Kauffman_Foundation_body.jpgby Cathie Ericson.


A new research report from the Kauffman Foundation finds that women entrepreneurs have far lower levels of participation in growth-oriented companies than men do. This might be surprising, considering the attention paid to the “mompreneur” category, but that’s the key differentiator: women entrepreneurs are far less likely than men to own growth-oriented firms. Fewer than one million women-owned firms have any employees other than the owner herself.


Women-owned businesses account for only about 16 percent of the nation's employer firms and, among high-growth firms, fewer than 10 percent of the founders are women. Translated to dollars and cents, the difference sounds even more profound: only about two percent of women-owned firms generate more than $1 million a year.


The researchers view this as an unprecedented opportunity. “These are striking statistics that suggest women entrepreneurs represent a large and untapped resource for generating jobs and high-growth businesses,” according to the authors of the study.


Survey Findings: Two challenges to overcome

The qualifications are certainly there: women represent more than half of the educated U.S. population, and more than half of them are in the work force.


To help explain the low percentage of women running high-growth firms, the researchers surveyed nearly 350 female tech startup leaders to see if they could pinpoint the underlying reasons.


Kauffman_Foundation_PQ.jpg

The study found that while all entrepreneurs face many of the same obstacles in starting a business, there are two key challenges that, if addressed, could bolster the ranks of women entrepreneurs:


  • Lack of mentors: Surprisingly few women in the survey cited a role model as their motivation for starting a business—and a lack of available advisors is mentioned as one of their top challenges. More access to mentors is an important strategy for encouraging women to start and run successful high-growth companies.

 

  • A financing gap: A high fraction of these survey respondents cited financial capital as a critical challenge to launching their firms (72.1 percent), and the majority (nearly 80 percent) used personal savings as their top funding source. Men who start firms seem to be expecting more growth right off the bat – they typically have nearly twice the capital that women do.


Clear benefits to finding answers

Accelerating female entrepreneurship could have the same positive effect on the U.S. economy that the large-scale entry of women into the labor force had during the 20th century, according to the study. It went on further to challenge policymakers and relevant organizations to help women overcome these hurdles. “The untapped economic potential of female entrepreneurship, especially in high-growth fields, could be the catalyst for economic growth in America,” the study says.


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media LLC to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media LLC is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media LLC. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

Touchpoint

Making Meetings Matter

Posted by Touchpoint Mar 20, 2015

Making_Meetings_Matter_body.jpgby Wendy Amundson.

 

What’s the biggest time-waster at work? Too many meetings, say many employees. For the second year in a row, that was the top answer in the annual “Wasting Time at Work” employee survey by Salary.com. 

 

There’s a cure for that, says Bruce Honig, chief executive facilitator at IdeaGuides, a San Francisco-based company specializing in meeting facilitation and training. “People don’t feel there are too many meetings if the meetings are useful and productive,” he says. Here are some tips he shared for making that happen:

 

Have an agenda with clear objectives: If the meeting leader doesn’t have a clear sense of what he or she wants the outcome of a meeting to be, it won’t be productive. Honig suggests using action verbs to signal the purpose of each agenda item—such as create, decide, or present—to make clear what needs to be accomplished at each stage of the meeting.

 

Invite the right people: Do you need information shared? Idea generation? Buy-in? Decision making? Look at what you’re trying to accomplish with the meeting and make sure to invite those who are integral to that outcome and prune those who aren’t.

 

Create a visual focus: Using a flip chart or the virtual equivalent creates a visual focal point for meeting participants. “It makes the meeting more active and creates a common understanding, because everyone is looking at the same thing,” Honig says.

 

Making_Meetings_Matter_pq.jpgLeave with a written plan of action: Before you adjourn the meeting, write down what was decided and who’s doing what and when. “When all the meeting participants can see the plan in writing, you’re once again creating common understanding and agreement of next steps,” he says.

 

Evaluate immediately: “This is the step most likely to be skipped, but it’s an important exercise if you want to make your meetings more effective,” says Honig. “It only takes five minutes to go around the table and ask for one thing that worked well in the meeting and one thing that could be done better next time.” Alternately, suggests Honig, draw two columns on a flip chart or whiteboard, heading one column with a plus sign and the other with a change symbol. Have people jot down their thoughts about what went right and what should be changed before they leave the room.

 

These suggestions can help improve both in-person and virtual meetings—and for the most part, even one-on-one discussions. “Of course, a one-on-one discussion will be less formal,” says Honing, “but it’s still important to come into any meeting knowing your objectives and to end the meeting with an agreement on what comes next and whether the meeting met both your expectations.”


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media LLC to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media LLC is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media LLC. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

Employees and Fraud.jpgEvery year, employee fraud costs businesses of all sizes billions of dollars. And the smaller your company is, the more vulnerable you may be. Learn how to avoid theft from within and protect your small business with our new guide.

 

Download the guide "Fraud Prevention: Employees and Fraud" today!


Whoever said “too much of a good thing can be a bad thing” might have easily been describing the joys, and potential sorrows, of working with family. The good news is that you know your family and can trust them with your beloved business. Working with loved ones can be fun. The bad news is that when things go wrong, they can really go haywire.

 

In fact, there are seven areas where mixing family and business can be particularly tricky. Be careful with these potential pitfalls:

 

1. Hiring: Especially with a new business, an entrepreneur may bring in a spouse, or sibling, or even an adult child, to help out and get the business off the ground. These sorts of arrangements are usually casual, and as such, important issues such as compensation, hours, duties, and so on may not be discussed as extensively as they would be with a regular employee. Needless to say, this can lead to misunderstandings.

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The solution is to treat the relative as an employee first and as a relative second. Be the boss, as uncomfortable as that may be initially.

 

2. Unequal treatment: The possible problem with hiring a loved one to work for you compared to your other employees is two-fold:

 

  • First, whether or not you treat the family member equally to everyone else, there will be a built-in perception that the family employee will receive special treatment. This is understandably bad for morale.
  • Second, family-member employees may think that they are deserving of special treatment; after all, they are related to the boss. If you don’t give them that special treatment, they may come to resent you – justified or not.

 

The solution here is frank communication with your loved one. Make sure they know that it is in everyone’s best interest that you treat them equally.

 

3. When world’s collide: Being someone’s husband or brother or dad is inherently different than being someone’s boss, or even business partner. Big problems can ensue when you mix the two worlds and roles get co-mingled.

 

Consider this: It’s late November and you two are having some issue at work. All of a sudden, not only do you have a work problem, but you have a family problem too as Thanksgiving is looming and you have to put the problem and work roles aside for the sake of family harmony around the Thanksgiving table. Easier said than done sometimes.

 

The challenge is that work relationships can stretch family ties, and family issues can interfere with work. 


Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss


4. Power struggles: Your employee may not like or expect you to assert the power and control you may need to in order to run your business effectively. The very nature of being a boss means that the relationship is unequal. Similarly, while you likely value your loved one’s judgment in many areas, that simply may not be as true in your work world.

 

5. Dispute resolution: Again, the way you resolve disputes with your family may not be how it happens at the office, and what works at work may not be what works at home. They are two different worlds with different rules and cultures.

 

6. Firing: As if all of this were not tricky enough, now it gets really tricky: What if things don’t work out with your family member? How do you let them go without causing a major family rift? You and your loved one need to have good communication. He or she needs to know that they will be treated like all other employees, for better or for worse.

 

7. Exiting the company: Is your loved one expecting a piece of the pie? Does he have a right of first refusal to buy your business in case you want to sell? Succession issues like these need to be worked out well in advance of retirement.

 

The upshot of all of this is that, of course, there are many benefits to working with family. Just be sure that everyone is on the same page so that work issues do not interfere with your familial bond.

 

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

http://www.smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/people/Steve%20Strauss/content

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here



Touchpoint

Finding the Right Fit

Posted by Touchpoint Feb 2, 2015

Temp_to_Hire_body.jpgby Rachel Keranen

 

Hiring is a challenge for many small businesses, especially for those without human resources departments or recruiting experience. Many companies are addressing that challenge by hiring workers on a temporary basis before making them full-fledged members of the team. In doing so, companies can evaluate prospective team members in action, hire faster, and mitigate some of the risks of growing their payroll in uncertain times.

 

“A lot of companies are not good at interviewing and screening,” says Jay Loewi, CEO of The QTI Group, an employment agency in Madison, Wisconsin. Regardless of recruiting skill, “sometimes the interview process and background checks dont give the whole picture,” he says.

 

Loewi recommends small businesses use what he calls a “try before you buy” approach by starting potential long-term employees on a temporary basis before hiring. Doing so, Loewi says, is “a great way to make sure its the right fit for all concerned.” During the temporary period, employers can see qualities in the employee—such as their compatibility with the team—that might not be evident during the interview phase. At the same time, employees can decide whether the company and their role is what they are looking for before committing to stay. If its not a good fit, its easier for either side to end the arrangement early.

 

Faster way to hire

Temp-to-hire can also be a way to hire faster. Paul Temple, an attorney who was previously involved with hiring at a tech startup, used temp-to-hire to quickly bring on and test out new employees.

 

“We really wanted to get people in the door and we were having trouble doing that ourselves,” Temple says. The startup at first turned to an agency to help vet candidates and then evaluated those employees during temporary periods, Temple explains. Once the firm felt more comfortable with recruiting, it continued to use temp-to-hire arrangements independent of the agency. Temple says the firm valued the ability to test out potential employeescapabilities before bringing them on permanently

 

Temp_to_Hire_PQ.jpg

Temp-to-hire can also be a smart way to meet cyclical personnel demand. “It could be temporary blip, it could be long term,” Loewi says. Given the nature of temporary employment, its easier for a small business to tell someone on a temporary basis that the need for his or her service has disappeared. Other times, the uncertainty is less about fluctuating demand and more about whether a new position will work at a company in the first place.

 

Such was the case for Stephen Anderson, founder of Bendyworks, a software development company. In the early days of his firm, he wanted to hire its first graphic designer. Anderson wasn’t completely confident that demand would permanently justify the hire, and wanted to be transparent about that uncertainty. Bendyworks set an initial trial period for their new employee. It was a success, and the designer is one of the companys longest tenured employees. Today, Anderson prefers traditional hiring when possible, but he recommends temp-to-hire for positions that are experimental or risky.

 

Act fast

The nature of a temporary arrangement does come with potential drawbacks for employers. Because the company isnt completely committing to the employee, the employee may be less committed in return and may carry on a job search through the temp-to-hire relationship.

 

With that in mind, if the employee is a great fit, hiring experts say act fast. “Communicate early on if you like the person, or be ready to hire them quicker than you planned,” Loewi says. In the case that the temporary hire doesn’t fit well, deliver early constructive feedback, or be prepared to let the employee go.

 

Some small business owners find that working with an employment agency helps to identify the workers theyre looking to bring on board. Others, such as Anderson and Temple, were able to find potential employees on their own.

 

“If an employer knows what theyre supposed to do and not supposed to do on the recruiting end, I dont see the benefit of going through a recruiting agency,” says Nilesh Patel, a lawyer specializing in human resources and employment law compliance for businesses.

 

For business owners less experienced in the process, an agency is a good choice because it will be familiar with hiring rules. It might be more expensive, says Patel, but it can help a small business to do a more thorough job recruiting the right employees.

 

A final consideration in temp-to-hire arrangements is the length of the temporary period. Three months is common, Patel says, because typically after 90 days, employee benefit plans kick in. A three-month screening period should also be an adequate amount of time to determine if an employee is a good fit, Patel adds. “If you cant figure it out after ninety days,” he says “what more do you need to know?”

Family_Leave_body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family events such as the birth of a child or looking after an ailing parent. Eligible employees must have worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months for a business that employs a minimum of 50 workers within a 75-mile radius. A few states have more lenient qualifications, but the requirements of the federal law do not cover a significant part of the small business workforce. What are the ramifications of this and how can they be addressed? Is family leave an advantage for, or an unfair burden on, a small business? As owners and workers grapple with these issues every day across the country, here are some things to consider. 

 

Increases worker loyalty

Businesses that do offer paid family leave are the exception, as the United States is one of the few countries in the world that do not require it. Advocates for paid family leave argue that it actually works to the employer's advantage because employees tend to be more devoted to businesses that strongly support them.

 

"When workers come back, they tend to be more loyal and focused, feel greater happiness, and a resolve to do a good job," says Vicki Shabo, vice president of the National Partnership For Women & Families, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that was instrumental in getting the FMLA passed in 1993. "They're grateful for being able to take the time that they needed to get their kids off to the right start. Or, in the cases of those caring for seriously ill family members, to be able to spend that time and not have their attention divided when they're working."

 

Coming up with a sensible paid family leave plan that is fair to both the small business and the employee will naturally vary depending on the individual workplace, but Shabo says that policies should be gender neutral and cover at least a portion of the worker's wages. Businesses also come out ahead since returning employees don't have to be retrained and can get up to speed much faster than a new hire.

 

Although some managers might encourage employees to take time off when they need it, attitudes can be hard to change. For example, a recent study found that more than half of the fathers who worked at companies that offered paternity leave used only a few days of the time they were entitled to. This is a mistake, Shabo says, since paternity leave lets fathers cement a permanent bond with their child and, at the same time, help new moms recover faster and resume their careers.

 

"I think it's really important to dispel the myths that people might misuse the program, concerns that this is outrageously expensive, or that people might take more time than they need," Shabo says. "That's really not what the evidence shows at all."

 

Family_Leave_PQ.jpgDesign a plan

Since the definition of family leave has expanded to include caring for a sick parent and, in some cases, dealing with problems posed by the military deployment of a family member, small businesses that actively get their employees involved in developing policies are likely to be more successful and equitable.

 

"When employees have a voice in helping to design the plan, they are really helpful in taking into account the needs of their business and their own," says Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, a national network of coalitions that advocates for family-friendly workplace polices. "Obviously the policy you design is best done to apply to all family leave purposes," which can minimize the resentment that some employees without children may feel.

 

Bravo says that the plan should also cover how to handle the responsibilities of the employee about to go out on leave to make the transition more seamless. For example, before the employee leaves, have them put together a document with the work that they do, current projects that they're involved with, and their key contacts. Next, assign specific responsibilities to the team members remaining.

 

"Even though it might seem counter-intuitive, customers appreciate that employers are paying attention and have a plan," Bravo says. "So if you say to a customer: 'Jim, I'm going to be out on maternity leave and I'm so happy to introduce you to my colleague Don who's going to be taking over your account while I'm gone,' then you've made the connection. They know each other. They're prepared for it. And this person also understands the client's needs. That's a really good thing."

 

Be flexible

Some small business owners find that they have unique advantages over large companies when it comes to formulating a family leave policy.

 

"There's more likelihood for customization, whereas in large companies they have a much harder time looking at each case separately," says Kari Firestone, the president and co-founder of Aureus Asset Management, a Boston-based independent investment firm. "When you have standardized policies, they're often not very flexible."

 

Founded in 2005, Aureus has 12 employees and offers a mix of fixed and flexible family leave policies. Employees are eligible for up to six weeks of paid leave with the option of taking more time unpaid. Aureus is also open to discussing other scenarios with workers on leave, such as working part-time or some kind of at home/on-site combination arrangement. "We've been able to be both flexible and, I think, loyal to the employee in a way that creates more loyalty back to our company," Firestone explains.

 

When the wife of an Aureus employee had a baby about a year ago, Firestone strongly encouraged the father to take the several weeks of paid leave that he was entitled. Instead, he took about 10 days. There's still reluctance on the part of fathers to take time off "because they think they'll lose their place and they'll seem soft to management," Firestone says. "I consider it a virtue. And I think we all at this firm feel the same way—it's important that the fathers are there both to support their wives or partners and bond with their babies."

 

Firestone has tried different ways to cover for employees out on leave, including hiring temp help. She understands how other employers might not see the immediate benefit of offering some type of paid leave, "but I think that's short-sighted. It matters to me to be forward thinking and positive toward the concept of parental leave as we can be."

 

New_Employees_body.jpgby Erin O’Donnell.


Welcoming new employees to your small business is about much more than filling out W-2s and setting up their email. New hires will fit in faster and more easily with good planning and a speedy introduction to your company’s work habits and culture.


A new employee is naturally trying to make a good first impression at work. But it’s just as important for the company to start this new relationship off on the right foot, says Harvey Deutschendorf, author of The Other Kind of Smart: Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success.


“You risk the person getting the wrong first impression, and it’s difficult to change that,” Deutschendorf says.


A written strategy is especially important for welcoming new employees in smaller firms, Deutschendorf says, because it’s less likely that there’s an entire HR team to handle it.


Define roles

Start by defining a role for everyone in welcoming the new employee, from management down, Deutschendorf says. Ask your current staff questions about their own onboarding process:


  • What was it like for you on your first day? Your first week?
  • What could others have done to make you feel more comfortable, accepted, and appreciated?


Business coach Alisa Cohn of New York City recommends asking current employees how they view the company values and culture to develop your corporate self-awareness. “You can ask employees, ‘What was the biggest surprise when you got here? What’s different here from other places you’ve worked?’” Cohn suggests.


Evan Hakalir says he helps new employees learn about the company and their industry before they set foot in the office of AndyAndEvanKids.com, an online apparel retailer for boys based in New York City. Hakalir, the firm’s co-founder and partner, prepared a PowerPoint presentation about the company for incoming employees, and he sends them articles to study before their first day.


The company, which launched in 2010, now has eight full-time employees. “We’re more attuned now to the amount of time it takes to get somebody acclimated,” he says.


New_Employees_PQ.jpgEnlist other employees

Small businesses don’t tend to hire new people as often as large firms. So it helps to have a written process that doesn’t have to be reinvented with each new hire.


Using the “buddy system” gives the new employee a point person to help navigate everything from break room etiquette to asking for time off, says Jennifer Martin, owner of Zest Business Consulting in northern California. “It allows that new employee to be enmeshed a little more quickly into company culture,” she says.


In a smaller firm, new employees are usually trained by other staff members who have their own job duties to fulfill. So it’s important to hire prior to your business’s busy seasons, Hakalir says.


“If you bring in new people during those busy times, it’s very, very hard to spend the amount of time you need to spend with that person,” he says.

At Andy and Evan, new employees are assigned to shadow another staff member for the first two weeks of work – but not his or her own supervisor. Hakalir says new people are encouraged to ask their mentors any and all questions.


Mark Anthony, director of Combat Tactic, a martial arts studio in New York City, likes to use an apprentice model for new instructors. They will also shadow a more senior instructor for the first couple of weeks before they are allowed to teach a class on their own.  During that training, Anthony says he watches closely for signs that the new employee is leaning in to the work.


“Experience has shown me that a person not taking notes usually ends up leaving,” Anthony says.


The traditional lunch with the boss on the first day is still a great way to encourage more casual interaction away from the office, Martin says. In very small firms, she says, each employee could also take turns going to lunch with the new person, to help integrate them naturally with the rest of the team.


Feeling welcome

It’s important to make sure the rest of your staff understands the new person’s role and duties before he or she arrives. Then, Cohn recommends creating a “people plan” for the employee’s first day, first week, and first month, to determine the important people they should meet, either one-on-one or in groups. Help them also to know which meetings they should attend, she says.


Hakalir says he and his partner also schedule a few hours alone with the new hire to share their vision for the company. “They get to be a little more comfortable with us, which is important. You don’t want them tiptoeing around you,” he says.


Welcoming a new employee is also a great occasion for an office get-together. Hakalir says his firm plans an outing every time someone new joins the team.


In some businesses it may even be appropriate for clients to participate in the welcome process. Anthony says their martial arts students sometimes come along on a night out with a new instructor. “It really feels like a family, and I think it helps us business-wise,” Anthony says. “People feel like they’re getting more out of it than just the service, and that helps us expand.”


Be prepared

Nothing says, “Welcome to the Team” better than a well prepared work space. Make sure new workers have everything they need to get started, whether that’s a computer and phone or a clean uniform and the right tools. Consider also a welcome gift such as company logo items or just a personal note of welcome.


Deutschendorf suggests making a visual organizational chart with pictures of other staff members and maybe even some personal information about their interests. He also recommends asking new employees how they prefer to learn new information: would they rather read a manual or have someone show them a process? Those are cues as to how they work best, he says.


And don’t forget that coming into a new workplace is an intimidating time, Deutschendorf adds. “Employers often miss the part a lot of people fear about going into a job: how am I going to get along with everyone there? Are they going to like me?” Deutschendorf says. “When people feel more comfortable and accepted, they’re more open to asking questions. They’re going to think more clearly and make fewer mistakes.”

We all know, or have heard, that a company’s most important asset are its employees. In my opinion, it is rare to come across entrepreneurs who truly stand by this statement.   Too often, a small business owner treats his or her employees like a disposable item. 

 

On the other hand, there are employers who understand the importance of this statement. These are the folks who walk the talk; the small business owners who give their employees autonomy, respect, great work environments, good salary, and extra benefits, among other things.

 

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

 

How do you compare? Let’s see:

 

Not long ago, I came across a list compiled by The Great Place to Work Institute (GPWI). The list consisted of a variety of factors that both employees and managers consider the most important in making a business a great place to work.

 

The list was interesting for all sorts of reasons. The  list is very similar to the traits you see when you look at Fortune Magazine’s annual rankings of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. According to Fortune, what they look at are four areas: credibility (communication to employees), respect (opportunities and benefits), fairness (compensation, diversity), and pride/camaraderie (philanthropy, celebrations). In 2014, Google topped the Fortune list.

 

GPWI also creates an annual list of the best places to work, but their list focuses on small and medium-sized companies. In 2014, the top small company to work for in the country was Granite Properties in Texas. And it’s not hard to understand why:

 

“Staff rave about the real estate investment company’s family-like atmosphere as much as they praise managers’ leadership skills. Granite [makes sure] employees have a say in business decisions, and the CEO gathers employees for regular informal brown bag lunches at all of the company’s locations where he learns — and remembers — people’s names. Employees say they are paid fairly and have great benefits. Staff work together to improve the community too, thanks in part to 40 hours of paid volunteer time.”

 

What is it that makes a small business a great place to work? It’s trust. According to GPWI, great workplaces are built through the day-to-day relationships that employees experience — not a checklist of programs and benefits. The key factor in common in these relationships is trust. From the employee’s perspective, a great workplace is one where they trust the people they work for, have pride in what they do, and enjoy the people they work with.

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

 

Looking over the whole list of these great employers, a few consistent traits emerged:

 

Friendly Communication: Great workplaces are places where communication occurs regularly, easily, and informally. 

 

Great Benefits: Great small business employers do more than what is required, they do what is desired. It might be a great party, financial planning seminars, an on-site gym, a wellness program or an extra holiday off. Whatever the case, going above and beyond for its employees is what makes an employer great. And of course, grateful employees usually reciprocate many times over.

 

Work Together as a Team: According to GPWI, great workplaces achieve organizational goals by inspiring, speaking and listening. They have employees who give their personal best because they are appreciated, thanked, and are cared for. And they work together as a team/ family by hiring, celebrating and sharing.

 

Values: In the excellent book Built to Last, author Jim Collins explains that great businesses are built on values first and profits second. The same holds true for these great small business employers. They have values that everyone buys into, and these values are reinforced in all they do.

 

So the recipe is clear: Be fair. Be flexible. Treat employees like adults. Pay well. Have core values. Have fun.


About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

http://www.smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/people/Steve%20Strauss/content

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here



Boomerang_Employees_body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

It wasn't so long ago that employers were reluctant to rehire employees who had left and wanted to come back. But that thinking has changed, as so-called boomerang employees are seen as valuable assets. Part of this is a generational shift: While staying with one company for your entire career was almost a certainty for older workers and Baby Boomers, Generations X and Y more readily switched jobs to fit their broader lifestyle choices, acquire desirable skills, and satisfy their ambitions. This can work to your advantage, since boomerangs who are familiar with your business can get up to speed faster than new hires and put their new maturity to work for you. Before integrating boomerangs back into your workforce, consider these recommendations and experiences from hiring experts.

 

Company culture counts

"If you're considering hiring back someone, that's obviously someone that you identified who did well in your environment, so the cultural component of success when hiring is integral," says Ira Wolfe, president of Success Performance Solutions, a Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania-based provider of employment testing. "If you can cut down the onboarding process from months or a year to a matter of days or even a few weeks, that's enormous."

 

To see whether boomerangs can be assimilated into your business seamlessly, Wolfe suggests looking at three things. First, do they have the qualifications to do the job? Second, can they work well with the team they're assigned to? Third, do they still fit in with the culture of your business after their return?

 

Employers should be particularly conscious of how they break the news of the rehire to team members. "If the boomerang left on good terms with the employer but the team members resented it and the same team is there, it needs to be worked out," Wolfe says. "Team fit is vital, especially in a small company."

 

Although boomerangs are coming back to familiar turf where some things may have stayed the same during their absence, employers should be clear from the start about current goals and procedures and what the boomerang is expected to deliver. "Any time you bring somebody new on, the situation has changed. Sometimes they want to relive the past and you can't do that," Wolfe says. "The focus on hiring really needs to be looking at what's required now and who the best person is. If the best person happens to be a boomerang employee, that's great."

 

Stay in touch

When an employee leaves a company, some business owners may take the decision personally and see it almost as an act of betrayal. But experts say that employers should be supportive that the employee will be learning new things—and keep in contact with them.

 

"Stay in touch with people that you hope to come back and even those that you hope don't," says Krisi Rossi, vice president at LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based staffing and recruiting firm. "Keep them involved in what's going on in your business. You never know where the next order or client is going to come from. So every good person is valuable, whether they work for you or not." Rossi takes her own advice, sending out texts to former employees, such as reminding them of how many years they would have worked at LaSalle had they stayed and celebrating the occasion.

 

Rossi recommends a candid but firm approach to alleviate the concerns of team members: Explain how the boomerang's return can benefit the whole company and how they will be accountable for results just like current employees. Be clear that the decision to rehire is not open for debate, but encourage team members to give you their feedback. "Let them voice their opinions and tell you what they're concerned about. Then incorporate them into the expectations of the management of this new person so they know they've been listened to," Rossi says.

 

Employers should also be more flexible in luring boomerangs back. For example, when Rossi wanted to bring back a recruiter who had gone to another company, she considered not only openings in recruiting, but in the training department as well. "Having somebody good come back to your organization and be able to contribute positively to it isn't defined by what role they played for me when they were here," Rossi says. "There's no expectation that hiring a boomerang back means they're going to go back to exactly the role that they had when they left."

 

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Rehiring by the numbers

Employers and boomerangs that deal with each other candidly and professionally, as these experts suggest, can often result in a mutually beneficial resolution. That's what happened at Swanson Russell, a marketing communications agency with offices in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska, with about 145 employees. Over the last seven years, 12 employees left and came back.

 

"We're very selective and diligent about who we hire in the first place. We try to avoid making bad hires," says Brian Boesche, a partner and chief creative officer at the company. "If we have a strong employee to begin with and they leave, we want to make sure we have a chance to attract them back if they fit the situation."

 

For example, Swanson Russell had hired an employee from another local agency as a writer/producer. He did good work and built strong relationships with his accounts—but accepted an offer from another local agency with some high-profile youth marketing clients. "It was disappointing to us because it was maybe only five or six months after he started here," Boesche says. "He handled it well. It wasn't that he was upset or disenchanted with anything that he was doing here. He just felt it was an opportunity he needed to pursue."

 

The employee stayed in touch with team members at Swanson Russell. When Boesche discovered that he was not pleased with his new position, they began to talk about working together again. "I said that we would love to have him back, but that we were a little gun shy given what happened before," Boesche says. "He understood and we came to an agreement. He came back here and he's flourishing now."

Content provided by Aetna for the exclusive use of Bank of America and the Small Business Community

 

What’s the easiest way to strengthen your business? Have healthy employees! It sounds easier said than done, but investing in a workplace wellness program (WWP) can get you and your employees on the right track toward living healthier lives. You’ll save on more than health care costs, too — even if you don’t offer health insurance.

 

WWPs have been proven to increase productivity and reduce absenteeism, disability costs and employee turnover for small employers.1 These indirect cost savings at least doubles those of health care spending — and those savings continue to grow year after year as employees become healthier and happier.1  Yet so many small business do not offer a workplace wellness program.

 

The advantages can help knock down any barriers that might prevent you from implementing a program.

 

Barriers

Advantages

Perceived expense threatens cash flow

Note the word “perceived.” The fact is, programs can cost little to nothing when you leverage the right resources.

Fewer layers of management make leadership more visible

Imagine the impact when everyone shares the same experience of commitment, struggles and successes to healthier living

High turnover can stifle a program’s success

Employees need to stay long enough for the program to make a difference. But, health promotion can be a strong recruiting tool and WWPs can help to reduce employee turnover.1

Fewer work locations make customization easier

Studies show tailoring programs to the unique needs of a population works. An intimate work location is better able to custom design a program using onsite and community resources.

Privacy is hard to maintain in small populations

You can take advantage of HIPAA-compliant resources, including programs that may come with your health insurance plan.

Change is more evident with small populations

Positive health changes are magnified in smaller social circles and close proximity to peer support.

 

Work with your employees to create a program they can get excited about

  • Talk openly with them about why you want to start a wellness program.
  • Find out their needs and wants. Ask for their ideas for tailoring a program they’ll use.
  • Offer incentives that are meaningful to them. Incentives don’t have to be costly. You can reward employees with first choice in vacation time, extra days off, access to seminars and more. Let them share their ideas.

 

To learn more about WWPs, visit www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion.





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1 Partnership for Prevention. Leading by Example: The Value of Health Promotion to Small- and Medium-Sized Employers. www.prevent.org/data/files/initiatives/lbe_smse_2011_final.pdf.  (As recommended by the Centers for Disease Control). Accessed July 28, 2014.

 

2 CDC. Workplace Health Promotion – Making the Business Case. Available at: www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/businesscase/reasons/productivity.html. Accessed July 29, 2014.

 

Aetna is the brand name used for products and services provided by one or more of the Aetna group of subsidiary companies, including Aetna Life Insurance Company and its affiliates (Aetna).

 

©2014 Aetna Inc.

  1. 14.22.102.1-Sep (9/14)

Retaining_Employees_body.jpgby Heather Chaet.

 

As companies grow, so do the wants and needs of employees. And with an improving hiring landscape, your star staff members may be looking around to see what other opportunities are out there. How do you keep your top employees from leaving, especially when a raise is beyond your bottom line? We chatted with small business owners to see how they retain their best-performing team members.

 

Make sure your business philosophy is more than words

Money can’t buy happiness, nor can it always keep an employee in your ranks. What does make a difference? Believing in what the company stands for. “If an employee believes in the company’s philosophy and really feels that he or she helped customers with their lives, the employee’s job satisfaction rating goes way up,” says Andrew Thompson, CEO and president of PEAK Performance, a business development company based in Chicago, Illinois. “When the opportunity comes, and more money is offered elsewhere, it doesn’t matter. Money is not the issue.” Though it starts when you hire employees who are aligned with your company’s core values, touch base often with your team to highlight how day-to-day operations match up with your philosophy, and acknowledge what they are doing to foster that in their work.


Flexibility equals happiness

With the hectic pace of modern life, the traditional 9-to-5 work day often doesn’t allow for a good quality of life for many employees. Advances in technology allows working from home and other flexible work options and provides an atmosphere that respects the employee’s life beyond the cubicle, a crucial element to keeping top team members. “I offer employees the option to set their own schedule,” says Leanne E. King, President of SeeKing HR, a human resources consulting firm. “We have an employee who recently changed her work schedule so that she could teach a yoga class at a local gym every morning. She comes in every day energized and ready to go. Such a small shift in hours made an enormous impact in her work-life balance.”

 

J.P. Medved, editor-in-chief at Capterra, an online directory of business software vendors, agrees flexible hours are optimal for retaining employees, and also results in optimal work production. “Employees can pretty much come and go as they please, provided their work is getting done to a high standard,” says Medved. Not only does this make it easier for people to deal with life outside of work (picking up kids, waiting for the cable repairman), it also lets people work when they work best and allows them to be much more productive, he adds.

 

Be a (transparent) cheerleader and coach

Yaniv Masjedi, co-founder and vice president of marketing for Nextiva, a cloud-based communications provider in Scottsdale, Arizona, retains key employees by keeping communication lines open. “A pat on the back can go a long way in keeping a high performing employee,” notes Masjedi. “Regular and genuine words of appreciation are incredibly valuable and should be given whenever deserved.”

 

Masjedi also recommends keeping employees informed about how the company is doing. “High performing employees want to know what is going on in the company they work for,” he says. “It can seem simple, but small business owners can increase retention rates by being transparent with everything they do, where the company is headed and ask for, and listen to, feedback.”

 

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King agrees on the importance of transparency, especially when it comes to discussing salaries and why raises might not be possible. “I provide a full disclosure to demonstrate my total commitment to employees,” says King. “I often detail the overall spending habits of the company and talk about what makes us money and what doesn't. I really try to show the importance of doing smart work. The employees instantly recognize the monetary difference of re-work and poor planning.”

 

Provide little perks for big payoff

A well-stocked office kitchen or organized after-hour outings cost little, yet create a harmonious atmosphere. A few perks that don’t cost money: having a casual dress code and easing certain business policies, such as an allotted number of vacation days or traditional management hierarchy. The result is an enjoyable work environment that is much harder to leave.

 

“We have casual dress every day, unless an employee is meeting with a client,” says King “We also offer lots of coffee, water and other beverages in the office and also keep a supply of healthy snacks for consumption.” Medved’s company recently did away with its formal vacation policy, allowing employees to take time off whenever they need it. “We ask that everyone notify their managers when they're planning to take time off, or work from home. That way we can make sure things get covered, and everyone on a team isn't out at the same time,” says Medved.

 

Capterra utilizes a company-wide Google spreadsheet with a row for each person, where each column is a month. Each employee lists which day(s) of that month they will be out, with a "half” next to it if it's a half day, or a “WH” next to it if they’re working from home. “So far it's worked great,” Medved says. “We think freedoms contribute to an environment where people feel like they are treated like adults, and therefore are more likely to be committed to their work and the business.”

 

Content provided by Aetna for the exclusive use of Bank of America and the Small Business Community

 

Offering employee benefits has always been about attracting and keeping quality employees — without breaking your budget. It’s also important to help employees live a healthy life.

 

So, you want your health insurance plan to be affordable for both you and your employees. And it should include health and wellness features.


Affordable

When shopping for a health plan, compare monthly payment amounts and consider how much you will contribute. Is it affordable to you? Is it affordable to your employees? Your plan should be attractive enough so employees enroll. You may have to meet a minimum enrollment quota before you can offer the plan.

 

Besides the premium, how much will employees pay when they receive health care? Is there a deductible? How much is the copay or coinsurance? Network plans help to keep out-of-pocket costs lower. If the plan has a network, are most local doctors in it?

 

Consumer-directed plans are gaining popularity because of their lower premiums. But, their higher deductibles can be scary to employees. You can offer a fund to help employees pay that deductible. There are several fund options available, with tax benefits — for you and for your employees — depending on the type of fund. Be sure to show employees all the cost-saving opportunities that consumer-directed plans provide. Employee education is key to successfully implementing this type of plan.


Health and wellness

Many health insurance plans now offer 100% coverage for preventive care, like regular checkups, immunizations and certain cancer screenings. You can also find health plans that have built-in wellness programs and features at no extra cost.

 

Wellness programs can be simple, like discounts to fitness centers. Or they can be complex like giving incentive rewards for taking a health assessment, or allowing high-risk employees to work with a health coach or disease management nurse.  There’s a wealth of options available, so keep your eyes open when reading plan descriptions as you shop.

 

 


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Aetna is the brand name used for products and services provided by one or more of the Aetna group of subsidiary companies, including Aetna Life Insurance Company and its affiliates (Aetna).

 

©2014 Aetna Inc.

  1. 14.22.102.1-Aug (8/14)


Neighborhood_Vendors_body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

Stories of small, seemingly outmatched underdogs beating larger rivals date back centuries. Malcolm Gladwell's current book, appropriately titled David and Goliath, is the latest exploration of this perennial theme. The conflict continues to play out every day on Main Streets across America, where local businesses try to prevail against bigger or nationally known brand names. Although these outsized competitors may be better financed or give deep discounts to customers, many local merchants can leverage their position in the neighborhood to gain a decided edge.

 

Be involved

Local businesses can gather key information about their customers by dealing with them regularly, seeing them in the neighborhood, and interacting with them in their personal and professional lives—and then use that knowledge to target those customers effectively. "A national brand would have to do a lot more legwork to really find that sort of data to give it a personal touch," says Christopher Tompkins, CEO of The GO! Agency, a Seminole, Florida-based full-service marketing company.

 

Event marketing can cement relationships between local vendors and the community, Tompkins says. For example, a sporting goods store could sponsor a school competition, sell equipment and apparel to the athletes, and also make a donation to a charity selected by the athletes and their families. In addition to school events, choosing an activity where the whole community participates also favors local merchants over bigger names.

 

"If you're a huge company, you'd have to figure out what these events were and hope that the information is correct because you could be putting $10,000 into a race that gets 100 people," Tompkins explains. "Whereas if you're in that neighborhood, you know that one of the most popular races is the one on Thanksgiving morning that gets 1,000 to 2,000 people. So you get the inside scoop. By getting involved in what your audience is involved with, it's almost like a simpatico relationship."

 

Social media channels are good for establishing credibility, driving traffic, and brand building, but often don't result in closing the sale on their own. Tompkins believes in using a mix of traditional and online advertising methods to reach customers, such as billboards, flyers, direct mail, and email campaigns. Local businesses also need to optimize their website for mobile devices, since their primary customers will often be within driving or walking distance. "All these work together to build a buzz about your business that can take you to the next level," Tompkins says.

 

Do what you're good at

Local businesses should play to their strengths and provide something that their bigger rivals don't or don't do as well, such as customer service.

 

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"As soon as you start to compete on price, you have no emotional loyalty. [The customer then says,] 'Give me a number and I'll determine whether I'm loyal,'" says Shep Hyken, a St. Louis, Missouri-based customer service expert. "What you try to do is connect on another level—on the value you deliver. That value can be in the relationship you have or the service that you give." Hyken gives the following example:

 

There was a small family-owned hardware store that had been in a Boston strip mall for over 30 years, when a Home Depot and a Lowe's both opened up nearby—yet the owner says that he has never been more successful, even though he stays open fewer hours than the megastores. "The owner said that if he tried to do what they do, he'd lose," Hyken explains. "He does what he's best at—creating value for the customer in the form of service by asking the customer what they need a part for, and then making other suggestions for the project that the customer might not have thought about. There's a big difference between that and just taking the order, [like the big box stores do]."


Hyken says that every employee at a local business should conduct themselves as if they were the owner. For example, he spoke with an 18-year-old waiter at a pizza parlor, who was mistaken for the actual owner by a group of customers because of the attentiveness he displayed in his work—resulting in loyal patrons. "Everybody needs to take pride and make the good decisions necessary for either their internal or external customers as if they owned the place," Hyken explains.

 

Nurture your employees

Local business owners can usually develop personal relationships easier and faster than workers at megastores. "Every customer should know your name and you should call them by their name," says Tom Egelhoff, a Bozeman, Montana-based author of How To Market, Advertise & Promote Your Business Or Service In A Small Town. "Calling them by name reinforces that local feeling."

 

While it is crucial for owners to focus their attention on customers, nurturing employees can motivate them to say good things about your business, even when they're not working, to anyone they meet in the community. Egelhoff also says that employees should get their own business cards to hand out to customers so that the owner knows who provided good service when the sale was made—and then reward employees. When Egelhoff was a personnel manager for a retailer, "I would try to publicly recognize each employee for something at least once every six months. I would encourage the other employees and customers to let me know the good things they did."


Egelhoff encourages local businesses to have a grand re-opening once a year for the benefit of new people who just moved to the community, even if the business has been long established. Local businesses can also become the go-to source in their neighborhood if they take time to bond with their customers on a one-on-one level and put their priorities first. Colossal chain stores, such as Circuit City, are no longer around because "they didn't adapt to the customer. They tried to make the customer adapt to them," Egelhoff says. "People buy on emotion, not on logic. I don't know the guy or the manager at the big box store, whereas if I walk into a small business, the owner is probably the guy behind the counter."

 

That's a winning strategy every small business owner can build on.

 

Mythbuster-thumb.jpgThink a business retirement plan is not affordable or will take too much of your time?  Think you don’t need a business retirement plan to attract and retain employees, or that you can put off planning your own retirement?  Get the facts about small business retirement plans and dispel these and other common myths.

 

Click here to learn more about Small Business Retirement Plan Myths.

Spouses_in_Biz_body.jpgBy Erin O’Donnell.


When Karen Fichthorn tells people she works with her husband, nearly everyone says the same thing: “I could never work with my spouse.”


That surprises Fichthorn, who has owned Fichthorn Brand Development with her husband Rick for 30 years.


“It seems natural for us, but we were married only a few months when started,” Fichthorn says. “The best part is that I get to spend more time with him.


Karen and Rick Fichthorn met when they both worked for an advertising agency (Rick redesigned the Crush soda logo that’s still in use today). A few months after they married, they started their firm, which creates product packaging, ads, and brand identity materials. The company has offices in Sanibel, Florida, and New York City.


Being in business together for nearly as long as they’ve been married works for the couple, Karen says, because they are fully committed to both. The keys to their success have been division of labor, professionalism, and protecting their personal time.


Define your roles and responsibilities

Tom and Gina Scarda, presenters of the workshop How to Work with Your Spouse and Live to Tell About It, say they meet many husband-wife teams who don’t know how to make the leap from life partners to business partners. The Scardas bought a smoothie franchise in 2000, expanded to three stores, and then sold the business in 2005. Now they advise other franchise buyers, most of whom are married couples.


“I think a lot of times the couple doesn’t have clearly defined roles going into business, and they don’t play off each other’s strengths,” Gina Scarda says.

The Scardas were both retired from law enforcement in New York City when they opened their first store. Tom says he thought it was an asset that both of them were outgoing. But when the spotlight shone more brightly on his wife, he says, he had to deal with some jealousy issues.


“I felt like Mr. Gina Scarda. She would get the interview, and I would get angry,” he says. “But then I decided to embrace it and let her run with it. Who cares who gets the attention as long as it’s good for the business.”


Karen Fichthorn says she and her husband progressed naturally from their former jobs into a successful division of labor in their firm. Rick remained in creative services while Karen handled “everything else,” she says, including marketing research, copywriting, and some client services.


The same was true for Steven and Nathalie Laitmon, owners of The Calendar Group, a household and corporate staffing service in New York City and Connecticut. Steven Laitmon says they started the company in 2002 because they realized they had complementary skills. The Laitmons mapped out their roles so that neither spouse was supervising the other. Nathalie interacts directly with clients and potential job candidates. Steven handles the company’s operations.


“I know where she’s strong and responsible, and she takes over,” Laitmon says. “We’re not in direct conflict with each other.


It’s important to put a great team in place and let them do what they’re great at, whether your team is your wife or someone else.”


Test the waters

If you’re not sure you could work with your spouse, try a trial partnership. When financial advisors Mark and Sara Woodward were dating, they thought it might make sense to merge their practices. Before they committed to each other in business, Mark says they tried some joint marketing and worked a few clients’ cases together.


It was a good fit. In 2008 the Woodwards launched Blue Ocean Partners in Vienna, Virginia. Today, Sara manages the firm’s client services internally while Mark works directly with clients. They added another partner last year, and while Sara isn’t legally a partner, Mark says they still make big decisions together.

“My partner knows that all the decisions I make have to meet with Sarah’s approval,” Mark says. “Often he finds himself trying to convince her before he comes to me.”


Communicate through conflict

Perhaps even more than other married couples, married business owners need clear, open, and intentional communication. Tom Scarda says his wife never realized he was jealous of the attention she received until he worked up the nerve to tell her.

 

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Nancy Lynn Jarvis and her husband, Craig, struggled in the early years of their real estate business because of different working styles and overlapping duties, she says. They would talk over each other at client presentations. Craig wanted to computerize Nancy Lynn’s files because he preferred to work that way.


“We tried, but we did not work out that well as a team,” Nancy Lynn says. Finally, the couple set firmer boundaries. Nancy Lynn says her husband’s suggestions did improve her workflow, but she wanted to make the changes herself.


The couple retired from real estate in 2008, and Nancy Lynn began writing mystery novels. The Jarvises formed Good Read Mysteries to publish her books. Their division of labor and expressed boundaries have smoothed out their work relationship, she says.


“Now he’s my initial editor. I’m really eager to get his impression,” Nancy Lynn says. “I trust him completely.”


Separate home and office

Karen Fichthorn says most people have a different persona at work than at home, and that’s an important distinction for couples. “You don’t treat each other as strangers, but you have to be more professional,” she says. “You can’t have this overlap between work and home.”


Married entrepreneurs seem to struggle more with bringing work home, however.


The Woodwards limit work-related conversations to 30 minutes each evening when they get home. Mark says it was Sara who drew that line, and he agreed. “At a certain time, work needs to be at work and home needs to be at home,” he says. They also keep a standing date night, and Mark says there are certain evenings he promises not to schedule work activities.


Steven Laitmon says he and his wife know they should set firmer boundaries. But they still have to remind each other not to let business take over their time at home, especially with three young children.


“The challenge of being business owners and parents is when to turn it off,” Steven says. “We are excited, passionate, and entrepreneurial. We feed off each other, and it’s easy to get each other excited about business development objectives. But we need to be able to say this is family time, no more.”


Fichthorn says it’s also vital for joint business owners to develop their own personal pursuits in order to keep the marriage from becoming just a business partnership. She also advises couples to have separate commutes so that each partner can have some time alone to reflect on the business and decompress after a long day.


Weekends should be kept for personal activities, not a continuation of work. “Saturday and Sunday have to actually be the weekend,” Fichthorn says. “You need that break, otherwise your brain keeps going in that one work track.”


Even with all the strains that working together may impose, sharing those experiences with your spouse can actually strengthen a marriage, Fichthorn says. “Usually when a spouse comes home grumpy or exhausted or happy, you don’t know why,” she says. “If you are working together, it’s a little easier because you’re both going through the same things.”

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