November 2010

Help Make Productivity@Work More Productive

At Comcast, we appreciate your business and want to help you grow. To that end, our goal is to have Productivity@Work work hard for you, covering topics that are relevant to your business. If there are any topics you'd like to see covered in future issues, or you have comments or other suggestions, email us at Editor_at_newsletter@cable.comcast.com.


Features

Building Buzz on a Budget

Digital media can make it cheap and easy to generate word-of-mouth support

To borrow a phrase from the fashion industry, "Buzz is the new black." At least, it is for small businesses when it comes to firing up high-impact marketing on a low-dollars budget. Building buzz is all about getting people to talk about you, your company, your brand—and it's a great way to level the playing field with larger competitors.

"Social media and digital marketing, baby!" That's what Jim Joseph, author of The Experience Effect and president of Lippe Taylor Brand Communications, says it all boils down to these days. "It's so easy for small businesses to rival the big guys when it comes to marketing your brand via social media. If anything, they may even have a leg up because they can focus regionally," he says.

Joseph's emphasis on focus is important, and it's echoed by other buzz-building experts. Many counsel starting with a narrowly targeted segment of your market, engaging them through some clever or entertaining idea or gambit. Then you need to have the patience for that initial group to foment a word-of-mouth campaign that gradually spreads outward to a broader circle of customers and prospects. Hitting your initial target with multiple messages that underline your concept can help amp up the buzz factor, but the messages should be carefully spaced and limited to two or three.

In Building Buzz to Beat the Big Boys: Word-of-Mouth Marketing for Small Businesses, authors Steve O'Leary and Kim Sheehan lay out what they describe as "a basic roadmap to the process of creating word of mouth and building customer communities." It involves understanding your customers, communicating with them to foster loyalty, encouraging them to talk to others about your business, creating online and off-line customer communities, establishing and maintaining a commitment to those communities, and measuring results.

Customer communities help increase and reinforce customer loyalty, improve business performance and reduce marketing expenses. They can help insulate you from your competitors and increase employee loyalty, as well, O'Leary and Sheehan maintain. Customer communities engender positive word-of-mouth, which is the basic building block of buzz.

Social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and YouTube are excellent low-cost channels for buzz-building campaigns. "Use them smartly, and you can engage your customers like never before with special offers, unique products, educational information—anything that will get them more involved in your brand," Joseph says. "You can reward them for their loyalty and encourage them to share with their friends. That kind of marketing used to cost millions, but now it's just a few clicks away."

Don't overlook traditional media either, especially if there is something unique or newsworthy about your company's story. Building relationships with local media can boost your buzz-building efforts, as can "old school" efforts such as holding a press conference to showcase an exciting new product or service.

For more tips on building buzz on a budget, check out the Build Buzz and mintBlogger blogs. You can also read "Where Are Your Ad Dollars Better Spent: Google or Facebook?", "Generating Client Referrals," and "4 Ways to Master Social Media Marketing."


Developing a Truly Integrated Marketing Plan

Getting all parts of a marketing plan to work together compounds its power

Any business trying to reach an even slightly diversified target market these days must have an integrated marketing plan. "Unless you are targeting a highly homogenous group of people—and I mean highly homogenous—you are wasting your money if you're not pursuing integrated marketing," stresses Mike Hayes, chief strategy, operations, and development officer at Geomentum, a marketing agency that is part of Interpublic Group.

The range of media options available to small businesses today is expansive and includes print and online advertising, publicity, direct marketing, search marketing, social network marketing, email, event and person-to-person marketing, and more. While your business may not need to use all those components in its marketing program, it's important that you choose the ones best suited to your objectives, and that the ones you choose work in an integrated manner to complement each other.

The most important considerations in choosing which media to include in an integrated marketing plan are how likely your customers and/or prospects are to see a particular medium and how likely they are to respond to your offer or message in that channel, Hayes advises. Geomentum's research of the 10 largest U.S. retailers found that about 80% of a given store's sales come from customers living within a 14-minute drive, suggesting that if your business has a local focus, your marketing should, too. If your customer base and target market are more geographically dispersed, you'll need to cast a wider net.

Getting the right media mix together is an important step towards achieving synergy, and that's the real payoff of integrated marketing, says Becky Sheetz-Runkle, vice president of client services at Q2 Marketing, an interactive design agency. Especially when budgets are tight, it's critical that all elements of a program work together for maximum results, she says. Messaging consistency is critical to integrated marketing.

For example, if you are participating in a tradeshow that is important to your business, your direct mail, email marketing, and advertising efforts should all be keyed to that event rather than adhering to a predetermined drop schedule. "You'll spend the same amount of money, but you'll reach your audience more powerfully with a consistent message," Sheetz-Runkle explains. Now, when prospects come to your booth, they already have a favorable impression of your business, making them more likely to agree to a demo, sign up for more information, or maybe even close a sale. In addition, prospects who don't attend the show still have their perception favorably shaped by the power and messaging consistency of your integrated marketing effort.

If budgetary considerations limit the number of channels you can include in your integrated marketing plan, zero in on one or two that will allow you to maintain a significant presence and build awareness of your company's brand over time, recommends Gary Szenderski, senior partner at Szen Marketing. But integrated marketing's principles of consistency over time and simple, targeted messaging apply no matter how limited the plan's media mix might be.

For additional help in designing an integrated marketing plan, check out the "Ten Step Marketing Plan Template," and the resources located at the Online Marketing section at Inc.com.


Your Logo May Be Your Most Important Marketing Tool

First impressions count, and they often come from your logo

No matter what the medium—print, broadcast, online—your marketing message has just seconds to make an impression on consumers, and often it's competing with other stimuli vying for a piece of an ever-shortening attention span. The right logo can make the difference between engaging prospective customers and losing them to a competitor.

While logos are critically important, it's important not to confuse them with brands, points out Mark O'Brien, a principal in O'Brien Communications Group, a brand management and marketing communication firm. "A logo is like looking into a mirror," he says. "It is the first and arguably the most important impression of your brand. People do make emotional connections to brands. If you can't make that connection, you can't engender the kind of trust that leads to a buying a decision." Creating that connection should be a logo's primary objective.

When designing a logo, keep your products and services in mind. Ross Kimbarovsky, co-founder of crowdSPRING, a logo and graphics design firm specializing in small businesses, suggests asking these four questions when creating your logo, then incorporating the answers into the final design:

Erin Ferrer, principal and lead designer at Elf Design, says the right logo with the right characteristics will boost your visibility, credibility, and customer recall. These characteristics include consistency, memorability, meaningfulness, uniqueness, professionalism, timelessness, color contrast, unity, and scalability.

A good collection of articles on logo design can be found at elf design. You can also check out the Designing a Logo section at Inc.com.


Avoid "Ready, Fire, Aim!"

Market research lets you define your target, and it doesn't have to be expensive

No business can be all things to all customers. In order to market effectively, you have to define your target audience, and that takes research. But it doesn't have to be the big-bucks variety. Here are some free research strategies that can help you do a better job of defining and reaching your audience:


Profile

Perfect Promotion: Leading by Example

 

"At The Perfect Promotion, we practice what we preach," says Jody Ferrer, president of the West Hartford, Connecticut-based company. The Perfect Promotion helps its clients break through the clutter in an environment where people are bombarded with a growing number of marketing messages every day and are becoming increasingly inclined to ignore most of them. The company designs and creates imprinted apparel and promotional products and helps its clients develop strategic plans to maximize their value and effectiveness.

Promotional products and the marketing message they carry continue to work because people want them, Ferrer says. She cites research showing that 84% of people receiving a promotional item remember the name of the company imprinted on it, and 63% end up patronizing it. It's one of the few marketing channels that people actually ask to get. Once they do, they become de facto advertising channels for the business on the item. The cost-per-impression with advertising specialties is measured in pennies—sometimes less—making it an efficient marketing investment in any economy, she adds.

Ferrer uses the same approach to build buzz for The Perfect Promotion brand, relying on sponsorships, events, networking, an e-newsletter, affiliate relationships, and "lots and lots of imprinted apparel and promotional items," she says. Most of the company's leads come from referrals, and providers are always rewarded with a nice appreciation gift.

Comcast Business Class Internet and Voice services also play critical roles in Perfect Promotion's business strategy. "Our website creates a nice buzz around our Marketing Matters newsletter, which is also chronologically posted on our website," Ferrer says. "And the bulk of our communication is done by phone and email, both of which are supplied by Comcast. I value the personal relationship I have developed with our team at Comcast."


Productivity@Work Tip

How Can I Build a Website That Best Positions My Company?

 

Optimizing any site starts with functionality, making it easy for readers to access and navigate through. The best place start is with your foundation and ensuring your structural elements are in place. Here are some tips that can help ensure your site is well-organized and works for customers and prospects:

How can you get it all started? A Starter Web Hosting Package is included at no extra charge with your Comcast Business Class Internet service, making it easy and affordable to launch and build a website that works for your business. The package includes everything you need to get started, including a domain name and wizard-based SiteBuilder; 10 MB of storage space; 100 MB data transfer; three SiteBuilder web pages; a traffic-reporting tool; and much more.

Learn more about the Web Hosting packages available to Comcast Business Class Internet customers, please visit http://business.comcast.com/internet/website-hosting.aspx.

October 2010

Help Make Productivity@Work More Productive

At Comcast, we appreciate your business and want to help you grow. To that end, our goal is to have Productivity@Work work hard for you, covering topics that are relevant to your business. If there are any topics you'd like to see covered in future issues, or you have comments or other suggestions, email us at Editor_at_newsletter@cable.comcast.com.


Features

Capital Concerns: To Buy or Lease?

Total cost and tax implications are just two factors to consider

Real estate and vehicles are two obvious choices that spring to mind when it comes to leasing vs. buying for small businesses, but that only scratches the surface of the question. "A lot of people don't realize that just about any kind of business equipment can be leased," says Ralph Petta, chief operating officer of the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association (ELFA), a trade association representing the $550 billion equipment finance sector. "If it can be purchased, it can be leased—and that goes for everything from jumbo jets to telephone handsets."

When you lease a piece of business equipment, regardless of type, a finance or leasing company buys the asset, and you make predetermined monthly payments to that company for a specified period of time. In effect, you pay "rent" to use the asset. Unless your agreement includes conditions allowing you to buy the asset at the end of the lease period, which is fairly common with some vehicle leases, the asset reverts to the leasing company when the lease expires.

With buying, on the other hand, you lay out cash up front for the item, but you own the asset outright. You may choose to finance the purchase with a loan, which lowers your initial capital outlay, but while you will own the asset, the lender will hold a lien against it, and you will pay interest on the money you borrowed.

There are advantages to each approach. With leasing, you allocate the cost of a business asset across many months rather than tying up a large amount of cash that might be better used for other purposes, such as marketing or expansion. Many leases give you the flexibility to upgrade to new equipment at no or minimal cost if your technology needs change before the expiration of the lease agreement.

There may be tax advantages, since most lease payments can be taken as deductions in the year they are paid, while major purchases usually have to be depreciated over a period of several years. Leasing also puts responsibility for maintenance and repairs in someone else's hands, since most industrial and office equipment leases include ongoing maintenance, software upgrades, customer training, and support.

Buying outright eliminates monthly payments, lowering the fixed-expenses portion of your regular overhead, and may also result in a lower lifetime cost for some assets. There can be accounting and creditworthiness advantages, since owned equipment is carried on the books as an asset, while lease payments represent only a liability. For strongly profitable companies, buying may offer tax advantages; the write-off associated with certain owned equipment may be higher than the deduction leasing the same equipment would provide.

The buy vs. lease decision must be resolved on its own merits for each piece of equipment being considered, but as a general rule, it usually makes sense to "buy small, lease big," Petta suggests.

A good starting point is ELFA's educational website. Check out this useful calculator for weighing the financial implications of buying vs. leasing, and this spreadsheet can help you evaluate vehicle leases. To learn more about leasing technology, read "Should You Buy or Lease Computer Equipment for Your Business?"


Controlling Cash Flow with the "New" Bootstrapping

Often considered a startup strategy, it can play a longer-term role in business

Many entrepreneurs turn to bootstrap financing—tapping their own wallets and/or those of a small group of family and friends—in the early days of their business for a simple reason: It provides the best and fastest access to badly need cash. Traditionally, as businesses matured, they tended to move to other sources of financing, such as bank lines of credit and second-stage venture capital. But as a growing number of small businesses have discovered (or re-discovered) during the recent credit crunch, there's a lot to be said for playing with your own money.

"Bootstrapping, if you have the flexibility and financial resources to do it, keeps everything in your control," says John Reddish, a consultant and principal at Philadelphia-based Advent Management International, who specializes in helping entrepreneurs navigate transitional periods. "Commercial borrowing today, if you can even get it, requires greater documentation and a more onerous application process than ever before. Repayment terms are dictated by the lender and are completely outside your control." A growing number of small business owners are finding that the process takes so much time and energy, it distracts them from other important responsibilities.

Greg Gianforte, CEO of RightNow Technologies, a provider of on-demand customer experience solutions based in Bozeman, Montana, bootstrapped his venture with no external funding whatsoever until it was well established with 400 customers. Today it is a publicly traded company projecting 2010 sales of $175 million to $180 million. He points out that the benefits bootstrapping provides in a business's early days can continue as it matures. Chief among them are:

Of course, in order to rely on bootstrapping to finance ongoing operations to a meaningful extent, you must have a strong cash flow and a solid grasp of your overall financial position.

Links to several free, useful calculators, spreadsheets, and other resources on cash flow analysis and financial projections can be found at Excellence in Financial Management and Inc.com.


Take It Out in Trade

Bartering is one way to monetize inventory or services that might otherwise go to waste

If you are a business owner stuck with excess inventory or a professional with unfilled appointment slots on your calendar, you might want to consider bartering as a way to capture some value from resources that might otherwise have to be written off completely. Bartering is the original business model, and it's still got a lot to recommend it—especially in tough economic times.

"The most common reason business owners have for trading anything is excess capacity," says Don Mardak, founder and chief executive officer of International Monetary Systems Ltd. (IMS), a barter network with 14 offices serving 50 major U.S. markets. "Airlines with empty seats, hotels with empty rooms, accountants with unfilled time slots—they all go to waste if they can't sell them for cash. But barter lets you capture some value by trading with other businesses in the same position."

Most people think of bartering in terms of direct trade, (i.e., a chiropractor gives a spinal adjustment to an hotelier in exchange for a free room). The potential for such direct transactions is greatly limited by factors such as location, timing, and need. However, barter networks such as IMS and ITEX overcome those limitations by essentially monetizing the barter process. Network participants assign a "trade dollar" value to the products or services they want to sell, and buyers pay in appropriate amounts of their own products or services.

Mardak says that even with this kind of monetization, most bartering transactions remain fairly local, and that it takes a critical mass of 100-150 participants to make the process viable in a given market. Barter dollars are treated like cash for tax and accounting purposes (a barter purchase is deductible if the same purchase made with cash would be deductible), and barter exchanges issue 1099-B forms to participants at the end of the year.

To find barter exchanges in your area, check out barter journal Barter News's state-by-state listing of the country's exchanges.


Finding Financing Alternatives

If you're not ready to go to the bank or venture capitalists, there are other ways to raise funds

Access to capital for growth and continuing operations is always a challenge for small businesses, even more so during a recessionary economy. If you're not in a position to get bank or venture capital funding, here are some nontraditional sources you might consider:

To learn more about alternative funding, check out "Nontraditional Financing Sources."


Productivity@Work Tip

What Are the Basic Considerations in Switching to Microsoft Communication Services?

 

If you're thinking of switching to Microsoft Communication Services, available free of charge to Comcast Business Class Internet customers, the following brief Q&A can help get you ready to activate these services.

Learn more about switching to Microsoft Communication Services—including information about activation, mobile use, Outlook, use with Macs, security, and support. And check out this hands-on tutorial for information on activating your account, optimizing your use of email, connecting to mobile devices, and transferring and linking domains.

August 2010

Help Make Productivity@Work More Productive

At Comcast, we appreciate your business and want to help you grow. To that end, our goal is to have Productivity@Work work hard for you, covering topics that are relevant to your business. If there are any topics you'd like to see covered in future issues, or you have comments or other suggestions, email us at Editor_at_newsletter@cable.comcast.com.


Features

Keys to Being Faster to Market

Small businesses can leverage agility to stay ahead of larger competitors

In the traditional model of business competition, larger organizations used economies of scale to outperform their smaller competitors, often driving the little guys out of business. Think mom-and-pop retailers in the age of big-box retailing. While there are undeniable advantages to scale, smaller organizations have their own advantages, especially agility and flexibility. By leveraging those advantages in reacting to changing market conditions—and even anticipating them—small businesses can get a leg up on their larger competitors by being faster to market with the new products and services their customers crave.

"Small businesses, because of their size, agility, and cost structures, are often better positioned to serve niche markets than large corporations," notes the Intuit Corp. Future of Small Business report. Small businesses have the ability to develop deep customer knowledge and intimacy in narrow markets, which often are too small for larger competitors to serve effectively. The flexibility inherent in small businesses makes it easier for them to rapidly customize products and services tailored to the specific needs of their customers—an advantage most large companies simply cannot match.

"Speed is what we small businesses have going for us, among other things," asserts Adrian Miller, a sales consultant, trainer, speaker, and author based in Port Washington, New York. "We can be nimble because we have little or no internal politics to deal with, but many small business owners haven't quite yet become adept at leveraging this opportunity."

Miller counsels keying your business's approach to responsiveness to the e-commerce model consumers have widely embraced. "We're used to auto-responders acknowledging our purchases a nanosecond after we make them," she says. "So isn't it just plain wrong to make prospects and clients wait for days before replying to an email or call?"

Dan Markovitz, president of New York City-based TimeBack Management, suggests that large companies are "often sclerotic with meetings and long, complex approval chains," which causes them to be slow in reacting to market changes. Small businesses can take advantage of that in two ways, he says.

First, get out of the conference room, because that's not where the action is or where decisions should be made. "Small business owners and managers should go where the issue is—the customer's store, the production line, or the location where the service is being purchased," Markovitz says. "That's where they can actually see the unvarnished, unfiltered facts and make better decisions." Second: talk, don't email. Face-to-face communication is more efficient, more effective, and it carries less risk of confusion or miscommunication, which leads to fewer mistakes and faster action. Executives at large firms, typically buried in email, don't have this option, he notes.

For more tips on being faster to market, check out "Fast to Market: Bringing New Products and Services to the Market Faster Than Your Competitors."


Expand Your (Market) Reach

There are many ways to enter new markets, each with its own set of considerations

The early days of many small business startups often look like a lifeboat drill, with the owners scrambling to grab enough customers and line up sufficient operating capital just to keep the doors open. Most then settle into a survival mode, generating a steady stream of income capable of supporting the owners and keeping the business afloat, but not much else. Perhaps surprisingly, most small businesses never venture beyond that stage, according to research by the U.S. Small Business Administration. For those that do, important decisions have to be made regarding growth and how to expand your market reach.

As in investing, there is an inverse relationship between risk and reward when it comes to various approaches to market expansion. Organic growth—positioning yourself to capitalize on additional opportunities within your current marketplace—is a low-risk option, but the potential reward is "exponentially smaller" than some other options, says James Sinclair, principal at Los Angeles-based OnSite Consulting. A more radical approach involving leveraged moves may result in greater exposure and risk, but it also creates opportunities for bigger rewards.

Some market expansion strategies worth considering are:

Small business owners also have different options available when it comes to executing a market expansion strategy, such as opening additional locations, setting up e-commerce operations and engaging in strategic partnerships. Shel Horowitz, a small business consultant based in Hadley, Massachusetts, suggests exploring the partnership approach before any other. "See if you can find another business already active in a market or audience segment you'd like to reach. If you can structure a deal that makes it advantageous for a partner to put your products or services in front of its customers, you both win," he says.

To learn more about market expansion, read "How to Develop a Business Growth Strategy," "How to Decide Whether Your Business Should Build or Buy," and "To Grow, or To Steal"


If U Cn Rd Ths, U Can Advrtse!

Text messaging can be an inexpensive and effective advertising tool

Almost 90% of Americans own mobile phones. They send and receive about 3.5 billion text messages a day, and about 70 million people use their mobile phones to go online every month, according to a report by Opus Research. In some respects, mobile is a medium that is already bigger than the Internet. So way aren't more businesses using it as a marketing tool?

Good question, says Greg Sterling, author of the report, since SMS ("short messaging system," the technical term for texting) is more versatile and effective than traditional Internet advertising, generating response rates that can run two to 10 times higher. The number of Americans who are regular SMS users is double the number who access the mobile Internet, and consumers—especially younger ones—exhibit growing levels of acceptance to SMS advertising because of its opt-in nature.

Market researcher eMarketing projects that all U.S. mobile advertising spending will almost triple, to $1.56 billion, between 2010 and 2013, with the vast majority of that growth coming from messaging-based advertising (as opposed to display and search). Keys to successful SMS marketing include keeping messages short and carefully targeted and sending them only to recipients who opt to receive them, experts say. SMS is versatile and can be used for branding, customer acquisition, customer loyalty, and direct marketing.

You don't have to be a techno-whiz to get started in SMS marketing, either. A number of companies offer turnkey and/or customized programs, including ChaCha, HipCricket, 4Info, and SmartReply. And the Interactive Advertising Bureau offers a comprehensive Mobile Buyers Guide you can download for free at http://www.iab.net/iab_products_and_industry_services/508676/mobile_guidance/mobile_buyers_guide.


Greater "Ear Share" Means More Share of Mind

Smart marketers are reaching prospects through their MP3 players

Next time you're on a bus, subway, or commuter train, count the number of people listening to MP3 players. Many of them are likely listening to Green Day or Lady GaGa, but a substantial number are probably listening to podcasts. Podcasting is a subtle marketing channel that can be particularly effective for companies with a long sales cycle, and just about any small business can use podcasts as a way to engage customers and prospects without a hard-sell approach.

There's lots of help available with the nuts and bolts of podcasting's technological aspects at sites like podcastFAQ, Everything with Podcasting, and How to Start Your Own Podcast. And a cottage industry of podcast consultants and coaches has sprung up for those who need a higher level of hand-holding. What's most important about using podcasting as a marketing channel, however, is getting the message right.

"Yes, podcasts can be a great tool for small businesses to reach their target customers, build relationships, increase credibility, and generate more revenues," says Scott Fox, a successful author, podcaster, and entrepreneur. "But the podcast must be engaging enough to get them to listen to it in the first place."

Keep in mind that an MP3 player is primarily an entertainment device for most people, so podcasts have to be interesting and engaging at least—and entertaining at best—in order to win many listeners. There are many different formats you can use, including Q&As, thought leadership pieces and amusing slice-of-life anecdotes, but whatever topic you choose, make sure it relates back to your business in some way.

To make it easy for your intended targets to find your podcasts, consider listing them in a directory such as Podcast Alley or Digital Podcast, and of course post links to them on your website.


PROFILE

Berry Built + Design: Fueling Growth with Business Class Internet

 

Berry Built + Design is a family owned and operated business in Spokane, Wash., that specializes in designing and building custom kitchens and baths. Like many firms in the building trades, it has seen growth slow as a result of retrenchment in the housing market recently. But company president Matt Berry is looking to the future and making plans to expand the firm's market reach when economic conditions improve, and he's counting on his Comcast Business Class Internet service to help achieve his goals.

"Our plan is to resume expansion when customer demand starts to pick up again," Berry says. "We hope to expand our reach, attract more customers and capture a larger share of the market, and we have all the tools in place to make that happen. Our innovative and intimate approach to design and planning, our products and materials, and our highly skilled people set us apart."

Berry Built + Design already relies heavily on the speed of Comcast Business Class Internet to share large design files and photos with clients, to conduct research, and to stay abreast of the latest innovations in its industry through continuing education and interaction with fellow members of the National Kitchen and Bath Association. As it refocuses on growth and expansion, that service will become even more important.

"'Crucial' is the word I would use to describe it," Berry says. "The speed, reliability and excellent customer service we get with Comcast Business Class Internet are vital to our market research, product knowledge and client communication efforts. It plays an important role in much of what we do and are trying to achieve. It's a wonderful way to stay connected to the rest of the world and an economical alternative to traveling to trade shows."

July 2010

Help Make Productivity@Work More Productive

At Comcast, we appreciate your business and want to help you grow. To that end, our goal is to have Productivity@Work work hard for you, covering topics that are relevant to your business. If there are any topics you'd like to see covered in future issues, or you have comments or other suggestions, email us at Editor_at_newsletter@cable.comcast.com.


Features

Building a Budget from the Ground Up

A bottom-up approach to budgeting is the best way to track and channel funds

Professional accountants call it 'zero-based' budgeting and liken it to starting out with a blank piece of paper. But no matter what you call it, building a budget from the ground up is the best way to go for most small businesses.

One of the biggest benefits this approach provides is that starting at the lowest level of detail forces you to think about the need and relative importance of every expenditure your business makes, says Roger Kohl, a partner at B2B CFO, a company providing part-time financial professionals in Springfield, New Jersey. "You start by questioning the underlying basis supporting each individual item, and in coming up with the rationale for including it, you list all the alternatives you've considered," he explains.

Some line items, such as rent, will be obvious, but analysis of even these seemingly straightforward expenses can be thought-provoking: Does your current location represent the best deal you can get? Could you run your business as well from a cheaper location? Could it be home-based?

The same analysis should be applied to all basic line items, including utilities, phone and Internet service, maintenance, etc. Some basic business services were once actual or virtual monopolies but now have competing providers, which is driving prices down in some areas. Zero-based budgeting helps you discover those potential cost savings.

Zero-based budget analysis can provide significant savings opportunities in more complex areas, such as IT system support, Kohl suggests. "You look at your budget and see you have earmarked a certain amount of money for, say, outsourced system support. But this approach forces you to consider all alternatives on a very micro level. Would it be cheaper to bring it in-house? If you have a new client that drives a spike in IT services usage but only a few times a year, maybe a combination of in-house and pay-as-you-go outside support is the most cost-efficient approach."

The alternative to zero-based budgeting is incremental budgeting, a process by which current-year expenditures are allocated based on the prior year's spending. If you are spending $500 on a particular item this year, you might budget $525 for next year to account for price increases and conclude that's a reasonable amount. The problem with that approach is it assumes last year's spending was fundamentally sound. "It often overlooks alternative remedies and casts a blind eye towards changing market conditions," Kohl warns.

By pushing you to consider cheaper alternatives for all your business expenses, zero-based budgeting potentially frees up money that can be used for more strategic purposes, such as driving sales growth or expansion into new markets. Zero-based budgeting also encourages greater manager participation, fresh thinking, and responsibility in the budgeting process, and it promotes communication and awareness within the company, Kohl says.

Advocates of incremental budgeting might argue that it's easier and less political—a consistent company-wide salary increase is easier to defend than individual merit-based bumps, which have to be justified case-by-case, for example—but in the end, it has the effect of promoting a "spend it or lose mentality" and discouraging valuable line item analysis at the lowest level.

To learn more about creating a budget, check out "How to Set an Annual Budget" and "Budgets and Budgeting". These tools—"Twelve Month Cashflow Spreadsheet Template" and "Cash Flow Forecast"—can help you build cash flow worksheets and projections.


Keeping Business and Personal Finance Separate

There are important reasons to resist the temptation of looking at it all as "house" money

Anyone who's launched a small business knows that the expenses start before the business itself even gets off the ground. In some cases, funding for those initial expenses comes from a bank loan or venture capital backing, but most of the time it comes out of the owner's pocket. Using your savings account or credit card to pay for preparing a business plan or to put down a security deposit on a lease is a natural thing to do, but setting a precedent for commingling your own funds with those of your business can lead to trouble down the road.

"Mixing finances will distort the business financials and may lead to bad decisions with poor information," warns David Kirkup, a partner at B2B CFO in Alpharetta, Georgia, and a former divisional CFO at several Fortune 500 firms. Lax accounting practices also make it more likely employees will become aware of the owner's financial issues, which may lead to morale problems, jealousy, and even incentive to commit fraud. Kirkup recalls one client who had his Ferrari dealer fax the car's repair bill to the office fax machine at a time when he was haranguing the staff to cut costs. "It was one of the most dysfunctional environments I've ever encountered in a small business," he says.

One of the most important reasons to keep your business and personal finances separate is that your uncle insists on it—your Uncle Sam, that is. The IRS routinely declines to comment on what "red flags" trigger audits of small business returns, but experienced accountants say that commingling increases the odds of your return being singled out for closer scrutiny. That's because the IRS knows mixing personal and business funds creates a mess that is difficult to clean up and makes it more likely you have not properly reported income and expenses on your return. And when a federal auditor comes knocking, the state taxman often follows close behind.

Keeping your business and personal finances separate can also help with credit issues, on both fronts. If you want to apply for a personal loan, credit card, or home mortgage, you must be able to show a personal income stream. Likewise, securing a business loan or credit card is much easier if you can clearly demonstrate income and profits from your business. Lenders may still start by looking at your personal credit, but eventually you can build a solid credit history for your business that stands on its own.

If your business is incorporated, the IRS requires that you keep a separate commercial bank account for it, but even if you're not incorporated, it makes sense to do this. Having separate business and personal accounts makes tracking income and expenses for both entities much easier, and your accountant will thank you come tax time. (It will also help lower your tax-preparation bill).

If you are already commingling personal and business funds – and many small business owners are – the first step is to stop doing it. More advice on this topic can be found at "Untangling Your Comingling: How to Separate Personal from Business Finances".


Be Your Own PR Guru

Media types would rather speak with you than with your flack

"Too many people believe they absolutely must have a publicist who speaks on their behalf, but business owners—especially those who have something important to say – are often the best spokespeople for their companies," says Leslie Levine, a public relations pro with her own firm in Chicago. "However," she adds, "it's important for them to understand how PR works."

The key to doing that is to begin looking at yourself as someone who can fill a need for journalists. Figure out which publications, radio and TV stations, blogs and websites are most likely to be interested in the resources you can provide, then target reporters at those outlets. One resource often in demand by journalists is industry-specific expertise. Don't be afraid to offer yours, especially when another company in your industry is currently in the news, for any reason.

Self-directed PR campaigns should take a rifle rather than a shotgun approach. That is, they should be narrowly targeted to media outlets most likely to be receptive to your message. Like professionals in most other businesses these days, journalists are trying to do more with less, and there is increasing pressure on their time. Bombarding journalists with pitches that have no relevance to what they cover is a sure-fire strategy to alienate them. Listing yourself as a subject matter expert available for interviews at ProfNet and HARO can make it easy for the right reporters to find you.

For more tips on do-it-yourself PR, check out "How to Manage Your Own PR".


Can You "Learn" Sales? Yes!

Some people are born with a knack for selling, but the rest of us can learn it

John Martinka, founder and vice president of "Partner" On Call Network, a Kirkland, Washington-based national consulting group, says he is the perfect example of the "yes" answer to this question. He spent the early part of his career on the buying side of the sales equation but needed to learn sales to pursue a consulting career. Being a consultant, he says, "means nothing happens until I make a sale." He did it through training, coaching, and studying, and says three things make all the difference.

Matthew Modleski, a former U.S. Air Force pilot who flew as a member of the Thunderbird Team, teaches sales and leadership skills to giant companies like Johnson & Johnson but says the principles are the same for any size enterprise. It boils down to the level of commitment on the part of the student, what sales approach will be used, and how it will be adapted to the individual's talents. Now a principal with the consulting firm of Stovall Grainger & Modleski in Centreville, Virginia, he offers more advice and articles on the firm's website at http://www.sgbci.com/articles/building.asp. Another good source for information on critical selling skills is "The 5 Critical Selling Skills".


PROFILE

Marathon Food Group: Meeting Multi-Location Challenges with Comcast Business Class Services

 

If you're in center-city Philadelphia, and you're hungry, thirsty, or planning a party, there's a good chance you'll end up dealing with the Borish brothers, Jon and Cary. They currently operate five Marathon Grills; Marbar, the premier event space in the University City area; the flagship Marathon on the Square restaurant on Rittenhouse Square; and a thriving catering business. Their mother started the venture with a single restaurant more than 25 years ago, and the brothers began working in the family business while they were teenagers. They've grown it into a local dining icon in the City of Brotherly Love, and they're not done yet.

"Our energies right now are focused on professionalizing the operation and bringing in a new management team," says Cary Borish. "We're trying to make things as good as they can possibly be from a conceptual angle. When we're done with that, we'll be looking at expansion again."

Hospitality is a tough business, and the Borish brothers face a constant stream of challenges. Managing their half a dozen restaurants and related businesses is a juggling act, and Cary says they wouldn't be able to do it without help from Comcast Business Class services. They use Comcast Business Class Phone and Internet in all their locations and TV in four of the six restaurants.

"The phone service is very straightforward, and it's helping us reduce our expenses," he says. "We feel that it's very important to have television in eating and drinking establishments right now, and we wouldn't be able to conduct our business without fast, reliable Internet service. Comcast Business Class does a great job of meeting our needs in all those areas. The value for the dollar and customer service are outstanding. Everyone we deal with is receptive to our needs and very responsive. "

May 2010

Help Make Productivity@Work More Productive

At Comcast, we appreciate your business and want to help you grow. To that end, our goal is to have Productivity@Work work hard for you, covering topics that are relevant your business. If there are any topics you'd like to see covered in future issues, or you have comments or other suggestions, email us at Editor_at_newsletter@cable.comcast.com.


Features

Unique Selling Proposition (USP)—Your Competitive Advantage

 

To capture a larger market share and be viable, sustainable and profitable, you absolutely need to differentiate or distinguish your business, products and/or services from your competitors. In other words, you need to make your business special in the eyes of your customers and prospects.

You can do this by creating what's called a "Unique Selling Proposition" (USP) and then effectively conveying that USP to your target market via your marketing efforts and business performance. It's particularly crucial if you're operating in a highly competitive market.

A USP is a concise statement about the advantages you bring to your customers that differentiate you from your competitors. It's also the focal point around which the success and profitability of your business is built, so you must be able to state it and fulfill it effectively.

In terms of developing your USP, start your process by asking some key questions: "What's the one thing that makes your business unique and distinct?" "Why should people buy from you and not from your competitors?" "Do you promise great value, benefits or service?"

The USP should be stated in terms of the benefit, or benefits, you deliver to your customers. It may be a broad range of product selection, superior customer service, highest quality, best prices, etc. When formulating and implementing your USP, it's worth considering the following components:

Competing on price and service alone is no longer effective because potential customers can likely get what you have to offer much cheaper and with a better service somewhere else. What you really need is to be different and unique in order to outperform your competitors. A good USP-one that's clear and defines exactly what advantages your customers can expect from doing business with you-can drive your marketing efforts and have a profound impact on your operations.

Special thanks to Larry Lim, founder of online marketing firm MarketingSphere, for his contributions to this article.


How to Improve Your Site's Search Engine Optimization:
Finding Search Terms

 

Trying to improve your website's search engine ranking can seem a bit like the quest for romance. Like people looking for love, websites looking for a high search ranking can find it many different ways and with varying degrees of success. As with romance, you don't need to spend a lot of money; your intrinsic appeal matters more than the size of your investment. And, as with love, you can't achieve a high search engine ranking once and then never worry about it again. Search engine optimization (SEO) is an ongoing effort, and the more you work at it, the better it will be.

Words are the cornerstone of an effective SEO strategy, so one of your first tasks is to determine exactly what word or phrase searches bring customers to your site. If your business sells umbrellas and galoshes, do you get the most benefit from searches of "umbrella" or "rain gear?"

WARNING: Don't get so obsessed with keywords that your page becomes a mass of search terms with just a few other words stringing them together. Your main objective is to appeal to human visitors, so you should limit yourself to a few very effective keywords per page. Remember that each page has a different focus, and each should be optimized accordingly: Optimize for "raincoat" on the raincoats page, "rain boots and galoshes" on the footwear page, etc. Needless to say, trickery such as white-on-white text to fool search engines is a bad idea. It will only serve to get your page downgraded.

To learn more about SEO check out:

For finding your best keywords:


Why Website Clarity and Ease-of-Use Matter

 

Since you only have a few seconds to engage your visitors and keep them on your site, it's important that your value proposition and intent be clear the instant customers hit your homepage, says Winston Binch, partner/managing director of Interactive at Miami-based advertising and design agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Great visual design, animation, and pretty pictures can always enhance a website, but you need to take your business's message into consideration, too.

"Don't underestimate the expressive power of simple language," Binch says. "For example, take a look at Facebook's homepage; they do a really good job of making their service obvious the moment you arrive. Since the first text you see on the login page proclaims, Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life, it's pretty hard to confuse what they're selling."

"The Internet is cluttered with bad websites," Binch adds. Make yours one of the most usable, and you'll attract an audience and form lasting relationships with your customers." He recommends that your website focus on easy-to-use site navigation and on creating pages that achieve quick download times. Readable text throughout, and share functionality (which will allow a user to post something from your site on Twitter or Facebook) is a helpful addition, too, he notes.

For more on website design-including the homework you can do to make sure it performs the way you want-read "10 Vital Items You Should Give Your Web Designer."


Know Thy (Corporate) Partner

 

Partnering has its advantages. If you're thinking about approaching a large company to become a strategic partner with your business, you need to answer two key questions: What are the needs of that company, and will that company believe you can help it?

When Ruth Owades started Calyx & Corolla, a mail order flower catalog based in San Francisco, she knew she'd need big partners-growers to provide the product and overnight couriers to deliver it. So she researched both industries to make sure she understood their pressures. To growers, she'd offer sporadically heavy but consistent business. "We get them orders the day after Valentine's Day," she says. For the shipping industry, she focused on the increased competition wrought by online ordering. "When I was in business school I studied the startup case of an overnight delivery service. I knew overnight couriers were having to change their mindset; they had filled their planes with lovely flat envelopes and now had to adapt to the challenge of moving boxes."

As the founder of successful catalog Garner's Eden, Owades was confident she was being realistic about her goals. Within about three months of negotiation, she had her growing and shipping relationships in place.

To learn more about building sustainable, sound partnerships, check out "How to Structure a Partnership."


PROFILE

Realty Gallery Signature: Reducing Costs with Comcast Business Class

 

Realty Gallery Signature is a busy real estate agency headquartered in Chattanooga and serving parts of Tennessee and Georgia. It handles residential and commercial properties, lots and land, subdivisions and multifamily dwellings, and works with many real estate investors. Robin Peterson, the owner of Realty Gallery Signature, was intent on cutting costs when she bought the company in 2008.

At the same time she looked to streamline expenses, Peterson also had a focus on improving productivity. The steps she took included:

*Savings are based on comparison between Comcast Business Class voices rates and standard telephone company rates. Actual savings depends on the plan you choose.

April 2010

Help Make Productivity@Work More Productive

At Comcast, we appreciate your business and want to help you grow. To that end, our goal is to have Productivity@Work work hard for you, covering topics that are relevant your business. If there are any topics you'd like to see covered in future issues, or you have comments or other suggestions, email us at Editor_at_newsletter@cable.comcast.com.


Features

Creating the Perfect Customer Experience

Customer service is important, but it's just the starting point in today's competitive climate

The "perfect" customer experience represents a sort of Holy Grail for most businesses: They're not sure it actually exists, but they're convinced it's something worth striving for. Many experts agree on both counts. Perfection is an elusive state relative to customer experience-if it's ever reached at all, it doesn't last long. Things change quickly in today's multifaceted business environment, and customers interact with your business through multiple touchpoints, so you constantly need to monitor and make adjustments to your customer experience efforts.

"The starting point for improving customer experience is to literally map all the experiences a customer considering buying your product or service might have," says Rita McGrath, an associate professor at Columbia Business School in New York. She suggests looking critically at all the steps you require for someone to become a customer and eliminating any that aren't absolutely critical. For example, if you market via the web, try to make do with the most minimal information until the customer is actually ready to buy. "Most small business owners are astonished at the number of roadblocks that exist in what I call the 'consumption chain' when they are pointed out to them," she says.

Stormy Simon, senior vice president of marketing and customer care at Overstock.com, led a reorganization of the online retailer's customer care department that transformed it into a nationally recognized leader. The keys to her efforts, she says, are the same things small businesses should focus on to improve their customer experience. "Listen to what your customers say, communicate your vision to all customer-facing employees, let them know what your expectations are and invest in the tools, technology and training they need to meet those expectations."

As important as those internal considerations are, there are also keys to your external message:

Finally, as with most things in business life, it's possible to "over-think" your attempts to improve customer experience. "Positive customer experiences don't have to involve over-the-top practices," notes Doug Meyer, chief customer officer at Sage North America. "Often, getting the basics right consistently across all touchpoints will go a long way toward creating strong customer loyalty."


Features

Finding Your 'A' List Customers Offers Many Rewards

Allocating customer resources according to expected return is critical for small businesses

While the Declaration of Independence declares that all men are created equal, any business owner can tell you that all customers are not. Take the time to identify the characteristics of your best customers, and make the effort to seek out more of them. Doing so can result in greater customer loyalty, higher sales per transaction and increased profits.

One of the key ingredients of formal strategic planning is defining your customer. This is particularly important for small businesses because most simply don't have the time, resources or personnel to take a "shotgun" approach-peppering every potential customer with marketing materials-to prospecting, says Chicago-based Ray Silverstein, author of The Small Business Survival Guide and founder of PRO, a small-business peer group advisory board organization.

"Lack of focus is a problem that often comes up at our meetings," he says. "Companies try to be too many things to too many customers, thereby missing the chance to target their best potential customer. Ask yourself who is most likely to buy your product or service, what their characteristics are and what your capabilities to supply them are. In sales and marketing, the key is to hunt with a rifle, not a shotgun."

He adds that this philosophy applies to existing customers as well as new ones. You should not provide equal service to all customers because not all customers are of equal value to you. "Classify your customers, and reserve your very best priority service for customers on your 'A' list," he counsels.

Identifying your best customers depends on several variables, some of which may be specific to your industry, location, size and other factors. Start by determining the criteria that are most important to your company, such as sales potential, profitability, payment history, ease of doing business, etc.

Suzie Boland, president of RFB Communications Group, a Tampa, Florida-based public relations agency, has profitability at the top of her list. Next, in descending order of importance, are:

Rick Chess, managing partner at Chess Law Firm in Richmond, Virginia, also suggests focusing on customers who:

Joseph Andreula, who owns 18 gyms in New York and New Jersey and an online boxing supply company, is even more pragmatic. He asks three questions about his customers:

"Anyone who shows up in the top 20% on all three lists fits the profile of your best customer," he says.

Before you can figure out what your best customer looks like, you need to do a little self-examination, advises Paul Kurnit, a consultant and professor of marketing at Pace University's Lubin School of Business. "What's your brand positioning? What do you do particularly well? What makes you unique? Who is your competition? What makes you more attractive to customers than your competitors? You need to answer these questions first," he says.

Ironically, many companies provide their best service to their worst customers. "The customers that hassle you most-those on your 'F' list-may be getting your best 'A' list service," Silverstein says. "There is both a direct and indirect cost to servicing a customer, and you should assess both. Those that pay late, require maximum handholding and return little or no profitability represent an opportunity cost. Why miss out on 'A' level service opportunities at the expense of problematic 'F' list customers?"


Profile

ProForma Anchor: Getting Superior Service Right, Right Away

The printer relies on Comcast to deliver on its promises to customers

Many businesses are focused on improving their customer experience, but for ProForma Anchor Printing & Promotions in Tallahassee, Florida, it's the key focus. "We always want to get it right the first time," says owner Bill Parsons. "We'd rather work on that than anything else."

The customer experience at ProForma Anchor is built on unparalleled service. "That's what separates us from our competition," Parsons says. "Our No. 1 goal is 100% satisfaction, and it starts with customer service." That means fast response, problems consistently solved to the customer's satisfaction, pleasant conversations and "just having customers know they will be treated with respect and courtesy when they do business with us," he explains.

That strategy has served the company well over almost a quarter century in business. It is in the top 2% of its industry, and the business has grown every year except 2009, when sales were down 7% overall. "Even so, our profits were up 2% in 2009," Parsons says. "Comcast has saved us money on both phone and Internet services, and cutting expenses was an important factor in helping us achieve that profit improvement last year."

Part of the company's objective of constantly improving customer experience includes process improvement, an ongoing endeavor at ProForma Anchor, and one that's seamlessly melded into its "get it right the first time" efforts. "We are always looking for better ways to answer customers' questions and come up with creative solutions for their needs," Parsons acknowledges.

Central to the company's efforts to provide a superior customer experience are the Business Class services it receives from Comcast. "We couldn't do what we do without phone and Internet service that we know we can rely on, and that's what we get from Comcast," Parsons says. "If we don't get back in touch with our customers in a timely manner, we feel our customer service is lacking. So it's critical that our phone and Internet work reliably, and based on our experience with Comcast, we feel confident about our communications service."

ProForma Anchor moved into its current office about two years ago and had another phone and Internet company install the lines and provide service initially. "It was a total mess," Parsons recalls. "After putting up with them for about two months, we called Comcast. From then on, our service has been great. Our Internet from Comcast fits our needs very well. It's fast, dependable, and backed up with excellent customer service 24 hours a day. If it could have coffee ready for us when we get to work in the morning, it would be perfect," he quips.

Parsons also takes advantage of the Microsoft Communication Services included in his Business Class package at no charge. "We are especially dependent on Outlook," he says. "We can sync it with our mobile devices, and it keeps our calendar, email and address book up-to-date. Having access to that information 24/7 is a must for us."

The many features included in Comcast Business Class Voice also help ProForma Anchor meet its customer service goals. "The caller ID comes in handy," Parsons notes. "It's good to know who's calling so we can be prepared to help them with their issues. The voice services that Comcast provides are excellent."

Being so focused on providing excellent customer service, Parsons is quick to recognize it when he's on the receiving end, which he says he has been with Comcast. "We've called after hours and on weekends, and we've always had our issues taken care of in a timely fashion," he says.


BUSINESS CLASS ADVANTAGE

Comcast Service: Quick, Convenient and Local

Business Class customers benefit from a dedicated, 24/7service organization

An important part of the value equation many small businesses offer their customers is the convenience and personal attention that comes from dealing with a local provider. While Comcast isn't a small business, we do have one key characteristic in common: our focus on excellent, locally based service.

From your first encounter with a Comcast business representative through installation and setup (and whenever you need just about any kind of customer service), you're dealing with a local person. And that person, like every Comcast representative, is committed to providing you with the best possible experience at every touchpoint in your dealings with our company.

Since your needs differ from those of a residential customer, and the products and services you use are more complex, we've opted to support you largely through a dedicated organization separate from our residential operation. As a Business Class customer, the people with whom you interact at Comcast have specialized technical skills and the ability to resolve your issues in an expeditious manner, no matter how complex they might be.

Our support specialists receive in-depth training on how to deliver solutions to the challenges you, our valued business customers, face. In recruiting and hiring these associates, we look for individuals with the right mix of technical and people skills to work successfully with you. We help them keep both sets of skills sharp with ongoing training and development programs, always with the ultimate goal of making your customer experience the best it can be. Of course, you have access to this valuable, locally based resource 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which sets Comcast apart from some of our competitors.

Should you ever have a problem or question that requires you to contact one of our dedicated Business Services Customer Care centers, you can rest assured your inquiry will be handled in a timely manner by a highly trained staff member, someone who will treat you with respect and be able to assist you with whatever it is you are calling about.

"Our goal is to get you what you need in the quickest, most convenient way possible on the first call," says Nicole Anderson, Senior Director, Performance Management. "In fact, we've developed and deployed streamlined agent tools and training to make sure we can meet that objective. We understand that you're running a business. We understand that you have the right to expect more from your customer experience with Comcast-and to get it. And we understand that your (and your customers') time is valuable."

If you'd like to learn more about the efforts we are making to provide you with the best customer experience-or share your thoughts on this or any other topic-please visit our blog at blog.comcast.com.


BUSINESS CLASS ADVANTAGE

Get the Tools You Need, When You Need Them

Redesigned Comcast Business Class portal makes it easier than ever to access Microsoft Communication Services and other useful tools

If you are looking to find, install, activate and/or launch any of the productivity-enhancing tools such as Microsoft© Communication Services and NortonTM Business Suite included for no additional charge with your Comcast Business Class account, you will appreciate our newly updated customer portal. It's been redesigned to make it even easier to find whatever information you are looking for related to your Comcast account, whether you are a long-time customer or new to Comcast.

The new site features reorganized content and an easier-to-read appearance as part of our effort to provide you with a better customer experience. The changes are the result of testing we conducted with existing users, and we used those results to help us reorganize the site in a way that lets you find information and take action more easily. So whether you're looking to download Microsoft Outlook, set up a new domain name for a website or just check your email, all those options are right there on the main landing page after you log in.

Once you're logged in, you can set up a custom domain name, download Microsoft Outlook 2007 to your desktop, set up email addresses, build a Microsoft SharePoint site, download a very powerful security suite from Norton and even build your own website, among other things. We offer a variety of great tools and services that can benefit any small business, and you can choose to use some of these tools or all of them. Most of the resources we provide our customers are the same ones used by major corporations. The big difference is that they pay for them, while you have access to them at no additional charge as part of your existing service.

The activation and download processes are very straightforward, but if you have questions or need additional help, you can call our Customer Care Team any time, day or night, toll-free, at 800-391-3000. We are continually working on finding ways to make this site even better for our customers.

Reliability, speed, crystal-clear voice service, 24/7 customer service-all these are important value-adds that come with your Comcast Business Class service. But don't forget that we also offer a host of great tools you can use to help boost productivity and improve your customer experience, all at a great value.

March 2010

Welcome to Productivity@Work

To our valued customers:

At Comcast Business Class, we see it as our job to make sure that we're always adding value to your business. Our high-speed Internet, voice features and other solutions are all designed to support the success of your company. And this e-newsletter, Productivity@Work, is designed to do the same.

Working in partnership with Inc. magazine, we've designed Productivity@Work to do just what its name implies: help make you and your business more productive, especially where your communications are concerned.

For example, this issue is all about the steps you can take to help protect your business. Read it and you'll learn about the benefits of business continuity planning, ways to protect customer data, how Comcast can help keep you secure with Norton Security SuiteTM Business Edition and more.

We appreciate your business and want to do what we can to help you grow. To that end, we want Productivity@Work to work hard for you, covering topics that matter to you and your business. If there are any topics you'd like to see covered in future issues, or you have comments or other suggestions, email us at Editor_at_newsletter@cable.comcast.com.

Thanks for reading,

Bill Stemper
President
Comcast Business Services


Features

Business Continuity Keeps You Covered

An unanticipated disaster has the potential to shut you down, but it doesn't have to

Unexpected disruptions can spell serious trouble for any size firm; for smaller businesses, they can be a death knell. A temporary shut–down doesn't have to end in disaster, however. Whether the threat is monumental—fires, floods, other natural disasters—or mundane, such as spilled coffee on a computer keyboard, having a business continuity plan (BCP) in place can help minimize the damage and get your business back up and running in the shortest possible time.

"The success of your business is dependent on your workforce," says Donna Childs, author of Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses. "A key to maintaining employee productivity is the ability to continue business operations during a crisis situation."

The statistics about the danger serious disruptions present are chilling: 40% of businesses never reopen following a disaster; of those that do, an estimated 25% end up closing their doors within two years.

And it doesn't take a catastrophe of epic proportions to cause big trouble for a small business. Statistics also show that 50% of businesses are affected by server failure at some point, and nearly all businesses experience loss of utilities from time to time. The goal of a business continuity plan is to help your business minimize its risk through upfront mitigation and post-disaster recovery. Much like insurance, BCP is an investment whose value you realize when you, and your company, truly need it.

The most common causes of business interruptions include loss of data (accidental or intentional), hardware failure, loss of utilities, and major events such as fires and severe weather. According to AMI-Partners' 2009 U.S. Small Business Annual Overview Study, 70% of small businesses in the U.S. experienced a data loss in the past year due to technical or human disasters, resulting in an average loss of $4,700 to each small business—$20 billion industry–wide.

Some of the steps business owners should take to protect themselves almost beg the obvious. For example, all critical data should be backed-up to an off-site location regularly. Redundancy should be built into daily operations to the extent possible, such as by having back-ups available to replace critical pieces of equipment should they break down. Consider installing battery back-ups or other sources of uninterruptible power to keep vital services functioning during power outages.

Make sure insurance policies are up-to-date and have kept pace with the value of your business assets as they have grown, and always pay premiums on time. It's a good idea to make a video record of your assets and store it off-site. That can help expedite insurance claims following a disruption.

Business continuity plans typically cover three areas—process management (operations), recovery of data and crisis management (communication and relocation of employees)—and are broken down into four phases, Childs says. The first involves discovery/assessment of current systems, second is implementation of disaster recovery/business continuity technology as needed, third is documenting and testing the plan, and fourth is yearly testing and updating.

Gary Patterson, a management consultant and author, says the biggest hurdle many small businesses face in putting together a BCP is simply procrastination. "Bite the bullet and get started," he admonishes. Identifying potential risks is often the most challenging part of developing a BCP and is cited as the main reason companies put off doing it, he adds. Brace Rennels, the Certified Business Continuity Professional (CBCP) at Double-Take Software, suggests calculating the cost of downtime to help overcome that challenge. "Putting a dollars-and-cents figure on it will help you grasp the reality of what doing nothing might mean," he says.


Features

Put a Lock on Your Customer Data

Don't let a data lapse impact your client base or your image

You see the headlines with dismaying frequency: "Retailer Compromises Data of Thousands of Customers." "Cyber–Crooks Steal $40 Million from Small, Mid-size U.S. Firms." There's an old adage that any publicity is good publicity, but having your business's name associated with a threat to your customers' and/or employees' personal data is a decided exception to that rule.

In many respects, data is the currency of commerce in the 21st century. As such, businesses have a responsibility-financial, ethical, and, in some cases, legal-to protect all the data that passes through their custody. Most states have enacted laws requiring notification of security breaches involving personally identifiable information, and those laws apply to small businesses, notes Thomas Oscherwitz, chief privacy officer at ID Analytics. Some federal laws and several states impose specific requirements on all businesses to meet minimum security standards when storing such information.

Oscherwitz cites research that shows the cost of data breaches to businesses rising steadily and resulting in both direct and indirect costs. "Direct costs include assessing and responding to the incident, legal costs, notification costs and remediation costs," he says. "Breaches also have an indirect impact on the operation of the business. They lead to increased turnover of existing customers and higher costs to acquire new ones."

David Richards, CEO of CrossTec Corp., a provider of software management solutions, adds that the "loss of business reputation can be as devastating as the loss of data. Small and medium-size businesses are especially vulnerable because their daily fight is based on their credibility and reputation."

Data protection is a case where an ounce of prevention truly is worth a point of cure. The first line of defense for any company should be a powerful set of online security tools, such as Norton Security Suite Business Edition, which Comcast provides for no additional charge to its Business Class Internet customers.

But some companies may need additional protection. "It really depends on what business you're in," says Scott Vernick, an attorney specializing in risk management and litigation pertaining to data security at the Philadelphia law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP. Businesses in sectors such as finance and health care are subject to "a fair amount of federal and state regulation already, but all businesses have an affirmative obligation to maintain a certain level of network security," he states.

Many businesses are turning to encryption as an additional protection for customer and employee data. That's good, says Brian Lapidus, COO of Kroll Fraud Solutions, but it's not a "magic bullet" on its own. "It's well known that successfully using encryption to ensure security is challenging," he says. "A single slip-up in system design or execution can allow successful attacks and create a world of problems."

Lapidus says Kroll's data forensics team advises businesses to look for an encryption solution with a centrally managed key system. There some free solutions on the market, but they usually enable the end-user to manage the key, he warns. "Going one step further, it is a good idea to select a solution with multi-level passwords. You should store encryption solution keys on a smart card or token and keep copies in a secure off-site vault," he adds. "That way, if a disaster occurs, you still have ready access to your encryption keys."

Should you suspect—or know—that your data security has been breached, it's important to react immediately. Have a plan in place before the event, and be ready to implement it quickly. Here are some tips offered by Oscherwitz and Lapidus:


Profile

The Verdict Is In

Family-run law firm relies on Comcast Business Class across the board

For the Facchini brothers—Anthony, Michael and Richard—practicing law is more than a business and a profession. It's a family affair. Facchini & Facchini P.C. has been a fixture on the legal scene in the Springfield, Mass., area for more than 15 years. Along with the three brothers, all practicing attorneys, the firm includes two other lawyers and a support staff of half a dozen or so. The firm is thriving. So much so, in fact, that providing prompt responses to clients' inquiries regarding pending legal matters represents its greatest productivity challenge. Comcast Business Class is helping the firm meet that challenge and then some.

"Comcast Business Class services have significantly increased our productivity, and it all starts with the consistency of the service provided," says Anthony Facchini, who began partnering with brother Richard in 1994. The two purchased the building and land where Facchini & Facchini is now located in 1994, establishing the firm in its current form the following the year. Brother Michael came on board in 2002, and the firm's client base has grown every year since the original partnership.

Facchini & Facchini has used other communication services providers in the past, and the partners weren't always happy with the results. "Since our office has been with Comcast, there have been minimal interruptions with the service," Anthony says. "On the rare occasions when there has been a problem, whether with the telephone or the Internet service, the Comcast service department has been exceptional in responding to our needs and correcting the problem."

With our other provider, we weren't pleased with our technical service - it seemed slower and not the best quality," he adds. Typically, the telephone is the primary point of contact between a law firm and its clients, so reliability issues in this area can be a tremendous drag on productivity.

The firm's attorneys and support staff make frequent use of all the features included in their Comcast Business Class Voice package, such as caller ID/call waiting, hunt group, call forwarding/transfer, and voicemail. "The quality of the Comcast voice service is exceptional, as is the whole voice service package," Anthony says.

The law firm makes good use of the entire Comcast Business Class package, relying on Business Class Internet to boost the speed and efficiency of document handling and exchange and online research, while Business Class TV keeps new and existing clients entertained during their time in the firm's waiting room.

Facchini & Facchini also takes advantage of the many services that are included at no additional charge with its Comcast Business Class package, including the suite of Microsoft Communication Services and the advanced security and virus protection tools.

The office has particularly benefited from its use of Microsoft Outlook, which Anthony says has "improved our support staff's accuracy in scheduling the attorneys' calendars." He adds that Outlook is also making intra-office communication more efficient because of the ease of use it provides in the exchange of documents and information. The firm is protecting nine computers with the Norton security tools. "According to our computer guru, it is very simple to set up, use, and maintain," Anthony says. And of the Norton security coverage included for up to 25 computers in the Comcast Business Class package he quips, "The value received for the price charged is a bargain."

The Facchini brothers and their associates in the firm plan to continue meeting the legal needs of clients throughout the greater Springfield area for many years to come, and they will rely on Comcast Business Class to help them do so in the most reliable and efficient manner possible. "Over our many years in business, our office has used other providers," Anthony says. "Without a doubt, Comcast clearly outpaces its competitors."


BUSINESS CLASS ADVANTAGE

Comcast Business Class Teams Up with Norton to Boost Security

Keep online threats at bay

Comcast Business Class customers know they can rely advanced security and virus protection tools as part of their service package. That deal just got better. Comcast is now teaming up with Symantec Corporation to provide Business Class customers with the best value in online security: protection for up to 25 computers with Norton Security SuiteTM Business Edition. That's a value of up to $490, included for no additional charge.

Security experts say that without protection, your business could be infected with a crippling virus within just four minutes of connecting to the Internet. Norton Security SuiteTM Business Edition, powered by industry-leading Norton 360 Technology, helps protect your customer data from hackers, fraud, and theft. Many Business Class customers have been using the security tools previously provided by Comcast with great results. You won't be giving up a thing in terms of protection by switching to the new Norton suite, but you'll be gaining access to technology that scans faster, boots faster, installs faster, and uses less memory—as well as all the productivity gains that go along with more-efficient use of resources.

"We are really excited to be partnering with Symantec to bring this level of world-class security and protection to our customers," says Karen Schmidt, senior director, product management for Internet, at Comcast. "Business customers know and value the Norton and Symantec brands, and we saw a real opportunity to add value to our offering for them. The Norton suite provides several unique new features, such as identity protection. It also blocks phishing websites and authenticates trusted websites. It's available for Macs as well as PCs, and we've made it simple for customers to migrate from their current security suite as well."

Norton Security SuiteTM Business Edition provides the most comprehensive and effective security tools available to help keep you and your employees safe online. Features include:

Comcast has made it easy for Business Class customers to get the superior protection and fastest performance of Norton Security Suite Business Edition. All they have to do is login to the customer portal and follow the instructions to download the Norton suite. The site will recognize customers running security products previously provided by Comcast Business Class, prompt them, and automatically remove the old application. If you are migrating from some other security application, the download will also recognize that and guide you through the steps to remove it.

Comcast is providing a dedicated team of service specialists to support Business Class customers' migration to Norton Security Suite Business Edition. The download site includes a special phone number (877-272-7149) you can call if you need additional help at any point during the migration process.


BUSINESS CLASS ADVANTAGE

Make the Most of Your Business Class Service

The approach of spring is traditionally a time for new beginnings. It's also a great time to take a look at your Comcast Business Class package of services and make sure you're getting all the benefits it offers your business.

And Comcast provides all its Business Class customers with around-the-clock support. We know you have to be there to meet the needs of your customers on their schedules, so we're available 24/7 to meet yours.

* Norton Security Suite is a downloadable product - box image for illustrative purposes only.