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Wednesday, 12 December 2012 07:00
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Bill Bradley launched America’s Best Franchises in 2005. I recently asked him how he got into the business.

Post 9/11, after owning a venture capital firm for more than 10 years, I decided to investigate the purchase of a franchise. I had vast experience in doing due diligence on a variety of business concepts but didn’t really know where to start when considering the purchase of a franchise. Fact is, most people don’t have a clue what kind of business they want to buy. You can look to your skill sets and passions but there may not be a franchise in that industry that fits your budget or is available where you live.

Little did I know, there are about 3,500 franchise concepts and most of them are not household names. Everyone knows, McDonalds and Burger King and AAMCO and Meineke but if you think about it, you can probably count on one hand the franchises you are familiar with. Ultimately, I used the search engines using broad search terms like franchises or franchise opportunities to uncover possible opportunities. My search led to a few franchise web portals featuring hundreds of franchise opportunities in a variety of industries. They proved to be a great resource for my investigation into a good franchise for me.

As I perused multiples of franchise portals, I found myself wondering why the portal didn’t offer some of the information I was looking for in my due diligence. How could I possibly narrow my search to a handful of opportunities if I didn’t know how much liquid cash I would need to get started. Or how many employees would be required. Or if the opportunity was available where I want to live and work. Given that, the entrepreneur in me using my knowledge of due diligence, decided to start my own franchise opportunity web portal.

At America’s Best Franchises, we try and provide the aspiring entrepreneur with information they can use to help in the decision process. We try to do a better job than anyone else in our industry. We currently feature more than 250 franchise opportunities in approximately 30 different industries. In addition, we post guest blogs from experts inside the industry to give our visitors an opportunity to get up close and personal with franchise opportunities they may have an interest in.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012 05:37
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One of the most common pieces of advice small business people receive is that they should hire a professional to help with their books. But, do you really need a licensed accountant for that? What about a bookkeeper? Isn’t that the same thing? What is the different between a bookkeeper and an accountant and which one should you use?

(I absolutely believe that you shouldn’t hire a bookkeeper, or an accountant for that matter, until you actually need on.)

Although the terms bookkeeper and accountant can be used interchangeably to some degree, they really aren’t the same thing. Bookkeepers are primarily data entry jobs, that do exactly what their name implies: they record financial transactions and keep the books for a business. Accountants, on the other hand, are typically a licensed profession that focuses more on reporting and analysis. They two jobs often work in tandem, with the bookkeeper doing the input and the accountant doing the analyzing.

In my experience, small businesses who’s owners are too busy selling to bother with organizing their office can often do with a bookkeeper to help them sort through and organize the mess of paperwork associated with running a small business. Once a year or so, if the business is large enough, and/or the bookkeeper isn’t your spouse, you should probably have everything reviewed by an accountant. The accountant can also help you with your taxes, if you’re so inclined.

(I personally have long advocated that small businesses do their own taxes with the help of TurboTax or the like.)

If you’re thinking about what kind of business to start, and you’re good with numbers, organized and honest, a bookkeeping business can be a good choice. A college degree isn’t necessary, because the work isn’t substantially more difficult than balancing a checkbook, but if education is your thing, take a bookkeeping course. There are many available, both online and off, that will help you learn how to balance a ledger, create a profit and loss statement, etc.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012 05:30
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In a recent change, new users must now pay to use the popular apps suite.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012 02:00
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It's the busiest time of the year, follow these four ways to decompress now.


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Wednesday, 12 December 2012 01:30
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As ModCloth grew as a company, its customer service suffered. Here's how the retro clothing online retailer calmed the chaos with a couple of tech tools.

These days there are more ways than ever for a customer to reach you. That's great--except when you can't keep up.

With Twitter, Facebook, email, and other channels all pumping customer requests into an organization, it's easy for chaos to develop. Which queries have been answered and how quickly? Who is taking care of which client and through what channel? Has anyone fallen through the cracks?

That pile-up of requests and lack of clarity on who is responding (and how fast) was exactly the problem fast-growing online retro clothing retailer ModCloth faced. When the company was smaller, a manual, DIY approach worked well. But as it grew, the number and variety of requests started creating problems.

"As a company that is driven by its community, we needed visibility into why customers contacted us and the ability to collect that information in an organized, cohesive way," says Audrey Griffith, customer-care manager at Modcloth.

"Our biggest issue was that we lacked reliable statistics about our performance, ticket first-response rate, first resolution rate, satisfaction ratings and industry benchmarks," she explains about the company's 62-member strong customer-care team.

Tech to the Rescue

After testing out five possible solutions, ModCloth settled on Zendesk, cloud-based customer service software that also offers reporting and analytics. Why Zendesk?

"The ability to customize responses, tag interactions, and collect data on a granular level were super compelling," says Griffith.

The new system provided clear results. "ZenDesk has allowed for a much more manageable workflow for the team and as a result, we've seen about 20% improvement in productivity," says Griffith. First-response times also came down from 37 hours to seven hours within seven months.

The technology seems to be a hit in terms of the team's qualitative experience as well as the quantitative improvements in key statistics. The software helps the team "recognize great service and reward employees that demonstrate our service values," says Griffith. "This has helped create more robust training, coaching and incentive programs as well as positively impacting turnover."

More Social, More Problems

But Zendesk was only part of the solution. The customer-care team's social media presence also needed improving.

"While the company prides itself on being on the forefront of social engagement with robust Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr presence, [the customer-care team] has only recently tapped into the potential of using social media to assist in customer issues," says Griffith.

Modcloth is certainly not alone in wrestling with the tricky but essential issue of monitoring and responding on social media.

"A study by A.T. Kearney found that, of the top 50 brands, 56% did not respond to a single customer comment on their Facebook Page in 2011. Brands ignored 71% of customer’s complaints on Twitter. And, 55% of consumers expect a response the same day to an online complaint, while only 29% receive one," Mashable recently reported, while also noting that 80% of companies plan to use social media for customer service by the end of this year.

That means more and more small businesses will soon be in ModCloth's shoes.

In order to keep tabs on their social streams, Modcloth now uses Sprout Social. And the team is energized to look at expanding onto other platforms and examining ways to be even more engaged with customers.

What challenges is your business running into engaging customers on social media? Do you have any solutions you would you recommend?



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