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.

Slack
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.

Top 5 Tips for Working from Home

Top 5 Tips for Working from Home

To promote the safety and well-being of our population during this pandemic, many companies have told their employees to stay home and work remotely. While this is a rather difficult transition for many, there are simple things to do to make life a little bit easier throughout this time. As I write this blog from my couch, I have compiled a list of tips and tricks to stay productive at home. 

1) Establish a Routine 

Establishing a routine may just be the most important tip for effectively working from home. It will help outline day-to-day activities to stay in line and productive at work. When will I start work? When will I take my lunch break? What can I do to keep me focused and motivated throughout the day? What kind of time needs to be allocated to the tasks I need to complete?These are all valid questions that can be incorporated into a daily routine. Perhaps getting in the routine of keeping and following a schedule or list to follow day in and day out will help keep you on track at work. 

2) Get Ready for Work 

This is not to say that you still need to dress business casual to work from home (although feel free to if that helps). However, sticking to a morning routine before “heading off to work” will help you get in the right mindset to be a productive employee. My top recommendation for this tip is to continue setting your alarm. Furthermore, before beginning work for the day, try doing simple things such as starting your day with some exercise, hitting the shower, and making breakfast to send a mental signal that you are ready for work. 

3) Create a Separate Office Space 

You do not need a nice, at home office to utilize this tipMy home office has become one end of my couch with a side table. The important part here is that this is not somewhere I typically sit and lounge on a regular basis. The point is to have a physical separation of your personal and professional lives within your home. It’s possible for this to work out for some people, but the one thing I recommend avoiding is working from bed. 

4) Utilize Technology and Keep in Contact with Your Team 

Technology is what makes work from home possible. However, a new adjustment for most of us is electronically communicating and coordinating shared documents with everyone. At the office, we are used to having easy access to everything we need and stepping next door to ask a coworker a question. Moving that all online can be a difficult transition. Having shared access to necessary documents through cloud technology is a necessity for team-based environments. It is also important to utilize messaging and videoconferencing apps to maintain good communication with everyone involved in your line of work. Communication is still key! 

5) Minimize the Distractions 

It is no doubt that an endless number of distractions can come from working at home. Many of us have taken on the extra role of care providers and teachers for children, are sharing spaces with family members also working from home in completely different lines of work, or have new furry coworkers who are always in your business. This is not to mention other simple distractions that arise in a home environment that we do not typically face at the office: How many trips to the fridge will I take today? What new shows are on Netflix? I’ll just take a quick ten minute break to fold some laundry. Again, a solution to this goes back to tip #3. Try to keep a separate office space secluded from many of the distractions you face to remain as productive as possible. 

But don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself falling victim to these distractions. Yes, it is important to find ways to stay focused and more productive at work. But more importantly during this time is to be honest about your work. Try to keep detailed notes of when you’re taking breaks and for how long. So, while a small break here and there may be healthy to clear your mind and get back on track, just be honest with the work you have actually completed. 

Those are just a few tips to start out with, and you may find that not all of them help or that something completely different helps you the most. What’s important to remember is that many of us are facing the same challenges that come from working at home. I find that most of us are understanding, forgiving, and patient as we are going through the same complications of this transition. In the end, this is not a permanent state and learning how to be productive with your coworkers remotely may end up being a skill we can all benefit from in the future. 

Top 5 Priorities for Client Communications in Times of Crisis

Top 5 Priorities for Client Communications in Times of Crisis

Whether your responsibilities lie in communicating to your client or on behalf of your client, a time of crisis is going to put your capabilities to the test.

1. Take extra time to personalize your communication strategies to match each audience you are interacting with.

For example, an email to clients or stakeholders might contain information about what methodology you have in place for customer outreach or how you intend to retain a surge of new customers that may drop off once the crisis dissipates. Outreach to a client’s customer base might alternatively focus on the plan to keep business operations going with minimal disruption or targeted training videos to help users self-teach. Because consumers generally react better to content they can understand, making the extra effort to customize messaging will pay off long-term.

Tip: Do something different or special to make your message stand out. Go ahead and use your electronic newsletter templates and social media channels. But maybe a personalized email from you to your clients (employees or volunteers) – without all of the graphics and polish – will let them know you are making a special effort to reach out to them.

2. When a crisis situation is ongoing, there really is no such thing as over-communication.

No matter which audience you are communicating with, maintaining a clear, consistent message is important. Let your audience know you are there to help in whatever capacity you are able. Remind customers or clients of how you’ve altered your business model to better assist everyone affected by the ongoing situation. Also, it is important to keep communicating with clients and/or customers even if your business is inactive; if your goal is to have an active, thriving business again long-term, you need to maintain those key relationships.

Tip: In a time of crisis there’s a lot to communicate in a little amount of time. Create an information hub so your audience can find all information related to the crisis in one place. Once you’ve established an information hub, update the content regularly or as new information becomes available.

3. If you must make budget cuts, be kind to your big picture bottom line.

Realistically, spending ad dollars to sell gym memberships isn’t a responsible expense when the whole state is under stay-at-home orders unable to frequent crowded places like a gym, for example. So, we understand making cuts here and there during tough times. Having said that, reallocating all your marketing dollars or thrashing your overall budgeted expenses prematurely isn’t a smart business decision. If your business weathers whatever storm it is going through, you’ll be in a better position to recover if you can hit the ground running again with some planned expenses rather than have no budget to work with and no way to reach your audience to bring them back in. The point is, try not to make decisions out of panic; think you business strategy through.

4. Keep employees and volunteers feeling in-the-know and valued.

The way leadership communicates (or doesn’t communicate) to employees and volunteers will directly impact loyalty, which can lead to a loss of talent. Employees remember how they were treated during the worst of times much more vividly than during the best of times, so it is important to allow employees as much empowerment as possible during crisis situations. In some cases, your organization will be responsible for communicating with employees or volunteers, including volunteer board members. It is important not to overlook this hugely important aspect of successful crisis communication management. Remember, you can do all the right things on behalf of your client’s brand and budget, but if you don’t treat (or help them treat) their employees with respect and kindness during troubled times, the whole structure will collapse.

5. Give good business advice without taking advantage.

It might feel like an easy upsell to encourage a client to add on social media services and an extensive SEO package to boost their business during a time when face-to-face commerce has minimized and digital marketing is critical, but who are you really serving? While your ultimate goal as a business owner is to make money, you need to be realistic and be loyal to the clients who are being loyal to you. If your team is stretched due to economic hardship, there is nothing wrong with changing price points to help your business model move forward. But pushing services on struggling clients is only appropriate if you are actually helping your client by doing so. For example, if a local restaurant doesn’t have an online presence, it is absolutely appropriate to ask the question, “How is your community going to support you if they’re unable to find you?” However, the answer isn’t necessarily to start a website, a Facebook page and an Instagram account all at once. You can give good advice without taking advantage. You can give a customer what they need without giving them everything they need at all at once.

How is Enterprise Iowa handling the COVID-19 crisis?

Like most other businesses nationwide, our team is doing the best we can to minimize the risk we put on each other and put out into our community. We’ve taken measures to work from our homes, serving our clients through Adobe Connect meetings, Slack conversations and more. While most businesses can’t have a perfect plan in place for a situation like this, our team has done well adapting to our new working normal. We feel fortunate to be able to continue to serve our clients and do our part to help stimulate economic prosperity in Iowa during this low point. For any businesses struggling to get through the economic hardship inflicted by COVID-19, reach out to see how we might be able to help revise and rejuvenate your business strategy.

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.