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The Four Pillars of an Internet Presence: Pillars Three & Four

By Wendy Williams

In the first article of this series, “The Four Pillars of a Robust Internet Presence for Small Businesses,” printed in the November/December issue of Focus, we talked about the changeable content on your website being the ground zero for crafting the business message you wish to share and reviewed the strategy for putting this message out into the world within a different context by sharing links out via social media channels. In this article, we talk about the second two pillars: eNews programs and personal interaction.


Pillar #3

The eNews program. T his method of communicating with your audience can reinforce the outreach from the first two pillars, but add a level of permission-based and direct messaging into the mix. It can be the most powerful channel, if done with a few important strategies in mind.

Not everyone reads your blog, and not everyone subscribes to social media
The first thing businesses must accept is that no matter how much effort you put into blog posts and conversing with your audience on social media, much of what you have to say will slip through the cracks. People hunt and peck around the Web for information they want, and you are lucky if they manage to discover your site.  A good eNews program, however, has the ability to turn all this effort into a narrative, driving your audience to your website so that nothing really slips between the cracks. On top of that, is MEASURABLE.
So how does an eNews Program Work?

Once you decide how often it makes sense to send out an eNews program, the best plan is to populate it with content (articles and posts) you have already created on your blog. Thus, your eNews becomes an aggregated email that highlights everything you wish to share since you sent out the last eNews. So if you decide to include a blog post you wrote or want to share a conversation you had about a topic on Facebook, you simply include all the links in your eNews.  Everyone who receives your eNews has REQUESTED to receive it, which is a great reason to make sure you are sharing material they are going to be delighted to get in their inbox. One example of a service that can manage an eNews program is Constant Contact.  The metrics in the back end are great as they show you how many people clicked on which links, how many people “opt out” and don’t wish to hear from you anymore (this can be an important clue that you need to think about the eNews using the perspective of your audience a bit more), and even how many people forwarded the eNews or shared it via social media. It’s great data.

In most eNews programs, such as Constant Contact, there is also an option to attach a URL containing your newsletter in the eNews. This is an important option to consider as you can then copy the url into a site such as bit.ly (which also utilizes tracking information) and put this optimized link into a Twitter post and on FB for sharing. For example, one of client only has 200 subscribers, but they get over 350 page views of each eNews because of the sharing on Twitter and Facebook.

How often should a company send out an eNews?

This is an interesting question to consider. If you send it out too often, without something compelling at its core, your eNews can quickly be regarded as “junk.” The rule of thumb would be to send an eNews out as often as you have something important to say (from your customer’s perspective, not yours). For many businesses, I think it is safe to say that quarterly will work well. For a business that has a lot of scheduled events, perhaps monthly would work better. One client, a Fish Market, sends their eNews every Friday. It seems like overkill in theory, but it works because the primary mission of the eNews for this particular business is listing what perishable items are available

Background Checks Best Bet

(Reproduced with permission from Accident Fund Insurance Company of America)

There was once a time when a person could walk into a store, grab the “help wanted” sign from the window, and with as little as a handshake, walk out with a job. But the world keeps growing, the job pool keeps getting bigger and the times — well, they are a changin’. As people, we want to have faith in others, but as employers, we have to be especially cautious, as our hiring decisions affect many people. Hiring just anyone off the street is no longer a safe bet.

High stakes

Today making a snap hiring decision could leave you out of the hiring game for good. Statistics show that 30 to 40 percent of job applicants exaggerate or lie on applications and resumes. And Occupational Health and Safety Magazine states that “negligent hiring” lawsuits are on the rise. These suits implicate employers and hold them responsible for the actions of their employees. Industry statistics show that one poor hiring decision can cost a business as much as $100,000 or more.

Lay your money on the check

A much safer bet is the professionally done background check. They’re quick — typically taking between 48 and 72 hours to complete — and range in price from $100 to $200, depending on what information you want to find. The more comprehensive the search, the more it will cost. If you are a small business owner, the costs may seem high, but in the long run, it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you are still concerned about the fees, go to www.esrcheck.com and read “How to Avoid Hiring a Criminal for Under $20.00.”

Playing it safe

While there may have been a time when background checks were something employers did after the decision to hire was made, experts recommend that Human Resource departments and business owners take a new approach to the way they view the hiring process. Safe hiring is something all businesses should adopt as a way to protect their employees, their business and their time. Employment ads should state that background checks are performed. Policies and procedures should be in place regarding hiring processes and background checks, making sure that each applicant is handled in the same manner. Making it known that background checks are part of your hiring procedure will deter people with something to hide, and encourage those who wish to be considered, to lay all their cards on the table. In the long run, you will save yourself a great deal of time, money and effort by adopting a safe-hiring plan.

A winning hand

You simply can’t lose when taking a proactive approach to hiring. You will get the best candidate for the job while ensuring the safety of your workers and your business. Background checks are completely legal, if followed according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which protects job seekers and employers. Employers have a right to know whom they are hiring. Conducting background checks is your best bet for warding off unwanted job applicants and costly lawsuits.

This article was reproduced with permission from Accident Fund Insurance Company of America. Founded in 1912 and rated “A” (Excellent) by A.M. Best, Accident Fund offers low-cost group rates with a 5 percent up-front discount on workers compensation insurance as well as possible long-term dividends. For more information about SBAM’s program with the Accident Fund contact your independent insurance agent, or at the Accident Fund you may contact Theresa Ross (517) 281-9813 or Beth Goodman (517) 202-5121 for more information.

Retaining Clients: It Takes More Than You Think

By Kirk Squiers, owner of Central Michigan Graphics in Lansing. From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine.

With the proliferation of the Internet, the bad economy has made customers more price conscious. As a result, relationships and service have become the most important aspect of client retention. As the owner of a printing and sign company, I see the World Wide Web cutting into my business weekly. Just last week a customer said,” I can buy 500 business cards on the Internet for $10!” That’s great, but how does that help the Michigan economy?

Staying close to customers should be a number one priority in these rough times. Regular visits to your top ten clients and constant contact through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc. is crucial to maintain top of mind awareness. One of the many ways that my small company stays close to our clients is through our Facebook page. Every time we do a new project, we take photos of it and put it on our home page. The comments we get are amazing; not to mention that it’s like the old adage of tell two people and they will tell two people and so on. A great aspect of social media for small businesses is that it allows you to reach a large group of people with minimal time and resources.

Another great vehicle for communicating with customers is through YouTube. My company has a full video presentation of a time lapse installation on a vehicle wrap on YouTube. And the best part is – YouTube is free!

As a small business owner, your day is filled wearing multiple hats. Social media helps you reduce time spent on marketing, sales and client retention. Facebook, Twitter and blogs are great ways to keep in contact throughout the year. Start using all the free services available on the Internet and you will see client retention surge. Customer loyalty cannot be bought, it must be earned!

Here’s some strategies that have worked for us:
  • Customer communication – be sure to keep in communication with your client base. Send them small thank you notes, birthday e-mails and company newsletters. Make sure you focus on the customer over your company and foremost, do what you say you will do! The recession presents some unique challenges to customer retention management. But the current climate also provides opportunity for small businesses that know how and when to act.
  • Listen for needs and wants. Figure out how can you make the customers life easier. Diversify your product line. We were once just a printer. Now we offer signs, banners and vehicle graphics. Find a niche that you can easily piggyback onto your current offerings.
  • As a current board member of SBAM, you will hear us talk about economic gardening in terms of nurturing relationships with successful businesses already here in Michigan. As a small business owner I am constantly cultivating and gardening my current client base. It is like taking care of a garden. Water and feed the customer with things you provide to help their business flourish. Weed out your competition consistently by paying attention to details and following through.
  • And here is the kicker. If you can’t do something, admit it! Your customers will respect your honesty. 

As we move into the next few years, Michigan-based small businesses will continue to face tough times economically. Continue to seek new business and spend even more time and energy with your top ten accounts. Make it a personal goal to speak in person or on the phone directly with the decision maker of each of those top ten clients at least once a month. You can surely make enough time to call or stop by three places a week. This will lock out your competition and reaffirm your concern for the business relationship. If you do the little things that create the “Wow” factor and y

News from Social Media a New Trend?

By Emily Rozanski

Social media Web sites provide small businesses the opportunity to cost effectively reach their target markets where they are spending a majority of their time online. In addition, social media Web sites could possibly possess some time saving properties related to news and information gathering as well.

A survey, conducted by Re:NEW Michigan®, a trademark of Eiler Communications, investigated the growing use of social media marketing in business by comparing the April 2010 survey to a similar survey conducted among Michigan businesses in December 2008. Not surprisingly, social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn all saw dramatic increases in usage in the time period between surveys. The biggest leaps came from Facebook and Twitter; Facebook saw a 28.5 percent increase in usage, and Twitter saw a 30.3 percent jump.

However, a more unexpected trend was revealed by the results of the survey. Michigan businesses reported heavily using social media Web sites in seeking news and information.

However, a more unexpected trend was revealed by the results of the survey. Michigan businesses reported heavily using social media Web sites in seeking news and information. “We believe this is due to news sites directly posting on Twitter and Facebook and links of some social sites to news sites,” said Larry Eiler, founder of Eiler Communications. Survey respondents admitted to using Facebook, Twitter, and blogs just as often as they use more traditional news sites such as CNN, MSNBC, and The New York Times when they seek news and information. Many even reported using social media Web sites as their primary source of information.

What do these results mean for the future of both social media and news information Web sites? The benefits of using social media Web sites for seeking news and information are obvious. They provide the instantaneous results that people desire for instant gratification of information.

Also, the large amount of time spent on these sites and the great amount of traffic these sites see is favorable for spreading a story. But are social media Web sites sufficient in providing a business with all the information it needs? Or are they simply being used to find brief news items that require further investigation?

Do social media Web sites have the potential to make news information sites obsolete? Re:NEW Michigan® will address these questions and others involving social media Web sites in its next survey in October.

(Emily Rozanski is a writer and new media specialist with Eiler Communications, Ann Arbor)

Texting Law is No LOL Matter Outlook Voice Access Comes to the Rescue

When Gov. Granholm signed the new Texting Bill into law during a live appearance on the Oprah Show on April 30, more than a few of us road warriors started looking for practical answers to staying legal.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American spends over 100 hours each way commuting to work every year, surely a fraction of the time most road warriors spend on the road. I have to admit, I have done my share of texting while driving.
What’s the safe bet? In my opinion, “Unified Messaging” may be the answer. On the server side, Unified Messaging (UM) delivers a complete suite of voicemail functionality, but Outlook Voice Access (OVA) may be the best part of the package. OVA allows users to interact with their e-mail, contacts, and calendaring information through any telephone or mobile phone.

Among the features in OVA:
  • Listen to new and saved e-mail and voicemail messages.
  • Forward, reply, save, and delete e-mail and voicemail messages.
  • Interact with your calendar.
  • Locate a person in the global address list or personal contacts.
  • Send a voice message to a person.

Voice Commands Keep You Hands-Free and Legal

The speech recognition technology in the Outlook Voice Access system lets you use voice commands to access your calendar and get meeting details, call the organizers, or send a message notifying attendees that you will be late. Then you can access your address book, find related messages from the sender, or call the senders directly. This system may be the best efficiency tool since the PDA. Another solution is the Cisco Unified Communications platform for small businesses, a complete package of hardware and software for integrating voice and email. Beyond integration with Microsoft’s technology, Cisco offers its own software packages to manage voice mail, email and calendaring, and even integrate your customer relationship management database.

On the leading edge for many small businesses is the concept of managed phone systems, which allows a company to outsource its phone service and system to a third-party provider. The Cisco system allows small businesses — restaurants, service intensive companies or those with disparate staff — to take advantage of the features of enterprise phone systems without the capital outlay.

Using a Virtual Private Network connection — essentially a secure, dedicated connection delivered over the Internet — managed phone service routes business calls and faxes to designated phone lines, and manages the storage and retrieval of messages. Employees can check any type of message from the same inbox — either the voicemail box, accessed from a phone, or the e-mail inbox, accessed from a computer.

Similarly, a growing number of IT companies are providing hosted (or cloud computer based) Exchange Servers that deliver similar functionality to Cisco’s managed phone systems. Keep in mind, those that currently offer Outlook Voice Access usually provide a streamlined feature set in keeping with Exchange Server 2007.

To get the system off the ground, your company will need to start with a systems analysis to understand your business needs as they relate to a newer phone system. Companies with older business phone systems may need to upgrade to take advantage of this new Outlook Voice Access technology. If your company currently uses Exchange 2007, you can take advantage of most of the Exchange 2010 features if your phone system can be integrated with the server.

If you think Outlook Voice Access will make you a more responsible road warrior or save you from one of those $100 tickets, we advise that you act now as the texting law took effect July 1.

Chad Paalman is Vice President, NuWave Technology Partners.
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