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Survey: Office Kitchens Make Employees Happy

Bare cupboards and empty coffee pots are enough to make anybody frown.

Whether it’s food or drink, U.S. workers usually have to leave the office to fill their bellies. The downside: it hinders productivity.

So says a survey from Staples Advantage, the business-to-business division of Staples. The survey suggests that having a fully stocked kitchen, with food, coffee and amenities, can lead to more content and productive employees. This is part of the secret to virtual office productivity. When workers work from home from a virtual office, they have food and drink readily available and can continue checking e-mails even while they gnosh.

According to the survey, 73 percent of workers say a well-stocked kitchen would make them happier at work, while 57 percent say that kitchen amenities could lead to a more productive workforce. That doesn’t mean you need to do major construction. Simple additions like a small refrigerator, microwave and pantry could encourage employees to stay in the office for breaks rather than venturing out, saving everyone time and money.

“Making small investments in the company kitchen can lead to significant benefits in any workplace,” says Lisa Hamblet, vice president for the facility solutions and services business of Staples Advantage. “Our recent survey found that 72 percent viewed the office kitchen as more than just a place to get coffee. To them, it represents a place for impromptu meetings, as well as a space to help keep energy levels high. This provides an opportunity for employers to create a workplace kitchen that boosts their workforce’s productivity and camaraderie.”

Recharging Your Batteries
About 80 percent of respondents agree it’s important to get away from their desks periodically to stay focused. Let’s put this into perspective. About 85 million people leave the office routinely to get coffee. Respondents estimate each trip taking 20 to 40 minutes, equating to more than two billion minutes each day, or 10.6 billion hours per year, of lost productivity. That’s amazing!

“Although our survey found people are stepping out from time to time, overall, employees are working longer hours. With staff spending more time in the office, employers should consider making it a more comfortable environment,” concludes Hamblet. “Our survey suggests that simple and easy improvements can make all the difference from an OK day to a great day at the office.”

How to Create a Happy Kitchen
Here are some Staple tips for creating a healthy, happy kitchen that will keep employees in the office and help drive greater satisfaction—and productivity.

Provide several beverage options
: Consider adding coffee, tea, flavored water, or hot chocolate to your cabinets.

Offer a wide range of snacks: More than 85 percent say they want healthy snacks and beverages added to their office kitchen.

Supply first aid materials:
Your office first aid kit should include everything needed in case of an accident and should be kept in a central location, easily accessible to all employees.

Stay clean and healthy: Offer a broad assortment of cleaning supplies that employees can utilize to keep the kitchen and their personal work spaces clean and germ-free.

Make the environment a priority: Supply recycling bins and “green” supplies. Protecting the environment was noted as a priority for those surveyed, and 96 percent would like to see recycling bins in the office.
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Smart Ways to Expand Your Small Business

A new ADP survey says companies with fewer than 50 employees increased payrolls by 117,000 last month. That's the biggest hiring surge since 2006.

Want more good news? Paychex, a company that manages payroll accounting for companies with fewer than 100 workers, said checks per client rose 2.8 percent from a year ago in the first quarter of 2011. That's the biggest gain in two years.

For many small businesses, particularly sole proprietors and mom-and-pop operations, growth brings with it challenges as well as opportunities. The key to growing your small business is to do it the smart way, according to Carol Roth, author of The Entrepreneur Equation: Evaluating the Realities, Risks, and Rewards of Having Your Own Business.

Here are some of Roth's tips that may help.

1. Learn to delegate. You were smart enough to start your own business. Now use those smarts to figure out a way to simplify, standardize, automate, and delegate tasks in a way that can't be screwed up by the average employee (think McDonald's). Create a list, and every time you have a task you would delegate to an employee, add it to the list. Not only does it get you in the habit of delegating, but over time you have created a job description so that you know who you're looking for when you're ready to hire.

2. Hire thoughtfully. Beware of "hiring gotchas." For example, spend time putting together a hiring strategy and good questions in advance. Educate yourself on what you can't by law ask in an interview, and research what other companies pay for such a position, as well as benefits you're willing to offer (before the applicant asks). You might want to steer clear of hiring friends and family. If you're clueless about how to find a good pool of candidates, consider using one of the new, low-cost virtual services, such as Elance.

3. Expand by outsourcing. Let's say you're ready to offer new services to your existing customers, but in order to motivate these customers and woo new ones, you have to do social marketing. The problem is, you have no clue how to do it. That's okay! Smart business owners don't try to do everything themselves-they outsource professionals to help them focus on what they do best. There are great new online enterprises like Deskelf that will match your needs with virtual helpers-from accountants to social media marketers. And they don't have to be expensive-Fiverr, for example, links you to professionals who do tasks for as little as $5!

4. Partner up. Imagine you're a professional photographer/videographer who's got more gigs than you can handle. Find another business owner in your profession and partner up so you can take on more jobs without having to hire new employees. Another way to grow your business is to expand your menu of services. For example, you have a lawnmowing/landscaping business and you find someone who maintains pools. By partnering up, you can offer your clients a twofer-weekly pool service and property maintenance. Finding complementary businesses that don't compete for customers creates a win-win for both small businesses.
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Entrepreneur Magazine Launches 2011 Contest

Are you challenging the status quo?

Whether you are rocking the business world with your innovations, making contributions to the sustainability movement, or just doing something simple in a brand new way, Entrepreneur magazine is inviting you to enter its Entrepreneur of 2011 contest.

Entrepreneur magazine is on the hunt for three category winners in its fourth annual contest. Sponsored by the UPS Store, the contest asks a simple question of entrants: how is your small business making a difference with your business by impacting their industries, employees and communities?

"Each year the competition heats up with entrepreneurs kicking old-business habits to the curb to address new market needs in innovative ways," says Amy Cosper, vice president and editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur magazine. "We'd expect nothing less from the 7.8 million small businesses brilliantly applying their ideas to everything from sustainability issues to health matters and more. The Entrepreneur of 2011 awards, while given to a select few, honor their collective efforts that create new jobs and propel us all forward."

Here’s how it works: You can enter to win the Entrepreneur of 2011 award if your business no more than 100 employees, and revenues of at least $3 million in 2010. Or you can enter to win the Emerging Entrepreneur of 2011 award if your company has no more than 12 employees and posted at least $350,000 in gross sales revenue in 2010. There’s also room for college entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurial college students can pitch their business idea for a chance to win $5,000 in startup capital. You have to be either an undergraduate or graduate student aged 18 to 25 to enter.

A pane of judges from Entrepreneur’s editorial department and Mail Boxes Etc. will choose the finalists based on several criteria, including business growth in terms of number of employees and annual gross sales revenue as well as impact on an industry, the community, employees and customers. Wondering what it takes to win? You can read stories and watch videos of last year’s winners here.

All three winning entrepreneurs will receive two round trip tickets within the continental U.S. and a profile in the January 2012 issue of Entrepreneur magazine. The winners will also receive a gift certificate for $500 in free services at The UPS Store, a three-year subscription to Entrepreneur magazine, and a selection of Entrepreneur Press books.

The deadline to enter is June 15, 2011.

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How to Choose Email Marketing Software

Do you use e-mail marketing to help drive customers back to your business? If not, you could be leaving money on the table.

Building an e-mail list and communicating frequently with the people on it, when done the right way, can help strengthen the relationship between you and your customers—and boost your revenues.

Of course, if you are going to use e-mail as a marketing tool, you need to invest in e-mail marketing software. Sending e-mails individually to a list you store on an Excel sheet, even if you create a group e-mail, is painstaking. It also leaves you without any ability to track how many people actually opened the e-mail.

There are many different e-mail marketing software platforms to choose from, and none of them are especially expensive. Many heavy Internet marketers go with Aweber, so if your business relies heavily on lead generation through Internet marketing, this is a good option.

Other popular options include Vertical Response, Mail Chimp and Constant Contact. Constant Contact has become especially popular among small businesses. In fact, more than 400,000 small businesses have chosen this brand. With that in mind, it’s worth taking a closer look.

One reason why Constant Contact is so popular among small businesses is because it’s easy to use. It also offers customized modules, like event marketing, social media and even online surveys. These tools create a full online marketing package for the small business.

Constant Contact is also strategic about adding new services based on customer feedback. For example, the company just added four new features to its Event Marketing product. The latest version integrates Google Checkout, the ability for nonprofit customers to make donations, the ability to share names of registrants on the event landing page, and more.

“Small businesses and organizations also need personalized coaching and the knowhow to use the product in the best ways possible,” says Christopher Litster, vice president and general manager of Event Marketing at Constant Contact. “That’s why we also offer free coaching with a personal touch, webinars, best practices guides, and support to make sure our customers maximize the impact of their event promotion and management efforts.”

Want more tips? Here’s a good video that offers more insight into “How to Choose The Right Email Marketing Software.”

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What’s Your Social Media Program Worth?

Whether you are just getting into social media or you are already up and running, it’s important to remember this: You need to keep tabs on the your social media ROI.

Sure, social media has become a vehicle of influence. But that doesn’t mean it’s an automatic win. Yes, most small businesses need to invest some time, and maybe even a little money, into social media. But you shouldn’t just waste your days away putting up posts that aren’t working, either. You need to determine how your social media activities are impacting our bottom line.

AMI-Partners just launched a study looking at how social media influences small business purchase decisions, but you can easily flip that around.  The key message from the study is this: driving positive outcomes from social media demands clear objectives and discipline. You need clearly defined goals related to your marketing funnel.

What do I mean by marketing funnel? I mean your social media efforts should drive awareness, consideration, and hopefully a purchase. AMI-Partners says there are also softer goals, like community development and engagement, which can drive revenue.

AMI-Partners offers some tips for optimizing social media channels. I’ve adapted them to fit the needs of small business owners trying to escort customers through the purchase funnel:

1. Awareness: Many of your customers will become aware of your brand through self-discovery. That includes word-of-mouth through peer and associate networks on social media. Your messaging or promotions should be relevant and non-intrusive.

2. Consideration: The consideration phase is highly dependent on your customers being able to gather enough information to become familiar with what you offer and determine if they are interested. During consideration, decision makers may even reach out to your small business or seek out opinions on forums or community sites. This is why your online reputation is so important.

3. Purchase: The actual purchase decision is mainly driven by conclusions made during the consideration phase. At this point, other user experiences and even recommendations for alternative solutions impact the final decision. A user’s evaluation becomes more critical in this phase, as decision makers establish trust through others’ experiences.

So how do you woo customers through this marketing funnel? The tactics are simple: increase the number of positive postings, registrations, and participation. But don’t do it in the dark. Draft clear revenue goals associated with your social media to guide how much you are willing to invest. And remember, it’s not all about the immediate dollars. ROI can also be found in customer retention, channel sales assistance, nurturing customers into advocate roles and so on. Those things may be less tangible at the end of the day—and harder to link back to revenue. But you should still notice top-level growth in the big picture.

Check out this video on the marketing funnel and how it works online:

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