How Small Businesses Should Protect Intellectual Property

Intellectual property is as valuable as cash assets to small businesses. Most companies, especially big ones like Google and Pepsi, spend millions each year protecting intellectual property assets. That’s because IP infringements are all too common. A company’s IP can be breached even via mundane things like signing a new contract with a partner or proposing a new design with a contractor. Losing the IP value of anything means that a small business loses an asset. Considering that, here are several methods recommended by Corporate Business Solutions to protect your company’s IP:

Sign NDAs with Everyone: It’s very important to include an IP clause in nondisclosure agreements that the company signs with clients, partners, contractors, freelancers, or anyone else. This indicates to the third-party that your business fully owns the copyright of a certain asset, and thus discourages infringement. If a breach does happen, your company will have the legal advantage to take the matter to the courts.

Be Careful of Disclosures Made to Freelancers: More and more companies are now getting business done via third-party freelancers or self-employed agents. If these non-employed workers get involved in the development of something, they can later make a claim on the IP. To prevent this, sign an NDA with an IP clause as mentioned above. Also, be careful of the sensitive disclosures you make to freelancers who might be able to use the knowledge to turn a copyright claim to their advantage.

Beware of International IP Rights: Small businesses themselves can be perpetrators of IP violations, sometimes unknowingly. This is quite true with regards to companies that sell internationally. Always make sure that patents, trademarks, or copyright claims of your company cannot be contested internationally. You will have to check international patents and IP registration to be sure.

Negotiate with IP Violators First: IP claim lawsuits are typically costly and prolonged for both parties. Therefore, it’s best to open dialogue with a potential violator before going to court. If you think an entity is infringing on your company’s IP, you can send a legal letter notifying them of the infringement, and send a cease and desist letter. You can hire mediation services to come to an agreement with the violator before getting into a lengthy court battle.

Always think of IP as assets. Things like patents add wealth to your small business. If you want to conduct a company review of business operations, including your risk for unregistered IP, contact us at CBS-CBS.com to find a consultant.

Microchipping Employees and Other Workplace Privacy Concerns

A company in Wisconsin will soon have approval to microchip its employees. Whether this indicates the business has reached an Orwellian age or is simply moving forward with technology will depend on whom you ask.

Of course, having microchips physically inserted into employees should unsettle even the most rationally pragmatic executive. In this case, the company will need an employee’s consent to insert a small “rice grain” sized chip between the thumb and the pointy finger of the hand. Participation is mandatory. More importantly, this chip is not a GPS tracker and will not be internet connected, so no one can hack into it. The only way to compromise the microchip, according to one employee at the company, is to have the employee’s hand literary chopped off.

As fascinating as micro chipping is, the story raises important questions about company goals and employee privacy. Small businesses, regardless of the sector, routinely collect very sensitive information about employees. For example, a typical small business would have access to an employee’s personal information, social security information, addresses, phone numbers, and other similar data that could wreak havoc in the wrong hands, Corporate Business Solutions consultants point out. So what exactly are the responsibilities of modern day companies to protect employee’s privacy and information?

First of all, as our consultants point out, all small businesses must have an employee guidebook that explains what data a small business might collect about them, how this data would be stored, and how the sensitive information would be protected from malicious entities like data thieves. It’s the responsibility of the business to be fully transparent with the employees regarding what type of information the business collects.

Small businesses should also ensure that the collected data is kept secure. This means investing in cyber security infrastructures such as safer networks, malicious software removal tools, and employee awareness training programs that teach good internet habits. Like the Wisconsin microchip company did, it would be wise to keep sensitive data disconnected from the web-connected company network.

To make sure your business is fully capable of ensuring employee privacy rights while keeping business secrets secure, get one of our Corporate Business Solutions Reviews.

Some Tips for Generating Customer Referrals

The best way to influence a customer is through a recommendation from a friend, so said Mark Zuckerberg once. The customer referral, or word-of-mouth marketing, is still the best way to attract new customers to your brand. Potential customers naturally trust their friends or family over company-made ads. Therefore, a recommendation from a peer has a much stronger influence than the slickest marketing trick your business can afford.

While word-of-mouth marketing is indeed understood to be powerful, it’s very difficult to master. It’s not like your business can visit the Facebook pages of all customers and convince their friends to recommend your brand. But there are effective methods to promote word-of-mouth, as illustrated by the successes of companies like Uber and Dropbox. Here are several tips for creating customer referral programs as recommended by our Corporate Business Solutions consultants:

Come up with Great Incentives—Obviously, what really drives a customer to make a reference to someone else is getting something in return from the brand. If a customer really likes your business, he or she may make a recommendation to a friend. But your brand can definitely change the ‘may’ to a ‘will’ with an incentive. The incentives to offer will depend on your business. You can offer discounts, free items, or free upgrades. Dropbox, for example, offered customers an additional 500 MB of storage space for inviting a friend to join. Find out what your customers really desire, and base referral incentives on that.

Aim for High-Quality Referrals—It’s not simply enough for a customer to mention your brand name in a Facebook post. The referral must result in a lead. That is to say that the customer making the referral actually facilitates a purchase, a subscription, or a meeting. It could be done via social media, email, or in person. So, when offering incentives, make sure it leads to a referral that facilitates a purchase. Offering gifts in return for Facebook mentions or social media shares thus may not result in generating new leads.

Choose the Right Time: Don’t ask customers to make referrals during the wrong time. You risk requests being ignored. Ask for referrals when the customers are most engaged with your product or service. This is the only time incentives actually work. Timing is key to making referral programs work.

Want to know more about how to create a customer referral program with a huge turnout? Then contact one of our CBS Corporate Business Solutions consultants.

How Small Businesses Can Manage Employee Vacations During Summer

It’s the summer! For small business executives everywhere, this also means hordes of employees going on vacation. According to market research, about 30 percent of the workforce at the average small business takes paid time off during the season. Business managers should carefully handle vacation time off to avoid being shorthanded. Summer is also the season when customers are more than willing to spend money. Here are some tips for capitalizing on the season while employees are also taking time off:

Plan in Advance: To avoid disruption due to some employees being on holiday, it’s important to plan in advance. Have employees inform you at least a month in advance of extended summer vacations (ones that take a week or more). Then don’t forget to inform the other employees about who’s going to be on vacation so they, too, can make plans accordingly. Our Corporate Business Solutions consultants highly recommend holding a meeting among key managers and individuals to notify everyone of who is going to be absent and to maintain a master list of vacation schedules which can be consulted by management to be able to make needed adjustments where necessary.

Encourage Employees to Make Cover-Up Schedules: It’s very important for employees that work in teams to be on the same page. So if someone is going on summer vacation, tell that employee to get schedule fill-ins for necessary tasks. Everyone on a team should know about who’s covering up for whom on vacation.

Send Reminders: In addition to meetings, don’t forget to set up reminders to inform everyone in writing who will be off. For example, you can send email or Slack reminders about summer vacations. Encourage employees to do the same.

Set Vacation Deadlines: Employees going on vacation should be given deadlines to complete tasks before they take time off. Let them understand that no time off will be available until these tasks are done. This is why planning vacation time in advance is important.

Reward Fill In Employees: If an employee takes over a colleague’s tasks while he or she is on vacation, then don’t forget to acknowledge that fill in employee’s contribution. Managers can offer praise, bonuses, rewards like free pizza, or an extra day off during other seasons. These rewards will encourage employees to fill in more, so the company is less likely to be shorthanded.

Small businesses should offer reprieves for employees during the summer months. Use the above tips to make sure the holiday time doesn’t disrupt business. You can ask the professionals at CBS-CBS.com for advice on all matters related to small business, including staffing issues resulting from employee vacations, during a comprehensive business analysis of your company.

What Small Businesses Can Learn from Richard Branson’s Secret to Success

Richard Branson, the famed CEO of Virgin, recently shared his secret to success on his blog. So what could have propelled a once unknown recording studio owner to become a billionaire celebrity? The answer is deceptively simple: to do lists.

Branson explains in detail how he is always making lists. He carries a small pocketbook with him at all time to write down things to do. He even shared a snapshot of a to-do list he had made way back in 1972 when he was only running his studio, The Manor. His list included lofty goals like learning to fly, as well as such mundane things like buying new stuff for his studio. Branson says his to-do lists help him turn his ideas, no matter how big or small, into a reality.

This is, indeed, a very interesting habit for anyone to have. Branson tells all entrepreneurs to make lists and break down big tasks into small and manageable tasks that can be ticked off on a to-do list. Our Corporate Business Solutions consultants agree. What Branson is showcasing here is a keen ability to remain organized and focused. The to-do lists are a simple yet highly effective way to do this.

No entrepreneur or small business owner is ever not busy. During hectic weekly schedules, it’s easy to forget things that one must do. These things include both personal goals, like Branson wanting to learn flying, as well as business goals. Our consultants always advise small business owners to find personally convenient ways to stay organized. To-do lists, as Branson explains, are a very good start.

To-do lists are a great option for small business owners to stay ahead of schedule. Using such a list on a weekly basis will lead to more productivity. When we do Corporate Business Solutions Reviews, we often recommend teams to use lists as a way of staying organized. Small business owners, too, can definitely benefit from this advice, as Richard Branson clearly did.

Why Your Business Needs to Use Chatbots

Providing proper customer support is an important but often challenging aspect of running a small business. Over the years, there have been many innovations in offering customer care, from written letters to giant outsourced call centers. Now IT has yet another solution for customer support: chatbots.

If you don’t already know what a chatbot is, it is a software program that allows customers to contact a virtual customer representative. It’s like Facebook Messenger, but it’s custom designed for your company. CBS Corporate Business Solutions consultants often come across small businesses that struggle to provide praiseworthy customer support. For small businesses owners who want to be on the cutting edge of customer support and have a need for customer interaction without increasing costs significantly, we recommend switching to chatbot software for numerous reasons. Here are some of the more compelling reasons why your business needs to consider chatbot support:

Offer Support 24/7: Chatbots don’t need to eat, sleep, or go home. Therefore, these tools are the best way for companies to provide all day, every day, customer support without drastically increasing costs.

Chatbots Reduce Overhead Costs: Running a call center or hiring employees to provide customer support is extremely expensive. Chatbots, on the other hand, are low-cost options that provide the same services at a fraction of the cost.

Millennial Customers Prefer Chatbots: The market will soon be dominated by millennials who are highly tech-friendly. Millennials prefer to interact quickly with an app than to pick up the phone and call a company like their parents did. If your business’s primary audience consists of millennials, chatbots will very likely improve customer satisfaction levels.

Cut Down Waiting Time: Chatbots can respond rapidly, so customers do not have to wait for a human representative to pick up a call or an online message. One of the most common problems with customer care is that it takes too long to deliver. Chatbots will eliminate this problem.

Deliver Custom Ads: Not only do chatbots actually help customers with issues, these programs can also deliver ads. Unlike with phone systems, chatbots are sophisticated enough to deliver personalized ads to the right customer, thus increasing the chance of a conversion.

If you want to learn more about how to improve the customer experience at your company, you can make an inquiry at CBS-CBS.com.

Does Your Business Need to Change Course?

A while back, a CBS Corporate Business Solutions consultant advised a printing business that needed to change direction. Our consultant took the owner through a learning process so she could move her business forward. It can be difficult to say when your business needs to change course. Keep in mind that no business stays the same, ever. So even if you don’t like it, as markets fluctuate, your business may need to take a turn for the better. Here are several glaring signs that your business immediately needs to change course:

Slow Growth: It’s fine if the growth numbers for your company are not always inching upwards. Most companies go through periods of slow growth. However, the company should be able to overcome these slow growth periods. Compare your growth trajectory to that of your competitors. It should not be perpetually facing downwards. If slow growth is a prolonged issue at your company, then it’s time to reevaluate your goals and adapt a new strategy.

Challenges from Smaller Competitors: If the smaller competitors your business may have ignored in the past are looking like actual threats, then that should set off warning alarms. A smaller company can surpass yours if growth is severely lagging. It should be an indicator that your business is losing its competitive edge and should change course immediately to thrive in the future.

Low Customer Satisfaction Numbers: Nothing is more indicative of a need to change than low customer satisfaction numbers. While negative reviews, complaints, and low ratings are to be expected, the majority of the feedback your company receives must primarily be positive. Your company should continuously receive a lot of customer feedback. If feedback is declining, or is increasingly becoming negative, then it indicates an even worse fate: insignificance of your brand.

If your business faces any of the above problems, then it’s time to change course. Suddenly changing the trajectory of a business is not easy. It requires a solid plan. But first, you should seek advice from a CBS-CBS.com consultant to identify the underlying issues that are causing growth or sales problems at your business. After careful scrutiny, the consultant will be able to present you with a proposal for changing course and becoming competitive again.

How Restaurants Can Improve Employee Performance

The food service sector is one of the toughest industries to run a business in. Competition is high, and without a watchful eye, costs can run amok. CBS Corporate Business Solutions can help restaurant owners improve productivity with business reviews. Owners of the restaurants we have reviewed are quite concerned about employee efficiency. Business places like restaurants are highly dependent on employee performance. Inefficient employees can ruin customer service and drive up costs. Here are several tips our consultants recommend for restaurants that want to improve employee efficiency:

Provide Clear Instructions – If you want your employees to perform as you intend, vague instructions or directions will not deliver the results you desire. It’s important to make sure employees know what’s expected of them. Explain clearly which tasks employees must be carried out each day, the performance standards you expect for the employee, and how quickly the task needs to be done.  One of the foundations to the work we do for our clients is to develop the methods, systems and controls needed to operate a restaurant both efficiently and profitably.

Avoid Micromanaging – While it’s important to give clear instructions, it’s equally important to avoid micromanaging. No one likes it. Also, micromanagement leads to a “wait to be told” work culture, where the employer has to direct everything. A productive workplace has employees who can take the initiative. So, train employees well so they don’t always have to be told what to do.  When the proper systems are put in place, employees know what is expected of them.  In addition, employees have a clear understanding of what they need to do to be accountable.  Moreover, businesses which are system- dependent are more successful than those which are people-dependent.  The proper systems allow management to have more control.

Reward Good Performance – Reprimanding bad performance but never rewarding good performance can leave employees confused about the service that’s expected of them. If an employee does a really good job, it’s important to let them know you appreciate a job well done. Rewards can boost morale and also motivate others to improve their own performance.

Understand Their Work-Life Balance Needs – Overworking employees often leads to bad performance. It’s important for employers to understand that employees require sufficient time to spend with their families. So don’t force people to take on extra shifts or work on holidays. Seek willing employees to take on the extra shifts, when needed.  A respect for work-life balance will improve employee satisfaction and lead to better performance.

Make sure the employees you hire are well trained and have the necessary tools to carry out their jobs.

Unsure about whether your restaurant workforce is performing as well as they should? Contact us at CBS-CBS.com to get an affordable performance review.

Software Suggestions for Improving Small Business Efficiency

We often recommend adopting new tech solutions for common small business productivity and efficiency issues we encounter during Corporate Business Solutions consultancy sessions. Nowadays, companies can easily download apps and enjoy enormous benefits. Here are some of the software programs we recommend for improving workplace efficiency:

Mint: Mint is a personal finance management software. It’s a great tool that business owners can use to track personal and business expenditure. The program can be used for free, but you can access many premium features that benefit small businesses with the paid version. Mint is also web-based, so there’s no need for downloading.

Huddle: This is a program that enables better collaboration between workers to improve overall efficiency. Huddle is cloud-based, so many people can access the program at once. It makes it very easy for employees working on the same team or a project to share files, memos, and notes.

DigitalQuick: This is an encryption tool that all businesses must use to keep sensitive data safe. Use DigitalQuick with cloud-based storage to ensure security. We encounter many clients who do not want to use the web-connected software because of security concerns. DigitalQuick is a good solution to keep data secure and enjoy the benefits of cloud technology.

Pertino: This program can be described as a cloud-based social network for professionals. It securely connects workplace devices and other resources to improve collaboration and reduce time spent working. This is a highly recommended tool for in-house IT departments.

Insightly:  This is a customer contact database that a company can use as the business grows. Basically, it’s a platform to manage contact information of customers. This application will benefit both customer support and marketing teams.

LiquidPlanner: This program is a really convenient application that allows users to manage projects online. It’s a highly useful communication and task tracking tool with great returns. Not only does this tool make project teams more efficient, it saves a lot of time as well.

You can get more business efficiency improvement suggestions at CBS-CBS.com.

How to Cut Costs at a Small Retail Business

Corporate Business Solutions provides management advice and cost reduction strategies for small retail businesses, among a host of other services. Retail businesses fail more often than not due to excessive expenses. Even retail giants like Wal-Mart and Macy’s have faced this dilemma. It’s important to start early to prevent a potential disaster if expenses are out of control. Here are several tips, gleaned from our years of experience, for reducing costs and managing finances better at your small retail business:

Automate inventory management – Automation is reducing costs for businesses in many different sectors. Retail is definitely one of the biggest sectors to benefit from new technology. In recent years, manual inventory management has gotten quite expensive. Some outlets have found budget success by switching to cloud-based software. According to one study, using cloud-based programs saved some retailers about 30 percent of operational costs. We know from experience that retail outlets, especially inherited ones, are quite stubborn regarding adopting modern practices. However, we highly recommend switching to new ways of managing inventory to significantly reduce costs.

Outsource non-core business tasks – If there’s room to outsource certain tasks or activities at your retail business, do so without hesitation. For example, if you need a writer to come up with product descriptions, hire a freelance writer, not a full-time employee. Small tasks not related to the core of your business, like graphic design, can be outsourced to save money, and in some cases, time. Outsourcing has other benefits too, such as getting expert advice in an area your staff is unfamiliar.

Go virtual and pay low rent – Thinking about expanding your office? We highly recommend switching partly to a virtual office instead. Virtual workplaces allow employees to connect with each other regardless of where they are located. Some parts of your business will probably require a physical office. You can pay low rent for a small physical office for the core group members and host other employees over a virtual office. You can also consider hosting virtual storerooms and the like to save money on actually leasing a showroom. For example, Audi, the car brand uses virtual showrooms in select locations to save money.

Of course, each business has unique needs. If you contact us at CBS-CBS.com, we can evaluate your company’s expenses and recommend cost-cutting measures as part of a long-term financial strategy.