Is Your Voicemail and On Hold Message Helping Your Business?

It seems like most businesses treat their voicemail greetings and on hold messages as an afterthought. However, that is a big mistake for businesses that want to be seen as an authority in their niche and have a professional presence.

It is not enough to have someone on staff, usually the receptionist, record the messages PBX Phone with message on holdand prompts. When this happens the quality of the recording is usually poor, and the person that records the message doesn’t sound very good with inappropriate pauses, high pitched or gravelly voices, and even clearing their throat. Think about what that sort of message sends to your prospective clients. Of course in a perfect world, you would always have someone answering the phone, but that is just not realistic for a busy and thriving business. Sometimes your receptionist will be busy talking to another client and it is just not possible for them to answer without inconveniencing their present caller.

The solution is to outsource your telephone messaging requirements to a professional recording studio. They will have all the best recording equipment that allows them to record professional sounding voice mails, messages on hold, and IVR prompts. They usually have several male and female speakers that can a read script supplied by you. You can even specify certain accents if you think that would work for you. They can also add music in the background where it is appropriate.

The cost is fairly affordable with rates starting under $100 and up depending on how many messages you want, and which person you select for your recording. That can be less than the cost of a dinner for two at a decent restaurant. When you look at it like that, you have to think that the first impression that someone is going to get about your business is worth more than that. That fairly small investment could end up giving you a tremendous return on your investment. If having great voicemail greetings and messages on hold convince more people to stay on the line until you can talk to them, you will certainly get more business. The alternative is having people being unimpressed with your business when they hear amateur recordings, and phoning your competitors.

The process for ordering professional recordings can be very simple since you can do most of it online. All you have to do is choose the person you want to read your messages by listening to some of their sample messages. Next, you upload your script and make your payment right from the website. Then the company will record your messages and email you when your recordings are ready for download.

There are several companies that offer these online services and some of them also can help you with the hardware configuration of your telephone system. One company that we have used in the past with great success was On Air Audio Studios Inc.

Here is an example of what can happen when your voicemail system is not working properly.

 

Team Building in Calgary

No matter how big or small your business is, you need to provide some bonding time for your employees from time to time. Unless you are a sole proprietor where you have to be a Jack or Jill of all trades and do everything yourself, you have to let your employees get to know one and other in a social setting.

We are lucky in Calgary to have so many options when it comes to team building. Our proximity to the mountains gives us a lot of options that companies in other cities just don’t have. One of my favorite team building excursions was when I worked at Nortel and our whole group went on a hike to the plain of Six Glaciers at Lake Louise. We took our time because not everyone was in the same physical condition, and we took frequent breaks to enjoy the view. Once we got to the top, we had a piece of apple pie in the little restaurant at the top. This great experience took up the whole day with travel time to Lake Louise and back to Calgary. It was well worth it, but if you don’t have the whole day, there are numerous other great trails to try in Banff and Kananaskis.

Another great idea is to go bowling. This one is the easiest to do because you can stay in town and everyone can bowl. It is best however to do the 5 pin bowling with the small balls that fit in your hand. Some people find it difficult to throw the larger balls used in 10 pin bowling. Also the germ freaks will not like that they have to put their fingers into those holes where thousands of other people have had their hands.

One thing that most people never think of is cooking classes. This will depend on the size and demographics of your group, but you should at least suggest it to your employees. Cuisine et Chateau here in Calgary offers cooking classes geared to corporate team building and your employees will learn something that they can take home to impress their families. Also, you get to eat the great meal you created when you are finished

Those are the three things I enjoyed most out of all the activities I got to experience so far, while team building with my co-workers. There are many other ideas, such as go-karting, skating, the Zoo, Heritage Park, rafting down the Bow, skiing, cycling, and just going to a movie. Some of these require more interaction than others, so a movie would be last on my list. Going to a dark movie theatre where you can’t talk kind of defeats the purpose.

Of course these all have different levels of liability, so make sure you get the appropriate waivers signed and get it cleared through your manager.

Calgary Real Estate Market update

Calgary skylineThe Calgary real estate market continues to do well with sales up around 20% when compared to last year. Both condos and houses are selling quickly and prices are rising. It is basically a seller’s market for people that have a good property in a good location. It is not however, like the boom of 2006 to 2007 where sellers could almost ask any price they wanted and get it. Now that prices have rebounded to the same level they were at in 2007, buyers still remember what can happen when prices get too high. After the peak of the boom in 2007 and the subsequent global recession in 2008 when prices dropped dramatically, people know that they shouldn’t get too enthusiastic about the future, so they are sticking to a reasonable price when they make an offer. There are still multiple offers, but only on great properties in fantastic and popular neighbourhoods.

Prices have increased in Calgary by twice as much as the rest of the country. The average increase for a home in Canada was around 4%, but Calgary had average increases of 8% in 2013. The average price for a single family detached house in December was $527,043 and $280,786 for an apartment style condo according to the Calgary Real Estate Board. Townhouse condos had an average price of $$327,391.

So what is keeping the Calgary real estate market going? Well I think that it is a combination of a good economy that continues to chug along because of strong oilsands activity which in turn is creating a lot of jobs. Alberta and Saskatchewan are still the places to be for employment and will be for the foreseeable future. In-migration to Calgary is very strong and is expected to reach 30,000 new people on a net basis this year – that is taking into account the people that left the city. The rental market has it’s lowest vacancy rate in years approaching 1% for apartments, and if you want to rent a townhouse or single family home you need to be prepared to pay.

This all bodes well for 2014 where most economists, realtors, and business people predict more of the same. Not everything is rosy, but with the southeast portion of the ring road recently opening, and a new deal on the Southwest portion with the Tsuu T’ina Nation we do have a lot of good things going when it comes to transportation. However, transit will continue to be a problem in the city’s southeast and North  where new C-train lines would seem to be decades away because of the cost.

So, the future looks pretty good for real estate and Calgary in General. If you need a good site that has all the houses for sale in Calgary from every realtor, try Carmen Paradis at RE/MAX Real Estate Central 206, 2411 4 Street Northwest (403) 703-8516 www.carmenslistings.ca

If you are interested in Edmonton, try Team Eskiw real estate at 102 12650 – 151 Ave (780) 406-1200

Stucco or Vinyl siding?

With Calgary’s real estate market still humming along, I get quite a few people asking me for advice on whether or not now is a good time to buy. I would say if you can find a great property that you love in a good neighourhood, you should go ahead and make the move. Interest rates are still really low, although they have moved up a bit in the last few weeks, and prices are increasing.

I also get asked what I think of Stucco and Vinyl siding. Obviously Stucco is much nicer to look at, and if you want to buy in a higher end neighbourhood, that is what you will probably get. Although some really nice communities have a mixture of both stucco and vinyl, but I personally don’t like the look of that. I think it cheapens an estate area that has a bunch of stunning mansions beside houses with vinyl. I don’t know why the developers didn’t just implement architectural controls to limit the siding to just stucco.

On the other side of the coin, most of the more affordable Calgary neighbourhoods use only vinyl because it is much cheaper. Drive through any community that is marketed to young families on a budget, and it will almost always contain vinyl houses, townhouses, and condos. In this case, it is totally understandable that they would do this because they need to keep the cost of the homes as low as possible while still providing a good product.

So which is better? Here are some features for each:

Stucco

  • Much more expensive than vinyl
  • Generally looks more attractive and sophisticated
  • Can be painted
  • Requires occasional maintenance and repairs
  • Provides good insulation from both hot and cold weather
  • Requires a professional to install

 

Vinyl

  • Much cheaper than Stucco
  • Can be installed by yourself but a professional is recommended
  • Comes in pretty much any color you want
  • Does not fade over time
  • Vinyl is very strong and durable so it can withstand very harsh conditions
  • It is maintenance free

You can get Vinyl that is formed in different styles with the look of a log cabin or shakes that actually look like shakes on the side of your house, but almost all the houses that have vinyl in Calgary have that same appearance that looks like smaller versions of the wood siding you used to see on all the old bungalows. It is called solid core vinyl siding.

Stucco siding can also have many appearances or styles ranging from the smooth look to a more textured finish or anything in between.

Since your home is probably the most expensive item you will ever buy and it will be a source of pride and joy for many years, I would choose stucco. However that is only if you can do it without putting yourself in an unreasonable amount of debt. Since stucco homes tend to be found in more expensive neighbourhoods, you may have to pay a lot more than you would for the same type of house that has vinyl.

If you already own a house and want to spruce it up by having stucco installed I would recommend Brandon and his crew at 5.0 Stucco Calgary

Why you need an accountant for your small business

If you have a small to medium sized business, like many Calgarians, you need to stay on top of all the paperwork. This includes the day to day accounting for your business and also could include payroll.

I have known more than one person who thought it would be a good idea to start a small business or buy an existing business. I think it is a great idea too, but there is a great deal of work that needs to be done. First, you need to get a business number from revenue Canada. This number is the nine digit base number or identifier. Then you need an extension for every type of account you need. For GST it starts with RT, and for Payroll it starts with RP.

You need to have a corporation set up which can be just a numbered company or you can Calgary accountingapply for a trade name – this would be something like “Bob’s Drywall”. If no one else is using that name or a name similar to that, you can register it as yours through a registry office anywhere in Calgary. Once you have the corporation, you must setup a business bank account which will be totally separate from your personal money. One thing people have trouble with is understanding that the corporation’s money is not their money even though they own the company. If it is a very small company there may be only one shareholder and that person may also be the director of the company as well. However, you can have as many shareholders as you want and each person must purchase their shares and pay the corporation for them with their personal money. A minute book must be kept to record any transactions that happen through the corporation.

You should get the company credit cards and only use those for business – no personal use. That way it will be easy to add up all of your business expenses at tax time. You also need to keep all of your original receipts in case the CRA asks to see them. As for payroll, if you will be taking a salary for yourself or another employee, you need to remit deductions to revenue Canada every month or at least every quarter. These deductions include Canada pension plan, EI premiums, and income tax. For the CPP the corporation must match 100% of what the employee pays, and for EI the corporation must pay 140% of what the employee pays. So, probably every month when you cut a cheque for yourself or your employee, you need to calculate how much the employee gets and how much you have to send to the government. Do not forget to do this. The government charges interest on any late fees and no excuses will be accepted.

Just remember to be organized and keep records of everything. You can do this, but if you would rather focus on building and nurturing your business instead of doing paperwork, I recommend Daniela and her Calgary team of accountants at Padgett Business Services 2808 41 ST SW

If you have an office in Edmonton, try Rajiv at Padgett Business Services 3-10020 29A Avenue Northwest

 

Do We Even Need The Southwest Ring Road?

According to the Alberta Transportation website, preliminary work started at the beginning of July. The bulk of this work will involve moving power lines, water lines, and sewer lines so that they can start moving dirt in September.

This will be a massive project that will be broken down to two parts. The first to be built will be the section from Macleod Trail heading west along 22X and then heading north through the Tsuu T’ina Nation reserve and up to the intersection of Glenmore Trail and Sarcee Trail where it will turn west along where highway 8 is right now, and stop at 69th Street SW. The next portion which is also known as the west ring road, will be completed at a later date and will go from 69th Street up to 16th Avenue which is also known as Highway 1. Funding for the west portion has not even been allocated yet, so don’t expect that section of the ring road to be finished any time soon.

However, with everything that has happened to the Alberta economy in the last couple of years, do we even need this road to be built? I am sure that everyone has noticed that the traffic on Calgary’s roads seems to have been reduced dramatically since the recession began. This is obviously because of the thousands of people that have been laid off in the oil industry and in unrelated industries. So, there are a lot of people that don’t have anywhere to go in the morning and afternoon rush hours.  Also, I am sure that a lot of people are packing up their things and going back to their home provinces, maybe never to return. What if oil prices never recover to the $80 range again? How long will it take for Calgary and Alberta to adapt? What if we never have another boom and the unemployment rate never goes below 7% like in some provinces? Should we still be spending the estimated 5 Billion dollars to complete the Southwest and west portions of the ring road?

My answer is yes. We should be taking advantage of lower construction cost when there is a recession and everyone needs work. But, can we trust the government to get a good deal on these contracts? I am skeptical about that, but I guess we have to give them the benefit of the doubt. If they don’t get this thing done now, it may never get done and since it has been talked about for over 40 years, we need to move forward regardless of the huge cost. You know the government of Alberta will just waste the money on something useless if they don’t spend it on this, so we might as well get a new freeway. Also it took an awful long time to get the Tsuu T’ina Nation to agree to the land deal, and there are time limits built into that deal, so this section has to start now.

Here is a nice video that shows the path that the ring road will take along with the locations of all the interchanges. It was produced by the government of Alberta.

 

Is Your Business Getting Customers From The Internet?

Because it is 2016 we can assume that all businesses in Calgary have a website. However, just having a website doesn’t do you much good if it is not bringing in new customers, patients, or jobs, depending on what your business is.

The old days of relying on the physical yellow pages phone book are over. Some of the old calgary online marketingschool methods such as radio ads and printed flyers still work to some extent, but nothing works as well as having a continuous supply of new customers that have found your website on Google and have contacted you to book an appointment for your product or services.

That is where SEO (search engine optimization) comes into the picture. Also known as online marketing or internet marketing, SEO is the practice of getting your website found on the first page of Google, Bing, and Yahoo. How do we do that? There are two parts to SEO.

  1. On page SEO is where we optimize the pages and content on your website to make it obvious what your website is about.
  2. Off page SEO is where we get other websites, directories, and social media pages to link to our website, share it, and like it.

It all sounds pretty complicated and it is. That is why online marketing is not something you should tackle yourself as a business owner, unless you are prepared to invest hundreds of hours in learning and experimenting. Even if you do that, you may not be successful because if you learn from the wrong person, you could be taught outdated techniques and end up harming your website ranking instead of helping it. Google has several penalties for websites that violate their rules. In addition, the methods that are used to get your website on the first page of the search engines and keep it there, change all the time, so what worked in 2014 will not work today.

Of course nothing beats getting a referral from a previous customer, friend, or family member because that person already trusts you and your business because they trust the person that referred them. However, if you are not getting enough referrals, then online marketing and SEO are the next best thing. This is because the person going to Google and typing in “Calgary roofer” is in a buying state of mind because they took the effort to search for a roofer while they were thinking that they needed a new roof. If you had a roofing company and your website was ranking on the first page of Google, you could get the phone call to schedule a quote.  This is much better than radio, print, and TV advertising which are known as interruption advertising because they are interrupting you when the ad comes on or you receive the flyer. You were probably not thinking of hiring a roofer at that time so you forget about the company that interrupted you and carry on with your day.

There are many companies that will handle your online marketing or SEO for a monthly fee ranging from $200 to $1000 per month. Almost all local businesses that try online marketing get an outstanding ROI on their monthy investment. That is of course provided that they hire a reputable company that can prove that they have already gotten great results for other companies in Calgary.

Never hire a company that is based overseas because they will use techniques that may get you results for a while but will inevitably get your website penalized. Stick with a local company that you can meet face to face.

Here are some questions that you can ask a company that are straight from Google https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35291?hl=en

 

Great Video of Calgary from a Drone

If you have ever flown into Calgary from the south and been lucky enough to have a window seat on the left side of the plane, you know how beautiful Calgary looks from the air. Our downtown core looks much more impressive than what you would expect from a city of just 1.2 million people. I have been to most big American cities and we have a nicer skyline than most of them including Phoenix, Tampa, Orlando, San Diego, Miami and even Dallas.Those cities all have a larger population but probably don’t have the same concentration of head offices that Calgary has.

If it is a clear day, you can also see the mountains to the west and all the parks that span the entire city. Here is a professional looking video from a drone that was apparently hovering over the downtown last fall. I am not sure if that sort of thing is legal since you would be occupying air space that other aircraft might be using such as HAWCS and STARS.

 

How Will the Syrian Refugees Affect Calgary’s Economy?

The Syrian refugees have been in the news a lot lately and have generated a lot of discussion about how many we should take in Canada. It all started before the federal election with the Liberals and Justin Trudeau pledging to take in 25,000 before the end of 2015. That was a politically motivated number that they surely knew that they could not achieve with all the logistical problems and proper screening that needed to be done.

However, the Liberals and many in the media didn’t hesitate to label anyone that questioned their number of 25,000 a bigot and a racist. Brad Wall who is arguably the most popular premier in Canada was criticized for asking some very good questions about how the refugees would be vetted. He was later vindicated when the government was forced to admit that they could not safely bring in that many people that soon.

Now that we are a week and a half into 2016 the refugees are starting to trickle into Canada, including Calgary. Now, with the local economy suffering from the collapse in oil prices, the unemployment rate is going up and from most accounts, will probably continue to rise for the first half of the year. Will the new arrivals be able to find jobs and look after themselves?  I realize the numbers coming to Calgary are small, but people that are already here are having trouble finding jobs, so how will someone that doesn’t speak English and may not have any skills, fare in this economy?

Well, they will probably get by on some government assistance and be forced to take some lower paying jobs in the service industry such as the fast food industry and the cleaning industry. I don’t think a couple of thousand Syrian refugees coming to a city the size of Calgary will have much effect at all on our ability to find a good job. We need to welcome them here, and hope that the federal government did their job and properly and researched each and every one of these people before they let them into Canada.

If even one of these people ends up doing something bad, it will cause a lot of Canadians to reconsider their generosity when it comes to opening up the doors to refugees. ISIS has proven to be very capable with technology such as twitter and other social media to get their message out, so we shouldn’t be surprised if they are trying embed some of their terrorists into western countries to act as a sort of Trojan horse. Again, we need to put our trust in the federal authorities that are responsible for vetting these people. I know it is tough to trust the government not to screw things up, but in this case we have to.

 


Calgary Food Bank Event at Safeway

Here is a great reminder that there are people in Calgary that are in need, especially since the local economy is not doing too well lately. Pretty much everyone knows someone that has been laid off if they haven’t been laid off themselves. The food bank provides a fantastic service for those that are down on their luck.
If you want to volunteer, or if you need food, go to the Calgary food bank website at http://www.calgaryfoodbank.com/ for more information.

Although people need help all year round, Christmas is when most people feel the need to help and that is ok.

Why Do We Need Parking at CTrain Stations?

There has been a lot of talk lately about the new Green line CTrain station that is supposed to run from the far north central part of the city all the way down to Seton by the South Hospital. It looks like the federal government is going to pay for a third of the estimated 5 billion dollar project. That is assuming that Justin Trudeau will honor former Prime Minister Harper’s commitment he made before being defeated in the recent election.

The city still needs to come up with it’s portion of the price tag, and ask the provincial government for it’s share. One would think that with all the lip service that the provincial NDP give to transit and green projects that their commitment should be a sure thing even though the province will have a large deficit for the foreseeable future.

One big issue that affects all CTrain stations is parking. The new line has to be planned properly to allow development around the stations while still providing adequate parking for people that don’t live within walking distance of a station. Lets face it, that is most of us and we are not about to jump on a bus to get to the CTrain station. That would mean we were riding transit for at least an hour both ways each day. No thank you.

The Mayor actually talks about this in this video and he seems to be on the right track in his thinking.

Low Oil Prices are starting to Hurt

It has been a few months now since oil prices crashed and it doesn’t look like this will be a short lived downturn.

With Saudi Arabia firmly in control and sitting on vast reserves of oil and money, there is little that the rest of the world can do for now. If their goal is to crush the high cost producers in Canada and the United states, it is starting to work. In Canada the bad news has been flowing out at a steady rate now that fourth quarter financial results are being released by all the energy companies. The news has been bleak with companies reporting quarterly losses and announcing cutbacks in capital spending. Some have also taken this opportunity to layoff staff. Cenovus just released their results and they lost over 470 million dollars in the last quarter. The are also laying off over 15% of their workforce with most of them being contractors.

This is starting to affect the rest of the economy as well with the real estate market being the most high profile example. Listings are way up over this time last year and prices will start to come down. It is inevitable when you have so many listings and not enough buyers. Add in all the extremely negative stories from the national media such as the Globe and Mail who are writing stories about how Calgary’s real estate market is about to crash on almost a daily basis, and you could have a self fulfilling prophesy.

Now even industries that are not related to oil are jumping in with their own bad news. Just this morning Shaw announced they will be shifting 1000 jobs from their Calgary call centre to other cities in Canada. The employees will be given a choice as to whether or not they want to relocate or take a severance package. To their credit, at least they are not moving the jobs to overseas locations.

Of course no one is being hit harder by these low oil prices than the provincial government. Because they have mismanaged the province for so many years, they are extremely vulnerable to fluctuations in energy prices. The couldn’t even balance the budget at $100 oil, so it is no surprise that they will take a major hit when prices crash. Now Jim Prentice has stated they will cut 5% from the budget and this could come from anywhere. They say the cut is more like 9% when you add in the proposed increases that would have happened to account for population growth.

Well I say this is a good start, but they really need to drain the swamp and find out where all the bodies are buried. I am certain that after over 40 years in power, that there is a lot of corruption and wasteful spending. The 5% cut is a good start, but what needs to happen is for another party to take power and investigate what has happened for the last four decades. I am sure they could find a lot more savings without it impacting the frontline services that affect people’s lives on a daily basis. Why did they have over 80 vice presidents at Alberta Health Services? That is just one example of a bloated bureaucracy with massive salaries and even bigger severance packages when they quit. The chances that another party wins the next election are pretty much zero, since the Liberals and Wild Rose do not even have a leader, but we can still hope that it happens.

Anyway, even with all the bad news Calgary will survive and thrive – it always does.

Do we really need a Bullet Train?

There has been a lot of talk in the last few years about how Alberta may need a bullet train. The subject has recently come up again when the PC government said a committee will look into this yet again. There will be hearings in Edmonton , Calgary, and Red deer. They will report their findings within a few months.

My take on this is that we absolutely, categorically do not need a bullet train. In fact the bullet trainwhole idea is a little crazy. First off who would use it? The most obvious answer would be business people, but really how many of them need to go from Calgary to Edmonton or vise versa every week? Even if that number is in the thousands, it wouldn’t be enough. What if you were going to visit friends or relatives in Edmonton – how often would you use the train? Also the assumption is that the train would go from downtown to downtown. Well what if you needed to go to the suburbs? Then you would either have to take a taxi which is expensive or you would have to use public transit which is time consuming. Even if you could make the trip in 90 minutes would it be worth the cost and hassles?

The alternative is the status quo which is you either fly, drive, or take the bus. I think we have enough options. A better idea would be to use any available money to slowly triple lane the QE2 highway. Most people are still going to drive because it just gives them way more flexiblilty once they get to their destination. That way can just drive where ever they want and don’t have to rely on someone else’s schedule be it the train, a taxi, a plane, or transit.

The cost of a train ride would presumably cheaper than flying but not by much. What about the cost of building the thing in the first place? This is where it gets really scary. There have been estimates that vary wildly from 3 billion dollars to 20 billion dollars. With the PC government we have today freely spending on everything and anything, we are already about 7 billion dollars in debt. They just wiped out Ralph’s legacy in no time. They would have to borrow the money and increase our debt dramatically in the process. The whole thing would become a white elephant.

I know Alberta’s population is growing rapidly and there is a strain on our existing infrastructure. You just have to look at the way the Edmonton and Calgary real estate markets are performing. Prices are back to the levels we saw in 2007 and rental vacancies are very low. But I have to argue that a large amount of money spent on a bullet train would be a very poor use of our limited funds.

Places like southern California with a population about 8 times as high as Alberta have struggled to make a bullet train economical. Lets be smart about this

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