The Best Business Ideas for Retirees

b3Looking for a new challenge now that you’ve retired from the corporate world? Why not start your own business?

Many retirees who’ve been employees all of their lives get excited at the thought of running the show, and building a business that reflects their interests and values. If you’re thinking of launching a business during your retirement, here are six ideas to get you started.

Online businesses

Many new business ideas well-suited for retirees harness the power of the internet, as long as you don’t let technology intimidate you.

“Online businesses are truly some of the best types of businesses for people over 50, but they need to get over their fears,” said Diane Eschenbach, owner of startup consultancy firm DE Consultants and author of “How to Quickly Start a Business Online.”

One simple new business option involves researching and compiling information on websites.

“One of my favorite types of online businesses for the ‘post-50 group’ is curation sites,” said Eschenbach.

As people get older, the time invested in activities (such as a new business venture) becomes very important, said Eschenbach. She is a big fan of the idea of retirees learning to use technology because of the time saved by automated programs, but she stresses the importance of choosing a business you enjoy.

“The key to a great retirement is doing what you love and finding a way to monetize it quickly,” said Eschenbach. [See Related Story: New Business Idea? How to Test Before Launching ]

Consulting and coaching

Retirees considering starting businesses should start by thinking about two areas: skills from their previous jobs and life lessons. These experiences make retirees well-positioned to share their knowledge.

“Since they have a lot of life and career experience, a consulting and coaching business suits them well as a new endeavor,” said Dolly Garlo, business coach and president of Thrive!! Inc. By capitalizing on existing knowledge, retirees can spend their time learning the ropes of running a new business.

“Retirees should focus on jobs and business opportunities that leverage the individual’s years of work and life experience, such as consulting, teaching or tutoring,” said Jamie Hopkins, Esq., assistant professor of taxation in the Retirement Income Program at The American College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and associate director of the New York Life Center for Retirement Income.

Instead of sharing knowledge through a face-to-face business, retirees may prefer to teach or coach through a freelance writing business. “Writing and blogging can be a way for the retiree to stay engaged in an online or other community, generate some income and leverage their knowledge,” said Hopkins.

As you brainstorm new business ideas, Garlo suggests asking a few key questions. “How much time do you want to spend working? What kind of flexibility do you require? Do you want to work from a fixed location or be able to work virtually? What subject matter in particular excites you?”

Garlo says it’s also important to consider your potential business customers, and if they can afford to pay you. “This will determine whether what you provide becomes a hobby or charitable endeavor, or is an actual business,” she said.

Start a “mastermind group”

Have you left a successful career after establishing a large network of valuable and experienced business contacts? If so, the main ingredients of your new business idea may be as close as your address book.

“[Retirees] have learned lessons that many business owners won’t learn for another 10 to 20 years,” said Tobe Brockner, author of “Mastermind Group Blueprint: How to Start, Run and Profit from Mastermind Groups” (Aloha Group Publishing, 2013). “This is why starting a mastermind group is a natural fit for retirees.”

Members of mastermind groups meet regularly to collaborate and solve the problems or issues of their members, tapping into the collected experience, skills and knowledge of the group.

“Many [retirees] already have a network that they can tap into to find excellent mastermind group members, and by being the group organizer and facilitator, they can make a nice supplemental income,” said Brockner.

Depending on the size of the area in which they live, Brockner said enterprising retirees can start and facilitate multiple mastermind groups, and charge a premium for the value of being a member.

“Mastermind group facilitators can generate between $1,500 to $3,000 per month per group for just a few hours [of] work,” he said.

Service-based businesses

Providing services has long been a popular idea for younger, active retirees who want to start their own businesses; however, familiar choices like handyman services, tutoring or pet sitting aren’t the only games in town.

“There are many options for service-based businesses, but one area particularly well-suited for retirees is to provide eldercare services,” said Nancy Collamer, career coach and author of “Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit from Your Passions During Semi-Retirement” (Ten Speed Press, 2013).

“Many elderly living on their own need someone to help out with the tasks of daily living: housekeeping, shopping, errands and cooking,” said Collamer. “They also hire people to help out with special projects such as relocating, medical claims assistance and bill paying.”

Entrepreneurial support services

As the total number of entrepreneurs increases, so does the number of entrepreneurs over the age of 50. Why not start a business catering to them? There is a tremendous opportunity for you to assist new entrepreneurs with building, managing and marketing their businesses, said Collamer. While older entrepreneurs have solid core skills from previous professions, they often fall short on the skills needed to capitalize on their expertise and turn their knowledge and talents into a profitable business.

“So think about how you can apply your skills in a small business environment,” suggested Collamer. “Are you a talented graphic designer? You might be able to design logos, brochures or menus for a new restaurant in town. Do you have strong financial skills? Perhaps you could work as a small business coach or a bookkeeper.”

Few business people have the time and know-how needed to handle all the tasks required to keep a business profitable, Collamer said. And filling this need suits aspiring business owners who are also retirees.

“Most small business people can’t afford full-time staff, so this can be a nice way to earn income on a flexible or part-time basis.”

Active living

There are many ways to take advantage of the spreading “active living” philosophy, which is especially popular among Boomers. Who better to help show them the way than a peer with the know-how to stay fit and age gracefully? One of the greatest things about starting a business focused on active living is how creative you can be about what exactly your business looks like.

“The spectrum of involvement is pretty wide,” Jonah Bliss, director of community for electric bicycle company EVELO, said. “[It could be] anything from opening up franchises for electric bike stores to being ambassadors for healthy living brands, or running tours and treks to outdoor locations.”

These types of businesses not only work well as a way to bring in some money after you retire from your career, but they also help others maintain their health as they age. Be creative and use what you know to find your niche in the growing active living marketplace.

Let’s Learn About Some Ideas for Entrepreneurs

b2There’s nothing like your favorite boutique store or local restaurant. These places, owned by real people, not corporations, make a difference in their communities.

According to the National League of Cities, small “homegrown” businesses create new jobs and employ local residents, and create a unique sense of place that enhances a community’s quality of life.

If you live in a metropolitan area with lots of residents and resources, the opportunities to grow your business and have an impact are even greater. Here are a few types of small businesses you can run in a big city.

Micro-brewing

Do you have a passion for home brewing? You might be able to turn your love of beer into a business. Urban residents are always looking for local artisans who can offer a small-scale, handcrafted experience, especially when it comes to craft beer. Chelsea Craft Brewing Company, for instance, has made its mark in the Bronx with its locally brewed beverage selection.

Cities make for a competitive atmosphere, but the right combination of talent, location and interest can make your brewery an interesting must-visit location.

Dog walking

With a lot of pet owners in apartment buildings, a big city is a great place for a part-time dog-walking business. City dwellers don’t have yards for their dogs to play in, and if they work long or irregular hours, they may not always have time to take Fido for his daily stroll. Put up flyers in your building, and see if any of your neighbors would be willing to entrust this task to you for a small fee. It’s important to educate yourself on not only the local dog walking market but also proper animal care and handling before starting this business. [See Related: How to Start a Pet Care Business]

Restaurant/food truck

Everyone needs to eat, so what better place to start a food service business than a place with tons of mouths to feed? Whether you choose to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant or a food truck, you have a good opportunity to draw in customers with a great menu and the right marketing tactics. While mobile restaurants parked on busy streets can bring in a lot of business, be sure to check your city’s local laws about street vendor permits to avoid legal issues.

Eco-consulting

Large metro areas tend to produce a lot of pollution. To combat this problem, many city residents are interested in living greener. Help them make their lives eco-friendlier by starting an eco-consulting service. These consultants evaluate homes and offices, and offer solutions to make the businesses more environmentally friendly. This could mean advising a switch to energy-efficient appliances or simply implementing a recycling program. Become a certified eco-consultant to boost your credibility with potential clients.

Antique store

Major cities are historical hubs. Antique items not only bring intrigue into a city constantly growing and changing, but it helps remind people of their roots. If you’re educated in fine arts or have a knack for finding items that hold value, opening an antique store in a city may bring excitement and curiosity from all walks of life, local or otherwise. For example, Anastacia’s Antiques, a 25-year-old staple in Philadelphia, proves that the right formula of items and location will keep people coming back no matter the size of the city.

Errand service

Between their jobs and carting their children from one activity to the next, most working parents have very little time left to take care of personal errands like grocery shopping, making returns at the mall or mailing packages. Assist clients and free up their days for the important moment in their life. Public transportation in cities makes getting from place to place more convenient and less expensive than driving around in a suburban area, so you can keep your overhead travel expenses down. To boost your resume, begin building your experiences through companies like TaskRabbit or Airtasker.

Home decorating and organization

If you have an eye for design or a knack for organization, you can start a business helping city-dwellers make the most of their small living quarters. Apartment residents are constantly looking for ways to maximize their storage space and make cramped rooms feel bigger, so there will always be a market for organization and interior decorating services. Opening a physical office is also a great way for you to showcase your skills to potential clients.

Translation service

Cities are melting pots of different cultures and backgrounds, so fluency in multiple languages is a big plus. You can put those language skills to good use by offering to translate written and spoken words from one language to another for clients. Broadening international ties and an increase in the number of non-English speakers in the United States makes this a fast-growing field, with the Bureau of Labor Services predicting 42 percent growth by 2020. You can start your own independent service and market yourself to businesses, schools, hospitals, courtrooms and conference centers.

Some Business Ideas That Don’t Require Employees

b1Are you ready to start your own business, but not ready to hire employees? There are plenty of options for people who would prefer to be “solopreneurs” and keep their business operations simple.

Here are six ideas to inspire you to start working on your solo business plan right away:

Virtual Health Coaching

Are you educated in nutrition but are still looking to get your career to go in the right direction? Turn your healthy lifestyle choices and education into lucrative business decisions by becoming a virtual health coach. You’ll be aided in your efforts by the myriad new health-related apps and devices being developed to help clients keep track of fitness goals and weight loss.

Chore/Errand Service for Seniors

Anyone with aging loved ones knows how hard it can be to care for them without extra help. Elderly people living in their own homes need help with lots of routine chores like cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping and yard work. Why not start a business that offers senior citizens and their families the help they need to maintain their households without breaking their budgets? With word-of-mouth endorsements and social media targeted at the overworked baby-boomer set, you could get this business off the ground in no time. [See Related Story: Prefer Working Solo? 10 Franchises That Don’t Need Employees]

Microbrewery

Want to turn your love of beer into a viable occupation? Why not jump on the microbrewing bandwagon? With the popularity of craft beers on the rise in the U.S., the demand for innovative breweries is growing. Take a page from the successful owners of Brooklyn Brewery and start by focusing on branding and distribution of your beverages. With some thirsty investors and a few barrels of persistence, you could have your brewery up and running faster than you can say “cheers!” Learn more about starting your own craft brewery in this Business News Daily guide.

Personal Trainer

With employers and corporations looking to decrease health care costs and a greater awareness of diseases associated with obesity, America is looking to get fit. Freelance personal trainers make their own schedules and work for a diverse range of clients. If you’re a fitness guru with a head for business, this might just be the right idea for you.

Special Deliveries

Whether it’s a bouquet of flowers in celebration of a wedding anniversary or an ice cream cake delivery for a child’s birthday, there’s a need for businesses that carry out long-distance requests on behalf of those whose loved ones live far away. With the right website and a PayPal account, you could start building your reputation as a “special delivery” courier today.

Business Coach

Are you business-savvy with years of experience, and willing to pass that knowledge on to others? With the right marketing tactics, a strong personal network and a great website, it’s simple to become a business coach on your own. Work with small business owners or startup-hopefuls to carefully craft business plans, and advise those who need that extra motivation. If you know you can be a good motivator and not just a “yes man,” their investment in you will have great returns.

The Best Customer Service Solutions for Small Businesses

Excellent customer service is critical to running a successful business. But gone is the era of phone-only support. These days, customers expect support to be convenient and fast. This means being available wherever they are, whether that’s on Twitter, Facebook, email or your website, and whether they’re getting in touch via their smartphone, tablet or an old-fashioned phone call.

From help-desk services to live chat, social media and mobile support, here are 10 customer service solutions for your small business.

1. Freshdesk

Teamwork is key to excellent customer service. Freshdesk is a help-desk platform that lets customer support agents work together to deliver the best level of customer service possible. When a help ticket is opened, all team members can see the ticket and the customer. Freshdesk can show you which agent is working on the ticket and its status, customer information and communications, internal notes about the issue and more. This way, if customers call back and different agents are assigned to tickets, they can easily get caught up quickly to resolve issues. Freshdesk also comes with service level agreement (SLA) options for your customers, which helps you prioritize tickets and gives them an idea of when they can expect a response. [3 Ways Customer Service Has Changed (And How to Adapt)]

Freshdesk starts at $16 per agent per month. A free version is also available, but is limited to three agents; each additional agent costs $15 per month.

2. Zendesk

Sometimes, customers need one-on-one help; other times, they’d rather solve issues on their own. Zendesk is all about putting customers first. It features both an easy-to-use multichannel ticketing system — which organizes all email, Web, social, phone and live chat communication in one location — and a customer self-service portal for customers who prefer to troubleshoot issues themselves. Zendesk can also help you build more meaningful relationships with customers with its customer engagement feature, a platform that gives you access to key data and insights to improve performance and deliver personalized customer support.

Zendesk starts at $1 per month per agent and is limited to email ticketing. More comprehensive plans start at $25 per month per agent.

3. Desk

Want to make customers happy? Desk can help with its fast, efficient customer support system. Designed specifically for small businesses, features like universal inbox, case management, productivity tools and workflow automation help you stay organized and speed through help tickets without compromising quality. In addition to phone and live chat customer service, Desk includes unlimited Web, email and social media (Twitter and Facebook) support. Agents can also access the platform and help customers on the go with the Desk app for iOS and Android.

Desk starts at $30 per agent per month. An advanced plan is also available for $135 per month per agent, which lets you customize your plan and includes enterprise level features.

4. HappyFox

Support tickets don’t create themselves. From phone calls and chat to email, social media and Web inquiries, HappyFox can take help requests from multiple channels and automatically convert them into tickets in an organized, efficient help-desk system. The platform can also help you deliver fast customer service by identifying common issues and grouping related cases, as well as split tickets among multiple agents for more complex problems. Additionally, HappyFox integrates with a wide range of business apps — including Google Apps, Salesforce, SugarCRM, Insightly, SurveyMonkey and FreshBooks — to streamline customer service with the services your business uses the most.

HappyFox costs $9 per month per staff member for startups, or $19 per staff per month for small businesses.

5. ClickDesk

Want to provide on-demand support on your website? Try a live-chat service like ClickDesk, so customers can get the help they need as they browse your products and services online. ClickDesk offers three types of live-chat support: instant messaging, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) voice chats or video calls. Agents can manage all of these in the ClickDesk help-desk portal, where they can handle multiple conversations and stay organized to give customers a great experience. If agents don’t like the portal, chats can also be taken via Google Hangouts.

ClickDesk starts at $16.99 per month. A free version is available, but it’s limited to one agent and voice chat.

6. Olark

Live chat helps you with more than just customer service; it can also help you boost sales. Olark uses live chat to give businesses an opportunity to close sales before customers click away. Agents receive multiple chats, as well as prioritize them — for instance, to prevent shopping-cart abandonment. It also provides detailed customer information to help agents with the sale, such as browsing histories, how long customers have been on your website, contact information and whether they are returning or new customers. Olark also integrates with many third-party business products, such as Salesforce and Magento, to streamline customer service with the rest of your operations.

Olark starts at $15 per month for one operator and includes all core features. For more operators, check out the Gold plan for $44 per month.

7. My LiveChat

If you’re not sure if a live-chat solution is right for your website, try a free service like My LiveChat first. It offers key functions available in paid services, such as multiple tickets, chat transcripts and real-time visitor monitoring, as well as pre-written responses to save agents time. My LiveChat is also highly customizable, so you can personalize chat windows with your own colors and branding. The software can be accessed over the Web and on Windows, Mac, Android and iOS devices.

My LiveChat is 100 percent free. Paid plans, which eliminate the My LiveChat branding and give you email reports, start at $15 per month.

8. Sparkcentral

When customers have a problem with a company, many turn to social media. Sometimes, they’ll sound off to their followers; other times, they’ll tag or mention you to get your attention. Get a handle on social media customer service and respond to issues with Sparkcentral. This social media support platform features an engagement dashboard to help agents quickly resolve issues and improve response times, a reporting and analytics portal to track metrics and productivity, and real-time collaboration tools to automate workflows and share knowledge to help customers as a team.

Contact Sparkcentral for pricing information.

9. Parature Facebook Portal

Expand your social media presence by providing 24/7 customer support on Facebook. The Parature for Facebook Portal provides a comprehensive, personalized support center right on your Facebook page. It lets customers submit help tickets, get live-chat support, access a FAQ section and find updated information, all without leaving Facebook. This way, customers can get help directly from your support team and the resources on your Facebook page, instead of posting about their issues on your Facebook wall.

Contact Parature for Facebook for a price quote.

10. Helpshift

Does your business have a mobile app? Use Helpshift to deliver customer support right from your app. This in-app messaging platform lets you help customers on mobile devices, so they don’t have to go to your website, search for answers or make a phone call. Helpshift makes getting answers as easy as texting, thus giving customers a better customer service experience that works for them. Features include image and video attachments — for instance, customers can send screenshots to show you their problem — push notifications, analytics and the ability to customize colors, fonts and other branding. Helpshift supports iOS, Android, HTML 5,Unity, Cocos2d-x and PhoneGap apps.

Make Your Business Better at Customer Service With Internet

What is the so-called internet of things? It’s most visible in smart appliances, such as networked thermostats or refrigerators. But the internet of things, or IoT, is a concept that comprises much more than just the technology and devices that power smart homes. The internet of things includes incredibly powerful applications for the business world of tomorrow, with built-in dedications to efficiency and data analysis to allow companies to operate more productively and cost-effectively.

“IoT is all about taking everyday objects and appliances that were previously not associated with the internet and connecting them in a way that allows the specifics of those objects to be controlled, monitored or adjusted via the internet,” Pete Sena, chief creative officer and founder of Digital Surgeons, told Business News Daily.

But what does that look like? From managing and optimizing modes of production to delivering a more satisfying consumer experience, IoT forms the bedrock of a powerful new engine for the vehicle of commerce. Coupled with other emerging technologies, like augmented reality, IoT has the potential to radically alter the way business is done.

IoT today

Experts agree that IoT implementation is still in its early stages. When it comes to IoT-compatible “smart” devices, consumers are typically most familiar with products such as Nest’s Learning Thermostat, which learns and adapts to your patterns of behavior and the changing of seasons to program itself for optimal efficiency and comfort. That ability — to learn and make decisions without human intervention — is what makes IoT such a powerful tool for both individuals and businesses.

Companies are already using networked products and sensors for a wide variety of reasons, including to streamline the manufacturing process, to track and analyze shipments, to better understand consumer needs, and to make more informed decisions.

“We see three main use cases for IoT in the companies we work with,” said Ryan Lester, director of IoT Strategy for IoT platform Xively by LogMeIn. “The first is around connectivity for new feature enablement … The second is for better service, to understand when [a product] will fail and if it needs new parts, for example. And the third way is recurring revenue streams or ‘replenishables.’ By monitoring, say, an air filter, a company can automatically ship you a replacement based on your usage.”

In recent years, retailers have begun employing IoT to get a better understanding of how consumers interact with products in the retail environment. Now, manufacturers are using it to develop better practices, by networking essential machines and robotics throughout the process, said Nick Kramer, senior director of data and analytics for SSA & Co.

“We’re seeing people putting sensors on the machines that do the manufacturing, which allows them to process the data to see something trending toward poor quality,” Kramer said. “You can then address trends proactively, before it’s a problem. It’s about anticipation instead of reaction.”

Kramer described how IoT could be used to monitor a product from its creation to its end point. First, networked manufacturing monitors the creation of the product to ensure quality and efficiency, as well as to eliminate any problems before they escalate. Next, IoT helps track and coordinate shipping logistics, again ensuring efficiency, speed and accuracy. Once products are in a warehouse or distribution center, detailed information about inventory and organization, as well as interaction with other autonomous systems such as stock-picking robots, can all be managed by an IoT system. Finally, when a product arrives at its destination, IoT systems can deliver data about maintenance and user interaction, thus creating a more personal and customized experience for the consumer.

Lester said IoT will help businesses boost loyalty and create lifetime customers.

“Because you understand that customer really well, you move from being a one-time transaction to selling them a product as a service,” Lester said. “If you can better understand a consumer’s challenges, you can deliver better products. The second way is the ability to become part of an ecosystem of devices” interacting with one another to create new value for the customer, he added.

“The more we can understand a person, their behaviors and life, the more we can tailor experiences around them,” Sena noted. “It’s about creating more unique experiences for consumers [and] giving them power and control.”

The future of IoT

Business News Daily asked industry experts to comment on how IoT technology might evolve and how businesses might incorporate these systems in the future. Here’s how some of them envision the future of IoT.

Predicting consumer behaviors and needs

“As all of the devices begin to store data about our activities, they will begin to understand our lives. All of this information will be aggregated by a software platform uniting all of our devices — the internet of things — and we will interact with these devices through our virtual assistants. If your virtual assistant reminds you that you are almost out of coffee, knows the brand of coffee you regularly purchase and how much you pay for it, maybe it recommends a different brand at a similar or lower cost. If a company wants to reach an ever-growing amount of consumers, they need to get past the virtual assistant gatekeeper, or find themselves competing for the ever-shrinking audience consuming legacy media and/or researching products manually.” – Justin Davis, director of enterprise sales, CenturyLink

Personalized one-to-one marketing

“Businesses, specifically brick and mortars, will find most success using interactive displays and providing real-time answers for customer needs. Displays can help you create your own model of product —Nike is a good example of this —and take you through varying iterations of products and solutions. You can also be able to point your phone at any product in the store, using the store’s interface, and receive information and pricing.” – Bahman Zakeri, CEO and chief strategist, Xivic

Continued streamlining of business operations

“IoT is expected to revolutionize traditionally managed businesses and, in conjunction with big data analytics, would result in more effective and efficient use of resources. Service companies can leverage IoT-based solutions [by helping] their technicians to monitor and assess issues visiting their customer’s location. IoT would help bridge the demand-supply gap for businesses, especially small and medium enterprises, with the integration of inventory management and customer relationship management systems. In a world where everything is connected and devices intelligently communicate with each other … the IoT could well become internet of everything.” – Abhinav Sridhar, senior consultant, Aranca Research

Enable better, autonomous allocation of resources

“IoT … excels at allocating resources; it’s designed to “give life” to inanimate objects. This allows connected objects to work better, learn to work together, adjust to changing environments, and try to prevent problems.” – David Tal, president of Quantumrun.com

IoT challenges

Despite the huge and wide-ranging possibilities, implementing IoT will not be easy. If it really represents the radical shift that professionals like Kramer suggest, then there will certainly be a lot of pitfalls and obstacles along the way. One such challenge is getting consumers to trust and adopt the new technologies.

“In people’s eyes and ears, IoT is this sort of buzzword,” Kramer said. “There’s going to be an adoption challenge; [some people] don’t want these things to know what they’re doing. I expect some resistance at the end-user adoption level.”

However, that’s not necessarily true for businesses. Indeed, Kramer said companies are already implementing IoT solutions en masse.

“I definitely think businesses will adopt with less hesitation — we’re already seeing it,” he said. “To stay in the game, you’re going to have to adopt these things.”

But another challenge lies in actually building and maintaining IoT systems. According to Lester, until IoT systems are properly constructed and open enough to share and analyze data, a large amount of information will be essentially useless to the businesses looking to profit from their own networks and sensors.

“People are too caught up in the tech part of IoT and are kind of missing the business opportunities,” Lester said. “The vast majority of companies say that connecting product data is important, but only 51 percent of companies are actually collecting that data, and less than one-third are making that data actionable, are able to analyze it. There’s a disconnect there.”

To bridge that gap, companies will have to bring organized data into business systems already in use, as opposed to using a separate, dedicated IoT system, Lester said. That way, the people who need to use the data can easily access and analyze it.

“There’s really good information coming from connected products, but we have to get it to who can use it best,” Lester said.

And, of course, security and privacy remain the major concerns surrounding the internet of things. Hackers can steal private information or misuse aggregated data, and interconnected systems are particularly vulnerable to malicious attacks or tampering. Therefore, the industry will need to continue to devise strong and creative countermeasures as IoT develops, Kramer said.

“The more things are connected … the only way to truly protect a device is to not connect it to anything,” he said. “But that precludes you from getting any real value out of it. The thing that has to be in place is the security and privacy aspect.”

How Businesses Can Prepare and Adapt With Internet

The Internet of Things (IoT) — Internet-connected devices that communicate with one another — has been highly discussed in recent years, especially as the capabilities of smart technologies continue to advance. Most tech-savvy consumers are aware of the way that the IoT will impact their home and work life, but what does this upcoming trend mean for the business world?

“The ‘connected world’ vision is no longer a buzzword — it’s already happening,” said Waqas Makhdum, vice president of marketing at cloud mobile app development platform Kii. “Over the next few years, we see it becoming an integral part of our lives, whether it is through smart homes, smart cars or smart health care. It’s clear that the IoT will disrupt most industries.”

Five tech industry experts shared their thoughts on the major changes that will come with the evolution of the IoT, and what businesses of all sizes can do to prepare and adapt.

Focus on services

In years past, technology advancements were focused on hardware: Everyone needed to purchase a certain device or program (and each subsequent version) in order to stay current. But as the IoT advances, Raj Badarinath, senior director of product marketing at commerce solutions provider Avangate, believes that this model is going to change.

“Revenue will not come from the hardware, but instead from services on top,” Badarinath said. “In the IoT era, new models such as subscriptions, freemiums and bundles are rapidly becoming the preferred choice over traditional hardware options. Services are easily upgradeable, much more amenable to ecosystems that are constructed around hardware, and provide multiple revenue opportunities rather than a one-time sale.”

The problem with this service-centric environment is that small businesses are struggling to find the best strategy to charge customers for value in a transparent, secure and easy manner, Badarinath said. A customer-centric commerce platform can keep track of critical data like purchase history, payment methods and loyalty program information to help companies improve the customer experience and create a solid foundation for monetization.

Harnessing and analyzing data

The premise of the IoT is that, at any given time, devices can transmit data to and from one another and process it to improve decision-making. Businesses have already been tackling the challenge of harnessing Big Data through their own internal analytics platforms. The IoT presents this same challenge on an even larger scale.

“The IoT is not just about connecting cameras, fridges, vehicles, etc.,” said Todd Krautkremer, vice president of sales and marketing at cloud-based virtual private network service Pertino. “People want to analyze vast amounts of data and be able to do things with that information that are relevant and impactful. But how do we take this data and make it intelligible, accessible and actionable from a business standpoint?”

Krautkremer emphasized the importance of cloud-based computing to ensure that all connected devices can always be monitored, updated and controlled in real time. He also noted that third-party service providers will be critical to helping smaller businesses keep track of data and capitalize on the IoT.

The cloud and the customer experience

It’s clear that the IoT will continue to increase the amount of data businesses need to process. But with such a strong focus on finding the right data solutions, it can be easy to lose sight of your most important business driver: your customers.

“Companies have to keep an eye on their customer experience,” said Lynda Smith, CMO of cloud communication solutions provider Twilio. “There’s a lot of work going into making sure [the IoT] experience is natural [to human users].”

Smith reminded small companies to take advantage of the cloud to help them develop a great customer experience and compete with larger enterprises. This can range from using cloud solutions to deal with incoming customer data to facilitating customer service interactions in the cloud.

New security challenges

The downside of the IoT is that more data and more connected devices mean more opportunities for hackers and cybercriminals to launch an attack. The security risks associated with the IoT must be taken into consideration by businesses of all sizes.

“If you have devices recording and reporting [data], there’s a lot of risk,” said Walker White, CTO of clean data solutions provider BDNA. “If a device is connected, it can be hacked. With fully automated security systems, someone could break in, lock all the systems, and even remotely turn the lights on before they get there. These are very real risks.”

If you think the answer is to “avoid the IoT,” think again. White believes it will be nearly impossible to steer clear of the age of connectedness.

“People say they won’t embrace it, but that’s like saying you don’t embrace the Internet now,” White said. “It’s coming and you can’t fight it. Everyone will benefit [from the IoT], but unlike other technologies, this has a great deal more risk. The broadest storyline here is to proceed with caution.”

‘IoT-izing’ your business

Many businesses, especially smaller ones, are usually late adopters of technology, Makhdum said. But the IoT presents an opportunity for businesses of all sizes to add real value to their bottom lines, customer satisfaction and other significant KPIs.

“It is very important that businesses remain proactive in building a plan framed around what part of their company can practically be ‘IoT-ized,'” Makhdum told Business News Daily. “Framing and planning this will be crucial for successful IoT initiatives.”

Makhdum recommended investing in the IoT-related technologies such as sensors, data intelligence and infrastructure to support the volume of connectivity and resulting data. Focusing on employee training in both customer-facing and internal processes will also help companies take full advantage of the IoT.

Finally, be sure to connect with others in and out of your industry to stay up to date on the latest changes that may affect your business.

“There will be unpredictable and unexpected challenges that occur in real-time that will be hard to be prepared for,” Makhdum said. “Collaborating with industry and cross-industry consortiums help ensure sharing best practices across the board.”

How To Make Customer Service Has Changed

The basic goal of keeping customers satisfied has always been at the heart of customer service. In years past, it meant doling out smiles and fielding the occasional phone call from an upset customer. In the modern world, there’s a whole lot more to it than that.

The biggest change in customer service is the sheer number of channels through which people can contact your business. Instead of just phone calls and snail mail, consumers can now reach you by email, social media, text message, video call and live chat. Mobile technology has also enabled constant connectivity, giving customers 24/7 access to public forums in which they can talk — or complain — about your company. Only organizations that are willing to adapt and respond to this shift in business-consumer dynamics will survive.

Current business leaders and customer service experts shared their thoughts on how the landscape of customer care has changed, and where it’s headed as technology and communication continue to evolve.

Customers are in control — and that’s how it will stay.

Smart business leaders know that customers are now in the driver’s seat when it comes to public brand perception. The Internet has given consumers a powerful voice, and they’re not afraid to use it.

In the past, if a customer had a problem with a product or a company, there wasn’t much they could do about it, said Robert Johnson, president and CEO of customer service software company TeamSupport. Now, a person can let the entire world know about a poor experience.

“We’ve all seen Yelp reviews, YouTube videos and posts on social media lambasting brands,” Johnson said. “This type of consumer empowerment has only existed in the past few years.”

“You can’t treat people badly anymore,” added Alex Bäcker, CEO and co-founder of queue management solution QLess. “People no longer stand for [waiting] in line, being on hold or having their time wasted.”

Consumer empowerment also means that customer expectations about when and how they communicate with brands are incredibly high. It’s not enough to provide a “business hours only” phone number or email address for customer support — you need to be where consumers are, right when they need you.

“You can no longer segment yourself to service practices that only you are comfortable with,” said Amir Zonozi, chief strategy officer of social influencer engagement platform Zoomph. “When a customer reaches out to you on Twitter, it needs to be solved on Twitter. When they reach out to you via email, it needs to be solved via email. Asking your customers to switch their preferred method of communication is taking your customer out of their comfort zone and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.”

Quick, personalized responses are a service benchmark.

Social media can be a blessing for businesses that use it well, and a curse for those that don’t. But love it or hate it, it’s here to stay as a customer service channel, and your business had better get on board if you want to keep up with consumer demands. Ignoring customer comments, whether positive or negative, won’t stop people from posting them, and this approach could even damage your reputation more than any product issue or poor experience.

“Embrace social media as an opportunity to not only directly connect with your customer, but to publicly demonstrate your ability to quickly respond to your clients with outstanding service,” Zonozi told Business News Daily. “Every business makes mistakes, but what differentiates great customer care is when the public can see a response that really solves a problem and shows your dedication to individual experiences. People care more about you mastering the response than they do about the mistake or issue itself.”

Simon Chkifati, co-founder of Luxor Limousines, agreed, noting that successful companies have to be literate in all social media channels and know how to productively handle complaints on any of them. This means offering a personalized, relevant response to every customer inquiry.

“Generic responses to customer issues are no longer effective because customers now expect a more tailored approach,” Chkifati said. “Customers who feel cared for will use your service again and ultimately become advocates, recommending your service via word of mouth, both online and in the real world.”

Customers want to help themselves.

Some businesses have troubleshooting guides and FAQ pages on their websites, but companies are increasingly trying to help customers solve their own issues.

“Customers want the ability to help themselves, and we see more and more companies implementing self-service strategies,” Johnson said. “If done correctly, customer self-service can be a great ‘win-win’ where the customer gets the answers they need at a lower cost to the company. The holy grail of self-service is if you can get a robust customer community put together which allows customers to talk with each other and even solve each other’s problems.”

“As customers use more and more self-service, customer service agents will get more complex questions, so businesses need smarter knowledge to empower agents to handle those questions,” added Anand Subramaniam, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at eGain Corp., a provider of customer service management software.

For more information on customer self-service, visit Business News Daily’s guide.

Texting isn’t just for peer-to-peer communication.

Today’s consumers are used to firing off text messages at all hours of the day to share information, ask questions and carry on conversations with one another. Although it may not be the norm for business-to-consumer communication just yet, text alerts are becoming more prevalent and accepted. In fact, a recent survey by cloud communications provider Corvisa found that 77 percent of consumers are open to getting text messages from companies, particularly when it comes to fraud alerts (56 percent); reminders for payment, appointments, reservations, travel status, etc. (54 percent); and notifications of sales, discounts or special promos (49 percent).

“Given the increasing prevalence of text messaging, especially among millennials, I think we’ll see more companies using SMS as a way to deliver convenient, high-quality customer service,” said Matt Lautz, CEO of Corvisa. “Texting allows companies to proactively engage with customers in a number of ways, using an outlet that matches the lifestyle of today’s consumer.”

Consistency is the key to improving service.

Collaboration allows people to connect from practically anywhere in the world to brainstorm, share and execute great ideas that drive the company forward. The same principle can and should be applied to customer service, both among the various departments in an organization, and between businesses and their customers, experts say.

Businesses aren’t great at this yet, Subramaniam said. According to an eGain survey of 5,000 consumers, the biggest pain points in customer service are insufficient knowledge and inconsistency among agents, and the inability of websites to deliver answers.

“Take a unified hub or platform approach to omnichannel customer engagement and knowledge management, rather than taking a point solution approach,” Subramaniam said. “This enables seamless customer experiences across touchpoints, while speeding up time to market.”

Johnson noted that anyone in the company dealing with a customer issue should be able to efficiently share information, and have that customer’s history and previous experiences right at their fingertips. The right tech tools ensure that knowledge moves quickly and that solutions are recorded for future reference, in case the issue arises in the future.

No matter what industry you’re in, it’s more worth it than ever to invest the necessary time and resources into providing the best possible customer service. Any and all interactions today have the potential to be a lasting record of how your company treats its customers — and it’s in your best interest to make that record be a good one.

Smart Tips to Maintain Business Growth

When entrepreneurs launch their businesses, they often think rapid growth and record-breaking sales numbers equate to success. And with so many media outlets covering startups boasting incredible spikes in their revenue and customer bases, it’s easy to understand why. Companies that don’t see fast expansion may feel discouraged, but is this type of immediate success really sustainable?

Business owners who focus on growing quickly may want to take a lesson from the classic “tortoise and hare” fable, in which the slow but steady tortoise won against the hare. Though speed might put you ahead of the competition at first, you’ll likely end up burning out before the race is over.

“There is always a desire to move it to market as soon as possible, lest [the business] becomes obsolete or a competitor yanks the title of ‘pioneer,'” said Jay Jumper, president and CEO of electronic signature service company SIGNiX. “This is a natural mentality for business owners, but it’s not always the best strategy for building a successful company anchored in long-term development and growth. Rather, deliberate, steady maturation, characterized by careful research and long-term forecasting, allows a company to position itself for enduring success and sustainability.”

“Steady growth that builds on a strong foundation is better for all the vested parties in the long term,” added Numaan Akram, founder and CEO of Rally Bus, a crowdsourced event transportation company. “Companies that grow fast are often foregoing fundamentals — profit, processes, protocols, etc. — which leaves them open to competition. A company that built [its] foundation with strategic thought will be less vulnerable as it accelerates growth.” [Grow Your Business: 5 Tips for Scaling Up]

Maintaining slow but steady business growth

In an age of instant gratification and decreasing patience and attention spans, “slow and steady” is a difficult path to follow. It takes smart restraint, intense focus and a true vision of the future needs of the marketplace, Jumper said. If your goal is to build a slower but longer-term strategy for your business, here are a few tips to help you accomplish it.

Take your time, but be ready to move quickly when necessary. This advice sounds contradictory at first, but Stephen Sheinbaum, founder of alternative financing company Bizfi, said that following it is what helped his business stay ahead of the competition.

“There is, for some companies, a temptation to grow rapidly just to stay in the headlines,” Sheinbaum said. “It took [Bizfi] 10 years to reach $1 billion in funding originated, and that was absolutely the right pace of growth. We took the time to refine our underwriting, and as a result, we are extremely happy with our portfolio’s performance. Not every company in alternative finance can say that.”

While it’s a good idea to slow down and really refine your product or service, you also need to recognize which opportunities can help you grow — and when you find one, be ready to move in and seize it, Sheinbaum said.

Invest in the right people when you need them. Hiring more staff to ensure growth is a double-edged sword: You’ll have more human capital to get your “growth” work done, but you’ll also have a much larger payroll, which could ultimately hurt you if you don’t expand as quickly as you thought you would. Therefore, strategic hiring — finding the right people at the right time — is very important.

“One of the best ways to ensure steady growth is to invest in people,” Akram said. “Co-founders and early employees [must] have proficiencies that complement each other. [You need] angular individuals [to] come together to create well-rounded teams.”

Sheinbaum noted that your business should be constantly adding employees who have cutting-edge skills in the areas in which your business wants to expand, but only if it makes sense to do so.

“There is no point in making a hire if it is not going to add to the growth of the business,” Sheinbaum said.

Keep an eye on your cash flow. Quick, exponential growth doesn’t necessarily guarantee future burnout, but slow growth doesn’t ensure longevity, either. It’s all about running your business smartly and efficiently, regardless of your growth rate, said Martin Okner, co-founder and managing director of business advisory firm SHM Corporate Navigators and chairman of ACG New York. He told Business News Daily that managing your company in a way that maximizes cash flow will put you on the path to success.

“We often see companies that are growing rapidly make the mistake of investing too much money and time into marketing and staffing, and not enough time and money on the innovation pipeline, channel diversification and development, order fulfillment, and supply chain,” Okner said. “[However], slow-growth companies spend too much time and money on innovation … while not investing enough time and money into sales. Either trajectory, if managed well, will work out in the long run.”

Plan for the future, rather than just acting on current trends. If you’re in an evolving industry like technology, you know how important it is to stay on top of what your competitors are doing. A strategy based on trend chasing might get you immediate results, but you’ll be better equipped for real, lasting growth if you look toward the future as well.

“Envision long-term operations from the start,” Jumper said. “Not only do you need to think about what your product or service will look like a decade or more into the future, you should consider the greater trajectory of its application.

“For instance, highly regulated industries like health care and financial services weren’t jumping on the e-signature bandwagon when we started, but that’s where we envisioned real success because that’s where there are a lot of paper-heavy transactions,” he added. “With a clear destination in mind, we could build a strategy to win the race to get there with a deliberate strategy.”

Bosses Must Avoid This Because Killing Company Culture

Bosses are letting their employees down.

New research finds that many workers seem to doubt the ability of their company’s leaders to make workplaces run smoothly, drive accountability and inspire risk-taking. And, more than 40 percent believe that individual employees, not leaders, have the biggest impact on a company’s culture.

A study by consulting firm Root Inc. reveals that less than 40 percent of employees feel their manager has established an effective working relationship with them, with just 26 percent saying their managers embody the same values that are expected of them.

Supervisors aren’t doing a very good job of motivating those who work for them, either. More than two-thirds of those surveyed feel that most of their company’s leaders are better at their own jobs than inspiring others to excel.

The study reveals that the strained relationships have left most employees with little faith in their company’s leaders. Less than a quarter of those surveyed feel that upper management truly has the best interests of most of their employees at heart, while less than half think that these executives are committed to the company’s vision.

“From connecting everyone in the organization to the strategy of the company, to creating the right culture that supports the behaviors and process that will achieve the strategy, to making training more relevant to the jobs that people have, there are clear, actionable approaches that leaders can take to transform their organizations,” said Rich Berens, president of Root. “The good news is that while it’s not easy to drive culture change or approach communication in a different way, it’s all possible, and every incremental change will yield significant results.”

More Information About Common Causes of Corporate Culture Crises

What’s the glue holding your business together? Chances are it isn’t money, but something more difficult to put into words — an underlying current that forms the basis of all your decisions and interactions. What is this intangible force? It’s called culture, and it has the power to make or break your business.

Culture is a powerful force that can have a huge impact on the success of any company, whether it’s a tiny online retailer or a giant corporation. But harnessing this force isn’t always easy. Kai Hammerich — an international headhunter with Russell Reynolds Associates in London — believes that, to get culture working for your company, you may need an outsider’s perspective.

Hammerich’s new book, “Fish Can’t See Water: How National Culture can Make or Break Your Corporate Strategy” (Wiley, 2013), offers insight into how today’s business leaders can better understand culture — both their own and that of other companies. Hammerich and co-author Richard D. Lewis lay out the ground rules for making culture the center of your business.

In an interview with BusinessNewsDaily, Hammerich explains why your business needs a guidebook for navigating the nuanced world of business culture.

BusinessNewsDaily: What is your definition of culture?

Kai Hammerich: There are several definitions of corporate and group culture. The American guru of culture and leadership, Edgar A. Schein, defines organizational culture as “a pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems.”

From this definition, it follows that culture is learned, reinforced and handed to the next generation and new members of the group. Culture has a purpose in terms of achieving common objectives. Perceived success will reinforce the culture and make it stronger. A group will develop its own distinct patterns of behaviors and beliefs to support the culture and the internal socialization process.

BND: What purpose does culture serve in the business world?

K.H.: Corporate culture serves to guide the members of the group or the company in terms of accepted behavior, both internally and vis a vis the outside world of customers, partners and the wider public.

At its very best, corporate culture guides judgment and enables people to overrule man-made systems that otherwise would dictate decisions and encourage behavior, adversely affecting the organization.

BND: The title of your book raises an interesting point. Can you explain how a fish’s inability to see water relates to culture and corporate strategy?

K.H.: It is no longer a secret that the single biggest obstacle to successful globalization is the inability of most companies to understand the worldview and aspirations of partners and competitors. Their culture is opaque — it seems irrational. But so does ours to them. Surely we can see ourselves clearly — or can we? Can fish see water? Can we see our own cultural environment?

Where national traits are concerned, we are all experts and victims. Culture hides much more than it reveals and, strangely enough, what it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants.

BND: In your book, you mention that a business’s founder can play a major role in shaping the culture or core values of a company. Can you give us an example of where you see this happening today?

K.H.: The founders are often dominant in every aspect of company life during the embryonic startup period, and through this make a lasting impact on the corporate culture, which often will continue well beyond their own presence.

Sony rose to global prominence though a strong partnership between the founder and genius innovator, Masaru Ibuka, and his younger, more commercially and internationally oriented partner, Akio Morita. Both influenced the core culture. Similarly, the technology giants Apple, Oracle, Dell and Microsoft all were profoundly impacted by the personal values and beliefs of their founders.

BND: What are some examples of cultural traits that linear-active cultures (the U.S., the U.K., Germany) view in a positive light, but which people from nonlinear cultures (Latin America, Asia, Arab countries) might see in a negative light?

K.H.: One example is our focus on results over building relationships. Direct criticism, which may be rational and facts-based, may cause someone to lose face, and thus should be delivered delicately to become accepted in nonlinear cultures.

It is not always wise to be too dogmatic or inflexible, even if you are right. In many cultures, ambiguity and flexibility may facilitate reaching an agreement more quickly. Don’t rush — you don’t build a deep relationship in one meeting.

Linear-actives are good at completing action trains. That is, when they have embarked on a course of action or project, they will concentrate on its completion and are reluctant to allow human interference while they are thus engaged. Multiactives are less single-minded about action trains but very much concerned with completing human transactions. Once they have embarked on a meaningful conversation or other significant engagement with a fellow human, they drop all other matters until the human errand has been brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

To illustrate the point, if an American businessman is on the phone when a close friend of his suddenly enters his office, he will wave his friend into a corner to wait until he has finished his phone call. An Italian, by contrast, will quickly terminate the phone call in order to greet his friend in a cordial manner.

BND: What’s an existential corporate crisis, and what’s the most common crisis affecting today’s companies?

K.H.: As we list in the book, there are seven common causes of a corporate crisis — poor strategy facing competition, poor execution, disruption (technology or process), success, time, change of leadership and navigating a transformation point.

Most companies understand how to deal with an isolated crisis. All of the above crises happens at regular intervals in most companies — and they deal with it. However, the most life-threatening situation is when a company has two or three crises at the same time. This is when the board and the management find it difficult to navigate the situation.

Sony, after the late 1990s, is a prime example of [a time when the following] three crises coincided: Poor execution relative to the newcomer, Samsung; a technology disruption within the industry (moving from analog to digital), which required new skills and capabilities and; the transition from the founder to a managerial regime. Sony still has not overcome those challenges completely.

BND: Your book focuses primarily on the differences between national cultures. But are there any overlapping cultural traits that you find interesting? Please share them.

K.H.: From the bazaar in Kabul to Wall Street, two truisms exist — a bias for action and being customer-oriented.

BND: How can the principles set forth in your book be applied, on the micro level, to small businesses?

K.H.: The book’s primary focus is on the international company, whether large or small. Though, many of the observations are highly relevant for any size domestic type organization— including the seven causes of a crisis, and the Cultural Dynamic Model.