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Do I Need Help Desk Software for My Small Business?

When it comes to large companies, it is pretty much a no-brainer that having help desk software is critical, despite the costs and necessity of staff training. For entrepreneurs who operate a small business, however, the issue is not quite as cut and dry. In fact, some small business owners may not even understand help desk software.

What is help desk software?

Help desk software is a tool or technology that helps customer service personnel manage and attend to customers’ concerns (such as questions, feedback, and complaints); it is intended to do exactly as the name suggests. It is where a customer calls to seek answers to questions, thus it is the initial point of contact when problems arise. Some software applications have a self-service features through which you can resolve the problem yourself via your system. This software provides an easy way for the customer service support team to organize the issues raised by the customer and thus speed up the resolution of the problem.

When a customer sends a support request to the service provider, a corresponding ticket is generated. This ticket is assigned a unique identifier, a category, and a priority level. The ticket is then routed to a help desk agent for resolution. The agent can track the progress of the problem resolution process by the unique ticket ID assigned and the customer will get a reference number that can be used in case there is a need for a follow-up.

Does my small business need help desk software?

Nowadays, business competition is tough, especially among startups and small companies. Thanks to globalization and the Internet, companies have more options than ever and thus have less patience when they encounter poor customer service support. A good product or a cheap price can attract new customers, but customers won’t stick around if you offer poor customer service support. In fact, almost all of the customers will leave if they get frustrated with your company’s way of handling their concerns.

Still, many small business owners are unsure if they should bother changing their customer service support provider. After all, most of them already have some sort of system in place – such as an email address or a customer service number – for handling questions and complaints, and that system kinda works. But is that enough?

Unless your small business is extremely new and only has a handful of customers, you DO need help desk software. In fact, even if your business is new, with only a few customers, you can still benefit from this tool. If every support request you send becomes several emails (initial and follow-ups), your customer service agents will have difficulty in prioritizing and responding to each request. Rather than pursuing an ad hoc solution like reminders, sticky notes, calendars, or email, help desk software clearly defines and prioritizes your requirements for resolution. The software is also able to track metrics such as customer satisfaction, ticket volume, resolution time, and each customer service agent’s performance.

The benefits of having help desk software is huge as it relates to tracking and prioritizing your email, helping you to provide help yourself, and monitoring the pulse and quality of customer service.

As your business grows, the number of customers and transactions will also grow. As your customer base increases there will likely be an increase in the number of issues and questions that will come up for resolution. Moreover, just because you don’t hear from your customers does not mean that they are happy with what you offer. Maybe they just find it a hassle to contact customer service support so they just quietly take their business elsewhere, while possibly telling others of their unsatisfactory experience with your company.

How can help desk software help my business?

Help desk software enables your customer to easily contact your support team for answers to your questions, and also allows them to attempt to resolve the issue online via data you provide on your website. It can also help you streamline your processes, organize information, and minimize or eliminate repetitive manual tasks. Simply put, help desk software can improve the customer experience while boosting your company’s productivity and efficiency.

Let’s dive deeper on how such a software can benefit your business.

It makes your company look modern and professional

Statistics show that the majority of companies use help desk solution software. Thus, the probability is very high that your existing and potential customers have interacted with businesses that use one. A consumer’s experience with other companies will affect how they see your brand. If other businesses in your niche use help desk software, you may appear anachronistic by not having it. Tech savvy customers may not feel very confident that your company can resolve issues in a quick and professional way. Conversely, if your competitors are still doing customer support the old-fashioned way while you are using a help desk solution, customers may see your company as more organized and modern.

Help desk solutions help your company maintain its appearance of professionalism by ensuring your team works together seamlessly. Agents will easily know if someone else is already working on a specific ticket. Without help desk software, multiple representatives might inadvertently work on the same request. Not only will this be a waste of time for your employees, it will also be confusing for the customer, especially if the replies conflict, which would make your company look unprofessional and disorganized.

It allows multi-channel requests to be streamlined

Currently, customer support requests come in through multiple channels—by phone, in-person visits, email messages, SMS, and different kinds of social media networks. Sometimes, customers even send multiple requests for the same issue through different channels. If customer support personnel has to switch back and forth to attend to each of the different channels individually, it will be inefficient and time consuming, not to mention confusing. It will be difficult to keep track of open tickets, which can lead to some messages getting overlooked.

With a help desk software, however, all the support requests end up in a centralized platform. This makes it easier for the support team to quickly see and attend to open tickets, as well as see which support channel(s) you and other customers use the most.

It helps you be proactive in solving problems

Help desk software can make it easier for your team to notice patterns that point to a problem. For example, if your customer service representatives see multiple support requests about a certain feature of your product that is not working as expected, they can investigate the issue further and prioritize its resolution before other customers start complaining about the same problem. If the issue cannot be immediately fixed, the service provider will at least be able to notify you and other customers that the company is already working on the resolution of the problem.

In addition, seeing all customer messages in one place helps the support team stay on top of your support requests. Any entrepreneur needs to understand that, due to the power, ubiquity, and virality of social media, any negative comments you post on the internet which is not quickly addressed can immediately escalate into a major backlash from other customers.

It boosts your customer support team’s productivity and efficiency

Aside from streamlining requests received through different channels, a good help desk support solution can increase efficiency and speed up productivity in your company. One way is through automation. The software automates repetitive tasks such as ticket prioritization, categorization, and routing. This lessens human error and frees up your employees to focus on more important tasks or to take care of related issues in batches, instead of jumping from one random task to another. Automating the routing of the ticket also helps ensure that the issues are addressed by the staff most qualified to handle them. Billing issues, for example, can all be assigned to one personnel while another employee is in charge of all product inquiries.

In addition, duplicate tickets can be merged while a ticket with multiple support requests can be split into several requests. Because all open tickets can be tracked easily, having help desk software also prevents any tickets from being lost or overlooked, even if the staff is busy. Moreover, because the tickets are sorted according to priority, the agents can resolve issues according to severity, by first addressing those issues that would have the biggest and immediate negative impact. With a traditional email-based support system, the agents will likely process support requests by the date received, which can lead to trivial issues being addressed first while serious ones are left waiting.

It provides useful feedback

You can’t improve on what you can’t measure. Thanks to the reporting and analytics feature of help desk software, however, measuring your customer service support team’s performance can be done automatically and accurately. The software can tally the number of tickets that have been processed and log the time it took for each support request to be resolved. This allows the business owner or manager to evaluate the team’s performance and see if the team is meeting its targets or if there is any area that needs improvement.

It can help customers help themselves

There are times when the best way to help customers is to empower them to help themselves. Help desk software has a feature that enables a service provider to have an array of online articles and FAQ’s that are available to customers who encounter problems but are willing to try to resolve it themselves.

This enables the user to resolve issues faster and, at the end of the day, feel a sense of accomplishment. This will in turn reduce the workload of the customer service team.

It makes customer service interactions more pleasant for your customers

To most people, having to contact a customer service agent over the phone for assistance is a headache and annoying, especially if you are placed on “hold” for a long time before talking to an agent. The annoyance is magnified if you have to follow up on the issue and the customer has to repeat numerous times. While it is sometimes necessary for your customer to contact support more than once if the problem persists, it is important that you stay calm and cooperative, despite any anxiety or anger that the customer may feel—it is important to de-escalate the situation.

Help desk software can help in alleviating some of the customer’s frustrations by making available to the customer service support agents the history of all the support requests that they have received from the customer. This information will provide the agent with adequate knowledge about the problem(s) as well as the back story. It is important that communication between your customer and the agent be very cordial and precise, especially if your customer is not tech savvy.

Which help desk software is the best?

When it comes to help desk solutions, there is no single “best” software. Even the most popular, expensive, or highest rated one is not necessarily the best for you. What you need is the one that is the best meets your business requirements.

If the software is too expensive, the economic value you derive from it might not be worth it. If the software is too complex, your customer support team might not be able to adopt quickly and maximize its use, and the solution might even cause more friction. You might also end up paying for features that you’ll never use. If it is too basic, however, it might not integrate well with your other software tools. Accept only the advanced features you need, or allow access to the channels that your customers use the most.

With help desk solutions, there are two major factors to consider: the positive impact on the efficiency of your customer service support team and the satisfaction you get from having a good customer service provider.

What if I have a tight budget or limited technical skills?

Don’t let complexity of the software and budget limitation keep you from trying out help desk software. There is a wide range of help desk software solutions out in the market. Some are specifically designed for large companies while some cater to small businesses. For a small business owner with a limited budget you should consider a software package which meets your business requirements, and which is affordable and user-friendly.

If cost is a key factor for you, there are help desk solutions that have minimal costs and some which are even free. However, cost should not be the only determining factor in chosing a particular software. Before you buy yoursoftware, ask for a free in-house trial period so that you can try out its features and better gauge whether it is the right software for your needs. The free trial will also help you better gauge the potential value your organization could derive from the tool.

Bottom Line

While getting new customers is important when doing business, retaining your customers is equally important. To do this, your customer care team needs to be efficient and effective when handling customer issues. In the present time, a manual or chaotic system won’t cut it anymore – you need help desk software that will resolve issues quickly and satisfactorily. Customers simply won’t settle for anything less.

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How to Use Online Video to Market Your Business

Over the past several years, using online videos to market products and services has proved to be a powerful tool to attract, engage, and influence customers. Just take a look at these mind-blowing statistics:

More than 50% of consumers prefer seeing videos rather than other types of brand content.

Putting a video on a landing page can increase conversion rates by more than 80%.

90% of customers say that videos influence their buying decision.

Adding a video to an email increases the clickthrough rate by 200% to 300%; just mentioning “video” in an email subject line increases the open rate by 19%.

After viewing a video, 65% of executives visit the marketer’s website, 50% look for more information about the product, and 39% contact the company.

Social media also intertwines with video marketing, as social channels make up four out of the top six platforms on which consumers worldwide watch videos. Social media widens the reach of videos while videos increase the engagement on social media networks.

If you are interested but not sure where or how to begin with video marketing, read on. After, you will be able to gauge whether or not video marketing is attainable, even given your financial or technical limitations .

This article will discusss how you can get started with video marketing in a simple and affordable way, and lists a number of techniques you can implement and use to harness the power of online videos so that you can grow your business.

Joining the trend

If you want in on the game but are concerned that you don’t have the skills or the budget to make video marketing part of your business, you’ll appreciate this news. Recently conducted research shows that customers appreciate and prefer videos that clearly are not highly stylized, produced and edited. They prefer instead the home-grown feel of the videos which are a bit rough around the edges. This is because the simpler videos feel more genuine than the big-budget ones which can sometimes feel inauthentic and artificial.

Of course, simple does not suggest inferior quality—you still need to create a compelling video, just one without all of the hype.

Fortunately, it has become fairly easy to create decent quality videos without breaking the bank. If you’re on a tight budget, a decent smartphone is probably good enough for your recording needs. There are even free programs and mobile apps that you can use for recording and editing.

When it comes to lighting, good old fashioned natural lighting is your best friend. If you need additional lighting, there are low-cost lighting setups that can work. Similarly, there are affordable microphones that you can use, as well as budget-friendly sources for music that you can legally include in your videos. And if script writing and video editing are not your strengths, those tasks can be outsourced to experienced freelancers at reasonable rates.

The bottom line is, you can get professional quality videos without having to spend a lot of time, money, and effort simply by doing everything yourself.

Before you start making a video

For your videos to be an effective marketing tool, you can’t just point-and-shoot; you need a plan. The first step in crafting that plan is to answer the following questions.

What is the video’s purpose. Without a definite purpose, you might find yourselves wasting a lot of time reshooting and editing later on.

What do you hope to gain from the video? Is it to increase brand awareness, launch a new product or associate your brand with a certain image? Keep your end game in mind as you script your video. Other considerations while still in the planning stage are your target audience, your budget and your deadline.

Where will you host it? Your options are varied; your own website, Youtube, Facebook, or some other platform. This is important to know in advance, because different platforms have different requirements, such as video lengths and aspect ratios. The way to optimize videos will also be different depending on the platform. On Facebook, for example, videos should have easy-to-read subtitles because many users prefer to watch videos without sound. Youtube users, on the other hand, expect videos to come with sound.

How will you gauge the success of the video? In other words, what metrics will you use – number of views, number of likes and comments, social shares, the clickthrough rate, etc?

After you’ve answered those questions, you move onto script writing . While not all business videos need a script, most do. Having a script will keep the video tight and focused. When writing the script, begin with an outline listing your points in a logical manner. Use simple words and sentence structures, as well as a conversational tone. Once you’re finished, read the script out loud, as written words sometimes sound different when spoken.

Now, let’s look at ways you can use video marketing for your business.

Introduce your business

A simple introduction can get the ball rolling. Try adding a short (preferably less than 90-seconds long) video to your home page, explaining what your business does and what problems you believe you can solve for customers.

Doing this is a more engaging alternative to describing your company through multiple paragraphs. Combining audio and video also makes complex concepts easier for you to explain and easier for your website visitors to understand.You can also use an “about us” kind of video as a means to show your company’s vision, goals, values, and advocacies. This can attract customers who are aligned with you.

Use videos to explain things

If you’re launching a new product or service, creating an explainer video is a good way to discuss how your product or service works.

If your business involves concepts that are complex, an animated video can help explain those difficult concepts better than text or live action videos can. They are also entertaining to watch and visually different from regular videos.

Highlight your satisfied customers

Share the spotlight with your biggest fans.

You can contact your brand’s advocates and fans directly and request a video testimonial, or do a case study featuring them. You can also hold a contest and ask participants to share, on camera, why they love your company and your products.

Video testimonials from real fans will do more for your business than any of your employees’ sales pitches. Data shows that only about 10% of adults in the US trust a website ad and only 9% trust the messages written by the brands. On the other hand, 46% of potential users trust the reviews and testimonials written by other consumers. Just imagine how much more trustworthy and effective your testimonials will be if consumers can see the faces of your satisfied customers.

Share user-generated content

Doing direct video testimonials is not the only way you can showcase your satisfied customers. You can share user-created videos of your customers using your products, reviewing them, including them in their list of favorite or recommended things, doing “unboxing” videos, or participating in your video-based marketing campaign (certainly you can recall the ice bucket challenge of a few years ago which went viral).

Sharing user-generated videos not only provides potential customers’ with trustworthy content, it also allows you to tap your fans’ creativity and personality to engage and win over other consumers. In addition, recognizing these videos shows that your business appreciates the support and efforts of its fans.

Get experts in front of the camera

An effective way to position your brand as an industry leader is to have the experts in your company share their knowledge on camera. Not only will this get your name out there, the audience will regard your company as the authority figure in your niche and will seek you out when they are ready to buy.

You can do webinars, tutorials, product demonstrations, and other kinds of informative videos.

You can also tap into other people’s expertise by interviewing other thought leaders and influencers in your industry. This technique can even attract those experts’ followers who may not yet be familiar with your company or brand.

Show the human side of your company

Through video marketing, you can inject personality into your company’s image. No longer will you be a faceless entity that exists solely to sell products and services to people.

Using a video can humanize your business more than any other medium, and coming across as human highly influences buyers’ decision. People want to relate to companies they buy from; they want to support companies that “get” them, especially if those companies are small businesses.

People also want to be assured that the businesses they give their hard-earned money to are competent but at the same time compassionate, that those companies treat their employees right. So feel free to give consumers a peek behind the curtains, to see the team doing what they do best at work or having wholesome fun after hours.

Another way you can humanize your business is by talking about its origin and growth through the years. People love stories, and hearing about a business owner’s challenges and successes makes it easier to connect emotionally to the brand.

Thank your customers

People enjoy being appreciated, and when their support is valued, they tend to stick around, so post a thank you video to your customers every now and then. This kind of video does not even need a high production value, as being a bit raw seems more spontaneous and genuine. You can make it even more special by creating a short but personalized video thanking specific customers.

Use interactive video formats

Live videos are all the rage nowadays. They attract a lot of attention, have higher engagement rates, and viewers spend up to 8 times longer with a live video than a regular one. You can live stream events, presentations, and Q&A sessions. Other kinds of interactive videos you might want to try are 360° videos and augmented or virtual reality videos. These formats have not yet been used by a lot of marketers so using them may give your viewers a unique, more memorable kind of experience.

Leverage the power of Youtube

Youtube is the largest video platform on the globe, the second biggest search engine (after Google), and the third most visited website. Every single day, more than 5 billion videos are watched on Youtube. In fact, many Youtubers have even become powerful social media figures and have gained the trust and admiration of their followers over the years. Sponsoring or collaborating with these influencers can thus help in promoting your business effectively to their audience.

This huge audience should be more than enough reason for your business to get in there with an online video but, here are a few more reasons if you’re still on the fence:

Youtube lets creators post videos on their own channels for free, so you can build a following.

You can also organize your videos into playlists, making it easy for your viewers to watch related videos.

You can also post ads on Youtube.

When publishing content on the Youtube platform, make sure your videos have interesting and descriptive titles and descriptions. If you optimize your Youtube videos for SEO and add a link, you can tap into Youtube’s massive traffic, and channel some of that back to your website or landing page.

Make Google love you by adding videos to your Web site

Google—which, not incidentally, owns Youtube—loves videos. Having videos on your website encourages your visitors to stay longer. This tells Google and other search engines that your site has good content. In fact, you are 53 times more likely to land on Google’s first page of search results if you have embedded videos on your site.

Create videos that appeal to emotions

When it comes to social media content, people share things that make them feel. They don’t share raw facts, unless those facts make them feel something. To get people to share your videos, make sure that your videos are entertaining and appeal to emotions. Injecting humor is one way; giving the audience the warm fuzzy feels also works well.

Add videos to email messages and landing pages

Videos magnify the effectiveness of your landing page and email messages, so don’t forget to add them to your marketing emails or embed them in your landing pages.

Test, test, and test some more

There is no one-size-fits-all kind of video. To find out the sweet spot for your business, don’t be afraid to experiment. Try different video platforms, video lengths, video styles, kinds of content, etc.

Bottom Line

Only a few years ago, creating and broadcasting a brand video was feasible only for big businesses with deep pockets. Fortunately, the playing field has since been leveled. Small businesses can now get in on the action without spending a lot of capital; all an entrepreneur needs is a little creativity, planning, and research. If you’re not using video marketing to its full potential, you are missing out.

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5 Common Startup Funding Mistakes New Entrepreneurs Make

Many startups make mistakes when it comes to securing funding. This is not surprising — fundraising is tricky for founders who have done it before, let alone founders who are doing it for the first time.

We constantly hear about successful funding rounds. Startup funding has also reached record levels in the past few years. Both 2017 and 2018 were very strong years for VC funding and in 2019, there have already been 34 new unicorns raising more than $8.3 billion in funding.

The downside is that all this excitement and activity adds pressure to startup founders and if they are not careful, they can get overwhelmed and make major funding mistakes that will jeopardize the future of their companies.

To increase your odds of success, let’s look at the 5 common startup funding mistakes that first-time entrepreneurs make and how you can avoid them.

1. Equating funding with success

Many new startups see fundraising as not just a necessary part of running a company but as a marker of success. This leads them to focus on chasing investor money instead of doing more important things that can grow their business or solving major issues — such as the company not making money yet and not having a solid plan on how to do so.

This mindset also causes some founders to miss the fact that their company does not need millions of dollars in investment upfront, and that they might already have enough capital to sustain and grow their startup while retaining complete control and ownership of the business.

While companies like Tesla definitely needed a huge upfront investment, there are also a lot of companies that gained critical success despite being self-funded, such as the shapewear company Spanx and the protein bar business RXBAR.

How to avoid this mistake:

Think long and hard if you really need investor money to grow your business.

Will you be using the additional capital just for things that are nice to have (such as a fancy office) rather than essential? Are there major problems you need to attend to first before pitching investors? Are you looking for investors just because that is what the other startups are doing or just for bragging rights?

2. Underestimating the challenge of raising funding

Success stories about startups closing their funding rounds usually gloss over many details, such as the time and effort founders spent preparing their pitches and how many meetings it took to convince the investors.

Unsurprisingly, many startups begin their fundraising efforts with much enthusiasm, but with unrealistic expectations and not enough preparation. Many try to just wing it, thinking their passion and confidence will be enough to sell their idea and get the money.

Many founders also underestimate how long it takes to finish a round of funding. They think it only takes a couple of months, when the reality is it takes a couple of months just to prepare, then another half a year (or more) to finish the fundraising.

How to avoid this mistake:

While you do need to inspire confidence in your potential investors, that won’t happen without a solid pitch deck to back you up and the ability to answer the investors’ tough questions, even if that means showing them the areas of your business that need improvement. Your pitch deck also needs to include adequate financial and accounting pieces detailing your company’s financial status, plans, and projections.

In addition, understand that raising funds is all about creating relationships with investors, and building relationships takes time. These investors have to do their due diligence too, so they may want to meet with you multiple times so that they can ask more questions or probe deeper on some issues.

Having a mentor is also a big help when looking for funding. Someone who has successfully done what you’re trying to do can provide valuable feedback, guide you in your preparations, and help you manage your expectations.

3. Having unattractive investors or too many investors

Not all investors and not all investment money are equal. There are some that can make running the business or doing subsequent rounds of funding difficult, so it is better to be wise from the start in choosing your investors.

When it comes to funding, having more investors is not necessarily better. First, the SEC’s guidelines limit an LLC to only 99 investors — and sticking to well below 99 is still no guarantee that your startup will be appealing to major investors.

In fact, having dozens of investors is a turn-off for VCs and private equities, as they won’t be interested in doing so many individual closings or transacting with so many counterparties. At this point, you may have to recapitalize the business and buy out many of the smaller investors.

Accepting investment money from your friends and family members, meanwhile, can put you in a sticky situation. It is not a mistake per se; after all, many startups got off the ground mostly through investments from the founders’ loved ones. Around one-third of startup founders have received money from their friends and family — more than $60 billion dollars each year — and these investors provide more financial help than VCs and angel investors combined.

Nevertheless, mixing your personal and business lives can introduce complications to your company later on. Business decisions can sour personal relationships and personal considerations can hold you back from making some decisions that will be beneficial to your startup.

In addition, major investors are not going to be impressed by investments from people close to you. On the other hand, if your startup is backed by large investors, it signals to other important financiers that your company really has potential and should be taken seriously. The support of influential figures affects the decisions of investment bankers and other entities within the investment community.

Also, because friends and family are usually the ones that entrepreneurs first ask for investments when the startups are still at an early stage, such investors get larger equity shares than the ones coming in later, which further makes your startup less attractive to potential investors in the future.

How to avoid this mistake:

Before taking on investors, consider how they will affect the valuation and direction of your startup. A few large investors will do more for your fundraising efforts than many small ones, now and in the future.

Also, be extra careful with your initial investors. Because they are getting equity when your startup has the least value, each dollar they invest buys a bigger stake compared to later backers.

4. Pursuing uninterested investors and taking on incompatible ones

Your startup is your baby, so it can be tempting to try to win over any investors who do not believe in your company’s potential for success. However, doing this can just be a waste of time and a source of frustration. It will be more productive for you to raise funds by finding the investors who already believe in what your company has to offer. They can be your biggest allies.

Also, because investors are people too, some of them have preferences. Some, for example, may be partial to startups founded by Ivy League graduates while some may be inclined to support minority-owned businesses.

It is worth noting that a significant number of investors only back startups that have two or more founders. This is because it is close to impossible for one person to be good at every business aspect, so investors want startups that have a team of founders who have complementary strengths.

Some investors also want startups with at least two leaders so that the co-founders can countercheck each other’s ideas and morally support each other during stressful times. Lastly, some investors also interpret having a single founder as, “If that entrepreneur’s own friends — who know him best — do not have enough faith in his character or ability to successfully run a business, why should we?”

Another common startup mistake is to accept investors that are not compatible with the founders. These financiers may have values, visions, or appetites for risk that are not aligned with those of the founders.

Entrepreneurs who take on incompatible investors sometimes end up obsessing over ownership percentages. Diffusion is more acceptable if you and your financial backers want and value the same things but if your financiers want to do things differently or take the company on a different direction, you can end up losing control or even being replaced as leader of the company that you worked so hard to build.

How to avoid this mistake:

Meet with investors long before asking for any financial support. Do adequate research on their background to see if their values and vision are compatible with yours and to gauge if you and your startup will appeal to them.

It also helps to befriend the founders they have invested in. Not only can they help you set meetings with the investors, they can also give you a good idea on how the investors behave, especially during problematic times — as an investor can be nice when everything is going great but a nightmare to deal with when times are tough.

Lastly, choose only investors that you get along with and genuinely respect. Remember that investors are not just money sources for your business; your relationship with them will affect the future of your company.

5. Raising too little or too much money

Another funding mistake is raising funding that is not enough. Obviously, if you raise too little money, you won’t be able to pay for the things that can grow your company at a healthy pace. Hiring and retaining top talent will also be difficult.

You might also be tempted to forego paying yourself, which is not a wise decision. Once you do this, investors will expect to continue not paying you. You might also be tempted to do side jobs or businesses in order to make a living, which will take your focus away from the startup. And even if you don’t, some investors will still wonder if you are multitasking instead of focusing all your efforts on the startup that they have invested in or are thinking of investing in.

Worse, a business has expenses every single day, so if you have not raised enough funding and the company is not earning enough yet, your business will run out of money and you’ll have no choice but to pack up and leave.

On the other hand, raising too much money can also be problematic.

An influx of excess money can cause you to splurge on shiny new things that are a luxury rather a necessity for your business, or to grow the company too quickly — even before you have fully understood what customers want and are willing to pay for.

Founders will also experience more pressure from investors. Once a supporter gives you several millions of dollars, there is the expectation that the startup will immediately put that money to work, not lounging in a bank deposit while the founders continue taking things slow.

Having a lot of money can also change the company culture and the founders’ mindset. Moving into a nice office and hiring more people will change the startup from having co-founders who are committed to succeed to being mostly made up of employees who need to be told what to do and are less invested in the company’s success.

Bootstrapping startup founders are also forced to get creative in their strategies to grow the company; having a lot of money can cause them to just throw money at the problem and take shortcuts that will only have short-term results. You also lose some of the flexibility because you now have more people to take care of and investors to satisfy.

How to avoid this mistake

To avoid raising too little money, ask yourself: are you doing all you can to reach out to and impress investors? Once you find investors, ask for more than you think you’ll need, but not too much, so that you will have a buffer in case of emergencies and unforeseen delays or expenses. If you are not sure how much to ask, consult a financial advisor or a mentor.

Also note that some VCs will offer you a low valuation just to see if you have the guts to ask for more money. This is where investor research comes in. If you find yourself dealing with such an investor, don’t be afraid to negotiate the valuation.

Bottom Line

Building and running a startup is no easy task, especially for first-time entrepreneurs. For every successful startup, there are several that do not make it.

Trying to secure funding as a first-time entrepreneur can be intimidating, stressful, and time-consuming, but it’s all worth it as that capital you will raise can propel your startup to levels you won’t be able to achieve with your money alone.

As a newcomer to fundraising, there will be a learning curve, so you shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes. However, you can avoid some of those mistakes by learning from other founders. By knowing about the five common startup funding mistakes discussed above, you can now avoid making them.

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9 Things You Should Know About VoIP

Communication has always been an important part of our lives, but with the rise of globalization and the advances in technology, there are modern solutions for modern business problems. Nowadays, more and more institutions and companies are ditching their traditional phone services and switching to VoIP instead. By doing so, they are not just lowering their costs but are getting several more features, as well.

If you’re completely new to VoIP or have heard about it but are not sure how it can benefit your business, read on. Below are 9 things you should know about VoIP, including what it is, how it works, its advantages, disadvantages, and how it can benefit you and your business.

1. What is VoIP?

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or IP telephony is a service that transmits voice over the Internet instead of through conventional phone lines. It provides phone service to people anywhere in the world, and because it uses the internet, this communication method is inexpensive. Moreover, it offers features you won’t find in your regular telephone.

If you have ever called someone using Skype or WhatsApp, or via Facebook Messenger, then you have made a VoIP call. Such a call is good enough for low-volume social media usage, but for high-volume VoIP calls in a business setting, companies have to use commercial-grade systems that can handle the load.

2. How does VoIP work?

VoIP converts the speaker’s voice, which is an analog signal, into a digital signal, then transmits the “signal” over a high-speed Internet connection instead of through the public switched telephone network (PSTN) or plain old telephone service (POTS) used for traditional phone calls. The receiver decodes the signal and converts it back to analog, and so the recipient can hear the caller’s voice. The communication can be in the form of voice, but can also be in the form of video and data transfer.

The communication can be done using a regular telephone plus an adapter, though most VoIP calls use dedicated VoIP handsets (called IP phones) or software (called softphones) that use a headset, or the microphone and speakers of a computer. With VoIP, a person with a softphone on his laptop, for example, can connect to the phone system using the internet, wherever he is, and the softphone works the same, regardless of location.

VoIP providers use computer servers when routing the calls. These servers make sure that the calls reach the intended recipients based on the phone numbers. The call traffic is then merged into the phone network via Session Internet Protocol (SIP) trunking.

A VoIP service can also be either cloud-hosted or on-site. With hosted services, the providers take care of the details. Things are simple for the client, especially if you use phones certified for the service, which are just plug and play. Most systems will not need any extra on-site hardware except for the phones.

An on-site system, meanwhile, is self-hosted and needs more work. You will need an IP-based private branch exchange (IP-PBX) for routing the calls to the correct phones. You will also need a PSTN gateway to convert signals to and from digital format, as needed.

A cloud-based PBX with your VoIP system can enable employees to be located at different places and in different time zones.

3. What features does VoIP offer?

IP telephony offers call waiting, call forwarding, and other conventional phone features, but at a much lower cost. It also has features and services that are not available with traditional telephony, such as:

Remote working capability

Because VoIP calls use the Internet instead of traditional phone lines, the calls can be made from and transferred to any Internet-connected device in the world, so the phone you use is not limited to any physical location or attached to a particular phone line.

Because of this, working remotely is simple. You can make and receive phone calls through the office number, even if you are not in the office.

CRM Integration

Because you can make VoIP calls from a computer, the software on your computer can be made to work with the phone system. This will allow a hospital receptionist, for example, to access patient records while talking to a patient on the phone.

Voicemail transcription

With this feature, you can have your voicemail transcribed and the transcription sent to you via email, allowing you to check your messages even when it is not convenient to answer your phone.

You can also create a call center using VoIP services, as well as create an internal phone system by networking phones together. With VoIP, you can make conference calls to run meetings, workshops, and classes where you can train your staff, or address your customers who might be new to your products.

Another thing you can do is create a contact center for communicating with your customers and the public via SMS, chats or calls. Moreover, you can also use VoIP to assign different phone numbers and extensions to your employees and departments, which improves the routing of calls and makes your company seem more professional.

4. What are the requirements for implementing VoIP?

The cost of switching to VoIP could be minimal or significant, depending on the size of your organization and the infrastructure you already have available.

To use VoIP, you need:

A fast and reliable Internet connection, with adequate bandwidth to support high-quality calls — In case of many simultaneous calls, you may have to reduce your non-VoIP Internet usage to give the calls enough bandwidth. If your ISP has placed a cap on bandwidth usage, that is another factor that you must consider. It is unlikely for the users to exceed the cap, even if many people talk via VoIP, but regularly check your data usage, nevertheless.

Phones — These may be IP phones, softphones, smartphones or tablet computers. You can even use your old analog phones or fax machines, but they won’t be able to use the more advanced features that VoIP phones have.

Analog telephone adapters (ATAs) — You need these if you want to use an analog phone or fax machine with your VoIP system.

A private branch exchange (PBX) system — This is needed for bigger phone systems that have virtual extensions

Modem or router — This will ensure that your VoiP usage can handle any additional load. To maximize quality, providers usually suggest using a router that has configurable Quality of Service settings and assigning high priority to VoIP traffic.

5. What are the advantages of VoIP over traditional telephony?

A VoIP system offers flexibility and versatility, as you are not tied to your landline. VoIP phones can be used anytime, anywhere, and you can use your computer even while on a call.

POTS service uses copper phone line networks. These old networks are expensive to maintain, which is why traditional phone service is more expensive. With VoIP, the voice messages are just as clear as with POTS, but for a lower price. You can talk to anyone in the world without worrying about roaming charges, and you can use different kinds of Internet-connected devices instead of being limited to a traditional phone.

For institutions that have an existing data network, the cost of installing and maintaining the VoIP system is also minimal. Moreover, features that had additional charges before, such as call waiting, caller ID, and long distance calls, now come at no extra cost.

With VoIP, you can also access features that are either unavailable or cost prohibitive with POTS systems. You can have call routing, call recording, automated attendants, video conferencing, advanced call screening, and voicemail forwarding. In addition, conference call support is available, without the need for bridging services, unlike with POTS lines, where that capability comes with an additional cost.

Because VoIP uses the Internet, integration with email, online directories, and other Internet services is also simple. This streamlines maintenance and reduces operating costs.

VoIP systems are also easy to install because they use existing Internet networks, unlike POTS systems where you need to install telephone poles and cables. With VoIP, you only need a few pieces of hardware which you can purchase outright or lease. Many hosted services do not even need any additional hardware, or only need hardware that are based on standardized technologies instead of proprietary products. It is also cheaper to upgrade a VoIP system than to extend a PBX system.

Another benefit VoIP has is scalability. To expand the system, you usually just need to connect a SIP-enabled phone to the network and change some settings. Some phones are even just plug and play.

6. What are the disadvantages of VoIP?

While VoIP comes with a lot of pros, it does have a few notable downsides.

Lack of stability

If there is a power outage or the Internet connection goes down, the VoIP system will be down as well. System upgrades and maintenance will also result in some downtime for the system, which may be frustrating for people used to always having a working telephone service.

Some systems cannot be integrated

Some systems that can be incorporated into landlines — such as home security systems, digital video records, and digital subscription TV services — cannot be integrated into VoIP.

Degradation of quality

Because the phone system depends on the computers used and the Internet, the quality of the call may be affected when opening or using programs that eat up a lot of processing power, or when the network is overloaded or spotty. It can also be affected by hacking, viruses, and worms.

911 issues

Some VoIP vendors don’t offer 911 service; some do, but charge more for it. In addition, it can be hard to physically locate a VoIP caller in times of emergency.

7. How does VoIP impact businesses?

Communication is crucial in commerce. With the business world swiftly moving toward globalization, people working for the same company — plus the company’s customer base — may be located all over the world, spread over different countries and in different time zones.

Thanks to VoIP, however, all these people can communicate with each other easily and affordably. Businesses in different industries and of different sizes can cut down costs while increasing company productivity by facilitating inter- and intra-office voice communications.

8. Can I have both VoIP and traditional phone systems?

While many businesses have completely replaced their PSTN systems with VoIP service, this is not required. You can have both systems running in your office, if you wish.

When does it make sense to still have a traditional phone line? One instance is when the possibility of an emergency may be a concern. Because VoIP is portable, it is sometimes challenging for emergency responders to find the caller in distress. In addition, if an emergency causes Internet or power outage, the IP telephony will also be down.

It is generally a good idea to have a landline augment your VoIP system if reliability and high-quality phone calls are vital in your work.

9. How do I choose a VoIP provider?

When comparing VoIP vendors, research their rates, services, customer service, and reliability, as well as user reviews of the service. Comparing providers can be tricky, as many have similar features and set-ups. The difference usually lies in their coverage and support features.

List the pain points of your existing system so that you can identify the features that are a “must” in the new system. This will help you narrow down the VoIP vendors, too. Next, you can identify additional features that are or would be helpful to your company.

Also determine if you need a cloud hosted or an on-premise system, or if there are integrations with existing or upcoming software that need to be considered, such as with a CRM or ERP system.

In addition, check the VoIP’s level of reliability. Is there an SLA? Is the amount of downtime acceptable? Can the system support a mobile workforce? How soon can the new system be set up and does the vendor provide user training? Are there softphone applications available? How about mobile apps? Is the trial period adequate?

Bottom Line

Businesses and institutions are cutting the cord and getting on the VoIP bandwagon. This is not surprising, though, as VoIP offers a wider feature set than traditional telephony, and for a cheaper price. As VoIP technology matures and cheap, high-speed Internet becomes the norm, we can expect the popularity of VoIP to continue to rise.

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4 Most Cost-Efficient Ways to Accept Payments

Accepting cash payments in person is the simplest and cheapest way to get paid. However, due to the widespread use of credit cards and the popularity of e-commerce, credit card processing has become essential for most businesses. In addition, psychological studies show that paying via credit card stimulates shoppers to spend more, compared to their cash-paying counterparts, making it even more crucial that businesses accept credit card payments.

Unfortunately, there is simply no way to accept a credit card payment that won’t incur a cost to you. There are always transaction fees involved. This is because the four primary credit card companies (Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express) all charge a fee called the interchange rate. Then, the payment processor adds a markup on top of this rate. The total fees can vary wildly due to different monthly fees, transaction fees, startup fees, and hardware costs.

In addition, there may also be different rates for different types of transactions. Swiped-card payments, for example, have a lower fee compared to manually entered payments, because the latter is considered more risky due to the possibility of human error during input. Online payments, meanwhile, have a higher fee than in-store payments because they are more vulnerable to fraud. Lastly, fees also have different processing fee structures, namely flat-rate, interchange-plus, and tiered pricing.

So, what is the best payment processing system? That’s impossible to answer as there is no single right answer. Which one is the best for your business depends on several factors, such as the volume of transactions per month, how much you accept per transaction, and how you receive the payment.

If, for example, your business sells a lot of expensive items, a per-transaction fee can quickly add up, so a fixed monthly payment may be a better option. Meanwhile, a seasonal business may be better off being charged a certain percentage per transaction than paying a fixed monthly rate, regardless of sales.

Now, let’s look at the 4 most cost-efficient ways to accept payments.

PayPal

PayPal has been around for quite a while and because it is practically synonymous with “online fund transfers,” it is a well-known and trusted brand, even among non-entrepreneurs. Unsurprisingly, it is a popular choice for business owners who want to accept payments in multiple ways.

For small businesses that average below $20 per transaction, PayPal is a smart and popular choice due to its affordable, reasonably priced fees and ease of use, as well as inexpensive card readers.

With PayPal, entrepreneurs can accept in-store payments as well as online, on-the-go, and invoiced payments, even if the buyer does not have a PayPal account. Customers can pay by a variety of methods, such as by credit card, debit card, PayPal, PayPal Credit, Venmo, or Apple Pay.

There are no long-term contracts, no monthly minimums, and no setup and cancellation fees. Mobile and in-store payments have a 2.7% processing fee per swipe (in the United States) and 3.5% + $0.15 fee for keyed transactions. For online payments and invoicing, PayPal charges 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction within the United States.

PayPal offers three payment processing solutions: Standard, Checkout, and Pro; all come with built-in fraud protection.

Standard and Checkout accounts have no monthly fee and the difference between them depends on how the customer completes the checkout process. With PayPal Standard, setup is quick and easy but the buyer is taken to PayPal’s own website to log in or enter his credit card information. It should be noted that, historically, forcing a potential customer to visit another site to complete the transaction could result in annoyance, confusion or even suspicion, and many customers may, as a result, abandon their purchase.

With PayPal Checkout, meanwhile, the process is integrated into the merchant’s website and PayPal just passes the buyer’s contact and shipping information to the site. This keeps the customers on the merchant’s site and enables them to pay without having to fill out forms or log in to PayPal. This improves checkout conversion by up to 82%.

In addition, PayPal Checkout can be integrated with most shopping carts and once integrated, the buyer does not have to do anything else. PayPal will automatically keep it up-to-date.

A PayPal Pro account costs $30/month but allows the merchant to design and host his own checkout pages. This gives him complete control to fully customize the checkout process to match the look and feel of his brand.

It also enables businesses to accept bank transfers and have access to a virtual terminal. A virtual terminal is a piece of software that turns a computer into a credit card terminal where the user can manually input the buyer’s credit card information. With a virtual terminal, a business can accept credit card payments through phone, fax, and mail.

For in-person payments, merchants can use the PayPal Here app and use a card reader that plugs into most smartphones and tablets. The card readers are available through PayPal directly or can be purchased at some specific retail outlets (i.e. Staples, Amazon, etc.); at a one-time cost, they are priced as follows:

PayPal Mobile Card Reader – $19.99

PayPal Chip and Swipe Reader – $24.99

PayPal Chip and Tap Reader – $59.99

PayPal Chip and Tap Bundle – $79.99

PayPal Chip Card Reader – $99.99

Authorize.net

Authorize.net is a payment gateway solution that has been around for decades. By using this platform, merchants can accept major credit cards, debit cards, contactless payments, PayPal, and electronic checks. The payments can be accepted at retail establishments, online, on-the-go through mobile devices or by phone through a virtual terminal.

There is a monthly gateway fee of $25 but no setup fee. There are also no contract or early termination fees.

A merchant account is required to connect to the Authorize.net platform. If the user already has such an account and only needs a payment gateway, there is a 10¢ fee per transaction and a 10¢ daily batch fee. The batch fee is for aggregating all transactions from the past 24 hours into a batch that is then sent to the processing networks.

If the user does not have a merchant account, he can get a merchant account+payment gateway package that incurs a 2.9% + 30¢ fee per transaction.

Businesses which annually process more than $500K can get an enterprise solution package which includes tailored pricing, data migration assistance, interchange plus options, and payment processing solutions for non-profit organizations.

At no extra cost, all of the aforementioned plans include fraud prevention, a secure customer information manager that speeds up repeat purchases, recurring payments, invoicing, and a streamlined checkout.

For an additional fee, the plan can also accept e-check payments and include an account updater that automatically keeps customer credit card information current, which reduces the risk of credit card declines and other payment issues.

To accept magstripe and chip card payments, the merchant can also connect a compatible card reader to a computer to create a virtual point of sale (VPOS), or to a mobile phone or tablet to create a mobile POS (mPOS).

Stripe

Stripe offers customized APIs that can allow various kinds of websites — such as subscription services, on-demand marketplaces, e-commerce stores or crowdfunding platforms — to receive payments.

With Stripe, merchants can do invoicing as well as accept in-person payments on all major debit and credit cards. Customers can also check out faster and more conveniently by using wallet payment methods (e.g. Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Microsoft Pay) that store credit card information, meaning customers don’t need to manually input their card and billing information.

Outside of the United States, Stripe also supports popular local payment methods such as Alipay, Bancontact, and iDEAL. The platform can also accept ACH direct debit, ACH credit or wire transfers.

There are no setup or monthly fees, however, the integrated Stripe solution has a 2.9% + 30¢ transaction fee per successful card charge. Recurring payments are free for the first $1 million, then 0.4% per transaction.

In-person payments are accepted through the Stripe Terminal, a programmable Point of Sale, which costs 2.7% + 5¢ per transaction. The Stripe Terminal is compatible with only two card readers, the BBPOS Chipper™ 2X BT ($59) and Verifone® P400 ($299).

Stripe’s integrated suite includes:

  • Embeddable checkout,
  • Support for dozens of local payment methods,
  • Comprehensive security and rigorous compliance,
  • Financial reporting,
  • 24/7 phone, chat, and email support,
  • Programmatic dispute handling,
  • Third-party integration, and
  • Free fraud protection that uses machine learning to detect and block fraud.

Because Stripe has no monthly fees, it is a more cost-efficient choice than Authorize.net for new e-commerce stores or those that process below $5,000 a month.

Square

Square is another affordable way to accept payments. The platform prides itself on its transparency. There are no long-term contracts or hidden fees such as monthly fees, setup fees, early termination fees, terminal leasing fees for the hardware, monthly minimum fees, statement fees, online reporting fees, PCI compliance, refund fees, or charge-back fees.

Setup is also quick and easy. Users can create an account, verify it, and start accepting payments without having to go to the bank or create a merchant account. In addition, businesses can also receive credit card payments, even when there is no internet connection.

A Square account includes real-time analytics, end-to-end encryption, and active fraud prevention. Every account also includes one free Square card reader for magstripe (though additional card readers can be purchased for $10 each) as well as a free Square Point of Sale app.

Square also takes care of PCI compliance coverage. PCI compliance refers to a set of standards put in place by the credit card community to ensure the security of all credit card transactions. To be compliant, a business has to follow the guidelines when processing credit cards; otherwise, it could be hit with fines or penalties. Ensuring PCI compliance is not difficult, but the legal jargon used in the documentation can be confusing and intimidating for beginners, so having Square take care of that aspect is very convenient.

Square also offers free dispute management. If a payment is disputed, at no cost to the user, Square has a team of experts readily available to assist the user in dealing with the bank.

For a fee, users can get even more features, such as email marketing and loyalty programs. In regard to fees, there is a 2.9% + 30¢ fee for each payment a merchant accepts online using Square Invoices, Square Online Store, eCommerce Integrations, or online payment APIs. The rate drops to 2.6% + 30¢ per transaction with the Square Online Store Premium plan.

For manually entered credit card information in the Square POS app, there is a 3.5% + 15¢ fee. The cost is the same for keyed-in transactions in the Square Virtual Terminal (2.75% when the card is swiped) and for each payment taken using stored payment details.

If you decide to build your own payment solution system using Square’s SDKs or APIs, there is a 2.5% + 10¢ transaction fee for each payment you receive at a custom-made POS, attended kiosk, or other in-person payment solution. Meanwhile, there is a 2.9% + 30¢ fee for each payment you accept using your company’s mobile app or via Square’s eCommerce integrations or online payment APIs.

Unlike payment processors that charge different rates depending on the customer’s card, Square charges the same rate for all kinds of credit cards.

A Well-Kept Secret

One secret to keeping costs down when accepting payments is to learn how to negotiate. This is true for any of the payment methods mentioned above. While there are published transaction rates for all four payment providers, once you have enough sales volume, you will be in a good position to negotiate a better rate, so contact the company and ask. With the competition for your business fierce, there’s a very good chance that they will make a more favorable deal in order to keep you on as a loyal client.

The Bottom Line

Gone are the days when businesses only accepted cash payments from in-store customers. Nowadays, companies need to accept credit cards and other forms of payment, not only to get more people walking in to their brick-and-mortar building (if they have one), but also to serve an increasingly global market that is eager to buy their goods and services online.

It is not always easy to compare payment methods when it comes to cost-effectiveness. Fees can vary quite a bit and, unfortunately, not all payment processors are transparent about their pricing scheme. There are also other factors to consider, such as the sales volume and the useful features that are offered by the different payment methods for free.

Still, finding the best-suited payment processor for your business can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in fees each month. Not sure where to start? A good place to begin is with the heavy hitters in the industry, namely PayPal, Authorize.net, Stripe, and Square.

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6 Simple Ways to Find Sales Leads on Social Media

Naturally, most business owners are on the lookout for ways to grow their business, usually by attracting more customers which would, hopefully, increase sales volume. To achieve this, you need a steady stream of good and reliable information or leads from the market place, like B2B companies, or other sources who are interested in the products or services you offer and who have the budget and the authority to buy them.

Of course, finding solid information about potential customers is not easy. In fact, according to a recent Hubspot survey, many marketers consider traffic and lead generation as one of their biggest marketing challenges. Fortunately, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram can be a source of gathering information about potential customers but also a great source to tap for lead generation.

Why social networks are great for lead generation

What makes social media a good place for lead generation? The answer is simple: That’s where the buyers are. While techniques such as cold calling and direct mailing had been effective for salespeople in the past, the majority of decision-makers nowadays have turned their attention to social media for generating leads.

Moreover, while some people may discover your website through your optimized search terms on Google, potential buyers may be dubious of your claims, believing your website to be nothing more than marketing material. Instead, they will spend more time checking out Youtube videos and social media posts for candid reviews and actual recommendations from peers who have already bought what you are selling.

Another great benefit of lead generation through social media is that you can use advanced targeting to filter the leads that you receive. With this, you will get high-quality leads, and not just more leads.

So how do you find potential customers on social media? Let’s look at 6 simple ways.

1. Post links to gated content

Gated content is any media that the user can access only after providing basic contact information which would allow the user to see, read and interact with the content. Examples include:

  • Blog posts
  • White papers
  • Webinars
  • E-books
  • Case studies
  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • Discount/promo codes
  • Cheat sheets and checklists
  • Free email courses
  • Access to a free online tool

Your gated content (also known as “lead magnet”) should be highly relevant to your industry or the products/services you offer. To promote it effectively on social media, share a link to a landing page where the user can enter the required details in order to access the content.

The landing page only has one purpose: to capture leads. Your landing page should be simple and uncluttered, without any other information or links. This way, the visitors will know exactly what you want them to do and will not be overwhelmed.

Some people who only have a casual interest in your lead magnet will click away when they get to the landing page, but the ones who are really interested and who see the value in the content will not mind sharing their contact information. You have essentially tapped those people as good leads.

To determine what kind of lead magnet resonates best with your audience, you should experiment. For B2B marketers, the most effective ones tend to be white papers, which is a sales and marketing document, used to entice or persuade customers to learn more about a product. B2B marketers also use case studies and webinars.

Businesses that have only a simple lead form which, say, requires only the user’s name and email address, tend to obtain a higher conversion rate.

2. Run contests or giveaways

People love winning and receiving free stuff, so giving away prizes can be an effective marketing tool.

However, you have to be reasonable and realistic when choosing the value of the prize. It should be valuable enough to entice your potential customers to enter the contest, but valuable only to the people who are your potential customers.

If, for example, your business is an academic tutoring service, giving away prizes in the form of cash or a free iPhone is not a good idea because the prize is valuable to everyone and not necessarily just your potential customers. The contest will just attract people who want free stuff but have no interest in your tutorial services. As a result, you will receive a lot of useless contact information and very few (if any) qualified leads. In the particular example, it is better to offer, say, a free month of tutoring service as your contest prize. That way, you will attract people who are in need of your tutorial services.

As for the mechanics of the contest, you can choose to have interested people enter the contest in one of two ways:

By engaging with the content or account; or

By filling out a landing page form.

In the case of the former, the entrant would need to like, share, retweet, comment, or follow. While this makes joining the contest easy for the participants, this is not the best way to generate leads. In addition, regularly asking people for likes, comments or shares can get your posts flagged as spam by the Facebook algorithm, leading to reduced distribution on the news feed.

In regards to the latter, this is not as convenient, so fewer people will enter the contest, but you can gather the entrants’ contact details and thus turn them into qualified leads.

At the end of the entry form, make sure to have a way for the participants to share the promo on their social media accounts which could help generate even more possible leads.

3. Advertise on social media

Some social media channels have become “pay to play” platform for marketers. Facebook is especially notorious for the way it limits the visibility of organic (unpaid) page posts to only a tiny fraction of the page followers, so in order for your posts to gain traction and be usable as a lead generation tool, you usually need to spend more money on advertising.

Organic posts don’t have many options when it comes to targeting. In contrast, social media advertising enables laser-focused targeting of potential customers. Because many users already have most of their information online, marketers can accurately rate their leads based on the leads’ demographic information, preferences, and even buying habits. As a marketer, you just have to capture the attention of your target audience. By promoting your lead magnet to this highly targeted audience, you can get high-quality leads without spending a lot money.

Social media advertising also gives you access to ad formats that are specifically designed to help with lead collection. Facebook, Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), Twitter, and LinkedIn all have ad formats that automatically fill out the lead form with the user’s contact details. The information is automatically downloaded from the user’s existing profile.

On your sponsored posts, always have a strong call-to-action feature in order to generate conversions. Ask users to download your free report or attend your webinar, for example.

To maximize the conversion rate, it is advisable to request only the most important details. Asking too much information might irritate users who will simply click out. This is especially true for mobile phone users.

4. Participate in groups

Facebook, LinkedIn, and all the other social media channels have sizable and engaged groups that are willing to spend money on relevant products and services, but only if they can trust the individual or company they are buying from.

There is also a psychological effect or phenomenon called the “reciprocity trigger,” which is the tendency for people to want to help someone who has helped them previously. This suggests that if you become an active, respectful, and helpful member in these online communities, people will start asking about your business or checking it out. And, because you have become a “familiar face” that regularly contributes meaningful posts and comments, other members will see your business as a trustworthy, authoritative brand that they will seek out when they need and are ready to buy the things you offer.

The key is not to be all about promotion; focus first on building a relationship and, then, only market your business when asked.

5. Use targeted social listening

One great thing about social media as a lead generation tool is that marketers and sales personnel don’t have to make cold approaches. By using targeted social listening, they can find prospects who are already slightly warm, instead of approaching people indiscriminately.

Social listening is about using social networks to monitor what’s happening in your industry and your market. A complaint about your competitor, a discussion on Facebook or a question on Twitter, for example, are all avenues where you can find leads and have an opening to initiate conversations that can eventually lead to sales. In addition, you can gather information about your potential customers’ interests, preferences, pain points, and what will nudge them to buy your products or services.

Social listening can also help you keep track of any mentions of your business, positive or otherwise. The majority of consumers are influenced by online reviews, especially negative ones, so it is a must for you to monitor what people say about your brand online and to respond to their compliments or complaints as soon as possible.

6. Run a webinar or live stream

Webinars and live stream events are incredibly popular nowadays, and are one of the most effective media types for gated content.

You can use live streams to:

  • Conduct product demonstrations
  • Hold live contests
  • Interview people
  • Vlog in real-time
  • Cover events
  • Hold Q&A sessions

The type of Q&A session that can generate a great deal of traffic is an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session. This style initially became popular on Reddit but can also be done on Periscope, Facebook, Twitter, and pretty much any other social network. In an AMA, the audience is free to ask the interviewee any question. An AMA can be a one-time event within a limited period or can be an ongoing and regularly scheduled event.

By going live, you can directly interact with your followers in real-time. But how can you use that for lead generation? One option is by using webinars and live streams as gated content and asking interested viewers to register in advance.

Another way is to make the video or stream viewable to everyone. That way, you will generate leads by:

Directing the viewers to your lead generation tool — such as an offer, contest, landing page or custom Facebook page tab — during the actual video; or

Encouraging live interaction by giving participants a reward, then following up later with those who have participated.

What makes live streams effective is that people enjoy being a part of something live. Live streams also tap into the scarcity trigger because they are only live for a limited time. Social media channels also notify followers when an account they follow is starting a live event, which increases the number of attendees.

Moreover, participants seem more receptive to a webinar or live stream. While many people see ads as nothing but a blatant marketing tactic, they don’t have the same knee-jerk reaction when it comes to live streams and webinars.

After gathering leads, what next?

When it comes to lead generation, it is necessary to have a reliable customer relationship management (CRM) system to keep track of where your leads are in the process. How you communicate with your potential customers depends on the kind of sales leads you have.

Most leads are marketing-qualified leads (MQLs); these types of leads are typically an individual who has an interest in what you offer, so they may be receptive to marketing but not necessarily ready to purchase. For MQLs, you can introduce them into your lead funnel; have personalized emails delivered to them automatically as the emails can cultivate your relationship with your prospects and warm them up into buying from you in the future.

Sales-qualified leads (SQLs), meanwhile, are those individuals whose needs perfectly match what you offer and are also extremely interested and ready to buy right away. For SQLs, you will want your salespeople to get in touch with them immediately, within 24 hours if possible, for a sales call, product demonstration or an appointment.

Of course, you can and should continue to communicate with your leads through social media to help them identify what they need and what they want. Over time, the greater the number of positive engagements you have with potential customers the more likely that they will trust you and go to you (and not your competitors) when they’re ready to buy.

Bottom Line

Lead generation is a continuous and challenging process that entrepreneurs need to focus on to grow their businesses. Thanks to social media, however, gathering sales leads no longer needs to be a shot in the dark. Marketers can use these social media channels not just to find and target warm leads, but to communicate with them as well.

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Most Important Web Hosting Terms You Should Know

Every successful business should have a Web site; that’s where web hosting comes in. Getting your own site set up and running smoothly is often confusing enough. Add in all the technical terms and jargon when you’re still trying to determine which hosting company to choose and what quality hosting package to get makes the task that much more of a challenge.

To help you get a better grasp of the terminologies you need to know, we’ve compiled a basic glossary of the most important and more common web hosting terms.

Add-on Domain: An add-on domain is simply a secondary domain that you can add to your control panel. Just like your main domain, your add-on domain can be assigned to a Web site or used to create email addresses.

Bandwidth: Internet bandwidth is the measure of how much data can be transferred within a certain period. Data transfer happens when the site visitor performs an action, such as browsing, or file upload or download. Basically, it is the rate at which data is received from or sent to the Internet.

Central Processing Unit (CPU): CPU is the electronic circuitry that is embedded within a computer and which is responsible for carrying out specific instructions.

Cloud Hosting: Cloud hosting is a type of hosting that combines a cluster of interconnected servers into one virtual server which is specifically intended to store data. With cloud hosting, the provider can add more servers when resources start running low, so this kind of hosting can be scaled to handle a surge in traffic and is also resistant to Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, which is an attempt by individuals to overwhelm a specific system with traffic effectively rendering the online service unavailable. Examples of cloud hosting vendors include Hostinger and Amazon Web Services.

Colocation Hosting: With colocation hosting, the user actually owns the server and just rents space in a data center and pays for the bandwidth used. The hosting company only provides power, cooling, physical security, and the Internet uplink. Because the user does have full control over the server and other IT equipment, the user should be tech savvy and prepared for the hassle and expenses related to server issues.

Content Management System (CMS): A CMS is a software tool for producing and managing website content. By using a CMS, the user can easily post content to the site at any time, edit existing content, or add/change the site’s theme without having to write code. Popular examples of CMS include Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress.

Control Panel: The control panel is a web-based interface that enables the user to manage his hosting account. Through it, the user can perform actions such as add new domains, install applications, add email accounts, manage databases, and upload files.

cPanel: cPanel is a user-friendly control panel for quick and easy configuration of the settings of web hosting accounts. Its graphic user interface and automation tools allow for a simplified way to manage databases and website files, create email addresses, manage domains, etc.

Database: A database is a collection of stored information organized in columns, rows, and tables, which makes the data easy to access, manage, and update. A database can be used to store information such as sales transactions, user profiles, and product catalogs, to name just a few.

Dedicated Hosting: With dedicated hosting, the user rents the entire server instead of sharing it with others. The client gets full control of the server and exclusive access to all of the server’s resources. The user can change the settings and install whatever software he desires, as and when needed.

Dedicated hosting is usually the most expensive kind of hosting and, because of the level of resources it offers, it is ideal for medium or large websites that receive huge volumes of traffic and thus have a need for high availability and performance. Notable hosting providers include InMotion, iPage, Bluehost, and Hostgator.

Dedicated IP: A dedicated Internet Protocol (IP) is an IP address that is for the exclusive use of a single website. Essentially, each computer has assigned to it a unique set of numbers that can identify it. A dedicated IP address is required if the site uses Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to accept payments. SSL is a computing rule that ensures that data sent over the Internet is sent promptly and securely.

Disk Space: Disk space is the amount of Web server space allocated to a user to store files, email messages, and other data.

Distributed Denial of Service (DDos) Attack: A DDoS attack is a kind of cyber attack wherein many computers flood the target system with network traffic, with a goal to overwhelm the system’s resources and cause its performance to suffer.

Domain Alias: A domain alias is a domain name that points to another domain. The use of domain aliases allows a site to be accessible using different Internet addresses.

Domain Name: The domain name is the unique, human-readable address for a Web site, such as google.com or facebook.com.

Domain Name Server (DNS): A DNS is a directory that translates your domain name to its corresponding IP address. You can think of it akin to the way a phone book links a person’s name to his telephone number.

Domain Parking: Domain parking is the practice of registering a domain name that is not associated with a Web site. This is typically done to reserve the domain name for future use or to prevent others from using it.

Domain Privacy: Domain privacy is a service offered by domain registrars to protect the privacy of the account owner. When a user purchases domain privacy, his details won’t appear in the WHOIS records. Instead, the registrar will replace the information with something else (such as the registrar’s details).

Domain Transfer: A domain transfer is the process of moving a domain to a different domain registrar. This is usually done to obtain better pricing, services or features.

Downtime: Downtime refers to how much time a Web site is offline due to maintenance, updates or server problems.

Ecommerce Hosting: Ecommerce hosting is a platform for hosting online stores. It enables users to quickly set up and manage their stores. This service includes tools such as shopping carts, database support, and payment processors. Notable providers include Hostpapa and Bluehost.

File Transfer Protocol (FTP): FTP is a service for transferring files between network computers or over the Internet. The user can upload or download files from a remote server by using an FTP client such as FileZilla.

Firewall: A firewall is a software that blocks out malicious Web site traffic based on pre-established guidelines.

Green Hosting: Green hosting is an environment-friendly hosting service that uses green technologies, such as eco-friendly materials, to optimize resource usage and reduce emissions.

HyperText Markup Language (HTML): HTML is the standard language used to create Web pages. The browser receives raw HTML from the server then formats it to display a human-readable page.

HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP): HTTP is the protocol used for transferring hypermedia files (e.g. text, images, and videos) online.

Internet Protocol (IP) Address: An IP address is a unique string of numbers separated by dots (such as 93.220.5.119) that identifies a website’s digital location.

JavaScript: JavaScript is a scripting language for adding dynamic content to a site. It is a client-side language, i.e., it runs in the user’s browser and not on the Web server.

Linux Server: A Linux server is a server powered by Linux, a widely-used free and open source operating system.

Managed Hosting: Managed hosting is the type of hosting where the provider manages the server and as such, the user does not have to worry about server repairs, maintenance, upgrades, and other related tasks. The user also gets an easy-to-use control panel and access to one-click installations of CMS and other modules.

MySQL: MySQL is an open source database management system that is widely used by different CMSs to store and manage data. It is often used together with PHP to create different kinds of Web applications.

PHP: PHP is a free, open source scripting language for creating dynamic content by embedding code into a Web page’s HTML.

Random Access Memory (RAM): RAM is temporary storage that stores data when a website runs multiple processes at the same time. Data that is stored on RAM is much quicker to access, so RAM is the most efficient place to store critical information. Large, high-traffic, and dynamic websites typically need more RAM.

Reseller Hosting: With reseller hosting, the user can resell hosting services to other people to earn a profit. The hosting company provides the reseller tools such as billing software, private name servers, and technical support. Providers that offer reseller hosting include Hostpapa and Hostgator.

Server: A server is a system that delivers content to other computers. It is where websites reside.

Service Level Agreement (SLA): SLA is the contract between the user and the hosting provider. It sets out what the client can expect in terms of reliability and lays out the agreed upon terms and conditions, such as the duration of service, quality of service, scope, and availability of customer support.

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL): SSL is an encryption protocol to secure sensitive information transmitted between a Web site and a browser, such as login details and credit card information. A website’s SSL certificate makes sure that the site is the only one that can access the sensitive information. Websites that have SSL start with https:// in the address bar.

Secure Sockets Shell (SSH): SSH is a protocol for secure file transfer and provides administrators a way to securely access a remote computer.

Shared Hosting: Shared hosting is the cheapest and simplest type of web hosting. Hundreds or thousands of Web sites share the resources (e.g. RAM, CPU speed, and storage space) of a single server, which makes it ideal for small and low-traffic Web sites. Some hosting companies that provide shared hosting are BlueHost and InMotion.

Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP): SMTP is the Internet standard for sending and receiving emails.

Sitelock: Sitelock provides website security. It performs regular malware checks and security scans of Web pages. It also identifies thefts, guards websites against hacking, and provides trust seals.

Solid-State Drive (SSD): An SSD is a type of computer hard drive that uses integrated circuits to store data. Compared to a hard disk drive (HDD), SSD offers better performance and faster loading and information processing. It also has fewer physical parts that can malfunction. Many hosting companies offer SSD hosting packages.

Subdomain: A subdomain is a domain that is part of a larger domain. For example, a website with the domain name websitename.com may have a blog on the subdomain blog.websitename.com or an online store on store.websitename.com.

Top Level Domain (TLD): A TLD is the last part of a domain name. There are generic TLDs (such as .com, .net, .gov, and .edu) and country-specific ones (such as .us and .uk).

Transport Layer Security (TLS): The updated version of SSL is called the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol. Online stores need an SSL/TLS certificate to securely accept payments online. Without one, there are serious security risks, which will turn off potential customers. Google also considers SSL certificates when ranking websites.

Unmanaged Hosting: Unmanaged hosting is a type of hosting where the user is given server space but not much else. The user is the one in charge of managing the server and fixing any problem that comes up. This kind of hosting is only advisable for users who have both the time and the know-how to manage their Web site and the server.

Uptime: Uptime is the amount of time that a website is up and accessible to visitors without any site issues. It is important for you to choose a Web host that provides good uptime. If your site is offline frequently, you will lose visitors and/or customers, which could negatively affect your SEO rank.

Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting: VPS hosting is a combination of some of the traits of shared hosting and some traits of dedicated hosting. While the data is stored on a shared server, only 10 to 20 websites share that server and the data is stored on virtual machines. That means the resources are divided equally among the different sites. Examples of providers that sell VPS hosting include InMotion, Hostpapa, Hostinger, and Hostgator.

Webmail: Webmail is a way to send and receive email messages without the need for a third-party email software.

Website Migration: Website migration is the transfer of a website from one hosting provider to another. This process involves migrating all important files (such as content, email messages, and database data) to the new host and should be scheduled at a time that is least disruptive to the site’s visitors.

Windows Server: A Windows server is a server that uses the Windows OS. While usually more expensive than a Linux server, it is necessary when using Windows-specific technologies, such as ASP, MSSQL, and .NET.

WordPress Hosting: WordPress hosting is a specialized type of hosting introduced by Web host companies due to the extreme popularity of WordPress as a CMS and blogging platform. This service usually includes automated backups and management of plugins and themes. Some companies that offer WordPress hosting are iPage, Hostgator, Hostpapa, and Bluehost.

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Time Clock Software FAQs

These days, despite the fact that numerous iterations of time clock software is now available, there are still quite a few businesses which make their employees clock in and out the old fashioned way – using pen and paper. Switching to a computerized time clock is a sound investment for most business, however, while hanging on to paper-based timesheets could actually be costing your business quite a lot of money. If you’re interested in switching to a more modern system but not sure where to begin, below are the frequently asked questions about time clock software and the answers to them to help you gauge if time clock software is in your company’s future.

Q: How does time clock software work?

A: With a computerized time clock, employees would clock in a different way than they are used to but one which is becoming far more commonplace. They could use one of several different options, including, physical credentials, biometric information (such as voice print, fingerprints, face or iris scans) or cloud-based services. The system chosen effectively stores the employees’ entry and exit times and computes the hours they spent working.

The software also stores each employee’s pay rate and calculates his total pay, including adjustments needed as a result of overtime work or leave time. Authorized personnel can then view the stored information in multiple ways, such as per employee or per division, which could come in very handy when assessing budget constraints.

Q: What are the types of time clock software?

A: There are two types of time clocks: the wall-mounted electronic clock and the digital time clock. With the former, employees clock in or out through a fingerprint, facial or eye scanner (also known as a retinal scan). They can also log in via physical credentials, such as by swiping a magnetic badge or by using designated PINs, passwords, barcodes or RFID cards or fobs. The latter type, a digital clock, meanwhile, would allow employees to clock in via a mobile app or else a web site.

Q: What are the benefits of using time clock software?

A: One major benefit is speed. Time clock software can quickly and automatically compute how much time each employee spent working, so there is no need for HR employees to do the calculations manually, freeing them to do other work. The automation also cuts down on human errors that could occur when deciphering handwritten time-sheets, manually entering information, and/or computing payments, thus avoiding disputes that could arise from under or over payments.

Time clock programs also allow remote or off-site workers to clock in and out accurately. Through GPS tracking, geolocation or geofencing, employers can also verify the locations of their remote employees and can do so throughout the day, not just during the start or the end of the shifts.

Moreover, computerized time clocks record employee attendance accurately and prevent “time theft.” When using pen and paper records or traditional punch cards, employees may arrive at 9:10 but write down their arrival time as 9:00, or have lunch until 12:40, but instead write 12:30 on the record.

In a survey of 1000 hourly workers, 49% admitted to padding their timesheets — with 46% adding 15-60 minutes and the other 3% adding more than 60 minutes. Sometimes, the time theft is not intentional, such as when an employee forgets to clock out before his break or just estimates the amount of time he worked because the company tracks time manually, using paper cards or spreadsheets.

While leaving a few minutes early or arriving a few minutes late may not seem like a big deal on any given day, when all the minutes are tallied, the impact can be huge. If 49% of the hourly workers in America added just 15 minutes on to their timesheets each week, US employers would pay out an extra $11 billion per year.

By using time clock software to track employee time accurately, even small businesses can potentially save thousands of dollars per pay period. Automated tracking increases employee accountability and eliminates time theft, whether intentional or accidental.

Time clocks with biometric capabilities also prevent another form of time theft — “buddy punching” — where one employee clocks in or out for another employee. According to a 2017 research, 16% of hourly employees admitted that they had clocked in a co-worker. If 16% of the US hourly workers added 15 minutes to their colleague’s timesheets, it would cost US employers an additional $373 million each year.

Another pain point that can be addressed by the majority of time clock software is the problem of scheduling. A poorly managed employee scheduling system can be very costly to a business and is often a cause of frustration for many managers. In some industries, for example the restaurant or hospitality industry, having the correct number of employees of the correct positions at any given time is crucial for the business to operate smoothly. Besides being potentially costly to the company, staff shortages, whether due to absences or employee confusion about scheduling, can affect employee morale and overall stress levels.

Using time clock programs also makes it easier for businesses to comply with federal and local laws and thus avoid penalties for non-compliance. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), for example, requires companies to keep accurate records of employee work hours and to maintain documentation relating to attendance for at least two years, to be ready and available for inspection by government representatives, if needed. Compared to manual time records, computerized time systems can store data safely for an indefinite period. Keeping accurate employee attendance and payroll records can also protect the company from unjustified payment-related lawsuits from disgruntled employees.

Q: What are the disadvantages of time clock software?

A: While there are a few free and low-cost options when it comes to time clock software, some of the more sophisticated ones, especially those with biometric functionality, tend to be expensive.

Biometric systems are also prone to glitches, which can sometimes make it hard for employees to clock in or out. Changes in an employee’s voice, face or fingerprint due to aging, injury, sickness, lighting or dirt can also result in a false negative outcome. However, in the event of a system malfunction or a power failure, most systems have a backup option which would require the employee to enter a password or PIN. Now, while that might defeat the purpose of biometrics, it is still necessary to have a backdoor entry, otherwise the employees would not be able to clock in or out. Adding to the overall cost, to avoid glitches, biometric-based time clocks need to be regularly maintained and updated.

Some time clock systems use geofencing; that would allow an employee to automatically clock in or out if they’re within a specific geographical boundary. However, this option tends to be quite expensive and may need constant maintenance and updates. The apps for this kind of technology also tend to eat up a lot of space on a mobile device and use up a lot of battery power and data. A change in the location of the work site, or employees having to go from one site to another, will also require expensive reconfigurations.

Time clock software that uses physical credentials is not without its downside, however. Magnetic badges get worn out over time and will need to be replaced, and employee badges, cards, and fobs can easily can be lost, stolen or simply forgotten.

Q: What are the features of time clock software?

A: There are many kinds of time clock software on the market nowadays, and more are added each year. While different systems have different features most of them will contain the following major features or functions:

*Clocking options: Most time systems let an employee clock in and out in multiple ways, such as through a time clock, mobile app, SMS or even via social media.

*Time clocks: The time clock can record and verify biometric data, RFID cards, bar codes, and other kinds of data.

*Mobile access: Many systems enable remote workers to clock in and out using GPS geotracking or geofencing.

*Scheduling: Many time systems facilitate scheduling of employees.Detailed reports: Many systems can provide insightful reports that can help business owners and managers when assessing staffing levels and employee performance.

*Software integration: Most software time clocks integrate with payroll solutions, enabling easy and error-free transfer of data to the payroll system.

Q: How much does time clock software cost?

A: The cost of time clock software can vary broadly, and will depend on a number of factors. Those factors include the number of employees, the specific features needed, and whether you want an on-premise system or a cloud-based solution.

There are some time clocks that are free if you only need basic functionality and/or have a small team. Most cloud-based systems, however, charge per head, typically anywhere from $1 to $10 per user. Some systems also have a base fee of about $20-$100/month. Some providers have a tiered pricing scheme (the per-user fee decreases the more users there are), while some charge by range instead of per user (for example, $25 for six or fewer users and $35 for 7-15 users). Some time clock vendors also have a monthly minimum, such as $5/user/month or $80/month, whichever is higher.

When it comes to on-premise time clocks, there is usually a one-time fee for the software and the user licenses. The cost of the hardware depends on the type of data (physical, biometric, etc.) that is to be recorded (barcode, fingerprint, etc.) and what other features the device will offer. Each device will cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

There may also be additional costs for setup and training. Some vendors do these for free while some charge for these services. There may also be fees for maintenance and updates of on-site systems.

Q: How do I choose the best time clock software for my business?

A: There is a wide variety of time clock software available. The one that is best for your business is the one that addresses the specific needs of your company. If you only need a program that records the clock-in and clock-out times of employees, then you can keep your costs down by getting a simple time clock that only does that.

If you need more features, such as the ability to schedule employees or to see in real-time which employees are on break and which ones are working, you can get a program that offers those specific functions. If integration with an accounting or payroll program is important for you, then make sure to choose a time clock that can do that.

Another thing you need to consider is what combination of hardware and software is practical and comfortable for your company. For example, if you want a biometric system, then choose a time clock that allows users to clock in or out via fingerprint scan or facial recognition. If your employees have privacy concerns over their fingerprints being on a company file, you can use a time clock that is compatible with swipe cards instead.

Another question to consider; is there a single location where everyone clocks in, or are there multiple entry points? If there is just a single location, then you can use a biometric system; but if you have multiple locations, it might be better to use networked computers or mobile apps instead.

Another factor for consideration is the warranty and level of customer support. Choose a time clock software that provides the coverage you need in case of malfunction and which gets high marks on customer response times.

Q: What are the current trends in time clock software and what can we expect in the near future?

A: We expect more time clock software to have biometric options. There are some concerns about how fingerprints are stored and used, so facial or eye recognition may become preferential. This can be something as simple as capturing a picture of the employee during arrival and departure, or something more sophisticated, such as scanning the person’s retina.

The biometric system is also becoming safer and more complex, with the addition of safety features like firewalls and SSL encryption to protect company and employee data. In addition, more and more businesses are choosing biometric systems over magnetic stripe badges. By using biometric scans, companies do not have to spend money on badges, which can mean significant savings especially for businesses with a large workforce.

You can also expect future time systems to incorporate machine learning and artificial intelligence. These technologies can help employers gain better insight into their labor force, as well as assist employees with their questions about their records.

Conclusion

Keeping track of employee working hours is a mundane but critical part of any business, especially if the employees have an hourly pay rate. Fortunately, businesses no longer need to rely on paper time-sheets to track and record their employees’ hours. There is a wide range of time tracking solutions, and which can accommodate pretty much any budget, that can help companies keep accurate records and manage their employees’ time more efficiently.

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Seven Ways Small Businesses Can Use Help Desk Software

Managers of large enterprises don’t have to have their proverbial arms twisted to know that they need help desk software, but many small business owners are not sure whether it is a worthy investment. They fret over the financial feasibility of the software as an investment, not just in terms of the money but the time and effort necessary to ensuring that their employees learn how to use it.

However, as your small business grows, the increase in the revenue and the volume of customers will also mean an increase in the number of customers who may some day need assistance. The simple email-based support system that worked well enough during the early days of your business likely won’t cut it. This is where help desk software comes to the rescue.

With a help desk solution, customers can easily reach out to your company if they have issues or questions about your products or services. You, in turn, through this software, can streamline your business workflows, organize information, and eliminate manual tasks. These changes will improve the efficiency and productivity of your company and give your customers the service they need and expect from you.

How is all of this possible? Let’s take a look at seven ways small businesses can use help desk software.

1. Improve your brand image and differentiate you from your competitors

When it comes to business, customer is king. With competition relentlessly fierce in the majority of industries, sometimes it can simply boil down to which company provides a better customer experience.

Companies that are most attentive to their customers’ needs, especially when there are problems, are the ones to which people tend to gravitate. Even businesses that offer exceptional products will have a hard time retaining their customers if they have poor customer support to back those products up.

According to Gartner, 96% of customers would switch to a competitor if it takes them considerable effort to resolve an issue with a company. A satisfied customer, meanwhile, is likely to stick around and share their positive experience with others.

Having a help desk software makes your company look more professional and allows your business to resolve customer issues faster and more efficiently. Moreover, it prevents tickets from being lost or forgotten, even during busy times.

Each support request generates a ticket that has a unique ID. This ticket is categorized, assigned a priority, and is routed to an agent. With the ticket ID, the support staff can track a ticket’s progress until it is closed. Customers, meanwhile, have a reference number that they can use if they need to follow-up later.

When a support request is received, the customer care executives are sent a notification. The tickets are sorted by priority, a critical step which is often neglected in the absence of help desk software. Without a help desk software, support staff are generally unable to gauge the severity of the issue, and will process the tickets on a “first come, first served” basis. However, not all issues are of equal importance. A support ticket about upgrade inquiries, for example, is far less urgent than a ticket reporting that your product has suddenly stopped working and halted production in a customer’s supply chain. With help desk software, the latter would be given priority, even if the former ticket had been submitted earlier.

A help desk software also allows an agent to easily inform his coworkers that he is already responding to a particular ticket, preventing duplication of efforts from other agents. Of course, it is still possible for the ticket to be escalated to another coworker or supervisor later. Without a help desk software, two or more support staff members might respond to the same ticket, which can be confusing for the customer, and a waste of time for at least one employee and, more importantly, a bad reflection on the company as disorganized and uncoordinated.

Help desk solutions also enable businesses to provide 24×7 support to their customers. Through help desk apps, support personnel can do most ticket management functions through their mobile phones or tablets, enabling them to help customers even if they are not in the office. Such apps also include features that let support agents view customer profiles or search for specific tickets.

Another way help desk solutions improve employee productivity is by giving the agents the ability to ban spammers and to mark specific tickets as spam.

2. Give you valuable feedback

Through the help desk software’s reporting and analytics functions, a business owner or manager can easily evaluate the performance of the customer care team. He can analyze the past performance of the support staff in terms of concrete numbers, such as number of tickets served and average resolution speed, to gauge whether targets are being met and determine which areas need improvement. These metrics can also be used to gauge the team’s improvement over time, assign the most capable agent to a specific task, and even to demonstrate value to key stakeholders, potential customers, and possible investors.

Furthermore, the customers’ complaints and inquiries can give insights about the products and services that the company offers. These can help identify popular features, product weaknesses, and pain points in using the products.

Help desk software also allow customers to give businesses ratings and reviews. Aside from helping you improve your service, these reviews and ratings will also influence whether or not potential customers will buy from you, while reading customer reviews will help the support team learn more about the customers.

3. Provide agents with the context and history of the issues and the customers

Sometimes, customers have to contact customer support more than once. One of the annoyances that customers face in such a situation is having to repeat themselves. The need to contact the company more than once on a single issue, and repeat information to each agent, gives customers the impression that they need to exert considerable effort just to get a problem resolved. These are two of the biggest factors that push customers to give up on a company and switch to a competitor. However, this can be minimized, or even eliminated, if you use a help desk software, as the customer’s support history and the context of the issues are all listed together.

The support rep will also be better equipped to help the customer if he can see the customer’s previous conversations and messages. He can also get a better idea on what the customer’s preferences and personality are like and can, therefore, adjust his own approach.

Another way that help desk programs benefit businesses is by ensuring that all customer care agents are on the same page. Agents usually work on a staggered schedule to be available to more customers. Because they work different hours, communication gaps between agents sometimes occur, which can result in customer tickets taking longer to be handled. With online help desk solutions, however, employees can communicate with each other directly by adding private messages to tickets or by posting on a community board accessible only to employees. They can also create internal tickets to give each other information or assign tasks. These tickets are not attached to any customer and are only visible to the agents.

Help desk software

4. Create a knowledge base to help both employees and customers

Using a help desk software makes it easier to create a knowledge database where you can store useful information that your team needs to know. Support agents can also edit existing tickets and add them to the database. Documentation of problems and how they were resolved, for example, will help your team quickly and easily resolve the same issue in the future.

Data indicates that, before calling customer service, and to the greatest extent possible, a majority of consumers will first try to resolve an issue on their own. Through a help desk software’s end-user portal, your business can allow your customers to search your knowledge base to find the answers to their questions or to resolve simple issues instead of opening a ticket.

By adding FAQs and how-to articles to your knowledge base, you can empower customers to help themselves while reducing the workload of your customer service team. It also helps customers solve their issues faster and in a more satisfactory manner.

In addition, a knowledge base is not only important for customer support, but can also help you with your marketing efforts. By adding search engine optimization (SEO) focused items to your knowledge base — complete with long-tail keywords — you can increase traffic to your website and gain new customers.

5. Improve efficiency through automation

A good help desk software can help your business operate more smoothly and efficiently by letting you create automated workflows. Repetitive tasks, such as ticket categorization and prioritization, can be automated, enabling employees to do the job faster, easier, and with less room for human error.

The categories and priorities assigned to the tickets also improve employee productivity and provide them with the capability to multitask. Instead of taking care of multiple tasks sequentially, for example, a member of the support team can better sequence the tickets, or handle several server-related issues in a single trip to the server room instead of going back and forth.

Automatic routing of the tickets ensures that the tickets are quickly received by the people best suited to handle a particular concern. You can, for example, automatically assign all hardware-related tickets to Tom, all password-related tickets to Jane, and all upgrade-related tickets to Harry.

Another task that can be automated by help desk software is logging how much time the support team spends on resolving each ticket. Agents can also get automatic notifications if a customer replied or posted feedback, or if a ticket is taking too long to get resolved. Automatic answer suggestions, meanwhile, can provide a customer with answers to a question, or even resolution of a problem, without the need to contact a customer care agent.

In addition, a help desk software boosts efficiency by enabling a single ticket to be split if it is about multiple issues, or for duplicate tickets to be merged.

6. Allow multi-channel requests to be addressed through a single platform

In the current environment, customers can contact a company’s customer service team through several different avenues. Years ago, the choices were limited to a phone call or an in-person visit, but now there is email, SMS, or via any one of a number of social media channels (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). If the support team has to attend to each of those messages separately by channel, it can become time consuming, not to mention confusing, to switch back and forth. It will also be hard to keep track of open tickets, thus some inquiries and complaints could be lost or erroneously ignored. With a centralized platform, however, you don’t need to visit each account or use bots on each one.

Moreover, due to the power, visibility, and ubiquity of social media, a complaint or question posted on Facebook or Twitter, for example, which is left unanswered for a long time, may result in backlash and negativity from customers and potential customers.

But, with help desk software, all customer inquiries end up in a centralized location, making it easier for support representatives to see which messages have not yet been addressed and to respond to them quickly. This allows your company to provide a consistent and seamless customer care experience, regardless of the origination of the request (e.g., Facebook, live chat or email). It also lets you visually see your statistics; that is, which channel gets most of the requests.

7. Nip problems in the bud by seeing patterns

As tickets come into the help desk software, you may notice a pattern, such as multiple issues about a single category or feature. The staff will be able to investigate further to see if the incidents are related. This can help solve a problem before it gets bigger and alert the rest of the team on what caused the problem and how best to handle it.

Bottom Line

Customers expect their issues and inquiries to be acknowledged and resolved faster than ever before. A help desk software can help businesses do just that. It is, in fact, one of the IT solutions that can benefit most companies.

Some options may cause you a bit of money in the beginning, but the increase in productivity will save you money in the long run. After all, if you are able to assure customers that they are a priority to your company by giving them speedy and professional customer care, then you will be well on your way to creating a loyal customer base.

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9 Best Crowdfunding Platforms for Businesses

Through crowdfunding platforms, you can connect with interested investors and contributors to finance your business. The numbers of investors can range from a mere handful to thousands, pooling together their resources to help get your business off the ground or even onto the next level.

When it comes to crowdfunding, there are three main types:

Rewards crowdfunding — Contributors receive a reward if the campaign is successful, typically a physical or digital product of some sort.

Debt crowdfunding — Typically peer-to-peer (P2P) lending sites, where individuals act as private lenders and spread the risk by pooling their funds to provide a wide variety of business loans to entrepreneurs.

Equity crowdfunding — Investors get a share of equity in the company in exchange for their investment.

While the types of crowdfunding may be limited to just those three, there are hundreds of crowdfunding sites in existence. That can make choosing the right platform to meet your needs a daunting, perhaps even, an overwhelming task. If you’re not sure how or where to start, you’ve come to the right place; below are the nine best crowdfunding platforms that can help you kick your business into high gear.

1. Kickstarter (Rewards Crowdfunding)

Kickstarter is one of the most recognizable of all of the crowdfunding websites. Since it was founded in 2009, 16 million backers have pledged more than $4 billion on over 160,000 successful projects.

The site is ideal for businesses that are looking for funding for creative or tech-related products (which the backers would receive later on as their reward). for example, the products could include games, apps, music, films, or innovative retail goods. Kickstarter has a big audience, so a campaign here can provide you with not just a funding source but good exposure, as well.

Creating a campaign on Kickstarter is free but potential users should be aware that the platform has an “all or nothing” funding policy. Simply put, if you don’t meet the funding goal that you set within the allotted time, you don’t get any money. It’s important to be certain that the goal you first set is realistic and reasonable. Fortunately, if you’ve met your goal amount, Kickstarter does allow you to stretch or raise the goal.

If your campaign is successful, you will have to pay a 5% fee, as well as a payment processing fee, which can range from 3% to 5%.

You should know that Kickstarter is a highly competitive platform, so getting your campaign to stand out from the rest of the crowd can be a challenge. Statistically, only one of every three projects will get funded, while about 13% of all Kickstarter projects had not received even a single pledge. Smaller campaigns tend to be more successful than larger ones, with 80% of all of the successful campaigns receiving funding of less than $20,000.

Despite the obstacles, the site’s huge audience makes it a worthwhile undertaking.

2. Patreon (Rewards Crowdfunding)

Unlike some other rewards-type crowdfunding platforms, Patreon operates on a subscription model. That is, backers (aka patrons) agree to contribute a set amount to their selected creators, either per month or per content created. Given that, Patreon is a popular choice among entrepreneurs who deliver creative digital content on a regular basis; for example YouTubers, bloggers, and podcasters overwhelmingly prefer Patreon to other crowdfunding sites.

With Patreon, you can also allow your campaign to run indefinitely, which allows you to earn a continuous revenue stream instead of receiving a lump sum of cash at the end of a pre-determined period.

Patreon has more than 3 million active patrons supporting 100,000+ creators. Since 2013, when the site was founded, it is on track to pay out $1 billion to creators.

The platform charges a 5% fee, as well as additional payment processing fees.

3. Indiegogo (Rewards and Equity Crowdfunding)

Indiegogo began in 2008 and has thus far raised more than $1 billion to fund 800,000+ campaigns.

It is best suited for companies that create innovative consumer goods that can be shipped to the backers as their reward for their investment. You should know that some backers are willing to support entrepreneurs at the early stages, such as the concept or design stage, however, investors usually prefer to see a working prototype before they are willing to make a pledge.

Indiegogo permits flexible funding as well as all-or-nothing funding. In the former case, you can keep whatever funds your campaign raises, even if your goal is not reached. Also, Indiegogo allows you to run your campaign from most countries, and pre-approval of your campaign is not needed.

Getting your campaign noticed on Indiegogo can be difficult, though, as around 19,000 campaigns launch on the site each month, and there are more than 7,000 active campaigns at any given time. On the plus side, the site is very popular — with a network of 9 million backers and 10 million monthly visitors from 235 countries and territories.

Unlike other crowdfunding sites, the Indiegogo platform also has a marketplace where you can sell your product after the campaign. The site’s InDemand feature allows successful fundraisers to solicit additional backers indefinitely.

In addition, Indiegogo also offers equity crowdfunding through its partnership with Microventures, making it a hybrid crowdfunding site.

The platform charges a 5% fee plus payment processing fees.

4. SeedInvest (Equity Crowdfunding)

SeedInvest is a highly exclusive equity crowdfunding platform. It has 250,000+ investors who have invested a total of $100 million on more than 150 companies.

Qualifying to campaign on the site is difficult, as the platform has a strict vetting process for fundraisers; it is so strict, in fact, that only 1% of applicants are approved. Even so, it can be a worthwhile risk as SeedInvest averages $500,000 investment per company.

From the investor’s standpoint, SeedInvest has a popular feature which allows them to spread their risk; that is the auto-invest feature, which enables them to automatically invest in multiple startups. A campaign is only included in the auto-invest pool if it meets its funding goal. Only accredited investors, i.e. of a high net worth, are permitted to invest.

With SeedInvest, you can raise preferred equity or convertible note funding. The cost at SeedInvest can be considerably higher than others of its ilk. There is a 7.5% placement fee for a successful campaign, plus a 5% equity fee. In some cases, SeedInvest may also charge up to $10,000 in fees related to its due diligence, marketing, and escrow fees, and/or reimbursement for legal expenses.

5. LendingClub (Debt Crowdfunding)

LendingClub is a P2P lending portal that provides both personal loans and business loans. Since 2007, it has loaned a total of $28 billion.

With LendingClub, an entrepreneur can borrow from as little as $5,000 to much as $300,000. Interest rates and monthly payments are fixed for the life of the loan (up to five years) and there is no fee or penalty for early repayment. Term loans are up to five years and each applicant will be assigned a dedicated US-based client advisor.

To qualify, your business needs to be at least 12 months old, with minimum annual sales of $50,000. You also must have had no recent bankruptcies or tax liens and own at least 20% of the company. Lastly, your personal credit score should be fair or better.

Fixed interest rates can range from 5.99% (for borrowers who have excellent credit and financial strength) to 29.99% (which is akin to taking out a cash advance on a credit card). The origination fee can range from 1.99% to 8.99% and, for comparison purposes,the APR can range from 9.77% to 35.71%. For every $10,000 you borrow through LendingClub, you will be required to make monthly payments between $227 and $955 (which is wholly dependent on the interest rate charged and the term of the loan).

If you are interested in debt crowdfunding, and to learn more about small business loans, check out the comparison table, so that you can make the most appropriate decision for your company.

6. Crowdfunder (Equity Crowdfunding)

Crowdfunder has a network of 12,000 investors and 36,000 companies. It has funded more than a hundred deals, with an average deal size of $1.8 million. It is suitable for both early-stage startups and more mature companies that are raising seed stage, Series-A and Series-B funding.

To launch a campaign with Crowdfunder, fundraisers need to pay a monthly subscription fee (which starts at $299) and submit three requirements: a Term Sheet, an Executive Summary, and an Investor Pitch Deck. Crowdfunder, because of the subscription fee, does not take a cut of the raised funds and you keep what you raise, even if you don’t meet your funding goal.

7. Fundable (Rewards and Equity Crowdfunding)

Fundable offers both rewards and equity crowdfunding and, since it was founded in 2012, has already raised $506 million.

Like Crowdfunder, Fundable does not charge a fee for a successful campaign, but you have to pay $179 per month to post and manage a fundraising campaign. In addition, for rewards-type campaigns, a fee of 3.5% plus $0.30 per transaction is deducted by WePay, Fundable’s merchant processing partner.

To be able to crowdfund on the Fundable platform, your company must have a U.S. presence. That means your business must be registered in the United States, though it may be headquartered in another country. You, as the principal or at least one business partner, must also have a U.S. based address, bank account, and federal tax ID number or U.S. social security number.

Rewards or equity? Fundable recommends setting up a rewards campaign if you are looking to raise a small amount (below $50,000) and an equity campaign for higher amounts or if you do not have a product or service that can be used as a reward.

Reward campaigns on Fundable are “all or nothing;” however, if you fail to meet your goal, you can try again. You are also allowed to download the contact information of your backers so you can coordinate directly with them if you decide to make a second attempt at raising funds.

8. Wefunder (Equity Crowdfunding)

Wefunder has a pool of more than 230,000 accredited investors (meaning they have a high net worth) who have funded 269 companies with more than $90 million. Wefunder supports three federal laws that permits startups to legally raise funds: Regulation Crowdfunding, Regulation D, and Regulation A+.

Wefunder is essentially for the heavy hitters and only companies located in the United States will be allowed to campaign. The minimum goal is $50,000 and the maximum amount is set at $1,070,000 per year, per Regulation Crowdfunding. Under Regulation D, the minimum goal is $50,000 but the goal amount is unlimited.

Wefunder is an all-or-nothing crowdfunding site. Companies that have successful campaigns tend to be those that offer innovative but practical solutions. Moreover, they tend to already have a community of supporters and a large customer base, as well as existing investors.

Creating a company profile on Wefunder is free, but there is a 7.5% charge for a successful campaign.

9. Republic (Equity Crowdfunding)

Republic’s $10 investment minimum makes equity crowdfunding accessible to the masses. Republic is also unique in its push for diversity; it aims to fund startups whose teams include women, veterans, minorities, and other entrepreneurs who usually do not have access to business funding.

However, only C-Corporations and Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) which are incorporated in the U.S. can fund raise through Republic. These companies will be screened thoroughly before being approved. The platform’s success rate is impressive — 95% of the campaigns on the site have been successful. These companies have also doubled their user base, received millions of views, and pre-sold products worth tens of millions.

As regards fees, they are only assessed if the campaign is successful and has reached its funding goal. The fees amount to 6% of the total cash funds.

Final word

Thanks to technology, business owners can more easily find financiers eager to invest in promising up-and-coming companies. What’s important is to choose the crowdfunding platform that is the best fit for your business. The sites listed all have proven track records and at least one is likely to meet your needs. Which one that is will depend on whether you’re willing to provide a reward, take on debt or give up equity in your business in exchange for the funding.