Friday, April 17, 2015

4 Small Things You Can Do to Make Your Employees' Lives Better

We live in an era when companies boast of providing their employees with organic cafeterias, in-office massages and free access to rooftop fitness centers. Other companies take a pragmatic approach with on-site daycare and large sunlit spaces that promote health and productivity. These perks can help employees feel appreciated, focus on their work, and develop loyalty to the company—but as a veteran business leader, Alexander Bouri knows that these things are not always practical. Many companies simply cannot afford extravagant perks, but that doesn't mean you can't make your employees' lives a little better. Here are four of Bouri's easy, low- or no-cost ways to do so:

1.  Open policy on Facebook – It's baffling how many companies forbid staff from looking at social media or, worse, install software that blocks it. This is essentially paying money to give your staff a morale problem, without actually solving the underlying issue (staff members with a poor work ethic will goof off with or without Facebook, and offline slacking is a lot harder to track or prove). Staff given a small measure of trust will by and large show that that trust is well placed, and turning a blind eye to fifteen minutes a day of Twitter is going to pay off in terms of creating a happy work environment and staff who want to stick around. Unblock the site and move on.

2.  Be flexible for family – It's one thing to say that your company values family, but it's another to make that principle a reality. Let staff know that you want them to put their families first, and then provide flexibility so they can do so. This could involve more flexible hours, allowing staff to switch shifts easily, and being liberal in allowing the use of sick time to cover family emergencies. Few offices offer this kind of attitude, and staff members will appreciate it.

3.  Provide healthy snacks – Every office has snacks at meetings at least some of the time, but they're almost always donuts or sweets. Add in the inevitable candy dishes on every desk and you've got a lack of healthy grazing options. Try putting out big jars of raw or roasted almonds (without taking away people's sweets) and add a veggie tray at the next staff meeting.

4.  Create a telecommuting policy – It's long past time to allow your staff to work from home, at least for positions where it's appropriate. Take the time to come up with a trial telecommuting policy and see how it goes. Ask for staff feedback and evaluate the policy after six months, making sure it meets company needs.

These are all small things, but they have a huge impact. How do you show your staff you care?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How to Pitch

When you're in business, you always have a pitch to make. If it's not to potential investors, it's to a major client. If it's not a major client, it's to your own board or leadership team, asking them to try things a new way. Sometimes, you'll even find yourself making a pitch to your staff—seeking their buy-in. In Alexander Bouri's experience, a good business leader is always pitching, which makes this a central skill of business. But how do you get good at it? Here are Alexander Bouri's tips.

1.  Jump straight into it – You might think it's important to start off with a joke, or a personal story, or a leading question. All of those tactics can work, but none of them actually tell your audience what you offer or what's valuable about your idea, product or company. The number one thing on your audience's mind as you start your pitch is, "Is this person worth my time?" It's best to leave aside the audience-warming tactics and dive straight into what you can do for your audience. Lead strong with a big, bold claim. This can be your promise to solve a major problem the audience has or it can be the biggest, most impressive feature of whatever you're there to pitch. Now you've got their attention.

2.  Keep it short – Shorter than you think you need to. Even experienced businessmen routinely overestimate how long they can truly keep their audience's attention. The reality is that everyone in the room wants to know the bottom line and if you can't explain it quickly, you've lost them. You might have been given a thirty-minute time slot to make your presentation, but keep it to twenty minutes. If you were only given twenty, keep it to twelve.

3.  Never read your slides – Slides are there as visual aids and to emphasize key ideas. Use only a small number of slides—maybe a dozen in a twenty minute pitch—and use words sparingly on them. This will force you to speak, not read, your ideas.

4.  Practice, practice, practice – The only way to get good at pitching is to pitch a lot. Do a practice run before any big pitch and do as many "little" pitches as possible. You never know when someone will become a client!

These are just a few of the things that Bouri has learned are essential to making a good pitch. How else do you keep your business pitches in top shape?

Friday, March 6, 2015

3 Ways to Increase Sales in a B2B Business

Almost all business blogs are written with retail or business-to-consumer companies in mind. Much of this advice will translate to business-to-business operations, but much of it won't. With years of experience in the cement industry, Alexander Bouri knows that selling to another business is very different than selling to consumers and he has assembled these three sure-fire tips to boost B2B sales:

1.  Spend more time not selling – Most companies are inundated with offers from new vendors, and that means they can feel as if their time is being wasted. Nothing is more important to a business leader than their time. Instead, focus on what they don't get nearly enough of: helpful information, advice, and resources presented free of charge. In other words, spend more time talking to potential business but don't spend all of it trying to make a sale. There are many ways to do this, from holding monthly networking events to offering classes, seminars, and industry news updates. Blog actively in your industry and produce valuable resources like how-to manuals and introductions to complex topics. Become indispensable to potential customers long before they buy anything, and they will think of you next time they want to place an order or invest in a service.

2.  Always be ready to undercut – Business customers are often far more price-savvy than consumers are. Good advertising still works in the B2B world but, at the end of the day, if they can get a better price they probably will. Use this to your advantage by being perpetually ready to undercut the competition—even if that means making less profit than you'd like. An easy way to do this is an introductory offer. Tell the lead that you want them to try out your product or service to see the difference it makes, and so you're offering them the first order or month at a special price, with no obligation to stay on if they're not happy. Then make that price irresistible. If you trust in your product or service to get them hooked, then this is a small price to pay for what will likely become a long-term customer.

3.  Always offer something extra – One thing that businesses and consumers have in common is that everyone likes a freebie. Whatever you promised to deliver, deliver a little more or throw in something extra you know they'll have a use for.

What else do you do to boost your B2B sales figures?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Navigating the Internet: 4 Tips Every Business Owner Should Know

If you’re a business owner like Alexander Bouri, you hopefully know about the importance of having a good web presence.  You’d think that almost every business in 2014 would have a website, but there are thousands of businesses that aren’t taking advantage of everything the Internet has to offer.   The E-Marketer, Barlow Researchers, U.S. Census Bureau, and Jupiter Research did a study on small businesses and their presence online – and in 2009, a mere five years ago, only 43% of small businesses had a website.  If you’re new to working online, creating and managing a website can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.  When you make your new website or hire someone to do it for you, remember to keep these things in mind:

Avoid making it flashy
When it comes to website design, sometimes less can be more.  A webpage that’s full of pictures, flashing links, and other visual features are very distracting to website users.  Websites with an abundance of flashy visuals can be very visually unappealing, and have the opposite visual affect you’re trying to have. Maintain a good balance between your written content, pictures, and empty background space to make your website easy to navigate and appealing to others.
Use simplify navigation
Is there anything more frustrating than trying to look at a website that doesn’t display correctly or has confusing navigation?  A lot of websites have a navigation bar at the top of each page so that users can easily find whatever page they need to look for.  Others make the navigation bar automatically scroll when the user scrolls down so that they can always have access to it.  Either way, make it as easy as possible for visitors to find what they need to avoid frustration and therefore keep them on the site longer. While you’re at it, don’t forget to add a search bar so that it’s easy to find exactly what they’re looking for.

Remember to update
You want to have a website so that people can easily learn about your business, but you also want to give them something that will keep bringing people back.  Make sure to update your website with news about the company, industry news, blog posts, and anything that people that frequent your business would find interesting.

Be social
Today, social media can make or break your business.  A funny tweet or a Facebook post about a sale can help give your business a lot of positive attention.  Make a Google+ page for businesses to boost your SEO standings, and see what people are saying about you on Yelp and other business review websites.

In a world where people are glued to their smart phones and tablets nearly 24 hours a day, it’s crazy to think that businesses don’t need a website or a web presence. By following the above tips, you can ensure your website is a major asset to your business.

Monday, July 14, 2014

4 Tips on Starting Your Own Business

Does the idea of having your own business interest you? Or maybe you have had an urge lately to start your own business. Either way, coming up with your own business is a pleasant idea out there for many. However, some people wish to turn these dreams of owning a business and proving themselves as talented entrepreneurs into a reality.

There are many successful entrepreneurs out there, such as Alex Bouri, who began the cement company called Seament. Had it not been for his ambition, compassion, and intuitive entrepreneurial skills, he might not have made it this far, but he has been an entrepreneur for a long time now. It all started with a dream for Alex Bouri. If you find yourself daydreaming constantly about being an entrepreneur, then it might be time to start you own business.

So, how do you know if you are ready to start your own business? Here are a few helpful tips to prove that your instincts are accurate.

1. You are always thinking about new business ideas.
  • If you find yourself thinking about new business ideas—especially one idea in particular—then that is a sure sign of entrepreneurial spirit. As an entrepreneur, it is always a good idea to be passionate about a certain subject, like how Alex Bouri is passionate about his cement business.
2. You are an independent person.
  • If you are an independent person and you have recently been thinking about being an entrepreneur, then now is the chance to become one. Independent thinkers and workers are excellent entrepreneurs, which gives you an advantage. As an independent person, you are a true problem solver, which will help you to begin your business right away.
3. Your motivation has been at its highest lately.
  • Have you noticed that you have an increase of motivation lately? If that is the case, then it might be your inner entrepreneur coming out. Motivation is a very important part of being an entrepreneur and can greatly assist you in your quest to start your own business.
4. You feel stuck in your current job.
  • If you feel stuck at your current position, it might be time to move on into your very own business. No one should have to dread going into work every day, so being your own boss might be the best idea out there
Remember, these are only four tips that you can use to determine whether or not being an entrepreneur is right for you. Never give up if you see potential.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

3 Failures to Avoid as a Manager

Is there anything more exciting or stressful than starting your own business? Being your own boss can be freeing, but if you aren't used to managing people (while also managing yourself) you can run into a lot of problems. Businessmen like Alexander Bouri didn't wake up knowing exactly how to run their businesses; they learned after years of hard work and by discovering their own strengths and failings. Everyone makes mistakes when they're managing their first group of employees, but certain mistakes can leader to bigger problems down the road. When you're welcoming your first group of employees to the company, avoid these common slip-ups:

Failing to see them as employees

There's nothing wrong with having a warm and encouraging relationship with your employees, but it shouldn't go much further than having a good work rapport. It can be easy to start to see your employees as friends. After you spend a lot of time together, you'll get to know each other better and, if you share common interests, you may find yourself talking more about personal things than work issues. Friendships with employees can easily go sour with a department head change or a problem at work, and other employees may start to suspect that you favor your friends more than them. Make sure that you see and treat your employees as employees, and save your friends for when you aren't on the clock.

Failing to give clear direction

If you're the kind of boss that expects your employees to handle problems with little to no input from you, you're going to run into a lot of problems. Many bosses expect their employees to somehow know exactly what their tasks should be and how they should be doing them, and then wonder why they constantly fail to meet expectations. Be clear about what you will expect on a daily basis, as well as what you're looking for in the long-term scheme of things.

Failing to handle problems

"You say that there's a problem happening? Didn't I hire you to be able to handle problems and do work?"

We've heard variations of that line uttered by mean bosses on TV and in movies, but a lot of managers subscribe to this toxic form of thinking. Some managers are more than happy to let their employees handle whatever problems come up, but sometimes your employees are going to need some help. You can give a little direction and help without having to fix everything yourself. Always be involved when there is a problem at work, and don't assign all responsibility to your co-workers.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Should We Call it the Third World?

For a while there, it seemed that the phrase "third world" had gone out of fashion. Many, many years after Alfred Sauvy first coined the term, people stopped saying it. And could be a good thing, because Sauvy wasn't referring to poor kids with distended bellies; he was talking about countries that weren't allied with either NATO or the Communist Bloc during the Cold War.

Crazy, huh?

It's true.

In recent years, people have started saying "developing nations," which isn't much nicer, but at least we weren't relegating the world's poor to their own world. The problem is that at some point after the "third world" thing came into being, we started ranking nations by their GNI, or Gross National Income. Ironic when you consider the fact that any kindergartener can tell you that you shouldn't judge people by the contents of their wallet.

Nevertheless, we needed a way to refer to nations who weren't industrialized – who lacked roads, Internet connections, iPods, running water, McDonald's, and all other trappings of the so-called western world – and we called them the third world, and they later became the developing world.

The latter is acceptable. The former? Maybe not. Executive and philanthropist Charlie Bouri and his company, Seament, have shipped a few million metric tons of (you guessed it) cement to the developing world, as a helping hand along the path to the modern ideal of prosperity. The company has worked extensively in what was termed the "third world" while they helped develop Nigeria in the 1970s, but they have always treated the people and the country with the utmost respect.

Why? Charles Bouri is a man who cares about people.

Unlike Bouri, some people in so-called "first world" countries are prone to making broad generalizations about those who are less fortunate. Sometimes, when people encounter something unpleasant (poverty or even just inconvenience), they may utter something like "It's like a third world country over here." This carries the implication that not only is the speaker prone to exaggeration; they're also too foolish to comprehend the harsh realities of life in a developing nation. Moreover, they don't care – they can be flippant.

Furthermore, the phrase "the third world" removes from the mind of the listener everything about a country that might be admired. It reduces the continent of Africa from a place with a proud indigenous history and a vibrant culture to the stock footage in a UNICEF commercial. A thing to be pitied.

So, should people use a term that has so many negative connotations? Maybe not, but perhaps it's the denigrating mentality itself and our misconceptions about developing nations that we really need to get away from.