Increasing Your Profits

A Start on Office Ergonomics

Most of us have some general thoughts about ergonomics, but this information can easily be out-of-date. Fortunately for those involved with making decisions about office furniture and setup current ergonomics encourages variety and movement rather than rigid principles or an exact posture. Many employers believe that you have to spend a lot of money when buying ergonomic office furniture. This is not necessarily true, and with a little effort and preparation you can make a wise investment that will lead to a happier and healthier team. Ergonomics is not just a product characteristic. It’s a process of matching furniture to the people doing the work. The aim is to reduce the risk of injury and discomfort without reducing productivity. Consider the work that’s done by each member of your team. Different tasks require different equipment and different layouts. Consider the nature of the tasks to be done – is there a lot of keyboard work or very little? Will a mouse be used for most of the time? How much time is spent in front of the monitor? Once you’ve sorted out these details you can start planning your shopping list of furniture and equipment. What’s the best distance for a computer monitor? Current thinking says it’s as far away as possible while still being able to read it clearly. Longer distances relax the eyes. As for monitor height, the current recommendation is that eye height is the highest a monitor should be. A low monitor has been found to be more comfortable for the eyes and neck. Keyboard height doesn’t necessarily have to be at elbow height. Variation from elbow height is fine, especially in the lower-than-elbow direction. The keyboard doesn’t have to be at the front of the desk as long as the forearms are supported and the elbows aren’t resting on anything hard or sharp. If the keyboard is pushed back the work surface should be higher than elbow height. Chairs are particularly important when it comes to ergonomic considerations. It use to be thought that the chair should be at a height that allows the feet to reach the floor when the legs are bent 90 degrees at the knee. Although this is not harmful, the legs should move very often and not stay fixed in the 90-degree position. If the chair is at a good height but the keyboard height can’t be adjusted to elbow height or lower, then it’s necessary to adjust the chair upwards. In this case, a footrest is an option but footrests are not ideal because the feet only have one place to be and leg postures are limited. Now to posture. Is it really best to have an upright posture, with the hips at ninety degrees? Recent research supports the idea of a much wider hip angle with one hundred thirty degrees or so as an “optimum” angle. Sitting upright is actually less desirable than reclining. When reclining, the lower back muscles work less and the spine has to support less weight since some of the body weight is held up by the chair’s backrest. People who stand all day tend to have back problems and so do people who sit still all day. The traditional fifteen minute break every two hours or so isn’t ideal for someone who works at a keyboard all day. Very short breaks done very frequently – for example, 30-second breaks every ten minutes or so, relieve strain on the back from sitting. Having made the initial assessment, you may start looking for suitable purchases. Focus your attention on: – furniture with a range...

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Hold the Price and Keep the Customer

When it comes to setting prices the majority of businesses are followers, not leaders. If they raise prices it’s always with the fear that customers will be offended, but they’ll lower prices to keep a customer or get a new one. They’re usually more price-sensitive than their marketplace. Look at any price ‘war’ – it’s about sales volumes rather than profitability. If all a business had to do was get sales it could sell everything at a loss and keep going until its capital dried up. Price wars are a step in that direction. Prices have to cover certain costs as well as enable the business to make a profit. If a price charged to a customer doesn’t cover the costs of providing the product and contribute to the business’ profitability it’s effectively creating a loss center for the organization. Businesses should do their pricing with a focus on their own enterprise and not try to match what their competitors are doing. This isn’t to say that prices don’t have to be competitive, but that doesn’t have to translate into ‘lower’. There’s a lot more to a value proposition than just price. Good management maximizes the profits of the organization. There are many ways to do this, from reducing production costs to making better use of promotional funds. If the pressure’s on to cut prices there are several things to consider. The first is the customer the business is trying to satisfy. Price is obviously a consideration, but what else can they be given that won’t erode profits? First, the business must be good at what it does. This means being everything from providing a top-quality product to doing the paperwork correctly. Be scrupulously accurate in details like order confirmations and invoicing, and if the business makes a commitment to its customer it must be sure to honor it. What else can be done? Plenty! The human side of every relationship is critically important when it comes to fostering thoughts of changing suppliers. Establish a personal link between the customers and the business – little things like Christmas cards and the occasional telephone call can be just as bonding as a low price, and a lot more pleasant over the long term. No business can please every customer. There are some customers that will simply not be worth pursuing a relationship with. Those who buy on price alone will only be with the business as long as it can come in below the best offer someone else has given them. This is not going to be the type of customer that will ever make a meaningful contribution to profits. Be open with customers. In a B2B situation they’re in business too and should understand that a profit is necessary to stay in business so there’s no need to apologize for wanting to make one. Give customers an idea of where costs originate and how important it is to them that money is spent on things like service areas and the quality of ingredients. A business should be selective in choosing its customers. It’s safe to say that if a prospective customer has a reputation for having the lowest-price offering they’ll probably be looking for other businesses to trade with them on the same basis, and that’s not the best customer to have. Businesses can sell the same product in different ways. If a customer wants to minimize the price they pay for a product, the business can work with them to do this. It might be possible to reduce a unit price if they order less frequently in larger...

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How to get your customers to say WOW!

Consumers are more informed than ever before, and acutely aware of their options. An essential ingredient for success in any business is customer service that attracts a “wow” reaction. Successful business people are constantly looking for new ways to delight their clients. They are always on the lookout to discover the response hot buttons that turn people on. As customers, we can all recognize outstanding customer service when we experience it. But there are still many businesses that do not reach minimum standards. Not surprisingly, there are some individual consumers who hanker for a return to the types of service that the typical old-style corner grocer used to offer in the 1940s and 1950s. The trader of yesteryear used to take a personal interest. He would know that your grandma was sick and would inquire about her. He’d put unusual or hard-to-get items aside for particular customers. He’d dole out broken biscuits for the kids. He looked after everyone’s needs and in so doing was an identity in the customer household. He truly did have a relationship with his customers. Today it is all so much more complex. If you sometimes feel that people try to complicate the simple truths of service excellence, then you are probably right. In fact there are just a few key concepts for setting any business on the path to service excellence. “Listening to customers” is probably the first of these. Astute business people recognize that they cannot afford to bury their heads in the sand. If they ignore the changing demands and expectations of customers they are asking for trouble. There is plenty of research indicating that people have significantly higher expectations as customers than they did just five years ago. These rising expectations create additional pressures for team members in service delivery – especially those in front office. While formally commissioned market research is important for getting to know the wants and needs of your customer base, there is no substitute for being at the frontline and listening to the random concerns and the nuances that are expressed by the people who are supporting your business. It is also important to be receptive to suggestions from new team members, who may have a different perspective. Recruits have the advantage that they are seeing the company set-up and procedures with “new eyes” – just as new customers see it. Beyond listening to customers, “keeping promises” is also a critical key element of good customer service. In personal relationships, the surest way to destroy trust is to break promises. Similarly, in business, it is an essential element of basic customer service to always keep promises. It is important to manage customer expectations and much better to under-promise and over-deliver rather than vice-versa. Customers are “big” enough to live with delays or shortages occasionally – it is all a matter of how these things are presented. What they don’t like is being misled or messed around with. When they are told delivery will take place at a particular time on a particular day, they expect that promise to be kept. One definition of service is “to be useful.” This approach fits in very well in the marketplace. Most team members can more readily embrace the service concept if they think of it as being useful. Empowering people in the front office is another key element. When put in place effectively by a manager who has confidence in his people, empowering can have multiple benefits. It is great for customers who get hassles resolved on the spot. It conveys positive vibes to customers who get the...

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Analyzing an Industry’s Trends

To plan the future of your business you need to be aware of where your industry is going and track the trends that are taking place. Industry trends can change quickly and require intensive and ongoing analysis to determine just what’s happening. For instance, a sudden drop in an industry’s sales commission rates combined with a reduction in minimum order size and a big increase in outstanding debtors would indicate a shift of power to consumers and a consequent weakening in prices. All very important if you are in that industry and trying to work out your new price list or produce a catalogue of merchandise for the next season. Trend analysis is conducted on many levels – global, national and local. In today’s business world you need to have an understanding of all three types of trends to position your business for greatest advantage. It’s beyond the ability of most SMEs to conduct their own research for a comprehensive analysis of their industry. Fortunately there are many sources of statistics and data on most industries that are available to tap for the information you need. This article is a brief introduction to the methodologies of DIY industry trend analysis. Define your industry Start by defining your industry in as much detail as possible. Now the research can begin. Trade Journals Every industry has its own trade publications. These can be produced by industry associations or by publishers targeting members of a particular industry. This type of publication is often very restricted in its geographic coverage. There could well be a separate publication for each state or region, and it’s a good idea to get as many different journals as you can to obtain the widest possible picture. Your local library will often be a good place to start searching for a list of available titles. Even the advertisements in a trade journal can be a good guide to an industry’s trends. “New” or “Just Released” can indicate a hot new product or service that will have an industry-wide impact in the near future. Editorials and other ‘comment’ types of content are also likely to give indications of major trends that are just now or will soon be affecting an industry. The Financial World People who invest large sums of money in the financial markets are very big on monitoring industry trends. Analysts pore over data on every industry segment to see what’s successful and what’s on the decline, often to a very high degree of detail. Much of this information is available free or at very low cost in business journals and financial newspapers and is a good source of knowledge about national and international trends. If you’re an active investor and have a stockbroker you can always go to them for industry advice; they have access to analytical reports that often don’t go into print. The Internet Log on to the internet and go to your favorite search engine. Key in the name of your industry and wait for thousands of websites to show up. You will soon find that too much information is the problem. This is why you have to refine the definition of your industry and get down to specifics. Google’s ‘Advanced Search’ lets you stipulate additional words or terms to search for as well as those words you want to leave out of the search. Be sure you only visit sites with information that’s up-to-date. Too many older documents are still alive long past the time they became irrelevant. If a date isn’t there don’t accept it as being current information. Also, be...

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Be a Better Communicator

What is communication? The dictionary definition is usually something like: “The exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, signals, writing, or behavior”, but it could also be characterized as “Something most of us could be a lot better at doing”. Effective communication is essential to business success. Whether it’s writing a letter to introduce yourself to a prospect or briefing your sales team, you need to communicate clearly to get your points across and motivate others. For most of us there is some room for improvement in our communication skills. Here are some pointers that can help in the different areas we might be called upon to use in business. Speaking without fear It’s interesting how most of us dread speaking in front of an audience and yet manage to speak with one or two people very easily. The secret to overcoming this reluctance is to be prepared – work out in advance what you want to say and rehearse it until it sounds natural to you. Always keep your audience in mind. They not only listen to what you say but how you say it, and your tone of voice and body language can be telling quite a different story to your words. There’s a lot more to oral communication than just words. Practice speaking clearly and let your emotions enter into what you’re saying. Emphasize important points with gestures and vocal inflections. This keeps your speech from becoming a dull monologue in which the highlights are buried. Think about what you’re going to say before you say it. If you have an important meeting coming up then be sure you’re up to speed on the topic being discussed. This will give you confidence as well as making what you say more interesting. Avoid jargon and using complicated words or sentence structures to impress others. Just speak naturally and don’t rush what you say. Always maintain eye contact with your audience – regardless of whether it’s one person or an auditorium full of people. You can learn a lot about how you speak by talking to yourself in front of a mirror. It’s the fastest way to find out whether you’re the kind of person you’d like to have a conversation with. Get it right when writing Writing is a lot like speaking. The purpose is the same – to communicate a message to other people. Although it’s not done face-to-face many of the same principles apply. You still need to organize your thoughts and put them down in such a way that readers can understand what you’re telling them. Every piece of written communication deserves the same degree of consideration whether it’s an email, a brief note or a whole volume. Write to your audience in terms they’ll understand, and don’t use terminology that might confuse them. Everyone seems to be time poor these days so get to the point as quickly as possible. You can outline the points you want to get across at the beginning of the communication, and then follow up with supporting facts and details. One all too frequent aspect of modern communications is the number of errors in spelling they contain. Since most of what you write is done on a word processor, learn how to use the spell check function and use it on everything you write. But even then, be aware that it won’t pick up everything, so you should still review your text carefully one more time after the spell check. Just as with your oral presentations, avoid using jargon and complicated words or sentence structures. Write...

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Can you really create customers for life?

Ask most business owners whether they think any of their customers will remain with them for the life of their businesses and they’ll probably admit that it’s unlikely. They’ve seen customers come and go, and they know that their competitors are always trying to lure them away with offers that are sometimes impossible to match. Yet the concept of ‘customers for life’ remains with us as a tantalizing ideal that represents something we’d like to have if only we could. Perhaps then it’s best to view this concept as a target – something to aim for and do all we can to achieve. First, understand that the business creates its customers and in many ways determines how loyal they are. Businesses that are forever chasing new customers and neglect their existing ones are the worst at generating real customer loyalty. Businesses that look after their existing customers, on the other hand, still gain new customers through referrals and word of mouth. If there is a ‘secret’ to any business having customers for life, it’s there in the previous paragraph. Look after your existing customers and the new customers will find their way to your door. Prioritize every customer The proliferation of CRM programs and other customer-retention software makes it fairly easy to keep track of existing customers. For some businesses those customers represent the results of past expenditures that don’t require further investment – “We’ve got them and they’ll stay with us”, is the attitude. But nothing could be worse if you’re trying to create customers for life. These existing customers are the very ones that should be looked after the most and treated better than someone who shows up at your door for the first time. How many businesses put off an existing customer to impress a prospect? Unfortunately, this is precisely how most businesses behave. Make and keep your promises Go out of your way to make promises to your customers. That way you can be seen to be honoring your commitments when your delivery is made on time or your serviceman arrives as promised. Customers really appreciate being given specific times and dates for things to happen, and they appreciate even more having someone who keeps their promises. Always do a bit more Consciously strive to do more than what’s expected of you. When one of your regular customers gives you a big order, surprise them with a free delivery or an extra six months of warranty. Let it become a part of your thinking to always do more than what your customers expect; you’ll surprise them in a way that nobody else can duplicate. Invite your customers into the business There are many ways to get your customers closer to your business, and one of the best is to invite them in for a discussion about how you can serve them even better. This can be a kind of ‘market research’ session that gives them the opportunity to tell you how to become even more valuable to them – and of course, to become even harder to replace. Invite them to come to your office for a working lunch or perhaps for a drink and some nibbles after work. Show them around your office and let them see how many people are there to make sure they get what they want from your business. Introduce them to some of those people they talk to over the phone but would never meet otherwise. Keep in touch with updates Products are constantly improved, with better features and greater utility for purchasers. Whenever someone has bought a product...

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