Lisa Murton Beets

If your business is looking for a better way to communicate, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) may be the answer. SIP, a signaling protocol, can improve voice and video over Internet Protocol, video conferencing and file transfers. And best of all, it can spell substantial savings for a business compared to traditional phone lines, says Anton Loon, director of enterprise sales at PowerNet Global.

“When a company uses SIP technology instead of traditional phone lines, it can move much more quickly and at a lower cost,” Loon says. “SIP solutions are available for businesses of all sizes, from a small company that needs only one line with local and long distance for about $20 per month, all the way to corporations that have large call centers that operate 24/7.”

Smart Business spoke with Loon about how companies might benefit from implementing a SIP solution.

What is the primary difference between a SIP solution and traditional call routing?

A traditional time-division multiplexing (TDM) system uses physical switches to route calls. SIP uses IP routing, which provides a company’s employees with a much easier way to connect with each other, as well as the outside world.

SIP is not a new technology, so why have companies only recently begun to adopt it? 

In 1994, IT managers knew that ‘AT&T worked’ in the telecom industry. If a business switched to another company and there were mistakes as a result, that IT manager’s head was on the line.

It’s been the same with SIP over the last few years. IT directors and managers have been leery about making the switch to this technology because, as with most things in life, change is scary. However, the technology has now progressed to the point that the cost savings are just too good for a business to pass up.

How can SIP improve a corporation’s flexibility and efficiency?

In terms of flexibility, a business can have the service up and running within 24 hours of requesting it. For example, a construction company can add trailers to various job sites and have phone service at those sites within a day.

The same holds true if a business moves to a new location. With a traditional system, you would typically have to wait 30 to 45 days for the new phone lines to be operational.

With a SIP solution, you can move around and operate anywhere in the world. SIP also provides flexibility for call center operations, because you can launch a new operation within days. For businesses like telemarketing centers, this means you can start selling more quickly.

In terms of efficiency, choosing a SIP solution will eliminate the 30- to 45-day waiting period required to implement a TDM system, as well as all the time that is required to coordinate the effort between all parties.

What are the three most important things that companies need to know about SIP technology?

First, that it works. There is no reason to fear this technology.

Second, it’s scalable. This is important because it allows you to start small to test the waters in order to get comfortable with the technology. It also allows you to ramp up for a larger call volume at any given time without having to add equipment to handle the increase. For example, if you want to launch a new outbound calling campaign tomorrow, you can do that. It also goes the other way, in that you can cut back on the number of phone lines servicing your company if business slows down. There’s a misperception that SIP is fraught with quality issues, but that is not the case. In our experience, there are no more service tickets with SIP than there are with traditional TDM systems.

Finally, the technology is here to stay, and it will only get better and more robust as time goes on. Another common misconception about SIP is that it’s the future, but it’s not. It’s here now, and it’s not going anywhere.

How is SIP being used practically in businesses?

A good example is a company in the health care industry. Their patients have to call in to confirm appointments and get verification of their medications. Obviously, this is a critical operation. One company had a TDM system and was dealing with high costs and quality issues. Then it switched to a more cost-effective SIP solution with a redundant platform. Now if it has problems with one of its carriers, it can signal to another platform. In total, it can toggle back and forth among three platforms to avoid outages.

How can a SIP solution help companies better manage remote employees?

Remote employees have become more commonplace today — not just salespeople, but call center employees, as well. SIP solutions improve productivity by enabling remote workers to quickly and easily access the company network.

In addition, sophisticated reporting tools such as hosted PBX solutions are available that can help managers monitor the number of sales calls being made, to whom they are being made, when and at what cost per call.

Anton Loon is director of enterprise sales at PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 764-7329.

Insights Technology is brought to you by PowerNet Global

If your business is looking for a better way to communicate, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) may be the answer. SIP, a signaling protocol, can improve voice and video over Internet Protocol, video conferencing and file transfers. And best of all, it can spell substantial savings for a business over traditional phone lines, says Anton Loon, director of enterprise sales at PowerNet Global.

“When a company uses SIP technology instead of traditional phone lines, it can move much more quickly and at a lower cost,” Loon says. “SIP solutions are available for businesses of all sizes, from a small company that needs only one line with local and long distance for about $20 per month, all the way to corporations that have large call centers that operate 24/7.”

Smart Business spoke with Loon about how companies might benefit from implementing a SIP solution.

What is the primary difference between a SIP solution and traditional call routing?

A traditional time-division multiplexing (TDM) system uses physical switches to route calls. SIP uses IP routing, which provides a company’s employees with a much easier way to connect with each other, as well as the outside world.

SIP is not a new technology, so why have companies only recently begun to adopt it?

In 1994, IT managers knew that ‘AT&T worked’ in the telecom industry. If a business switched to another company and there were mistakes as a result, that IT manager’s head was on the line.

It’s been the same with SIP over the last few years. IT directors and managers have been leery about making the switch to this technology because, as with most things in life, change is scary. However, the technology has now progressed to the point that the cost savings are just too good for a business to pass up.

How can SIP improve a corporation’s flexibility and efficiency?

In terms of flexibility, a business can have the service up and running within 24 hours of requesting it. For example, a construction company can add trailers to various job sites and have phone service at those sites within a day.

The same holds true if a business moves to a new location. With a traditional system, you would typically have to wait 30 to 45 days for the new phone lines to be operational.

With a SIP solution, you can move around and operate anywhere in the world. SIP also provides flexibility for call center operations, because you can launch a new operation within days. For businesses like telemarketing centers, this means you can start selling more quickly.

In terms of efficiency, choosing a SIP solution will eliminate the 30 to 45 day waiting period required to implement a TDM system, as well as all the time that is required to coordinate the effort between all parties.

What are the three most important things that companies need to know about SIP technology?

First, that it works. There is no reason to fear this technology. Second, it’s scalable. This is important because it allows you to start small to test the waters in order to get comfortable with the technology. It also allows you to ramp up for a larger call volume at any given time without having to add equipment to handle the increase. For example, if you want to launch a new outbound calling campaign tomorrow, you can do that. It also goes the other way, in that you can cut back on the number of phone lines servicing your company if business slows down. There’s a misperception that SIP is fraught with quality issues, but that is not the case. In our experience, there are no more service tickets with SIP than there are with traditional TDM systems.

Finally, the technology is here to stay, and it will only get better and more robust as time goes on. Another common misconception about SIP is that it’s the future, but it’s not. It’s here now, and it’s not going anywhere.

How is SIP being used practically in businesses?

A good example is a company in the health care industry. Their patients have to call in to confirm appointments and get verification of their medications. Obviously, this is a critical operation. This company had a TDM system and was dealing with high costs and quality issues. Then it switched to a more cost-effective SIP solution with a redundant platform. Now if it has problems with one of its carriers, it can signal to another platform. In total, it can toggle back and forth among three platforms to avoid outages.

How can a SIP solution help companies better manage remote employees?

Remote employees have become more commonplace today — not just salespeople, but call center employees, as well. SIP solutions improve productivity by enabling remote workers to quickly and easily access the company network.

In addition, sophisticated reporting tools such as hosted PBX solutions are available that can help managers monitor the number of sales calls being made, to whom they are being made, when, and at what cost per call.

Anton Loon is director of enterprise sales at PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 764-7329.

Insights Technology is brought to you by PowerNet Global

Tuesday, 01 May 2012 17:00

How to prepare to sell your company

Selling your business will be one of the biggest transactions of your life.

“The first thing you need to ask yourself is, ‘Is this really what I want to do?’” says Eric Duffee, an associate with Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter. “There may be other options, such as selling the business to your employees or keeping the business in the family.”

However, if you are going to seek an outside buyer, realize there is a tremendous amount of effort involved. “Selling your business is like having two full-time jobs,” Duffee continues. “You have the job of running your business, plus the job of getting it ready to sell — and then dealing with the onslaught of prospective buyers.”

Duffee emphasizes that it’s important to work with experienced advisers as you prepare to sell the business and move through the process. “They will help you understand what matters and what doesn’t. They’ll show you where you have negotiating power and where you don’t.”

Smart Business asked Duffee what owners should do to lay a solid foundation for the sale.

How can the owner determine exactly what it is he or she is selling?

This seems like it would be an easy thing to do, but it’s not. Some owners tend to look at their business through rose-colored glasses, overestimating its value. On the other hand, there are owners of service businesses who think that once they leave, there will be nothing left behind; however, that’s not always the case. You have to put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. What are they getting in terms of value? Maybe it’s processes you use or an idea you have. Conversely, maybe you’re doing the same thing that many other companies are doing, but you have great contacts. You can sometimes leverage the value of those relationships and sell that value to the buyer.

How should the owner go about getting his or her financial house in order?

Obviously, it’s better to sell while your company is showing an upward trend. Generally, a business gets sold using an EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization) formula. Any deviance on a balance sheet will cost you on a magnified level. For example, if a deal is priced at five times EBITDA and the buyer finds a $100,000 deviation, $500,000 gets taken off the sale price. So make sure your financial statements are accurate. As for the financial presentation, know that buyers have high expectations. They want to see an apples-to-apples comparison. The buyer wants to know your statements follow Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Do you need an audit? Maybe. But at least have an accountant look at your records from a disinterested, third-party perspective so that the buyer can translate what they’re seeing.

How do you go about locking down the value of intangible assets?

Intangible assets include things such as confidentiality agreements, non-competes, invention agreements and registered intellectual property. This is becoming an increasingly important issue, and we see this often in Ohio with the growth in the technology sector. Sometimes you’re selling know-how, ideas and concepts. How do you transfer that knowledge to the buyer? Does it make sense to get copyrights and patents? This is a cost, but sometimes you need to have something tangible and protectable to transfer. At the very least you should have confidentiality agreements in place. If you have a few key employees in your business who hold a great deal of knowledge, consider implementing non-competes and confidentiality agreements before the sales process.

What are some potential ‘warts’ to look out for early on?

There is no such thing as a perfectly clean business. If you know that a situation exists, have an open and honest talk with counsel. Don’t hide anything. Buyers will do due diligence and if they find something you haven’t disclosed, you’ll lose credibility; they may even claim you’re trying to defraud them. It’s better to be up front going into the deal. As a seller, your greatest leverage is at the outset. You don’t want the buyer trying to reduce the selling price deep into the process just because they uncover something that you didn’t tell them about.

How can you be sure you’re getting the best deal — both price and terms?

Be sure to work with a team of experienced professionals — accountants, lawyers, maybe an investment banker or a broker. To find potential buyers, you have to go through people who know people, and that usually means working with a broker or investment banker. The right broker will help you find qualified buyers and will operate confidentially, so as not to negatively impact relationships with your employees, customers and suppliers. In any case, you want as many potential buyers as possible; a competitive situation will help you get the best deal.

ERIC DUFFEE is an associate with Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter. Reach him at (614) 462-5433 or eduffee@keglerbrown.com.

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter Co., LPA

Digital phone technology lets you take advantage of all the benefits of Voice over Internet Protocol without having actual VoIP equipment installed.

“A gateway appliance is available that converts  VoIP to an interface that your existing phone system recognizes without having to replace the equipment  you already have,” says John Putnam, vice president of direct sales, PowerNet Global. “This type of system is very flexible. You only purchase what you need, so you’re not paying for capacity that you’ll never use. In many cases, you’ll also pay less for long distance.”

Smart Business spoke with Putnam about how to reap the benefits of adding digital capabilities to your business’s existing phone systems.

What key benefits does a company stand to gain by going digital?

A gateway appliance  enables you to keep your existing phone system and take advantage of new technology at the same time. These are very cost-effective solutions and, in many cases, you’ll save money.

For example, a traditional T1 line gives you 23 or 24 lines, no matter how many lines you actually need. With the gateway, you can get the exact number of lines that you need. So if you only need six, you get six. The gateway is flexible and accommodates for growth, so you can add lines as needed. It also has multiple T1 interfaces and can accommodate up to four T1s, or 96 lines.

Is the technology cumbersome, and is there a learning curve?

No. The installation is simple and takes place  in the background.  Your phones will function just as they did yesterday. You’ll have the same phone, the same phone number, the same dial tone and the same features — only now, you’re potentially saving money.

How long does it take to get the digital technology in place?

It’s a quick and painless process. There are no lost calls. The service provider installs, verifies and tests that the gateway is working and then moves your numbers to the box. If you’re adding capacity to your existing system, the provider can work quickly. If it’s a case of porting numbers from a different carrier, however, the provider is at the mercy of the other carrier in terms of time required to move the numbers over but typically less than 30 days.

Can digital phone service be used in tandem with a traditional T1 phone system?

Yes. Say you have a maxed out T1 and you need six more lines; instead of installing another T1 with 24 lines, you can order those six lines as digital lines over the Internet. Then if you need additional lines down the road, you can easily add them. If you need fewer lines, you can easily scale down.

This approach not only gives you redundancy but also allows you to test the digital technology and get comfortable with it. Once you’re comfortable, you’ll feel confident adding more lines over time.

What are the advantages of being able to add or subtract phone lines?

This is particularly useful for companies that experience seasonal fluctuations in their sales cycle. For example, say you’re a trucking company that handles a lot of shipping in the summer. In the summer, you need to crank up your capacity to 50 lines, and in the fall and winter, you only need 20 lines. With digital, you can go up or down with just a single phone call and a few clicks of the mouse.

Are there drawbacks?

When voice is  delivered over the Internet, a good connection becomes paramount. You need to make sure you have enough bandwidth and it must be a high-quality, reliable connection. If you frequently lose your Internet service, you’re going to lose your calls, as well.

Fiber, Internet T1s and other higher-quality Internet connections are preferred. It’s one thing if it takes awhile to receive your emails, or if web pages load slowly, but it’s quite another thing to lose your voice connection.

Are there any quality of service issues?

In the early days, providers would put cheap solutions in place that ran both voice and data on the same Internet connection, and the data side would negatively impact voice. Downloads of music, videos, etc., would chew up bandwidth at the expense of voice quality.

Today, we attack that in two ways. First, the newer gateways  have  quality of service built in that prioritizes voice traffic or carves out specific bandwidth for voice. Second, because the Internet is more affordable now, we can set up two separate connections — one dedicated for voice and one dedicated for data — and they can be sized according to need.

What would you say to companies that are hesitant to try digital?

There’s nothing to be uneasy about. There are companies using millions of minutes of VoIP per month with no problems whatsoever.

If you have traditional phone service,  chances are your carrier is  backhauling its traffic over IP anyway.

John Putnam is vice president of direct sales at PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 813-9455.

Insights Technology is brought to you by PowerNet Global

Technology makes it faster, easier and more economical to find the most qualified candidates for your company. In addition, it can help you anticipate future staffing needs and prevent bottlenecks from occurring when you have expanded production needs.

“We’ve come a long way since the days when the search for employees was limited to snail-mail, phone and fax,” says Jeremy Wilcomb, operations manager, The Daniel Group. “Today, you can be interviewing highly qualified candidates within days.”

However, there can be pitfalls.

“You can be a victim of information overload during the background screening process,” he says. “And you’re even at risk of offending candidates if technology goes awry.”

Smart Business spoke with Wilcomb about how companies can address these cautions while also taking advantage of the benefits that technology offers.

How has technology changed the way companies seek new employees?

In addition to traditional recruiting methods, technology enables us to utilize different search medians (e.g., LinkedIn, CareerBuilder, Twitter, Indeed, etc.) to seek out candidates. Today’s technology helps companies get the best candidates to the hiring manager’s table quickly. Social networking lets us get to a larger audience faster. No longer do we have to call one person and wait for that person to call someone else. In addition, we have access to larger pools of candidates.

We’re not geographically limited, either. We can search domestically, even internationally. We can get very specific in our searches and the locales in which we want to search.

How can technology help companies that experience seasonal or other unique staffing demands?

Companies with those kinds of requirements can work with a staffing firm that can then develop an inventory of candidates for that particular client. The staffing firm can prescreen candidates and then, when the employer’s need arises, the firm can contact the people they’ve prescreened to see if they are still available. In some cases, the company’s needs can be met within 24 hours.

When done correctly, this can help a company prevent production bottlenecks. This approach really helps with seasonal work and/or from a production standpoint. It can give managers peace of mind that there is technology out there housing candidates, so that the candidates will be there when the company needs them.

Are there other benefits of working with a professional firm in terms of the technologies these companies use?

Most staffing firms can generate reports that help you develop a full view of your staffing needs from the financial side, the project management side and even the training side. You’ll see how much it costs to source the candidates and how much you’re saving through more efficient processes. The firm can identify where it’s helping and even point out staffing issues it thinks you’re going to face in the future.

What is your advice for using technology to learn more about a candidate’s background?

Technology can help improve the quality of candidates you find. We have more information available to us about everyone these days. But it depends on how you use the technology. If you use every ounce of information available, it can be counterproductive. On the positive side, it gives us a better opportunity to match a candidate to a culture. For instance, if you’re a company that makes hunting and fishing gear and you’re looking for a salesperson, you can find candidates who list hunting and fishing as interests. On the flip side, you can get too much information and talk yourself out of someone who might be a great candidate.

What are some of the newer technologies being used in the hiring process?

Video resume technology lets companies get a feel for candidates who might be located, say, in another state. You can hear how they would answer a few questions and visually experience how they present themselves, as opposed to just seeing them on paper and hearing them on the phone. A lot of people are interviewing over Skype now, too.

You still lose seeing the candidate in person, though. The candidate might not be as relaxed as he or she would be in person. The lighting or transmission might be poor. You have to take those factors into consideration.

Is the personal touch still important?

Indeed it is. And you have to be careful here. There is technology today that lets you develop a spreadsheet, press a button and do a mass email to a particular group of individuals in order to see if they are available for work. With this technology, you can even get to the point of hiring someone without ever talking to them. This can be offensive to some people, because mistakes occur. For instance, you could send a warehouse opportunity to a petroleum engineer.

Are there other drawbacks with technology?

Be careful what you do in the social area. Don’t overscreen and don’t bypass someone over a particular event. Also keep in mind that the laws in this area are changing all the time.

Finally, if you have technology available to you, make sure you are using it to its fullest capacity.

JEREMY WILCOMB is operations manager at The Daniel Group. Reach him at (713) 932-9313 or jwilcomb@danielgroupus.com.

Insights Staffing is brought to you by The Daniel Group

Employment-related claims continue to rise. High unemployment rates fuel the fire. There are steps you can take, however, to keep any potential legal costs under control.

“Ben Franklin’s famous saying, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ really applies here,” says Jeffrey C. Miller, a director with Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter. “In addition, you want to have good communication with your employees and show them respect.”

Miller also stresses how important it is to “know” your employees. “Employers lose 75 percent of negligent hiring cases, so be sure to perform pre-hiring background checks. In the case of mergers and acquisitions, identify key employees you want to keep. Make sure they have agreements in place, and have counsel review the documents to ensure they are valid and enforceable, especially any noncompete provisions.”

Even when you do have all your ducks in a row, problems can still arise.

Smart Business asked Miller how companies can rise to those challenges without breaking the bank.

What issues must employers be especially mindful of right now?

First, despite reductions in many other line items, the budget for the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) — Wage and Hour Division has been increasing on an annual basis. The two areas of major focus are 1) the investigation and enforcement of overtime and 2) employee versus independent contractor status, so be sure you are in compliance in those areas. Next, have measures in place to protect against retaliation claims, which — according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) — have risen every year since 1997 and now account for nearly 40 percent of all charges. Finally, be aware of the expanded regulatory definitions of the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAAA) that went into effect in March 2011.

How can a company establish a solid foundation to protect against claims?

An employee handbook may or may not be necessary, but at the least have an effective Unlawful Discrimination and Retaliation Policy. Regardless of your company’s size, make it a compulsory company policy to document everything that happens, along with the disciplinary measures taken, even if they were only verbal warnings. Plaintiffs’ attorneys love taking undocumented cases to juries, so have everything in writing.

What are the first steps to take if a dispute arises?

Handle the situation with business efficiency — if you receive notice of a claim, contact counsel and your insurance company immediately. Do not change or destroy any documents, e-mails, or other electronically stored information, and make sure that your computer system is not set to automatically delete at specific times.

Designate one person to serve as a point person to work with counsel. You want to make the time spent with counsel productive, so having one designated person to handle this task will help avoid overlap and unnecessary fees. The point person should go into the first meeting with counsel with the confidential personnel file. He or she should provide a written narrative for the attorney that includes a chronology of events/facts. It should include the employee’s date of hire; salary history; any promotions, demotions, or disciplinary actions; and the names and titles of any supervisors or other employees who are involved in the current dispute. In a dispute involving a demotion, discipline, or termination, provide narrative examples of other similar employees who were treated in the same manner. Identify whether the complaining employee filed or participated in any grievances or disputes.

What happens after counsel has the facts?

Once counsel has all the dates, facts and information, he or she will develop a critical analysis and a strategy. Even though you may have significant HR experience, do not try to do these things yourself. Your attorney has seen a variety of cases and will be able to make a good evaluation of where you should go from here.

During this stage, you should feel free to talk through your strategy, but don’t ‘fall in love with it.’ Don’t be too rigid, because counsel might uncover further information as the case moves forward.

How can a company make the most of their time with the attorney?

In addition to having all the facts in writing for the attorney at the first meeting, maximize future time by scheduling formal follow-up meetings to cover multiple issues. Save up the e-mail and phone call questions and instead have a comprehensive discussion during the next meeting.

When should settlement be considered?

No matter how much you think there is no case, you almost always should consider settlement. You can arrange for Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) mediation rather quickly and it is free and fairly effective. EEOC attorneys will tell you that 90 to 95 percent of cases that are filed have no merit and are due to hurt feelings — that is why it is so important to treat your employees with respect and keep the lines of communication open. Sometimes the settlement is as simple as an apology, an acknowledgment of some sort, an agreement to send management for training, or something similar. If you do reach a settlement, do not let your attorney leave without some type of signed agreement. A full and final document can be drafted later.

JEFFREY C. MILLER, a director with Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter, focuses his practice on management interests in labor and employment matters. Reach him at (216) 586-6650 or jmiller@keglerbrown.com.

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter Co., LPA

There is a lot of buzz these days about integrated advertising and marketing. But what exactly is it?

According to Rochelle Reiter, agency principal at Orange Label Art + Advertising, “It is the coordination and integration of all of a company’s advertising and marketing communications into a cohesive plan that maximizes the impact on customers and prospects. An integrated plan is designed to make all aspects of marketing communications (e.g., advertising, sales, marketing, PR and online) work together as a unified and integrated force, rather than allowing each component to function independently.”

To be successful and produce the needed return on investment, an integrated plan must have senior management buy-in.

“It’s important that a company’s leaders understand and comprehend the goals and objectives of an integrated campaign and are aligned on the strategy and messaging,” notes Wes Phillips, also an agency principal at Orange Label Art + Advertising. “Staff and outside resources need management’s support during the creation and implementation process, along with sufficient time and budget resources. If the resources are not made available, the integrated strategy will not be perceived as a priority.”

Smart Business asked Reiter and Phillips what steps a company should take to ensure a successful integrated strategy.

Why should a company make an integrated strategy a priority?

First of all, an integrated strategy helps to clearly differentiate your company from the competition. If all of your messages are consistent, your target prospects will understand what your brand stands for and what sets you apart. An integrated strategy also creates credibility. When your messaging is consistent across multiple media platforms, it establishes the impression that your brand is reliable and that there is little perceived risk in buying your products.

Another benefit is increased return on investment. When your advertising and marketing are integrated, each message across the various mediums leverages the next, thereby stretching your dollars to create a synergistic payoff. Overall, marketing costs are lower because you are not reinventing the wheel every time you need to develop a new ad, launch a new campaign, etc. For example, you can leverage your core campaign theme and copy messages and photography across different media to get more mileage out of your initial investment.

Your internal staff benefits as well. An integrated advertising and marketing strategy will help your team understand and become aligned on overall company objectives. This will prevent one department from coming up with an idea, implementing it and never communicating it with the rest of the company. In other words, an integrated approach helps you avoid a fragmented strategy, which results in confusion and lost market share.

How can a company get started on its plan?

First, define your business and marketing objectives for the short, mid, and long term. Next, conduct market research and define the target demographic. Who are your prospects, where are they, what are their habits and what are their unmet needs? Then, the core brand messages can be developed. After the brand messages are developed, the next step is to research which media vehicles and tools are available and which would be most effective for reaching your target audience. You then determine the personnel and monetary resources needed, which will assist with developing the advertising budget. A key consideration will be whether you will develop and manage the plan in house or outsource it to a full-service integrated advertising and marketing firm.

What internal resources are needed?

Fundamental to the success of an integrated marketing strategy is a strong, capable and motivating marketing leader. Then the organization’s senior management or leadership team needs to determine if internal staff has the depth, creativity and savvy to generate an integrated plan and implement it effectively and consistently. Because of the extensive demands an integrated strategy has on internal staff, many companies use outside resources such as freelance copywriters and artists to complement their team. However, when strategic thinking is required, an outside marketing or advertising firm can be used to help develop the brand platform and the overall integrated advertising platform.

How is an integrated plan managed?

Someone (usually the marketing leader recommended above) from inside the company needs to own the plan, monitor all activity and manage it for success. If the integrated strategy is not managed properly, fragmentation will occur. Some companies think that once the plan is launched, there is nothing left to do. However, even if you’re working with an outside firm, you still need to communicate with them on a regular basis throughout your sales cycle. That might be once a week, once every two weeks or once a month. A strategic marketing calendar is a helpful tool for managing the plan. This document summarizes in one place the brand, the themes, the events, the media platforms and the budget for a stated period of time — usually one year. It can be used to evaluate progress and can be adjusted based on new circumstances, information and results that are achieved.

WES PHILLIPS and ROCHELLE REITER are the agency principals of Orange Label Art + Advertising. Reach them at (949) 631-9900 or wphillips@orangelabeladvertising.com or rreiter@orangelabeladvertising.com.

Insights Marketing & Advertising is brought to you by Orange Label Art + Advertising

The last thing you want to do in a tight labor market is hire the wrong employees just to fill empty slots. Planning for staffing needs in advance is imperative to the process, however, in some labor markets, all the planning in the world won’t make a difference if growth explodes beyond expectations.

“That is what has happened here in Texas,” says Jacque Myers, senior recruiter, Engineering Services, with The Daniel Group. “Employers began planning for a tight labor market three to six months ago. But no one realized how rapid growth would take hold. There is extreme need in certain categories, especially in oil and gas.”

Myers says that the local job market should also brace for a very high percentage of turnover among professionals, engineers in particular, during 2012. “Now is definitely the time to get ready,” she notes.

Smart Business asked Myers for tips on how employers can deal with the tight labor market.

Who internally should be involved with identifying the best candidates?

The first answer that usually comes to mind is HR. However, keep in mind that the HR staff is busy with HR functions such as employee benefits, payroll, keeping up with labor laws, etc. It takes time and expertise to source candidates. Your HR personnel may be adept at certain functions of recruiting, however performing a search encompasses much more than that and can be very resource intensive.

How can companies identify highly qualified candidates?

There is no better way than to receive a referral from an existing employee. A trusted employee is not going to give you a bad referral — they don’t want to tarnish their name unless they are positive about the person. Networking is another way to meet good candidates. It’s also an opportunity to observe how candidates interact with others on a professional basis.

Another way to identify candidates is to have a recruiter approach individuals that may be working for one of your competitors or working in an industry closely related to yours. Staffing agencies work with internal databases and have access to many other avenues, such as multiple job boards, and attend expos and after-hour functions, which can be helpful for some of our national searches. Our firm employs individuals that pre-screen candidates every day, all day to keep our database fresh with qualified individuals.

In what situations might it make sense to work with a recruiting firm?

In addition to the most common reason, which is to get good qualified candidates in front of the hiring manager quickly, there are other instances where it can make sense. Perhaps there is a specific person you want to reach out to and a third-party recruiter would be the best person to handle that. This is true especially if the potential candidate is working for a competitor.

What if there is a very specific hiring need?

In that case, you may want to consider a retained search, which is a highly specialized search, mostly for C-level positions. Or maybe you need to locate a job candidate in a very specific region. These types of searches are fairly intensive because the outside firm will devote one person exclusively to your search. The firm will usually ask for a deposit in advance to cover the recruiter’s time. In this situation, the recruiter should report back to you every day, or every other day, regarding their progress.  In most cases, this particular scenario has been very effective in finding a qualified candidate for the client.

How can a company narrow down to the most attractive candidates?

You have to determine if there will be a good cultural fit. It’s easy to devise a written job description, but that’s only 50 percent of the equation. Are you a small group? Do you need someone who will be self-motivated sitting off in a corner? Or do you want a type-A personality? Often the hiring manager is the only person who can accurately answer these questions. Other important factors to consider are job tenure, education and location. The recruiter will often know you and your culture extremely well by the end of a placement.

Any tips for ‘closing the deal’?

Try to get to know the candidate as well as you can before you make the offer. If they are working, why do they want to leave their current job? What are their motivating factors? Do they want more money, more job satisfaction, a better location? What is important to them? What do they want? If it’s more money, you can usually provide for that. But what about their family — will they need help relocating? Does the candidate want to go back to school? Are they pursuing other interests? Ask if the candidate is entertaining other offers. If so, ask ‘what can that company give you that I can’t?’ There are all kinds of things you can offer, such as more vacation time, tuition reimbursement, or a flexible schedule. You can even adjust job titles. Make sure to rule out any barriers before any negotiations or offer letters may be on the table.

JACQUE MYERS is senior recruiter, Engineering Services, with The Daniel Group. Reach her at jacquemyers@danielgroupus.com or (713) 932-9313.

Insights Staffing is brought to you by The Daniel Group

Although the Internet has made everything move faster, voice communication is still a vital part of doing business.

Today’s Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology enables companies to make changes to their calling systems much faster and more economically than they were able to in the past. In addition, early problems with quality have been addressed, says Matt Ziebro, executive vice president of sales at PowerNet Global.

“Companies may need to scale up or down depending on client requirements, seasonal factors, campaigns, election cycles and economics,” says Ziebro. “Today’s VoIP solutions enable them to be nimble.”

A triple whammy of sorts has made the time ripe for companies to pursue VoIP solutions. The economic downturn, which began in 2007, hit the telecom industry hard, and carriers began raising rates. In addition, there were no new technologies being introduced to lower costs.

At the same time, companies became very margin conscious.

“Infrastructure costs to support networks became an issue,” says Ziebro. “General contraction and a need to stay profitable to shareholders started forcing change. If a carrier sent you a rate increase, you had to increase your costs, suffer lower margins, or go out of business. So costs have been a big driver in the move to VoIP.”

Smart Business spoke with Ziebro about how company call centers can integrate voice, data and network to reduce their costs and obtain a competitive advantage.

What trends are happening today with call center operations?

A call center may need to deploy rather quickly. There may be seasonal issues or an organization may need to rev up for a campaign. The operations need to be flexible, insulated against price increases and capable of weathering the ups and downs of a turbulent economy.

Why should a company integrate voice, data and network?

You have to be able to plan for things that you don’t know are going to happen. An event could occur that requires you to mobilize and talk to customers, prospects, or supporters, increasing your voice usage in a given month or months. Companies can use and leverage VoIP technologies very quickly, and if the business expands, you can simply increase bandwidth.

The flexibility of VoIP affords you the ability to make additions and cutbacks as needed. All you have to do is add a data circuit to your network that enables you to send and receive calls. You can also purchase integrated services over the cloud and the  technology enables you to establish a call center wherever you choose.

Does a company have to change over from its old system all at once?

Companies that have invested in traditional copper voice lines may be opposed to ripping it all out and bringing in something new, but you don’t have to invest in all new technology right off the bat. If you don’t want to do a full conversion, you can go halfway. There are inexpensive routers and gateways available that enable the conversion of voice lines to VoIP. This inexpensive solution lets you try the technology before going all in. It gives you the pseudo benefit of integrated voice, data and network, and serves as a nice entry into a full conversion over time.

How quickly can a company be up and running with VoIP?

If a company’s technology is already Internet Protocol-enabled, it can be up and running with an integrated VoIP system in less than 24 hours. If it is not yet IP-enabled, the vendor can supply a router, configure it and ship it to the company for plug-and-play installation. In that scenario, the company would be up and running in about one week, versus the 30 business days required in the past for traditional copper wire voice connections.

Are there any drawbacks to VoIP?

There were many early issues with quality, but these have been addressed. Early adopters had issues with the network itself. The technology that enabled turning voice into digital packets was fine; it was more of an issue with early equipment.

Equipment needs to be able to distinguish between voice and data packets. You can’t slow voice, so voice trumped data. Today, the voice packet processing is much improved, as is the data transmission. Carriers have invested heavily in fiber optic networks that are far better than the old copper wire systems. In addition, the Internet is more streamlined now.

What should a company look for in a solutions provider?

Reputation is critical. In this business, realistically, any company with three people can flip a switch and be in business tomorrow. Look for longevity, for a company that has found and fixed the bugs. Identifying a company that knows how to fix problems is important because challenges will arise.

Look at the platform you’ll be utilizing. Does the vendor have the capacity to handle the traffic? Does it have relationships with carriers? Does it have a billing platform that enables you to see your usage reports and metrics quickly?

In addition, look at its references, what the industry says about it and how much time and effort it has invested in the company.

MATT ZIEBRO is executive vice president of sales at PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 813-9455.

It takes a lot of time and effort to create, implement and manage a powerful brand, but the payoffs are significant.

“A well crafted and well managed brand helps you distinguish yourself among the competition,” says Rochelle Reiter, agency principal at Orange Label Art + Advertising. “It motivates customers and prospects to do business with you.”

The end result? Higher gross profit margins, more net profit, and a much stronger, competitive company that creates a high return on investment for the owner(s).

“Many companies struggle with coming to grips with their own individual brand. But it doesn’t have to be painful,” adds Wes Phillips, also an agency principal at Orange Label Art + Advertising.

Orange Label itself underwent a rebranding process five years ago. “After more than three decades of success, we rebranded so we would be viewed as a valuable and relevant marketing resource versus just another advertising agency. That informed how we changed our name, logo and positioning to clearly identify what sets us apart: our integrated focus,” Phillips says.

“After five years, not only is our name and identity different, the makeup of our staff is different, our services are different, and how we deliver those services is different,” Phillips notes. “The net effect is that we have expanded to a more diverse client base. The changes have improved profits, but, most importantly, our clients are more successful.”

Smart Business asked Reiter and Phillips about how companies can go about creating powerful brands.

What are the components that comprise a brand?

There is no black-and-white definition of a ‘brand.’ A brand encompasses all the thoughts and feelings that prospects and customers have about an entity. A person can be a brand. For example, a celebrity has his or her own brand, personality and value — good, bad or indifferent. A brand is not just a logo, but can involve all the senses as well. Someone might hear a jingle or see a symbol such as the Nike swoosh and relate it to the brand. The key is to recognize that brands are driven by emotions — people have emotional relationships to brands. They buy things that make them feel something positive, so the purchase is emotionally gratifying.

What does a brand mean internally?

The brand informs a company or organization’s overall strategy. A brand serves as an internal compass, guiding the strategic direction of the company and culture. All employees should be trained on the brand, embrace the brand and behave in ways that reinforce the brand.

Why is a powerful brand so important?

A powerful brand distinguishes the product, service or company from the competition; creates additional perceived value; emotionally motivates people to buy; and translates into more market share and better profit margins. At the end of the day, it will dictate what someone is willing to pay for the product or service.

If the brand is not seen as powerful, it can be viewed as a commodity. When a company is viewed as a commodity, rather than a distinctive product or service, the consumer has no compelling reason to buy, other than price.

What should be taken into consideration when developing a brand?

Take the time to ensure team alignment on: who you are, where you are going and why customers and prospects should do business with you. There is also value in engaging with your external audiences to capture their authentic perceptions of your products or services.

Be sure to identify your company or organization’s niche; being all things to all people does not produce the best result. Be aware of strengths and weaknesses and really home in on what the company or organization does well — what people can get and experience from you that they can’t elsewhere. Have the brand permeate every part of your business. Let it guide your goals, objectives and strategic plan. Be sure to link the brand to the emotional benefits.

You’ll also want to develop your identity visually to bring the brand to life, but underneath it all is the core brand message. All of the tangible things — your logo, promotional and marketing materials, advertising — need to always be consistent with that message.

When is the right time to refresh a brand or rebrand completely?

The answer to when to rebrand is not clear cut. If a brand is proactively managed, it should naturally evolve so that as changes occur with your company, customers or marketplace, your brand will evolve as well. However, it may be time to rebrand if faced with one of the following circumstances: 1) you’re facing competitive pressures from someone who is gaining more market share; 2) your target demographics think or feel differently about your brand than they used to; 3) you’ve made significant changes internally such as a name change, ownership change or acquisition. A thriving brand leader will proactively manage the brand as an ongoing activity and consider it as an integral part of the business strategy.

WES PHILLIPS and ROCHELLE REITER are the agency principals of Orange Label Art + Advertising. Reach them at (949) 631-9900 or wphillips@orangelabeladvertising.com or rreiter@orangelabeladvertising.com.

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