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Category Archives: Business

Tips to Start a T-Shirt Business

If you’re an entrepreneur looking to start an online T-shirt business, you could purchase an expensive T-shirt printer or screen printing equipment. But you don’t have to; you can get your business off the ground with minimal startup capital — as low as $50, according to some experts. Compared to other types of startups, an online T-shirt company is low-priced and simple to launch, and you don’t even have to manage order fulfillment.

Your t-shirts can contain simple words, fully printed designs or a combination of both. Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop can be great tools to help you create your designs. Adobe offers low-priced monthly subscriptions; Adobe single apps are available for $19.99 per month. Adobe and online education companies such as Lynda.com offer a wide variety of Adobe classes to help you develop your design skills.

If you have ideas but don’t have the skills to produce your designs, you may find affordable graphic-design freelancers through sites such as Guru, Fiverr and Upwork. Rates are often affordable and negotiable. If you want to start designing without Photoshop, T-Shirt Magazine contributor Ana Gonzalez recommended Placeit, which offers clothing mock-ups for as little as $29 per month for nine images.

Whatever your idea is, do your best to make sure you are not infringing on another designer’s ideas. You can do this by conducting an online search of trademark databases like U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and/or hiring a patent lawyer to help you determine whether your design is similar to one that has been copyrighted or trademarked.

Printing equipment can be expensive and requires you to purchase inventory. You may ultimately want to do your own printing, but when you are first starting out, you can use an on-demand T-shirt printing company, such asPrintful, Print Aura, Scalable Press, Teespring and Amplifier — all you need to do is submit your designs and they’ll take care of the rest. Many printers, including these five, offer order fulfillment services, so you never have to worry about inventory and shipping.

Most of these types of services offer features specifically for small businesses, including no minimum purchases, no inventory requirements, no monthly fees, volume discounts and mock-up generators. Based on our research, other factors to consider when choosing a printer include t-shirt selection (colors, sizes, styles), print quality, turnaround time, cost, integrations with e-commerce platforms and return policies.

You can easily create an e-commerce website using a service such as Shopify, WooCommerce, Etsy, Square Space, Big Cartel or Amazon. Many of these services will allow you to use your own domain for an additional cost, and many will work with the print company of your choice. You’ll want to verify how well the printer works with your website or shopping site technology before you purchase.

Besides the basic business website standards like your company logo, product listings and contact information, you’ll also want to include specifics such as sizing charges and fit information. Your customers will want to see detailed color variations as well. When you are first starting out, you’ll likely just start with T-shirt mock-ups and then evolve to real-life images using models as you grow.

Lindsay Craig, a social growth expert at Spaces, a website builder offered by Shopify, said most of the initial planning and creation process of starting a T-shirt business is free. The first expense you may incur is buying your custom domain. Google charges $12 per year for a domain, Square Space is $20 and Shopify starts at $13 per year. Using Shopify’s Spaces, you can build an online shop for free and then upgrade it starting for $4 per month.

Craig suggested you start with three to five T-shirt designs. If you are not a designer, you can use royalty-free fonts from 1001 Fonts and low-priced artwork from The Noun Project to get started. T-shirt templates are available so you can create realistic images of your designs rather easily. If you do not have access to Adobe Creative Suite, you can start using free applications such as GIMP to create your designs.

Once you have some designs created, you’ll want to order some sample product so you can see the quality of the shirt and printing. Craig noted that is one of the larger expenses and will cost you around $20. All of those expenses add up to less than $50. However, keep in mind that you’ll need to purchase a business license, and prices for those vary greatly depending on your area.

Tips to Start a Photography Business

Starting your own photography business is a great way to add a second income or a main income, if you work hard. While the photography market is competitive, many photography business owners have been able to find their niche and build a sustainable career. Like most creative endeavors, you need to balance your passion for photography with real business skills in order to be successful.

To build and grow your business, you need both raw talent and a knack for marketing. One photographer we spoke with said an ability “to market yourself” was one of the most important factors in success. You should continually be working to improve your craft and evolving your product, and work consistently on your own branding, online marketing and people skills. Without the two, the results will likely just be an expensive hobby rather than a viable full-time business.

In this article…

1. Startup costs
2. Your branding and reputation
3. Pricing
4. Customer expectations and contracts
5. Where to find work

Quality photography equipment is notoriously expensive, so you’ll want to start off with the minimum: Buying a $5,000 lens doesn’t make sense if your business isn’t making money yet. Many professional photographers say to plan on budgeting about $10,000 to start your photography business.

According to professional photographer Austen Diamond, “building slow and smart” will help you stay nimble. Allow the organic growth of your business to fund gear improvements, and avoid debt if possible, he said.

Based on interviews with professional photographers, here is a basic budget for starting your business, not including studio or office space. All prices are yearly estimates or one-time purchases.

  • Two cameras: $1,500 to $2,000 each
  • Multiple lenses: $1,000+ each
  • Two flashes: $700
  • Multiple memory cards: $50+ each
  • Two external drives: $120 each (keep one backup off-site)
  • Computer or laptop with sufficient memory: $2,000
  • Website (Wix, PhotoShelter, SmugMug and/or Squarespace): $60+
  • Lightroom and Photoshop subscription: $120 per year
  • Business licenses: $150 (varies)
  • Insurance: $600 per year (varies)
  • Accounting: $300+ per year (varies)
  • Contracts: Free to $1,000+ (varies)
  • Online proof gallery, such as ShootProof: $120 per year
  • Business cards: $20+

Optional expenses:

  • Business training, such as Lynda.com classes
  • Photography workshops and classes
  • Stylish camera bags and straps
  • Second computer
  • Printed marketing materials
  • Studio and office space

Other things you’ll need to do (that may be free or low-cost):

  • Market your business via social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to start)
  • Create your business name and logo
  • Research the best business structure (LLC, S corporation or other)
  • Acquire sales tax permit and employer identification number (EIN)
  • Obtain image licensing and usage contracts; Creative Commons offers free services
  • Set up business bank accounts
  • Find a way to manage client contact information and emails (see BND’s list of the best CRM software)
  • Choose a spreadsheets and scheduling solution (Google Docs is free)
  • Find an expense tracker (mileage, expenses, billable time), such as Expensify orBizXpenseTracker
  • Research credit card payment processing, such as Square or PayPal
  • Establish a referral program

Our expert sources offered the following advice for building your personal brand and reputation as a professional photographer.

Your person and gear: If you work with people, you are your brand. Even the little things affect your reputation, and most of your business will come by word-of-mouth referrals. When you go to a shoot, dress appropriately. Iron your shirt. Wash your car. Be organized. Bring your own water and snacks. Charge your electronics. Thank-you and referral gifts should be classy. Being ready shows respect and professionalism.

Being timely: Always arrive to the shoot early, and don’t fail to deliver your product when promised. Print out directions so you don’t get lost. Ensure that your clients understand your production schedule and how long it will be for them to receive their proofs and final product, and stick to your agreements. Answer phone calls and emails in a timely manner.

Online: Anonymity is nearly impossible these days. Many potential clients will be searching for you and your work online. The images you post online should not only be high-quality but also the kind of images you want to be taking to attract the kind of work you want to be doing. Avoid contentious social media posts, and keep your language positive. Keep your LinkedIn profile and contact information on all sites up-to-date.

Many photographers have difficulties with setting their price and determining their value. Certainly, you should never price work to result in lost money or less than minimum wage, but many do. You can research your area to see what your competitors charge, but ultimately, you’ll need to charge what you are worth.

Generally, you’ll want to estimate 3 hours of editing time for every hour of shooting. Some photographers use a gauge of roughly $50 per hour to cover standard costs. Be sure to factor in travel and preparation time. Consider your ongoing costs, such as insurance, gear, accounting services and your website.

Once you start adding up the numbers, you can see why undercutting your competitors may not always be the best strategy and may result in you losing money on a gig. If you cannot seem to make the numbers match, you’ll either have to consider whether you are OK with having an expensive hobby or if you need to branch out into a different, more profitable market.

You should also always require an upfront deposit for high-priced gigs. To avoid credit card stop payments, you should require cash, cashier’s check or bank transfer for paying the deposit.

Managing your clients’ expectations is important to your success. Your clients should know exactly what to expect of you and also what is expected of them. For weddings, timelines and group pictures should be organized in advance. For infant photos, your customers should know what clothes and accessories to bring. If you are taking corporate headshot images, people should know how to dress.

For contracts, your clients should know how much is due in advance and how to pay it. You should set terms on how far in advance you need them to commit so you can schedule. Contracts should be explained carefully, and if applicable, your customers should know how they are allowed to use the images — and that should be in writing as well. While not everyone is comfortable with legalese, your professionalism will help make this necessary part of your business agreement go as smoothly as possible. You can find free contracts online, such as model release, photo licensing, wedding agreements and other common photography contracts, on sites like Less Accounting.

Finding your niche market not only allows you to focus on a specific skill set but also offers the opportunity to find networking prospects in a specific genre. Wedding and infant photographers are abundant. You can still book these types of gigs, but if you can offer something that others do not, you may find more work.

The product you offer may cover a specific genre, such as sports, or even a style or mood, such as humorous photos. Or perhaps you are also a writer and can create beautiful picture books with family stories. Maybe you work in the medical industry and have the knowledge to create quality educational medical photography.

With weddings, you get only one chance to do it right. If you have issues with your camera or memory card and don’t have the proper backup gear, you may miss the whole thing and damage your reputation quickly. If you are not prepared for lighting challenges or the chaos of working with emotional, opinionated family members, you will not produce your best work. Although weddings are usually profitable gigs, many experienced wedding photographers recommend that you start as a second shooter with an established wedding photographer before going solo. Many part-time or freelance photographers are trying to get in the wedding game, but there are other ways to make money while you work on your skills and purchasing the proper gear.

It’s also important to note that the wedding market is seasonal, and business will likely fluctuate in the fall and winter. If you’re getting into this market, be sure to plan ahead and save for the off-season.

Not interested in competing in the oversaturated wedding or baby market? Here are some other avenues you can explore:

Stock photography: You can start your own stock-photo website or sign up as a contributor to popular sites such as Shutterstock or iStock. Pay may be low, but licensing is managed for you, and you can sell in volume.

Contract work: Some photographers have obtained contracts that pay a set monthly amount to cover local events or to be on call. For example, perhaps your local tourism or business development department may pay you monthly to cover local events.

Commercial photography: All businesses need web images these days. You may be able to find work capturing images of their products or services, facilities, and even headshots of their board members and management team.

6 iPhone Apps to Plan Your Workday

Day Planner: Schedule Planner (Free)

Schedule Planner puts the focus squarely on the minutiae of your daily tasks, and then provides the tools you need to see if you’re spending your time wisely. It features an easy-to-use interface to help you quickly plan out your day in the morning, and lets you place items in color-coded categories, such as Work and Free Time. The app then generates charts to help you see, at a glance, where your time is going — a key feature for small business owners who make their own schedules. Like other day-planner apps, Schedule Planner allows users to set custom alerts, repeat tasks and move items around with easy cut-and-paste functionality.

To-Do List: Todoist (Free)

Todoist can help you burn through tasks by adding tons of extra functionality to the traditional to-do list format. In addition to the ability to set up simple checklists, the app lets you set due dates and even rank tasks by priority to help you identify your next action item. It also includes project management features, including the ability to assign individual tasks to a larger project, and designate tasks to a specific team member. And Todoist integrates Google Calendar and Evernote, which makes it easy to collaborate with team members who don’t have the app.

Productivity: Microsoft Word (Free)

You can get real world work done from your iPhone with Microsoft Word. You can view, edit and create documents from anywhere. Your Office documents keep all the correct formatting as on your desktop. And you can share documents by emailing an attachment or a hyperlink. But it does requires an Office 365 subscription.

PDFs: Adobe Reader (Free)

Need to fill out a form on your phone and PDF if back? No problem with Adobe Acrobat Reader. Just as you can on your desktop, the mobile version lets you view, annotate and review documents. You can use your phone’s camera to snap a photo and save it as a PDF. You can fill out forms and sign documents with your finger.

Read It Later: Pocket (Free)

With Pocket, when you find an article or video you want to read, but don’t have time to at the moment, you can save it to pocket. It syncs that content across phones, tablets and computers, and you can access it offline. It offers unlimited storage and you can tag things for searching later. You can even recommend content to others.

Accounting: FreshBooks (Free)

You shouldn’t be tied to your desktop just to handle accounting issues. You can create invoices, receive payments, capture expenses and track billable hours through Freshbooks. It can also create and send estimates to clients, and it backs up your data and syncs it with its desktop version.

Top 8 Workplaces for Women

As gender equality continues to take the spotlight in workplace issues, more women are seeking job opportunities with companies where they’re most likely to receive equal pay and treatment.

InHerSight, a workplace ratings and matching site for women, collected user ratings data on 27,000 U.S. companies across five main categories: equal opportunities for men and women, salary satisfaction, maternity and adoptive leave, top leadership, and management opportunities for women.

While InHerSight used its data to rank the best workplaces in each category on a five-point scale, the top 10 workplaces for women overall include:

  1. Title Source (4.6)
  2. Procore Technologies (4.4)
  3. The Boston Consulting Group (4.2)
  4. The Motley Fool (4.0)
  5. Netflix (4.0)
  6. Facebook (4.0)
  7. NetSuite (3.9)
  8. PayPal (3.9)

According to Ursula Mead, CEO of InHerSight, female representation in leadership and management opportunities for women, as well as equal opportunities and salary satisfaction, are strong predictors of women’s satisfaction at work.

Last year, several high-profile companies announced improvements to their parental leave programs, so maternity and adoptive leave became a highlighted factor for InHerSight. Mead hopes that trend continues in 2017.

“The great news about many of these larger companies is that they’re always hiring, and often hiring for a lot of open positions,” said Mead. “For example, a quick look at the Netflix careers page shows hundreds of open positions right now. Of course, there’s a lot of competition for these jobs, but that shouldn’t stop you from applying.”

While it might be difficult to get a job at many of the bigger-name places on the list, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have all those benefits at your current or future company. InHerSight found that reviewing salaries and correcting pay gaps was the policy change women wanted the most at their current employer (more than 31 percent).

“Companies aren’t mind readers – if you want to see changes to benefits or initiatives, you may have to initiate that conversation with your manager or HR team. Most companies want to know how they can better support their employees and will welcome that dialogue,” Mead said.

She also suggested that women hoping to make a change at their company do some initial research on how their company’s policies compare to others and what the options are. “It’s also important to think about your request from the employer’s perspective to demonstrate awareness of what some of their concerns and constraints might be so you can both be solutions oriented.”

Women on the job hunt have access to a lot of information that can help them determine what job or company is right for them. Sometimes all it takes is doing a little research to uncover what could potentially be the perfect match.

“If you know people at the company, talk to them,” Mead advised. “If you don’t, there are a lot of great resources online to help you find the right company and for you to learn more about their culture and benefits. It’s important to keep in mind that a company can have great benefits on paper, but how those policies are implemented matters a lot.”

Mobile Apps for Small Business

Mobile friendly websites and applications have become ever more important among small businesses, and now a mobile strategy is widely regarded as a prerequisite for any successful company. Recent survey results compiled by Clutch, a B2B research company, show that small business mobile apps are the new normal, and those businesses that refuse to implement mobile strategies risk falling behind.

Clutch’s survey found that 42 percent of responding small businesses currently employ a mobile application. However, that number is expected to rise dramatically, with 67 percent of business owners responding that they intend to have a mobile app by the end of 2017.

“Mobile apps for small business is not a mature market yet, but if small businesses haven’t considered building an app yet, they’re behind,” Cameron Banga, project manager and cofounder of app developer 9magnets, told Clutch.

Whether the goal is increasing sales, improving customer service or creating an additional vehicle to drive your brand, the benefits of implementing mobile applications for small businesses are many. But how can you go about developing a mobile application without significant experience?

There are, of course, mobile application creation platforms that enable users to make an app without any background coding knowledge. However, if you want something more specific, you could employ an internal team, contract with an application development company or use a combination of in-house and external resources.

According to Clutch’s research, many industry experts recommend using a blended approach that draws on insights from professionals but doesn’t exclusively rely on their expertise without in-house knowledge of the business and its long-term objectives.

“A mix of the two is most optimal,” Dmitry Pukhtin, chief sales officer for app developer Touch Instinct, told the research group. “The combination does the best to identify the needs of the customers, as external resources can bring the most expertise about needs of the marketplace.”

The data shows small businesses are largely following this multipronged approach. While 49 percent of respondents said they were dedicating mostly internal resources to the development process, 47 percent were also in contact with a freelance developer or consultant, 43 percent partnered with a development company and 40 percent employed app-builder software.

Regardless of the preferred development method, the need for a mobile application is becoming more essential. As mobile becomes the standard in most every industry, small businesses should look to keep up. As the number of mobile users continues to increase – even surpassing the number of desktop users – the demand among consumers for mobile applications will only grow.

Why Humility Matters for Managers

Humility might not be the first quality that comes to mind when you think of leadership skills, but studies are showing that it is one of the most vital characteristics of successful leaders. Leaders who practice humility engender trust, empower their subordinates, look at failures as challenges and develop a team spirit — all of which leads to happier employees and more profits for the company.

Further, humble leadership has the same positive influence regardless of gender or nationality, according to a study by Catalyst: “Humility was one of the most significant indicators, after empowerment, of altruistic leadership in this study.”

Humility may be too easily dismissed as a leadership quality because people associate it with weakness, but according to several leadership experts, humility simply means understanding your strengths and weaknesses and recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of others. Angela Sebaly, co-founder and CEO of Personify Leadership and author of “The Courageous Leader” (Wiley, 2017), adds that humble leaders are focused on the big picture of mission and team rather than themselves.

“Humility is about minimizing the self and maximizing the bigger purpose you represent,” Sebaly said. “When you think about humility in that way, it becomes a vital competency in leadership because it takes the focus from the ‘I’ to ‘We.’ Leaders with humility engage us and give us a sense of identity and purpose.”

The Catalyst study supports Sebaly’s assertion. It found that regardless of business or country, humble leaders make their employees feel included, which in turn makes them more comfortable in proposing innovations and helping others.

True humility also requires courage and trust that stem from the leaders’ confidence in themselves and their abilities.

“There’s a balance a leader has to strike between confidence and humility. Confidence is not about swagger but about the ability to project presence in the room, coordinate other people’s actions, and help others take action,” said Susan Bates, founder of leadership development organization Bates.

Bates conducted a four-year study of leading executives around the world to find the 15 most important leadership qualities, which included humility as well as confidence.

“We’re not just guessing. This is grounded in research,” she said. “We include humility in the list of qualities that we know enable leaders to have presence and influence.”

The key to developing humility is as difficult to enact as it is simple to explain. Sebaly says the first step is to accept and love your strengths and talents.

“The more we experience humility, the more we reconcile the part of us that understands that we are important with the part of us that needs further proof,” she said.

The second step is being ready to learn through painful, humbling experiences. Everyone has a time in his or her career when they will mess up or fall short of expectations, and the more a leader pushes himself or herself to grow, the more such experiences they will face. Sebaly likened it to going to the dentist: It will likely be painful and we may get scolded about flossing, but in the end, we are glad we went, and we benefit in the long run.

Even so, many people retreat from potentially painful situations, especially if they expect the discomfort to be severe. Sebaly said that in her experience, most leaders will show courage as long as the pain is at the 1 to 3 level (on a scale of 1 to 10), but truly successful leaders will go into more humbling situations with an open mind and a desire to learn. Those people, in general, break past middle management.

Bates said that to develop your sense of humility, you must learn your strengths and weaknesses. Solicit honest feedback from employees and peers, especially on how well you listen to ideas. (“Do I allow space for people to express ideas before stating my own?” “Do I come across as needing to have all the answers?)

She also suggested that when running a meeting, wait before offering answers to let others weigh in. This letting go can be hard, especially for experienced leaders who may have tackled similar problems earlier in their careers. However, empowering the team members to handle the issue not only gives them a chance to grow, but frees you up to handle higher-level issues.

Finally, Bates suggested acknowledging to yourself that you don’t have all the answers. That simple act can free you to be open to the suggestions of others, she said.

Demonstrating humility means speaking to the higher purpose of accountability to the business or community. As such, it does not rob you of power, but enhances your authority as a leader.

“Leaders that demonstrate humility hold people accountable, have tough conversations, and make difficult choices,” Sebaly said. “They role-model, seeking the bigger purpose above the self-seeking approach. Those are the kinds of leaders that people will jump off a cliff for.”

6 Pubic Relations Tips for Success

As a small business, you may not think you need to pay much attention to public relations. However, when it comes to branding, marketing and promoting your company, PR is one of the most important tools to help get you the right type of attention.

According to Landor Associates, 45 percent of a brand’s image can be attributed to what it says and how it says it. Furthermore, 75 percent of consumers cite brand awareness as a major influencer in making their buying decision, and consistent brands are worth 20 percent more than those who aren’t consistent.

How you create and deliver your company’s message matters to consumers looking for your brand.

“Public relations can provide legitimacy for a business, and that’s especially important for an SMB that may not have a lot of brand awareness,” said Amy Bryson, the vice president at Airfoil Group, a marketing and public relations firm.

Bryson notes that if a media influencer or third party validates a company, product or service, it demonstrates credibility, which is great for brand building.

“A positive article, review, blog post or social media endorsement is a great asset to promote across a company’s own social channels so that business is searchable and findable,” she said.

As with any decision making in business, you need to consider how the task should be planned and executed. CEO and chief publicist at Three Girls Media, a boutique PR firm, Erika Montgomery, offers this insight before making any choices:

“It’s important to remember the PR is a slow and steady approach. Don’t expect to see results overnight,” Montgomery said. “Building brand awareness and name recognition takes time, but it provides a solid base for your business to build upon the future as you have a larger budget for marketing, advertising, etc.”

She suggests setting aside 10 percent of your annual budget for public relations. Use your PR resources to:

  • Establish clear, measurable goals for your business
  • Determine the best strategy to achieve these goals
  • Follow through on the strategy
  • Review your results and establish new goals/a new strategy

“Create a plan with small, manageable steps so you’ll be able to follow through,” she said.

To help make the most of your PR efforts, Business News Daily spoke to public relations experts about the best ways to handle your responsibilities.

Before doing any strategy work, figure out your ‘why’ – your ultimate goals for your PR campaigns.

“Choosing whether to handle PR in house, utilize freelancers or contractors, an agency or DIY will depend entirely on your budget, company size and unique set of needs,” said Molly Smith, a senior publicist. “If you can’t answer the question, ‘Why am I doing this?,’ implementing any PR strategy or tactic [or business model] is going to be an uphill battle.”

Smith notes your “why” is your story, not your product or your service. For example, say you are a launching a new restaurant. Instead of saying check out this new trendy place (your what,) you’ll need to answer why does it matter? Why should I eat there? Why did you decide to start this restaurant in the first place?

Suki Mulberg Altamirano, founder of Lexington Public Relations, suggests doing this by reading what journalists are covering and finding those that are talking about your industry and competitors.

“Before you pitch anything, really make sure that what you’re sending is relevant to what they write about, their publication and their interests,” she said.

When you do reach out to your media contacts, Mulberg Altamirano cautioned against creating a generic press release. Blasting this out is not going to get you coverage and it will simply annoy people. Instead work on highly personalized, short email pitches.

“Research your competitors and take note on how they are positioning their brand and how you can differentiate your own business,” added Alison Krawczyk, director of public relations at overit. “Also, look at the kinds of news and stories your competitors are sharing with media.”

If you don’t hear back right away, don’t take it personally, Mulberg Altamirano said. “Journalists are busy and sometimes it will take a few different tries before you get that first bite. If one pitch doesn’t work, be patient, wait and try a new angle when you have something truly newsworthy to share again.”

Building relationships takes time. Mulberg Altamirano notes to be fast to respond to requests from journalists, offer them timely and personalized information and don’t over pester them with follow-ups and you’ll be on the right track.

“It’s important to have an active social media presence, because it’s something that can be very efficient in getting PR results,” said Jon Gunnells, social and digital media manager at Airfoil Group.

He notes there are opportunities for organic and free reach and impressions, and it’s important to have a consistent brand and brand message.

“Make sure your creating the right content catered to your audience. Additionally, there are ways to put paid support behind it as well to reach a wider audience,” Gunnells said. “Social media is also a way to amplify content to reach people who may not be following the news.”

Another positive of social is you are privy to real-time and exact reporting. There are no estimates.

“You can know within five minutes after you run [a social] ad how your post will have performed and get any number of metrics,” he said.

Megan Carpenter, CEO and co-founder of FiComm Partners, notes to not go it alone. A consultant or PR firm can help you navigate around potential issues that they know exist because of their own experience and expertise.

“PR is more art than science,” Carpenter said. “Find a PR partner that you trust and that believes in you and your business. A great partner will help your voice be heard and then use the right PR tools to help you communicate with your audience.”

5 Key Customer Service Mistakes

 Given that customer service is so important, it is valuable to know some of the most common customer service mistakes. Customer service experts lent their expertise to Business News Daily and shared how to avoid them.

Just because it can be automated does not meant it should be, and it also does not mean the automation will automatically translate into cost savings.

Don’t automate just because you can. Avoid erasing all personalization and direct contact with the customer. When possible, provide a variety of different communication modes, as some customers prefer online chat while others want to talk to a person over the phone.

“Give them that option. Don’t force customers to use frustrating phone trees,” said Dana Brownlee, founder of consulting firm Professionalism Matters.

Assuming you know what the customer wants, instead of listening to the customer, is a big mistake.

“Teach listening skills throughout the organization, especially to (customer service representatives),” said Brownlee. “Develop processes that ‘force’ CSRs to really listen to customers – get rid of CSR scripts.”

Instead of thinking about how to delight customers on the front end and avoid getting the calls, many companies fall into the reactive approach of being satisfied with somewhat mediocre products or service and thinking of customer service as something that happens on the back end when there are complaints or problems. Take time to conduct process analysis, continuous process improvement and root cause analysis to truly improve your product service.

“Require every employee to take (five) customer service calls a month to maintain connection to the customer. Incorporate customer service goals into every employee’s compensation/bonus structure,” Brownlee said.

It’s a shame that very often the staff members who interact with customers the most are paid and valued the least. To avoid this mistake, Brownlee said, “Hire better staff, pay them more, and reward them for providing great service.”

According to Robert C. Johnson, CEO of TeamSupport, customers want accurate answers or quick, efficient and respectful solutions, and getting that to the customer is the most important thing, even if the answer or solution is not ideal.

“Make sure the employees (who interact) with customers have access to the right information and are listening to their concerns,” Johnson said. “Ensure communication is realistic – it’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver on that promise than the other way around.”

Customer service is proving to be a vital part of a successful business. But where does it start? Employees may not know where to turn for advice on customer service, or how to get the right information.

“A culture of exceptional customer service must start at the top. It can’t be just a slide in a presentation or a cliche saying that employees are expected to follow,” Johnson said. The CEO needs to set the tone, invest in the right team members and technology, and lead by actions as well as words.

A survey conducted by Professionalism Matters also found that scripts are not the way to deal with customer service complaints. Customer service representatives need to be trained to work to resolve a customer’s specific situation, as opposed to the “if they say this, you say that” approach.

No one is perfect. Whether due to a lack of focus, understanding, guidance or diligence, mistakes will happen.

“Sometimes we move too fast, and sometimes things just happen. At the end of the day, it’s how you recover from these mistakes that’s important,” Johnson said. “Good companies own both the good and the bad things that happen.”

The key is knowing how to rectify the situation once it has happened and making sure that the customer still receives the best customer service, despite some bumps along the way to a resolution.

Johnson suggested reaching out to the customer and owning up to the problem with empathetic and sincere communication. Formulate a response strategy, such as a timeline for communication, and execute it quickly.

It’s also critical for customer service representatives to apologize on behalf of the company immediately if the company dropped the ball in any way, Brownlee said in the Professionalism Matters survey.

“There’s nothing wrong with simply expressing regret that the customer is experiencing anguish, even if they haven’t determined yet if the company was at fault,” Brownlee said.

Climbing the Career Ladder

 For the ninth month in a row, the national unemployment rate hasremained below 5 percent, a clear indication that the economic recovery in the U.S. continues to progress. The results of a recent workforce survey bySnagajob and LinkedIn recognizes this development, and paints a positive picture of the overall employment situation.

Snagajob CEO Peter Harrison says the company’s research highlights encouraging trends for hourly workers and managers.

“With a low unemployment rate, and a dramatic spike in the amount of open hourly positions and jobs, it’s a job seeker’s market right now,” he stated. “As the competition between employers increase, this data helps hourly employers understand what workers want out of a job to help improve recruitment, improve engagement and reduce turnover.”

Based on Snagajob’s research and engagement with 75 million hourly workers and nearly a half a million employers, one of the issues that came to the forefront was “a real need for resources to guide hourly workers through their employment journey,” Harrison noted.

The workforce survey analyzed 16 business sectors and examined issues like employee engagement and how long it takes to get hired and promoted. It also provided insights on career growth opportunities and the advantages of having a well-rounded skillset.

Among the skills that help workers advance in restaurant and retail careers are a basic understanding of finance, management and new store development skills. The restaurant industry tends to provide a faster path to managerial roles than retail, although, statistically, hourly workers in beverage, crafts and furniture businesses get promoted to managerial jobs the fastest.

Some specialized knowledge is necessary to advance in management positions, but a business education can help applicants gain a foundation and competitive edge for moving on to higher-level jobs.

The ability to recruit and retain staff is the most universally valuable skillset in the restaurant and retail sector. The survey results also suggest that management candidates and trainees who show initiative in learning skills like recruiting, hiring, employee scheduling, staff development, and employee relations boost their chances for promotions. Other strengths that lead to career advancement and management opportunities include financial forecasting ability, operations management potential, and a proactive attitude toward improving bottom-line profits.

Since financial need is often a primary motivator among hourly workers seeking employment, one of the metrics Snagajob focused on is hiring speed. As the report states, “For many hourly workers, getting a job quickly is the difference between being able to pay the bills or not.”

On the average, the turnaround time for restaurant hiring is several days less than that of retail businesses. Restaurants average 15 to 27 days between the date of an application and the resulting job offer. The average lead time for retail stores is 33 days. One of the key takeaways in the report is that faster results can sometimes be produced by targeting certain types of businesses.

“If you’re looking to get hired quickly, the data shows sandwich shops, sports stores and casual dining restaurants are your best bets – they hire the fastest among the 16 sectors we analyzed,” said the report.

5 Skills IT Professionals Need to Land a Job

 Information technology is a rapidly growing and changing industry, and the qualifications for those who work in this field can change just as quickly. If you’re looking for work in this field, it’s in your best interest to stay up to date on the workforce trends.

“For IT candidates to stand out in a sea of emails and resumes, they should be aware of the latest technology trends,” said Dino Grigorakakis, vice president of recruiting at Randstad Technologies, a technology talent and solutions provider. “Based on our experience with midmarket and large enterprises, the line between cybersecurity specialists and IT specialists is beginning to blur. The most attractive IT professionals are those who have at least some expertise in cybersecurity (and) . . . mobile development skills.”

Based on its research, Randstad offered a closer look at essential skills and requirements IT professionals need to land tech jobs in today’s market.

The distinction between cybersecurity professionals and IT specialists will become blurred, as all IT professionals will be expected to have some expertise in cybersecurity. This is to ensure that security is built into networks and other IT components rather than trying to add it on after implementation.

Mobile technology has become an integral part of most people’s lives with the normalization of the smartphone. As a result, many businesses are looking to deploy mobile apps. For them to do this, skilled mobile developers will be necessary hires.

Companies want greater flexibility and efficiency from their workforce investments because of the agile, project-oriented nature of technology work, as well as to fill the technical talent shortage in the industry. Randstad expects temporary workers to make up as much as 50 percent of the workforce by 2019. It is important for IT professionals to consider making the transition from employee to freelancer or contractor to make the most of this opportunity.

Aided by big data and analytics, some companies will begin automating certain low-level IT functions in areas such as cybersecurity and network monitoring. This poses a threat to IT professionals’ jobs. To avoid this pitfall, IT professionals should focus on developing skills in higher-level analysis and decision-making in IT environments.

Emerging technologies such as virtual reality and the internet of things will mean more demand for workers with these specialties. By becoming familiar with these technologies, workers can make themselves much more attractive to companies.