provide tips on running a successful business amidst the unique challenges faced by business owners in a small town.

If you’re just starting out, take some time to sit down and come up with ideas that will sell. What types of consumers are you gearing toward? What types of services are you able and willing to offer? Try browsing the local paper, scanning the phone book or perusing the newspaper ads to see what kinds of businesses are present in your local community. Which ones are successful? Are there any services that are not listed that you feel would benefit your community?

Once you have a few options in mind, do some researching. Budget your expenses; make sure that you can afford the venture that you are attempting to take on. Are you educated or well-practiced at the services you would like to offer?

Next, create a business plan. Run it past a business expert at an educational institute or government agency to ascertain whether your plan is a viable business possibility.

Now it’s time to pick a location. Be careful not to place your startup business too close to a thriving company that offers the same or very similar services. It will likely be difficult to compete with a company that already boasts a large client base. Also, be sure to attain the proper permits for the area such as zoning, parking and employees.

Be sure to market your new business appropriately. Join your town’s chamber of commerce, which often provides low-cost advertising opportunities and even allows its members to promote their services at local community events.  You may also consider joining local merchant associations and partnering with or sponsoring local events. This could range anywhere from handing out business cards at local fairs to offering monetary support to your local sports teams in exchange for advertising opportunities.

Finally, be sure to have a system in place that will allow you to track your sales and merchandise. Bookeeping is of such great importance to small businesses. It is imperative that business owners know where their money is coming from as well as what they’re spending it on, and it is equally important for your sales revenue to keep track of your products. For easy inventory tracking use CyberStockroom – it’s Free to try for 2 weeks.

6 Ways to Bring in the “Back-to-School” Business

Create the “Back-to-School” Connection

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At first glance, your inventory management business or products may not directly relate to the back-to-school frenzy, but try and dig a little deeper. Are you marketing healthy products? Market them toward parents as nutritious, on-the-go school lunches. Do you own a gym or work at a salon? Offer special discounts to teachers and parents.

 

Make a Name for Yourself in the Community

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Design a back-to-school promotion. No matter what you’re selling, decide to donate a certain percentage of your sales to a local school, Community Theater or after-school children’s program.

 

Have a “Last Chance!” Sale

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Everything gets a little chaotic right before school starts. Put the pressure on consumers by having a “Last Chance!” sale. This strategy is especially useful for businesses that specialize in summer activities. Give families a chance to end summer with a bang!

 

 

“Parents Only” Specials

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Do you own a restaurant? Create a special lunch menu that caters to an adult appetite and present it as a “they’ve gone back to school” meal. Do you run a local fitness studio? Set up a special class during the afternoon hours. These types of specials can apply to nearly any type of small business.

Cater to Teachers

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Offer special discounts that are specifically for teachers. They will love the special attention and appreciation.

 

 

Participate in Networking Events

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Attend your community’s back-to-school events to get your name out there. And don’t forget to advertise with your new-found marketing strategies!

The Comfort Zone Exercise

via passionweiss.com

Each one of us is the proud owner of his or her own tiny circle of habits and behaviours within the enormous realm of all human activity. It is the place where everything feels good and natural and where we spend the vast majority of our time. Often what is inside my comfort zone may be totally foreign to you and vice versa. I may have a debilitating dread of public speaking while you may be most in your element as a world class orator.

Whenever we brush up against the edges of our circle of comfort, we suddenly feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety. We feel that we are approaching a threshold that we are not capable of crossing and our strongest instinct is to retreat back into our circle. There is nothing inherently wrong in this behaviour. After all, this is what humans do and it seems to work well.

But some people (and if you’re reading this article, this probably includes you) have a gnawing desire to reach out of that comfortable sphere and expand into unlived life and potential. If you hear this call of the thrill of new sensation and experience and you wish to follow it, sooner or later you will come face to face with that anxiety at the edge of the circle. This exercise is designed to allow to step out of that zone in a deliberate and fulfilling way. It’s very likely that once you try this technique you will begin to treat the boundaries of your comfort zone like a game where each day you try to push them back further.

Step 1 – Draw a circle to represent your comfort zone and know that everything you feel comfortable doing is contained within it. Whenever you feel anxiety about anything, represent it somewhere on the boundary of the circle as a jagged line. For example some of the most common sources of anxiety for business people include public speaking and making sales calls. This is how you would represent them on your circle:

The boundary of your comfort zone
The boundary of your comfort zone

Step 2 – Challenge yourself to perform these actions despite your anxiety and every time you succeed draw a curve to stretch the circle at that point. The most difficult part will be the very first time you push the boundary. Once you see the circle stretched you will suddenly feel empowered to push it again.

Expanding your boundaries
Expanding your boundaries

Step 3 – As you continue to expand your circle, begin to observe the changing shape of your comfort zone. By processing this information visually, you will be making a powerful statement to your own mind about where your boundaries lie. Your most powerful adversary is yourself. This exercise will help you convince yourself about your own abilities and very soon you will accomplish things that you previously thought were unthinkable!

Your new comfort zone!
Your new comfort zone!

What do you think of this comfort zone exercise? Have you tried it, and if so what results have you seen? We’d love to hear from you!

7 Amazing Tools for Small Business Owners

toolbelt

There are thousands of websites and apps that claim to help entrepreneurs and small business owners better manage their business. I’ve compiled a short list of tools that I use regularly that have helped me tremendously. This is by no means a complete list but it’s definitely a good place to start or to add some new weapons to your arsenal!

Constant Contact / MailChimp

If you need to contact your clients by e-mail, you can’t afford not to use these services. Not only will you get some very powerful functionality with regards to scheduled mailing, autoresponders, analytics and contact management but you will also do so safely so your emails won’t end up in your clients Spam folder.

Ruby Receptionists

A virtual receptionist service like no other! Ruby provides top-of-the-line friendly and professional phone answering service with sophisticated scheduling and messaging features. CyberStockroom was recently featured on Ruby’s blog, Check it out!

Gmail+ Streak+ Boomerang

An unbeatable combination for Free and powerful CRM right from your Gmail Inbox! Read our previous Blog article about it here.

Evernote

Everyone should use Evernote – It’s an amazing way to keep all your digital ‘stuff’ organized. Do you still find yourself e-mailing yourself an article or a website so you won’t forget it? Then you’ll love Evernote!

WebEx

Need to schedule a client demo quickly? Do you want to give an online presentation over the internet? WebEx provides outstanding service at very affordable rates (starting with a Free plan!)

Vivocha / Live Chat / Pure Chat

I can’t overemphasize the importance of Live Chat for your website. Read more about these 3 contenders from our previous Blog article.

Logmein

The easy way to access your computer from any other device. Once you try LogMeIn, you’ll wonder how you lived without it!

 

I look forward to hearing which tools you love to use in your business!

3 Keys to Building a Reputation for Your Business

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When I launched CyberStockroom in 2011, my idea of building a reputation for the company was to project a professional front. We did this by landing articles and reviews on reputable websites, publishing press releases, blogging about news and releases, and (I’m a little ashamed to say) trying to brute force our name into various Social Media networks. These techniques did work to a certain extent but they became the launching pad for more sophisticated and less dubious strategies. I would like to share with you 3 keys that we have learned since then to establishing a REAL reputation of quality and trustworthiness for our business.

1. Listen to your clients

The internet is a very, very, very large place. You can certainly try to make yourself so visible that you can’t be ignored but this will always be a small drop in a vast ocean. Instead, you should focus on the people who are already interested in you. At our company we use a very liberal definition of the word ‘Client’. It’s not just our paying users but also those who have shown any interest in our service and anyone who engages with our content. In the enormous online world, these are ‘our people’ and we make a determined effort to listen very carefully and to help as much as we can. And here’s the key: it’s not only about trying to SELL our service. It’s about being a resource and an ally. Thinking like this is a long term strategy that pays off in surprising dividends. You might not close that sale today, but you will nurture a relationship and a community that will bloom down the line for your business.

2. The Personal Touch

Many business owners, especially new entrepreneurs, have a very misguided notion that being too personal is somehow unprofessional. Social media is littered with business accounts that continuously spam their followers and hope to somehow become more trustworthy in this way. The truth is that even if these types of accounts gain a following, they remain the outcasts of social media networking. People want to communicate with other people, not nameless accounts. This doesn’t just mean that you should use your name as your handle but also that your messages, tweets and posts should be the kind that a human being, not a machine, would make. There is no better way to open up a real channel of communication than by making a personal overture about something that someone has said or done. An extremely powerful way to make other people interested in your business is to make them interested in you. So don’t hide behind a corporate account and hope for real engagement. Share, comment and laugh with other people and they will be irresistibly drawn to you and all your endeavours!

3. Authenticity

The third key is very much in line with the second. Business owners are fond of strategizing and wondering how they can persuade others to make a purchase, leave a comment, like a post or sign up to a newsletter. The worst mistake you can make is to underestimate your clients. If you want your business to succeed, then you should also want intelligent, well-informed and engaged clients. These clients will not fall for disingenuous marketing tricks or obscure agendas. The fastest way to appeal to them is by being honest, helpful and professional. When you use underhanded methods to grow your business’ reputation, the only person you’re deceiving is yourself. Be honest, open and engaged and people will naturally want to talk about you. Think about the last person or business that you excitedly told someone about. Did you do it because you had been conned into a sale? Definitely Not! You talked about it because you felt good. Maybe you liked the way you were treated or you had a pleasant personal experience. That’s what we like to talk about and that’s what will take your business reputation to the next level.

 

What techniques have you learned to grow your business’ reputation? I’d love to hear from you!

 

Using Live Chat to Boost Sales

Live Chat

One of the most powerful sales tools we use at CyberStockroom is the Live Chat Feature on our website. Being a business to business provider (B2B), it is critical for us to communicate directly and effectively with all of our clients to complete the sales cycle. During the Free Trial phase of the service, users often have very specific questions about integrating our service with their business and about our features, pricing and policies. Having a Live Chat assistant available allows us to have in-depth conversations with prospective buyers and to clarify anything that is unclear to our visitors.

Live Chat is not only about providing information to the visitor. It also creates a personal experience for the user and makes them feel like there are human beings on the other end of the line who care about them and about their business. There is an enormous benefit to making visitors feel like they can trust the website they are visiting and the assurance that comes with knowing that their questions and concerns will be addressed in a timely and professional manner.

We have also discovered that Live Chat is a great place to find out which aspects of our service need to be enhanced or updated and which features our clients are most interested in using. Of course, having Live Chat also means that you need dedicated people for manning the chat lines. It is very important that these people be very familiar with the nitty gritty of the service or product that you are offering so that they will project competence and be a useful resource for your clients.

The process of incorporating Live Chat is actually extremely simple. First, find a Live Chat provider. We have worked with Vivocha, Live Chat and Pure Chat and have had great success with all of them. If you have the budget ($36-$60 / month) we recommend Live Chat since it is very well designed and intuitive to use. If you prefer a free provider then Pure Chat will do the trick. Once you create an account, the provider will give you a short JavaScript tag to place on any page where you would like the chat widget to appear. That’s it! You can then modify the settings for the widget from the provider’s website.

At CyberStockroom we offer our clients E-mail support, Live Chat support and Toll Free Phone support and we have found that all three play a very important role in keeping our clients engaged and interested. Get in touch with us if you have any questions or need any advice in adding Live Chat support to your site, we’d love to hear from you!

Selling Online for Brick and Mortar Shops: Amazon FBA Explained


For many brick-and-mortar shops, the idea of online sales can seem very foreign, risky and impractical. After all, you already have customers and a steady stream of sales – so why mess with a good thing? Besides, you don’t have the resources to handle shipping or returns, let alone online marketing! Of course you’ve heard stories about how profitable e-commerce can be and the idea of selling your products all over the world is certainly appealing. But If you know people who have opened online stores using services like Shopify or their own e-commerce platform you know that they have to work just as hard as you to get people to visit their store and that they have the additional headaches of shipping products and dealing with returns. I want to tell you about a rather amazing program offered by Amazon called ‘Fulfilment by Amazon’ (FBA) that might make you reconsider online sales.Amazon FBA

Over the past few years Amazon has risen from an online bookstore to the largest online marketplace in the world. This has allowed the company to offer some pretty outlandish services for its customers and its sellers. The most impressive of these services has to be Amazon FBA. Here’s how it works:

  1. An Amazon seller labels and ships their inventory directly to Amazon (any quantity or mix of products).
  2. Amazon then sorts and stores the Seller’s inventory for a small fee (this fee is determined by weight and size of inventory).
  3. The Seller’s items are listed on the Amazon Marketplace. If the Seller has standard products that are already listed, the process is automatic. If the products are unlisted the Seller can quickly create new listings for the products.
  4. When a Seller’s item is bought, Amazon picks, packs and ships the item. Amazon also handles all customer support and returns! An additional fee is charged to the Seller.

So what exactly does this mean for Sellers? First it means that you never have to ship your products to individual customers or handle returns or customer support. Second it means that you don’t have to store your own inventory. It’s literally as easy as packing up your stuff and sending it to Amazon and having them handle the rest. What’s the catch? The catch is the fulfilment fees which will cut in to some of your profit. On the other hand you will have exposure on the world’s largest marketplace and state of the art customer support, shipping and returns handling.

The FBA fees really depend on the type/quantity of products that you are trying to sell but Amazon provides a very useful FBA Calculator to help you out.

An additional benefit to using FBA is that your offers are more visible and competitive in the Amazon Marketplace. Many buyers buy exclusively from FBA sellers because they are often eligible for Free Super Saver Shipping and Amazon Prime.

If you are looking for a way to safely migrate some of your products for online sales, Amazon FBA is the way to go. Take a small portion of your current inventory and ship it to Amazon and see if online sales is right for your business. Don’t forget to keep track of your in-house inventory as well to make sure you are making a profit!

We want to hear all about your experience with Amazon FBA so let us know!

Turn Gmail into an AWESOME customer management tool

Gmail IconOne of my biggest internet WOW moments was the day that I switched from Hotmail to Gmail in 2004 when it was still in Beta. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but something about the service made it irresistible. The functionality seemed similar to Hotmail and there weren’t any real technical breakthroughs (that I could see!) but everything just seemed so much easier and comfortable! Gmail was fun to use and I was hooked. Since then, the world has gone decidedly in the direction of Google and each day it seems that large chunks of the world are gobbled up by the company. However despite the anti-climactic hype surrounding Google+, my favorite place to hang out in the Google universe is still Gmail.

Over time I’ve learned to harness the power of combining the calendar, tasks, labels, filters with Gmail for an amazing enhanced e-mail experience. Today I want to show you how you can stretch the boundaries of Gmail even further and use it as a CRM Sales channel for your business. This trick is not going to work for a large company juggling multiple salespeople but for a small shop or an entrepreneur it is really wonderful!

The two tools that you need (both Free!) are Streak and Boomerang. Both of these awesome tools are loaded with features that you might want to discover for yourself but I will only focus on the ones I use. Streak allows you to create ‘Pipelines’ for Sales, CRM, Product Development, Bug Tracking, Publishing and more. In each pipeline you can create ‘Boxes’ that you can track across multiple stages. For example, it’s easy to create a sales pipeline that spans from capturing a lead to closing a sale. The great thing about Streak is the highly intuitive and robust level of integration that it has with Gmail. Your contacts and e-mails are always at your fingertips and you can easily put conversations and filters into the Streak ‘Boxes’. This means that any time you can go into your pipeline and find a comprehensive overview of any account or object of interest.

One feature I really love about Streak is that while I’m composing an email, I can select which ‘Box’ I would like to file it under and this will give me a sidebar with all the relevant information associated with it. So if I’m e-mailing a potential client, I can see all the information about the account as well as the potential size of the deal and any previous communications. Amazing!

The second tool that I use is Boomerang and admittedly, I only use one function regularly – but it’s a really important function. When I’m creating an e-mail I can set a ‘Boomerang’ date (any number of days that I select) if a certain condition is met. For example, I can set the date 5 days from now if I don’t get a reply to my e-mail. In 5 days Boomerang will push the conversation to the top of my inbox to remind me! I can also ‘Boomerang’ a conversation if the email is not clicked or if it’s not opened. Yes, you read that correctly, Boomerang actually keeps tabs and gives me visual cues to let me know whether my emails have been opened, clicked on or ignored.

The power of these 2 tools is magnified when they are used together. Since I’ve discovered these techniques I find myself constantly using Streak Boxes and Boomeranging all over the place. I have tried dozens of CRM web services. A few were actually excellent but they all suffered from a lack of integration with my daily routine. Also the good ones can be expensive! Combining Gmail, Streak and Boomerang is a no-brainer for me. Extremely intuitive and powerful and Free! What else could I ask for?