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Updated: 57 min 6 sec ago

Use the cloud to become 'data smart'

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 12:00am

(BPT) - No matter your job or the size of your business, you are probably aware of the piles of digital information inside your company. Data is everywhere.

You know this information can provide valuable insights, whether you’re in marketing, sales, human resources, product development or finance. But how do you tap into the data to make better decisions if you’re not a trained data analyst?

There’s good news: Cloud services make it much simpler for you to analyze data so you can make the right calls and become more persuasive with your boss, your co-workers and your customers.

“Business analytics is going mainstream,” says James Phillips, general manager at Microsoft Corp., who oversees the company’s Power BI cloud service. “And, with the cloud, you can get started fast. In a matter of minutes, you can pull in a variety of data to create reports and visualizations.”

Follow these five tips to start getting data smart in your job:

1. Identify the data. Wondering where to start? You likely already have data you can analyze in your financial, inventory, marketing and customer systems. To help you dig into this data, free cloud services such as Power BI ( can connect to other services such as Salesforce and Marketo. If you want to explore data outside your organization, free datasets, such as those on, are available on the Web.

2. Build on the tools and skills you have. You likely use Microsoft Excel to some degree, but even if you’re not an expert, your information and any analysis you do in Excel can be fed into cloud services.

3. Visualize. With the new tools, you can tell a story with data. They offer drag-and-drop ways to go beyond typical charts and look at information in multiple dimensions, over time, with maps and more. They’re great for creating presentations and plans.

4. Go real time. Keep your finger on the pulse of your business by mashing up data in easy-to-use dashboards. Cloud services keep your dashboards up-to-date, providing insights about what your business looks like moment to moment so you can make better decisions, faster. Your bosses and teammates will be impressed. 

5. Care to share. When choosing your service, look for features that make it easy to share reports and findings with co-workers. And encourage them to use the services so everyone has the opportunity to contribute insights.  

Now is the time to become data smart. Today’s cloud services make it simpler than ever to analyze your data and find the insights that will help your business.

Categories: Lifestyle

The secret to small-business growth in 2015? Effective communication

Mon, 01/19/2015 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Good communication is essential for every successful business operation – especially for small businesses that must build customer relationships to drive sales. Yet breakdowns can occur at every stage of small business communications, from a misspelled newspaper ad to a headset that makes sales people sound like they’re speaking through two tin cans and some twine, whether they’re in the office or on the road.

“Improved communications can equal increased revenue for small businesses,” says Judi Hembrough, director of SMB marketing for Plantronics, a leading maker of audio headsets. “However, small-business managers juggle a lot, and they may not always have the time to emphasize effective communication. Fortunately, focusing on a few key areas can greatly enhance communication with a modest investment of resources.”

While you may be an expert in your business, not all small-business people are expert communicators. Yet better communication aids a small business on multiple levels. It facilitates sales efforts and improves customer service, eases interaction between employees and managers, boosts productivity, and helps mobile and remote workers stay connected.

Small-business leaders can improve both internal and external communication with a few tactics and tools:

* Use technology designed to facilitate business communication.

Despite the rise in digital communication modes, phone interaction remains a critical communication tool. In fact, 70 percent of businesses say phone and conference calls are either important or critically important to achieving their business objectives, according to a recent survey by B2B marketing agency Bredin. Additionally, 67 percent of small-business owners surveyed by Bredin said that a quarter or more of all customer issues initiated by email communication and 55 percent initiated by instant message had to be resolved with a phone call.

The right technology can help improve phone communication for both in-office and remote workers, even when they’re on the go. High-quality headsets like Plantronics Voyager Legend provide superior voice clarity, leading-edge design and mobility. Superior noise cancellation and advanced WindSmart technology ensure clear, precise communication even outdoors. Plus, with dual connectivity you can connect to your desk phone or PC along with your mobile device. Visit to learn more about communication technology for small businesses.

* Provide employees with scripts for common situations.

Twenty percent of in-house workers and 18 percent of remote or field workers spend three-quarters or more of their work time on the phone, according to the Bredin survey. Providing employees working scripts, and training them on how to adjust responses for evolving situations can help improve customer care, facilitate effective communication and ensure employees are communicating according to your business standards and identity. Start by defining the different types of phone interactions employees might have with customers and prospects. Next, craft a good greeting that is concise and appropriate for the employee’s role in your organization. Incorporate into each script key phrases that communicate the information you want the employee to convey during the call.

* Facilitate communication with remote workers.

Remote and mobile workers may be a vital part of your business, but they can feel left out by the nature of their work situation. Provide them with the technology they need for effective communication by phone, email and teleconferencing, and use the technology to ensure remote workers feel included. For example, set up teleconferencing or video-conferencing so that remote workers can participate in company meetings.

* Minimize in-office distractions.

Offices can be busy, noisy places, especially if employees work in cubicles or open spaces. As much as possible, try to eliminate distractions that could hinder easy communication. Urge workers to conduct phone communication in a calm, low voice and be mindful of those working around them. Additionally, give them the opportunity to mask noise with headsets that cover both ears. Finally, encourage employees to establish a schedule for checking email, rather than letting it interrupt them every few minutes.  

In conclusion, better communication is the key to effective sales and stellar customer service – both critical aspects to success. From supplying technologically advanced headsets to staff to properly training employees to be as effective as possible, communication improvements will drive business in 2015 and beyond.

Categories: Lifestyle

7 big (but easy) ways businesses can reduce employee absenteeism

Thu, 01/15/2015 - 12:00am

(BPT) - An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – especially for small businesses grappling with the high costs of worker absenteeism. Employee time lost to health issues costs American businesses $84 billion a year. For U.S. businesses, helping workers stay healthy costs far less than the financial impact of having them miss work for illness or injury.

With cold and flu season in full swing, HR directors and other business leaders should take steps to help employees stay healthy and on the job. Here are seven steps your small company can take to help reduce worker absenteeism:

1. Encourage healthful habits.

Simple factors such as getting enough sleep and frequent hand washing can go a long way toward keeping people healthy. While you can’t make workers get seven to eight hours of sleep, you can spread the word on how it’s done. Key tricks? Turn off the electronic devices an hour before bedtime, avoid caffeine and alcohol, and go to bed at the same time every night.

Employers can more directly encourage other healthful habits, such as hygiene. Create mini-health stations throughout the office and include hand sanitizer, fresh tissues and a covered receptacle nearby. Post signs with proper hand-washing guidelines in company restrooms. You can promote a healthy diet by providing healthful options such as trail mix and water in vending machines. Distribute healthy recipes (try the spaghetti squash!).

2. Provide 24/7 support through a wellness program.

Businesses that offer employee wellness programs like the health and wellness solutions provided by Provant can lower their medical costs and offer a spectrum of additional benefits, including reduced absenteeism. Customized workplace wellness programs give employees round-the-clock access to valuable information, health professionals and advice, live or via technology, that can help them stay healthy. Plus, these programs can help employees manage diseases, assess their health and set personal wellness goals.

3. Reward well-being actions.

Sometimes inertia is all that stands between employees and improved health. You can inspire employees to be healthier by offering, say, an exercise class at lunch. Provant health incentive programs such as reimbursement for gym memberships, health challenges for most miles walked in a month, insurance premium reimbursements, or rewards points (good for merchandise) for healthful habits have seen marked increases in engagement and significant health risk migration for those rewarded for their healthy choices.

4. De-stress the workplace

Stress is part of having a job, but you can help workers stay healthy and be more productive by helping them manage that stress. Give them chances to get up from their desk – how about making that next meeting a walking one? Offer a workshop on relaxation techniques, and make sure your health plan offers an Employee Assistance Program for mental health help. Have a de-stress zone in the office.

5. Provide auxiliary benefits.

Auxiliary benefits such as dental or vision coverage support employees’ overall health maintenance and value-adds such as partnerships with local farms for vegetables, dry-cleaning drop-off service, and onsite fitness classes create a convenience factor that encourages healthy engagement. In addition to supporting employee health, they are a low-cost way to round out a benefits package without increasing monthly premium costs.

6. Tell them to stay home.

Despite their best efforts, employees will get sick. When that happens, it may be best to encourage them to stay home. Workers suffering with a virus like the flu or a bad cold could spread the illness throughout the office if they come to work when sick. And those with non-communicable illness or injuries may extend the total amount of time they miss from work if they push themselves to return too soon or don’t take the time they need to make a full recovery.

7. The obvious - Get a flu shot.

Sometimes the answer is right under your nose. Make it easy to get flu shots. You can even bring nurses right to your workplace or offer a remote flu program, making it convenient for individuals to get vaccinated.

To learn more about wellness programs that can help reduce employee absenteeism, visit

Categories: Lifestyle
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