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Work-life Balance While On Vacation

The degree of required work-life balance to feel productive, fulfilled and ‘balanced’ varies from individual-to-individual, culture-to-culture and situation-to-situation. Work-life balance doesn’t automatically mean less work … it means feeling the most productive, fulfilled and successful in meeting the individual demands of a person’s daily needs without feeling overworked, overstressed or exhausted.

Some people feel perfectly balanced in their lives by engaging in more work-related activities than others. They revel in working and feeling productive when the workload thickens, and they’re even savvy and agile enough to handle their personal needs and get recharged easily without having their W/L balance get out of whack. They’re just good prioritizers and managers of their personal time and needs. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for the distribution of adequate time for handling W/L objectives and pursuits … it’s purely a personal, individual balancing act.

Furthermore, culture has a bit to play in the scheme of things. Many countries have relatively liberal time-off policies for vacation/holiday when compared to others, and any interruption or reduction in such time provided to individuals may cause a psychological W/L imbalance that precludes an actual one. Presuming and anticipating that one will lack the adequate time to address their personal needs in itself will trigger the stress that leads to imbalance.

Whether a person is truly functioning under satisfactory W/L balance can be colored by one’s perception. Talk of subtracting some vacation or holiday time, or adding some unanticipated work hours to an employee’s schedule -- or to your own schedule -- for some, causes the inner clock and task prioritizing mechanism to begin to short-circuit, even before the time consumption and in balancing takes root … while others are wired to take it in stride and adjust without a problem, concern or complaint. Believe it or not, there are even some that are programmed to take on the extra demand for work as a welcomed challenge, such that they’ll relatively easily go with the flow and turn the development into a source of motivation. They simply expect W/L upsets as a portion and reality of their W/L game plan.

Included in those rare birds are many of the often high-strung, yet highly successful titans of business and industry who may actually hunger and thrive with challenges to the routine of their W/L programming. They feel more fulfilled the more they’re challenged, and are more willing to readily forego some of what others demand as the ‘Life’ portion of W/L balancing It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but is for some -- and who is one to judge what makes others tick and feel fulfilled? But for most of us, especially the younger generations, being married to the job first and foremost is taking a back seat to being able to juggle a newer life paradigm where 9-to-5-ing it, as the prime time to concentrate on work, is no longer the solitary, common and given work-day and work-way model.

Portable, flexible E-gadgetry in our possession, in an increasingly fast-paced, global society, has led us into wild and unpredictable work patterns that can force our hands and eat into any time of our day, night or on weekends, as the required or ideal time to tend to the ‘work’ portion of the W/L balance equation…thus re-balancing to gain their life’s proper balancing in the first place.

Which brings us to what to do, or how to handle W/L balance while on vacation. Part of the answer is to again, first acknowledge that everyone takes to working in general, and working non-traditional hours (what in the past would have perhaps been considered as interruptions during off-hours to many) in particular, differently. Different strokes for different folks, be it while in full, regular, year-round mode; or even during vacation/holiday.

That said, the presumption is that vacation/holidays are a time for refreshing, recharging and renewal -- and that the less time spent on the regular ‘work’ portion of the W/L balance equation, the better. It then becomes a question of expectation/standards, planning and contingency. ‘When, for what, and how’ you should you be interrupted during your vacation becomes the key question to ponder, and can only be answered by you … your expectations and standards for such interruptions … and how you will deal and cope with such possibilities. And if you’re an employee of someone else, being clear ahead of time and in sync with your employer or manager on that ‘when, what and how’ question that you have considered is also a critical factor.

Some people and cultures take the approach that: ‘I work my rear-end off during work year-round … and thus my standard is that I need to be fully out-of-pocket, when I’m recharging during my vacation -- please, no interruptions from anyone unless it is a life-threatening emergency’, That’s their standard -- and in some cultures and business-cultures, that’s the norm that managers readily respect because they too ascribe to the same standards for when they’re on vacation. Some companies even insist that vacationing employees must not work while on vacation as a way to satisfy and respect W/L balance requirements; shoot for a better chance that the employee is truly refreshing and recharging; and to improve the chances that their W/L balance needs once they go on vacation will be respected.

But for many, the pace and demands of the work-world is changing, or has changed dramatically already -- and that steady, non-interruptive standard has become increasingly difficult to maintain steadfastly. And when that is the case, just like regular work-day and work-life balance planning takes some careful plotting, so does vacation W/L balance require some thoughtful considerations, defining and working things out with the employers, clients, friends and family, so that everyone is clear and knows one’s standards and expectations for honoring the W/L needs of the vacationer.

Work/Life balance doesn’t work, during vacations or otherwise, unless there are clear parameters plus a commitment to honor those standards by individuals and their employers. No establishing of those parameters equals no balance. Again, it differs from person-to-person, culture-to-culture, and situation to situation. Planning and transparent, open communication of the standards are the keys.

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6 Ways to Start a Business with $5k in the Bank

When Brian Hooks and his daughters Emma and Lily started their business, ScreenMend, they had big dreams but not much to show for all their efforts. With a small investment and just over $4,000 in sales, the future seemed dim. However, after securing an investment from Shark Tank’s Lori Greiner, the company quickly grew and currently has over $1,000,000 in sales. As unrealistic as it may seem, you CAN start and grow a business with a small investment. In this article, we’ll review 6 strategies to start a business with a $5,000 investment.

1. Start a Blog or Affiliate Marketing Website

Have you ever asked yourself how bloggers earn enough money and manage to make a living? Blogging (or vlogging – video blogging) on a professional level asks for new content almost every day, and blogs can be used as marketing tools for attracting customers to your (or someone else’s) business.

If you open up a blog and sign up for Adsense, Google will place relevant ads on your website so you can earn money when someone clicks the ad. Simple as that! If you have decided for an affiliate marketing website, the formula is the same. Visitors have to click through your website and buy products, for example, a book on Amazon. Have in mind that choosing Adsense does not mean that you have to forget about affiliate marketing option. Most of the time, blog owners do both!

Generally, it is a good idea to start writing about things you know, and you can easily start more than one blog if things work out as you planned and do it on a full-time basis! Time is the largest investment when starting this kind of business, as you’ll have to spend a lot of time creating content - written, visual, or video. You can then leverage your investment to buy Facebook ads which can be relatively inexpensive, or to gain visibility for your blog.

Once your site has built a wealth of content, reach out to large brands and offer to become a brand ambassador. You’d be surprised at the many brands willing to pay to have bloggers out there talking about them.

2. Start a Consulting Firm or Online Education

Depending on your expertise, you can work from your home office, but you won’t have any employees (besides yourself, of course), and thanks to computer and the internet, you can start pretty much immediately.

Informational products can be extremely lucrative. You spend a lot of time creating content, but then you can resell your content over and over again.

Mort Fertel, owner of Marriage Max, created a Tele-Boot camp over 10 years ago, which he sells over and over again to couples looking to improve their marriage. To customers, he sells the course, consulting, and a downloadable product. His one-time investment in time has yielded years and years of revenue.

3. Invest using Fundrise

Do you want the opportunity to invest in million-dollar real estate deals? Consider using crowdfunding platform Fundrise, which allows you to make a small investment towards large deals. You would then own a percentage of the projects you’re investing in. “Fundrise is hoping its crowdfunding technology will do to traditional investment banks and Wall Street what the internet did to the travel, publishing, and taxi industries — make them obsolete.”

Sign up for Fundrise and carefully evaluate the different projects, with a keen eye on the projects that show the most potential for growth. You can build a low-fee portfolio with high-yielding real estate - the best of both worlds.

4. Get Certified as Fitness Instructor or Personal Trainer

As interest rises for alternative lifestyles, the demand for instructors in yoga, nutrition, weight consultants, post-natal exercise specialists haveas increased. Certification is the key component for this business and can cost from $250 to $600.

Many associations offer home study courses - check the American Council on Exercise, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, the American Fitness Professionals and Associates, the National Federation of Professional Trainers or the International Fitness Professionals Association.

Besides marketing skills (no, you can’t skip your marketing tutorials on Youtube), you will have to have great interpersonal skills and know how to deal with people.

5. Music and Photography as Professions

Businesses that once required tens of thousands of dollars became accessible for practically anyone, including music production equipment and DSLRs. On the one hand, now it is a lot easier to sell music (TuneCore, CD Baby, Reverb Nation) or photos (Shutterstock or iStockphoto), but there is so far more competition and the payment makes it harder to earn a significant profit. However, there are niches that will always stay profitable, for example taking pictures at weddings, sports events, reunions, portraits, or playing in churches.

6. Become a Programmer

Besides graphic designers, programmers are probably the most sought professionals today. Learning Java or C# is not an easy task, but as a freelance programmer, you can develop software, apps or video games for either yourself or other companies.

To conclude, before you can think seriously about starting your own business, you need to make sure you are ready for such a big step. It is of utmost importance to assess your skills and aptitude realistically and see how they compare to the business idea you have in mind. Managing your expectations becomes even more important, as $5k might not seem like a lot of money to start a business, but depending on your skills they can be a good start.

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Making Customer Engagement Fun, Memorable, and Measureable

Amazon MayDay generated a lot of hype when it was launched. The ability to engage digitally in real time via video with a customer service agent personalizes the customer service experience. Davinci Virtual Office Solutions knows the importance of providing customers with real-time engagement through the channel of their choice—phone, live web chat, or email—through Live Receptionist and Live Web Chat services.

Unusual Customer Engagement Requests

Over the past decade Davinci Virtual Office Solutions has engaged with hundreds of thousands of client customers across a wide range of industries. These interactions range from the mundane to the unusual—sometimes better described as weird. Amazon certainly isn’t immune from the gamut of interactions that occur. For example, after releasing MayDay, Amazon published a list of the most unusual MayDay requests received; they included:

• 648 instances where people sang a song to the MayDay advisor

• 44 instances where the MayDay advisor sang Happy Birthday

• 109 requests for help to order pizza

• 3 requests for a bedtime story

• 35 marriage proposals

Humans Are an Inextricable Requisite

The human element that comes with live engagement provides customers with an experience that simply cannot be emulated through automated channels. Personalization of experiences through a unique human touch is often what prompts such unusual requests. Even with the recent advances with chatbots (through the use of natural language processing and artificial intelligence) and a growing desire on the part of customers for self-service, some occasions simply call for a human touch.

These yield better results when it comes to factors such as conversion rates, customer loyalty, and revenue growth. They also prompt usual customer requests like those Amazon delineated.

3 Things to Ensure Successful Customer Engagement

So how do you get to the point where your customer service agents—regardless of engagement channel—feel empowered to deliver a unique and memorable experience to a customer in every engagement? Here are a few things that companies can do to ensure this is the case:

1. Rethink how you measure your customer service agents. Operational efficiencies such as time to resolution take secondary importance. These are supplanted with breadth and depth of customer engagement and customer advocacy, measurements that have a much greater and longer-term impact on bottom-line outcomes—from customer retention, to organic revenue growth, to new revenue opportunities.

2. Make your customer service agents brand ambassadors. Assuming you have a good employer brand, you can work to ensure that your brand and culture are embedded as part of agent training and extends into how they interact with customers. For example, outdoor retailer Moosejaw, which is known for its nonsensical marketing approach dubbed “Moosejaw Madness,” provides customers with the same experience in its brick-and-mortar stores as it does online. A customer entering a store might be greeted with a Frisbee flying at their head and a “Moosejaw” holler from one of the sales associates; that same customer is greeted with a “Moosejaw” holler when they speak to a phone agent or live chat agent.

3. Empower your customer service agents. Outdoor online retailer Backcountry.com hires customer service agents who are subject-matter experts. Playfully designated “Gearheads,” their customer service agents are experts on specific outdoor activities (e.g., snowboarding, backpacking and hiking, fishing, rock climbing, etc.) that form an important part of their personal lives and talk, email, and chat with customers and write blogs and reviews on equipment used for those activities while at work.

As a result, when a customer chats with a particular Gearhead, they are able to see their headshot and read their BIO and list of outdoor interests. Gearheads are also assigned different customers and follow up with them on their purchases and talk to them about newly arrived products and their experiences with them. It’s no surprise that customers who engage with Gearheads spend six-times more than customers who have standard shopping experiences with the outdoor retailer.

Looking and Acting Like Bigger Counterparts

Davinci Virtual Office Solutions brings what multi-channel customer engagement used by large companies to small businesses, fast-growth startups, and solopreneurs. The combination of Live Receptionist and Live Web Chat services, enables these organizations to look and act like their much bigger counterparts.

Live Receptionists and Live Web Chat customer service agents are organized into different teams of approximately five agents. Each team is typically assigned 10 to 15 clients and they become experts—virtual extensions—of each client. The onboarding process for each new client ensures that the dedicated team is trained on the client’s brand and culture. Those same parameters are baked into how agents interact with customers.

Customer service agents have the ability to surprise, delight, and even protect a brands most valuable assets—your customers. An important lynchpin in this equation is empowering your customer service agents so that they have the tools and processes to deliver memorable moments to customers.

Unique Customer Service Agent Model at Davinci Virtual Office Solutions

Davinci Virtual Office Solutions determined to make this a fun and engaging experience for its customer service agents by creating a skill-based and career-path-oriented model for recruiting, training, and retaining champion customer service agents. Able to graduate through a tiered developmental color-coded program, starting with green, then yellow, followed by red, and finally the status of “Super Agent.” The program has proven highly effective, making it fun to be a customer service agent, while personalizing the customer engagement experience for every one of Davinci Virtual Office Solutions’ clients.

A highly engaged team of customer service agents means you’ll have a highly engaged customer base. And while it means you may sometimes get the “oddball” request, this doesn’t mean you’re failing to provide a great engagement experience. It probably means the exact opposite; that your customer service agents are acting as great brand ambassadors and turning your customers into brand advocates.

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Stressed Out Over Your Small Business? Laughter Can Lighten the Load.

Starting a small business usually means lots of long hours, a few disappointments and wearing many hats. But a sense of humor can help lighten the load.

Indeed, studies prove it. Although you probably don’t need scientific data to convince you, the University of Missouri does offer some. UM reveals positive humor should result in a happier workplace. Meanwhile, the University of Florida’s study shows humor in the workplace can boost employee productivity.

“In the business world, many successful organizations such as Zappos, Virgin, and Google, deliberately build play areas into their workspaces and organize fun events with the intent that the humor arising from these events will ameliorate the stressful nature of work, boost morale, and increase productivity,” according to the Association of Psychological Science.

Need more convincing? A Quickbooks study reveals a sense of humor can reduce sick days, lower blood pressure, improve blood flow, reduces burnout and boosts creative thinking. Even if you work alone, you can find ways to incorporate humor into the daily grind with vendors, clients and others. If nothing else, get a joke book and watch some funny videos.

Psychological scientists David Cheng and Lu Wang of the University of New South Wales discovered people who view a funny video clip spent twice as long working on tedious tasks than people wo watched other neutral or positive videos. That may explain all the cute cat videos on YouTube.

“Humor is not only entertaining but also replenishing. Individuals engaging in activities that require persistence may benefit from exposure to humor,” the scientists reported. “There has been increasing recognition that humor may have a functional impact on important behaviors in the workplace and that exposure to humor may increase the effectiveness of employees,” the scientists reported.”

Even though business is a serious matter, Barbara Weltman and Jerry Silberman, authors of Small Business Survival Book: 12 Surefire Ways for Your Business to Survive and Thrive, urge you not to take yourself too seriously.

“Keep things light and you’ll enjoy yourself more. You’re bound to face disasters, but if you can laugh a little, things won’t seem so bad,” they say. “You don’t have to be Jay Leno, Chris Rock, or Ellen DeGeneres to have a sense of humor and incorporate it into your daily activities. Just keep things light. Resorting to humor about yourself and your situation can provide a number of benefits.”

Beyond the benefits we’ve already outlined, the authors offer several more:

• Humor raises hope.

• Humor improves communication.

• Humor helps you put mistakes into perspective so you can move on.

• Humor can help you accept change.

With that in mind, let me leave you with a joke I found on SterlingFunding.com:

Fresh out of business school, the young man answered a want ad for an accountant. Now he was being interviewed by a very nervous man who ran a small business that he had started himself.

“I need someone with an accounting degree,” the man said. “But mainly, I’m looking for someone to do my worrying for me.”

“Excuse me?” the accountant said.

“I worry about a lot of things,” the man said. “But I don’t want to have to worry about money. Your job will be to take all the money worries off my back.”

“I see,” the accountant said. “And how much does the job pay?”

“I’ll start you at 80,000.”

”Eighty thousand dollars!” the accountant exclaimed. “How can such a small business afford a sum like that?”

“That,” the owner said, “is your first worry.”

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Maintaining Communications with Your Prospects and Clients While You’re Traveling

Going on Vacation or Traveling This Summer?

Forty percent of solopreneurs and small business owners indicate they take 16-plus days of vacation every year, and this doesn’t factor in the weeks or months that you spend on the road meeting with prospects and clients.

So, as you get ready to depart on a vacation or go on another business trip this summer, the question is who looks after your business? Even if you’re one of the 40 percent of professionals who say you’re “always-on,” the reality is that you’re not available 24/7.

At the heart of your business are your clients and prospects; they don’t shut down and go on vacation when you do or get on the same planes and attend the same meetings as you.

Hiring more staff isn’t necessarily always the answer. More headcount costs more money, and not every business can afford to do so. This certainly makes a lot of sense with revenues for solopreneurs and small business static or even decreasing. Working more hours isn’t an option for most. Ninety-seven percent of small business leaders work weekends; almost half work 50-plus hours, with 19 percent reporting 60-plus hours a week.

Outsourcing Tasks and Functions

There is an alternative; Growing numbers of business leaders recognize the value in strategic outsourcing, bringing in experts who are more efficient and effective at a particular task of business function. In some cases, outsourcing may even be cheaper. Fifty-five percent of small business report some level of outsourcing today. The other 44 percent delineate a list of reasons why they are unlikely or very unlikely to outsource any tasks or business function.

So back to the original question: how do you manage communications—digital, email, and phone—with clients and prospects when you’re traveling—whether for business or leisure? For many businesses, this may be a broader issue than when you’re traveling. Prospect and client engagement may be problematic whether your traveling or in the office.

Missed Customer Engagement

Research shows that an astonishing 60 percent of callers will abandon a call in less than one minute. One-third will not call back again. The same is true when it comes to digital engagement. Forty-one percent of customers who submit an email for support expect a response in less than six hours. Visitors to your website will leave within an average of 76 seconds if they cannot find what they need or get their question answered.

This data should be quite concerning, not only when you’re traveling but when you’re in the office. It also provides you with a solid business case for looking at outsourcing options.

Strategic, Targeted Outsourcing to Davinci

Davinci Virtual Office Solutions launched Live Receptionist, Auto Receptionist, and Live Web Chat services to provide businesses with the means to outsource these functions—when traveling and when not traveling.

Live Receptionist services provides customers with a dedicated team of sales and services agents who are experts on your business and able to route and answer inbound calls and emails, quickly and effectively. Call workflows, which extend to Davinci Auto Receptionist, route inbound callers to the right voicemail or person in your organization.

Davinci Live Web Chat changes the dynamics of digital engagement on your website. Whether you’re selling merchandise on your website or simply using it for lead generation, the ability to engage proactively with each visitor based on their identity and behavior is critical. Davinci’s Live Web Chat service uses predictive analytics to determine which visitor needs assistance and when.

In addition to all of the above, Davinci’s various communications services are fully integrated. This is particularly important considering the fact that 95 percent of customers use more than one channel to communicate with companies. Eighty-seven percent note that an integrated experience across all of these engagement channels is important.

There is no reason to risk missing that important prospect call, making clients and prospects countless hours waiting on hold or waiting days for a response they had to a question. Get Davinci Live Receptionist, Auto Receptionist, and/or Live Web Chat and ensure that your customers have optimal, fully integrated engagement experiences, irrespective of the channel they use and whether you’re on vacation, on the road, or back home in your office.

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