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Preparing for Remote Work: Technology to the Rescue!

Preparing for Remote Work: Technology to the Rescue!

From a technology standpoint, I don’t think there has ever been a time in history when our world has been more prepared for a crisis. Most companies are fortunate enough to have the ability to perform many of their necessary functions remotely. However, I would be remiss to not recognize the fact that creating a solid remote work environment does not come without workarounds and struggles with initial set up. We can often take for granted the technology and resources available to us in an office setting, from fast internet speeds to secure network access there are many things that make our everyday work environment convenient and comfortable.

Fortunately, our team didn’t take the COVID-19 warnings lightly, and we started to think ahead and prepare for a possible remote work scenario. Did we get it all right on the first try? Certainly not, but we were ahead of the curve by giving some early thought to how we could operate remotely.

Here are a few things we considered.

Access to Network Files

Our team relies on an in-office file network for day-to-day access to our files. The network is an efficient way for our team to stay organized by sharing files in one place that is accessible to our entire team. Moving away from this organized structure may seem challenging, but it doesn’t have to be.

We knew we obviously didn’t need every single file created in company history moved to a new location for remote access, so our team collaborated to make a list of the files that would need moved. We opted to move our files to a SharePoint folder system which is available with our Office 365 subscription. If you do not have access to something like SharePoint there are free versions of cloud-based storage such as Google Drive and Dropbox that you could potentially utilize.

Computer/Device Set Up

Before you can access files and securely log in to a system, you need to make sure that your computer and device setup will allow you to work efficiently. I will tell you firsthand that going from large dual monitors to a small laptop quickly gets frustrating. It’s not always simple to set up a new device configuration but considering a few things will make the process much simpler. Does your office have a spare monitor you can hook up to your laptop? What types or cords or adapters will you need to connect the two devices? Will you want a full keyboard and mouse? How will those connect to your portable device? Taking these configuration options into consideration and having the appropriate materials on hand to create your optimal working environment will pay dividends by helping you avoid unnecessary frustrations.

Team Meetings/Communication

In the beginning, your thoughts about technology needs might be limited to your own work, but if you operate with a small team, there are other things you should consider. Because our team is small, and we are accustomed to being able to hold daily in-person team meetings. In addition, we are fortunate enough to be able to walk down the hall for a quick consult with a co-worker. Luckily, we already had a few things in place that allow us to continue to communicate effectively during this work-from-home period.

Prior to COVID-19 our team was using Slack to communicate with one another in the office. When the COVID emergency emerged, our communications flow never missed a beat, and we could continue business as usual. Of course, this came with more typing of messages and fewer face-to-face interactions on more complex topics, but this tool helped keep our workflow moving forward.

Adobe Connect
Slack worked great for short conversations and questions, but it isn’t a good environment for a team meeting. Another existing software that we were lucky to have available in our toolkit is Adobe Connect. This service is commonly used for hosting webinars and web conferences.

Prior to the emergency, we would often use a teleconference in conjunction with the web conference features, but not much else. Our new circumstances pushed us to increase use of other features available in Adobe Connect, such as internal video and audio. When dealing with several team members, each with their own device configurations, there were a few hiccups to get each team members device set up to function correctly, but in the end the video and audio connection allowed us to interact like a team again.

Our team feels fortunate to have access to tools that have made our transition to remote work easier. After nearly two months of living through these unprecedented times we can begin to dream about what getting back to a new normal work environment might look like. I am certain this will look different for each company, but I am confident that the exercise of thinking outside the box to prepare a remote work environment will serve all companies well and leave them more prepared and confident for future challenges that might come there way.

Developing a Well-Rounded Training Program

Developing a Well-Rounded Training Program

Developing a training program – or creating a set of training materials for customers using technology -based applications is vital to customer retention. No smart business leader wants to lose customers simply because customers didn’t fully understand the product or service being offered.

Determining how to begin with training program development can be daunting, as there are multiple moving components. In the era of online learning it can be easy to assume that everyone has the skills or desire to use technology for learning. However, it is important to recognize that every client learns differently. While one person may prefer to review training videos alone, another may thrive in a large group setting. To accommodate these varied learning styles, it is important to provide a diverse set of training materials.

Below is a list of different types of training and how they can accommodate different customers.

Group Webinars

Using technology to provide a presentation or demonstration to a large group via webinar is a cost-effective method for training multiple clients at once. Depending on the webinar service your organization uses, many times customers even have the opportunity to use a chat pod to ask questions, monitor other attendees’ questions and observe a step-by-step tutorial.

One-on-One Webinars

While some may thrive in a group webinar setting, others prefer an individualized approach. Keep in mind that webinar technology does not always have to be used for formal webinars; you can use your webinar platform to provide individual training opportunities to your clients. Skip the formal presentation and cut to the chase by performing a step-by-step demonstration of the concepts the individual client is currently struggling with.

In-Person Training

Some people just find it frustrating to talk over a conference line or use a chat-pod to communicate with a host. For those who struggle with online learning, in-person trainings may be a better solution. One-on-one training with another person allows the individual to learn step-by-step instructions with the flexibility of ongoing interaction with a host to ensure the individual’s understanding of various concepts. In-person trainings also allow customers the opportunity to interact with other customers using your product or service, which can result in positive buzz for your brand.

Step-By- Step Training Videos

Over the last several years training has evolved to accommodate the “read less and watch more” mentality. It is common to search for answers to questions online and select a video tutorial rather than read a list of instructions. Step-by-step training videos let customers learn at their own pace, as it is simple and convenient to pause a video to make sure you understand one step before moving on to the next. Another benefit of video is they can be accessed and viewed at any time.

The downside of video training content is that since there is no opportunity for live interaction with a host, there is no guarantee you can get all your customers questions answered in just one video.

Tip: A solid approach to video training is to work with your team to identify the top issues your customers experience with your product and create a video for each of these scenarios.

Printed Training Guides

When all of the above methods for training fail to meet the needs of a customer, you can always fall back to a printed step-by-step guide. Some customers may find webinars, in-person trainings and videos to be overwhelming, preferring to learn alone. A printed step-by-step guide using a combination of visuals and instructions may be just what this customer needs to fully comprehend the concepts they need to understand to utilize your product or service.
As you can see, training is not a one size fits all approach; it is important to truly understand your customer base and their needs before beginning to develop a program. A successful training program will not only make your customers’ lives easier, but also reduce your company’s need for continuous customer support.

Are you struggling to find the right balance of training activities to help your clients better understand your products or services? The marketing team at Enterprise Iowa can help you customize a comprehensive training program that will be the right fit for your customers. Contact us today to learn more.

Emergency Communications Planning: Reducing Moments of Panic

Emergency Communications Planning: Reducing Moments of Panic

While many issues tend arise when we are least prepared to deal with them, organizations with clear crisis communications plans are in positions better suited for success. In moments of panic, business leaders can often make decisions on a whim, which may reflect poorly on their organization. Creating a crisis communication plan ensures that your entire organization is prepared to deal with communicating with your clients, customers and colleagues when a critical issue arises. Communicating the plan to your entire team and confirming it is well-understood among employees is equally important as the plan itself.

If you’re company is in the not-so-unique position of being without a crisis communication plan, don’t stress. Getting started is as simple as following these six steps.

1. Create a List of Emergency Scenarios

A great place to being is by creating a list of crisis scenarios that would require communications should they occur. Try to think about each and every aspect of your business and how each crisis scenario would impact the day-to-day operations of your customers, clients and employees. For example, is your website down? Is your payment system malfunctioning? Has your office lost electricity? All of these things have an impact on your customers and clients, and you should be prepared to keep them informed to avoid chaos.

2. Determine How You Will Communicate

Every organization has a unique audience. Think about how you would best reach that audience when something goes wrong. Some scenarios may require an email while others may only require a simple message on the home page of your website. Other scenarios may require all of the above. For example, if you are a retail establishment or restaurant facing a loss of power at your location, consider social media as being a possible tool to spread word to current and potential customers. Alternatively, if your organization focuses on web development and has suffered a bug that needs fixing, perhaps a website disclaimer or digital newsletter push would be most effective for reaching your client base. However you tend to communicate with your audience on the best of days is likely going to be the same method to communicate with your audience in a time of crisis. In some instances, you may choose to communicate on more than one channel.

3. Write Copy for Each Scenario and Communications Channel

Now that you have identified all issues, both minor and major, you need to determine what the message says. Depending on which communications channels you use, you may choose to alter your message slightly between channels. Work to produce copy that is clear, concise and appropriate for the chosen communication channel(s), and be sure to avoid further inconveniencing or confusing the audience.  Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and think through all of the questions they might have and try to address those questions in your messaging.

4. Review the Copy With Your Entire Team

Once you have prepared copy for each scenario, give your team with ample time to review and provide feedback. Members of your team may have a unique perspective to share and may be able to point out additional details that should be included in the messaging. Taking time for this step will ensure that all the important details are covered and that all team members understand the messaging being provided to customers. Making sure the entire team is providing the same consistent message throughout the duration of the “crisis” is vital to successfully getting through it.

5. Create a Templated Guide With Each Scenario and the Associated Messaging

If you plan to use your bulk email service to send out crisis notices, take the time to prepare a draft for each scenario in your system. With the drafts already created, it is simple for a team member to push send on a predetermined email your audience. For other communications channels, such as social media, prepare a simple document that outlines the message for each scenario so that each message can simply be copied, pasted and posted. Your team will be grateful for anything that makes it easier to distribute out a timely message in a time of need.

6. Create a Matrix for Each Scenario

If your company has a lot of scenarios, types of customers and varied communications methods, it may be helpful to create a matrix to outline each scenario and determine who will receive the message, which communications channels will be used to communicate, and how soon and how often communications should occur. This is yet another way to keep your team on the same page and avoid panic when a crisis arises. A matrix can serve as a map so that no decisions are made in a panic.

Creating a crisis communications plan takes collaboration and critical thinking skills. Depending on the complexity of your business, the process to create a plan can be time-consuming and requires careful attention to detail to ensure each component is clear, concise and easily implemented, making dealing with the crisis less cumbersome. The marketing team at Enterprise Iowa has the ability to create a detailed and efficient crisis communication plan to encompass all aspects of your business, ensuring your company is thoroughly prepared to communicate like a pro even in times of crises. Contact us to set up an appointment to discuss devising a unique crisis communication plan for your business.

Marketing and Communications Budgeting: Setting Up Your Organization for Success

Marketing and Communications Budgeting: Setting Up Your Organization for Success

Business leaders work hard to strike the balance between all of the day-to-day functions necessary to keep things running smoothly. From customer service to financials, marketing and communications functions can often get lost in the shuffle. Amidst the chaos of everyday business practices, it is important to have a marketing professional on your team who can help you look beyond today and plan for tomorrow, next month and next year.

It’s no secret that when push comes to shove and budgets get tight, marketing dollars are often reallocated to other areas. Setting aside time to create an annual marketing plan and budget can set you up for success long-term and ensure communications strategies are executed within a desired timeline and within the predefined cost parameters. In fact, planning ahead and creating a detailed marketing budget is a vital process in setting up your organization for success – and your team will surely thank you for taking the time to analyze all available opportunities.

Follow these tips to ensure that your annual marketing budget will set up your organization for success.

1. Do Your Research

To avoid falling into the habit of simply re-implementing your previous budget, take time to do some research. Look through all your passed expenses and analyze them. For example, if your organization participates in conferences and trade shows, take time to review the smaller details, such as the dates of those conferences, the costs to exhibit and the benefits of participating. If you are considering advertising opportunities, review the costs of each option and compare that with the potential return on your investment. The costs and benefits of various opportunities change from year to year, so it is vital to do your research each year to ensure you are still making the best, most informed decisions for your business.

Bonus tip:  Be flexible. It is okay to swap out an opportunity mid-year if new information has been presented. Don’t set your budget in stone, missing valuable opportunities because you’re afraid to be flexible and make small (or big) changes.

2. Understand Your Budget Parameters

After you have thoroughly researched all the available marketing opportunities for your business, work with your management team to determine what type of budget you have available. Having these numbers upfront will help you mold and prioritize your budget to meet the needs and constraints of your company.

3. Make Decisions Based on Annual Goals & Objectives

As you mold and prioritize your budget, it is important to reflect on the strategic goals and objectives of your organization for the year. Having these goals in mind will help you determine where marketing dollars are best spent to help your company reach them. For instance, just because you have always participated in a certain trade show or have always advertised in a specific publication does not mean that those marketing activities make the most sense for your current goals and objectives. Reevaluation is key for amplifying your return on investment.

4. Think Ahead

Thinking beyond the current state of your business and planning ahead for change can be a massive benefit to your company. For example, maybe you have an exhibit display that is old and outdated. And maybe you’re also scheduled to go through a re-branding process during the budget year. Well, consider making additional dollars available for updating the display after re-branding efforts have concluded.

Alternatively, perhaps you work on a different budget cycle than the organizations you partner with. Planning for potential rate increases can ensure you will still be able to participate in marketing and communications activities with those organizations during your next budget cycle. You should always leave a bit of cushion in your budget to compensate for this potential scenario.

5. Make Sure Your Entire Team Agrees

Once you have worked through all of these details and have made tough decisions about where your marketing dollars should be spent for the year, take time to sit down with your team. Discussing the budget terms with your team will ensure that you are all on the same page regarding how dollars should be spent. It also provides time for you to pitch your plan and provide details pertaining to your research and how you determined the final budget plan. Lastly, it allows your teammates the opportunity to share their perspectives and to help identify any possible holes in the budget. Making sure everyone is on the same page from the start of the budget cycle will ensure that there are no issues as you start your new budget year.

6. Get an Expert Opinion

If you follow these steps, you can have confidence that you’ve created a strategic budget to suit all of the needs for your organization. However, finding the time to sit down and do it all is a whole different story; many business leaders find they simply don’t have the time to spare, therefore they stick to the status-quo. This is where hiring an outside agency can be extremely beneficial.

At Enterprise Iowa, going beyond the creative realm of marketing is our specialty. We are truly strategic thinkers with the ability to analyze all angles and objectives of your organization to provide a clear strategy for reaching them. Our team can look through each item in your current budget, research and identify new opportunities, and put together a plan to take your business to the next level. Contact us to learn more about creating and implementing a budget for your company or project.