If you’re super busy and you’re using hand-written forms or checklists, but you have a smartphone, pad, or laptop, I’m going to show you how to create an easy online replacement for those paper forms. As an example, let’s say that you own a golf cart maintenance company that uses paper carbon forms to record all the information for service and maintenance done on each cart you service. I actually just created this type of online form for one of my customers and it took less than 60 minutes to create, test, and send them the links.
I’m going to show you how to create the online form using Google Forms. It’s free if you have a Google account, and you have a Google account if you use Gmail. Even if you don’t use Gmail for your business, it’s totally worth it to get a free Google account just to gain access to all the great free features. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Google sales person, there are lots of other ways to put your paper forms online…just very few that are totally free and this easy.
Once you’ve logged into Google, you want to select the square matrix in the upper right corner. This gives you a drop-down list of all the Google apps. Then select “Drive”. This will bring you to your “My Drive” where you’ll store all your files. If you haven’t used Google Drive before this will be blank. If you have used Google Drive, then you can skip ahead.
To create a new “form”, select the “NEW” button in the upper left corner. This will give you a drop-down list of the styles of documents available for creation. To get to “Forms” select “More” and select “Google Forms” at the top of the next drop-down list. This will open a new Google Form for you to work on.
First, let’s select a background color scheme by selecting the color palette in the upper right-hand corner. Let’s change the color scheme to blue. You can also select a photo or picture from Google’s library or download one from your computer. Let’s select the sailboat picture. Your form is looking better already.
The form has two pages: “Questions” and “Responses”. The “Questions” are where you put in all the information that you want on your form. We’ll discuss “Responses” later.
You want to name your form. Select “Untitled form” and type in the name you want. This will rename the file also. You can also type in a form description below the title if you would like. If you leave it blank, it will not show up in the final form.
Next, let’s create the body of the form. Enter the title of first information you want filled in by selecting “Untitled Question”. You can always go back and change any of the pieces of the form later. To the right, select the drop-down list to change the type of answer you want filled out. Let’s use “Short Answer” for this question. Let’s go back and change “Customer Information” to “Customer Name”.
On the bottom right corner of each “question”, you’ll see “Required” with an on/off switch. If you want the person filling out the form to be required to fill in that particular question, turn the switch on (to the right). Next to “Required” is three vertical dots indicating a drop-down list. Selecting the drop-down list gives you the choices of “Hint text” and “Data validation”. Hint text is the text below the Title of the Question that instructs the person how to answer. “Data validation” is used if you require a specific type of answer such as an email, a phone number, or a text answer of a certain length. You can see that the choices for each drop-down list are descriptive by just moving your cursor over each. If you decide you don’t want either, just go back to the three vertical dots drop-down list and un-check what you don’t want.
To the far right of the form, you see a vertical list of symbols. The “plus” button is to add additional questions. The “Tt” button is to add additional an Title and Description. The “photo” button allows you to add pictures and photos from your library or computer. The “play” button allows you to add videos from your library or computer. And the “equals sign” button allows you to add a new section which shows up in the form as a new page.
Now let’s add a new Title and Description called “Section 1 – Quarterly Maintenance Requirements” and a description. Then, let’s add another question and call it “Quarterly Maintenance Checklist”. Let’s make this a checklist and type in all the tasks that are potentially required for the checklist. Pardon my typing. Now let’s add a comment or notes question at the bottom.
Reviewing your form creation, you just realized that you need more customer information at the top. So let’s go back to the top and add questions for Service Date, Reason for Service, Address, and Golf Cart Identification. You can see how you can move back and forth in the form to add questions and sections where you need them.
Again after reviewing your form, you realize that it would be clearer to have the customer information in one section and the checklist in another section. So let’s make the checklist in a different section. You see that all you have to do to delete a question or section is to select that area and then select the “trashcan”.
Now let’s make a couple more sections. These easiest way is to select the three vertical dots drop-down list and select “duplicate section”. Then just change whatever you want to in the new section. By now, I think you’re getting the hang of it. It’s really easy.
Now let’s look at the “Responses” page of the form. Click on “Responses”. On the right side there is a three vertical dot drop-down list. This offers choices of where to save your responses. If you select “Select response destination” you can choose to have a Google Sheet created automatically to keep all the responses for you with the same name you gave the form. This is recommended and the easiest. Or you can save your responses to an existing spreadsheet if you already set one up.
On the right below the drop-down list is a switch called “Accepting responses”. If this is one, the form can be filled out and the responses recorded. If you switch this off, when someone tries to fill out the form they get a notification stating that the form is no longer accepting responses. This is a good feature to have to be able to notify people who may not be using the latest form, or if you are using the form for time sensitive responses.
If you would like to see a preview of what your form looks like as you’re working on it, click the “eye” in the upper right corner of the form. This opens a preview of the form in a new tab in your browser. You can even test it by entering information and working your way through the form. You can see that if the person filling out the form does not enter information in the “required” questions, they will receive an error message and will not be allowed to continue through to the next section.
When you’re done with all the sections, just click “SUBMIT” at the bottom and all your responses will be saved in the spreadsheet your created. In addition, a link will be provided to fill out the form again. This is useful in situations like this example, however, if you want to you can turn this off.
If you switch back to the tab with the form, you will see on the “Responses” tab, a general summary of the answers that you have received. For a more detailed look at the answers, go back to your “My Drive” and select the Google Sheet with the same name as your form. This spreadsheet provides a time-stamp showing when the person filled out the form, and all the responses to all the questions.
To provide a person with the link to be able to fill out the form, just right click on the form file name, and select “Get link” from the drop-down list. A popup will show the link and you can just copy and paste it into an email, text, or other document, or social media, or website.
That’s all there is to it.
Mahalo and much success,
The short answer is…really, really important. All businesses have a culture, whether you recognize it or not. And that culture reflects on everything from how your employees treat each other to how they treat your customers to how you treat them. A strong, positive, healthy culture can improve your company’s reputation, productivity, quality, employee and customer retention. While a negative, in-congruent, unhealthy culture can lead to your company’s eventual demise.
Culture in business can be defined in many ways. However, Josh Bersin’s definition seems the most succinct “culture is the set of behaviors, values, artifacts, reward systems, and rituals that make up your organization”. This basically means that everything that goes on in your company and between your company and your customers and vendors defines your company’s culture, and in essence makes up part of your brand. It’s what people “feel” when they interact with your company. Which supports the answer to the question about how very important culture is for your company.
Unfortunately, if you think you may have a culture that is not helping your brand or meshing with your mission or values, you need to work to change it. And changing a company’s culture is no small task. The first step is understanding and defining your company’s culture so you know where you stand, and how much work you have in front of you.
We offer a free cultural assessment to help you do just that here.
Once you have a grasp on what your culture looks like, you can take steps to begin to transform that culture into one that matches your goals, mission, and values. And in today’s highly competitive and fast-paced business environment, even small companies need to understand that “it’s not about who’s bigger, better, brighter, or faster; it’s about who is empowered to leverage the power of culture to optimize an organization’s bottom line” (Denise Pirrotti Hummel, Oracle). In other words, you need to care about your culture, and take care to groom your culture to keep your company competitive, locally or globally.
Mahalo and much success,
Bersin, J. (2015, March 13). Culture: Why It’s the Hottest Topic in Business Today. Retrieved from Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshbersin/2015/03/13/culture-why-its-the-hottest-topic-in-business-today/
Groth, A. (2013, January 22). Workplace Culture Is More Important Than Anything Else. Retrieved from Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/workplace-culture-is-important-2013-1
Hummel, D. P. (2012, May). Understanding the Importance of Culture in Global Business. Retrieved from Oracle.com: http://www.oracle.com/us/corporate/profit/archives/opinion/050312-dhummel-1614961.html
Luanne Kelchner, Demand Media. (2015). Importance of a Healthy Corporate Culture. Retrieved from SmallBusiness.Chron.com: http://smallbusiness.chron.com/importance-healthy-corporate-culture-20899.html
Morgan, J. (2015, January 23). The Importance of Corporate Culture. Retrieved from Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobmorgan/2015/01/23/the-importance-of-corporate-culture/
Vaishnavi, V. (2012, September 26). The Importance Of Maintaining Company Culture As Your Business Scales. Retrieved from Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/vickvaishnavi/2013/09/26/maintaining-company-culture-as-the-business-scales/
As a small business owner, I’ve run across instances where I needed a proposal and where an estimate would work. What’s the difference? Simply stated, an estimate provides the product or service and its cost including any labor, taxes, or other fees. You normally provide an estimate for a customer or potential customer that has asked to know how much it would cost for your product or service. On the other hand, a proposal is more of a sales document – an estimate on steroids to convince the potential customer that you have the right solution to meet their needs.
While you can easily come up with an estimate, a proposal requires a bit more effort to succeed. Sometimes potential clients will submit a “Request for Proposal” which is an official document requesting businesses to “bid” on solutions to their problem. But many times, a potential customer may simply request a proposal from you and you might not even know they have asked other businesses for the same thing.
Since a proposal needs to convince the potential customer that your solution is the one to solve their problem, you need to plan your proposal by following the steps outlined below. Even if your proposal is only a couple pages, following the basic plan and doing your research may make the difference between getting the job and losing to the competition.
- Carefully study the requirements or the customer’s “issue”
It’s critical to clearly understand your customer’s “issue” and what’s important to your customer. In evaluating the issue, also make it a point to understand the underlying causes of the issue or problem and if any other solutions have been tried before. Did these solutions work or fail? Why did the issue arise again? Is there a cause that is being overlooked? Is there an attribute that this customer is looking for that other companies aren’t understanding?
- Research and understand the customer
To be able to ensure that your solution not only solves the problem at hand, but satisfies the customer’s needs and wants, you will have to find out more about your potential customer. Is cost most important to the customer? Or is quality or a warranty more important? Or is customer service the most important? Researching these customer needs may take some investigation such as asking other companies that may have worked for this customer previously in another industry. You can also ask the customer or their employees’ questions that will help you develop an understanding of the customer.
- Develop your approach
You know how to solve the problem, but you need to sculpt your solution to meet the expectations that you researched in 1 and 2 above. Use the information you identified to develop the wording, pricing, and scheduling for your definition of the problem and discussion of the solution.
- Evaluate your solution
Test drive your solution against steps 1, 2, and 3 above and make sure you are the solution the customer is looking for based on your findings. If there is any doubt, re-evaluate your approach and fine tune your solution.
- Know your competition
Make sure you research your competition. Even if you don’t know if other businesses will be submitting proposals, it’s best to see if any other companies have solutions and how yours compares. If you find that the competition offers a better value to the customer, evaluate if your solution offers more value, or if you can adjust your solution to provide more value.
- Write it
Your proposal should include an executive summary which includes: a) a summary of the basic issue(s); b) a succinct description of the proposed solution; c) the expected results including the goal, the expected outcome, the solution overview, and a call to action (to choose you). In the body of the proposal you will expand upon these sections and provide facts and proof why your solution works and why it is the best choice for this customer.
- Edit it
Ruthlessly edit your proposal. Even if you have to ask a friend or employee to assist you. It’s amazing how much power a misspelled word or improper grammar can have on a customer’s decision even if your solution is superior to the competition.
The method of submittal for your proposal is normally described in the “Request for Proposal” (RFP). However, if there was no RFP, use your research regarding the customer to determine the most effective way to submit your proposal. This additional touch will help show that you understand your customer and what they are looking for.
Mahalo and much success,
Clayton, S. (1996, January 31). 7 Steps To A Winning Business Proposal. Retrieved from Entrepreneur: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/21834
How to Write a Proposal. (2015). Retrieved from wikiHow: http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Proposal
James, G. (2014, February 26). How to Write a Winning Proposal. Retrieved from Inc.: http://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/how-to-write-a-winning-proposal.html
Turak, A. (2013, February 18). How to Write a Plan or Proposal That Rocks. Retrieved from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/augustturak/2013/02/18/how-to-write-a-plan-or-proposal-that-rocks/
We all have bad days and good days. Customer service and communication skills training tells us that the minute you walk in the door, you leave it all behind. But let’s be realistic, that doesn’t always happen. And sometimes, your bad day happens at your business.
So the rule of thumb is: count to 10 before you respond. What happens if that isn’t long enough? Some people say it’s the 24 hour rule, but that doesn’t work if you’re right there in front of the person who is the potential cause of your bad day. And you can’t just say “I’m sorry, you’re pissing me off, I need to walk away and come back in 24 hours to answer you”. Where’s that “Easy” button when you need it?
So, what to do?
Here’s a few recommendations. Some are easier to do than others. Most will take practice. But all are effective and can become second nature if practiced often.
- Focus on the complainant’s words and make mental notes (or actual notes). This often acts as a deterrent to an emotional response and gives your brain something to do in the background (coming up with positive solutions).
- While listening, tell yourself that the person could be having a bad day for other reasons that are contributing to their reaction to the current situation in an unreasonable and over-reactionary fashion. This makes the situation somewhat bearable and allows you to focus on possible things that may have happened to that person. Plus it allows your mind to transfer into an empathetic state, so you can be more aware of keywords that might help tone down the emotional side of the discussion and focus on solutions.
- When the other person takes a break from talking, quickly and simply summarize the main points they were making. Ask them if this summary seems correct or accurate. This often fizzles the emotional input by confirming to the other person that you are listening and that you care about what they are saying and the issue they have.
- Breath. Believe or not, breathing does help. If you feel your temper and blood pressure rising, and your instinct is to fire off something that most likely will not help, stop and breathe. You can focus on breathing and still listen. Resist the temptation to retaliate. It won’t end well.
- If you feel that the conversation is straying from emotional control, and straying from the facts, and is starting to venture into a non-reality based blame or accusation session, acknowledge the person’s grievances and very politely ask if you could continue the conversation at another time when you are both calmer. Make sure you have another time in mind, that is within 24 hours, and that you set up a specific appointment and location. This will provide the complainant some minor satisfaction and may allow them to calm down some as well.
- Remind yourself that a bad day in your world may be someone else’s good day. Sometimes, even though this is cliché, it helps. I know when I’ve had what I consider to be a really bad day, I’ll take a call from a vendor or client who is having a miserable day, and it really helps to put things in perspective.
These tips should help diffuse many situations. Feel free to customize these to your own style and communication skillset.
I hope this helps.