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Counteroffers.jpgNo business owner wants to lose a valuable employee. But if that employee resigns to accept another company’s offer, evaluate the situation thoroughly before making a counteroffer. Some experts say that if an employee resigns, it’s best to look for a replacement. That’s because most of the time, money isn’t the sole reason an employee looks for another job. He or she could have a personality conflict with a direct supervisor, a draining commute, or a stalled career—problems that won’t go away with a raise. Other hiring experts say that counteroffers provide a way to retain employees and avoid the expense of hiring a replacement. Before deciding the best path for your small business, read on to hear what our experts have to say.


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I have a friend who loves to tell prospective employers that he is “as honest as the day is long.” It seems to me, however, that having to announce how honest you are during the interview process is tantamount to declaring that you are probably not to be trusted, after all, isn’t being an honest employee a given? Why feel the need to highlight that?

 

Maybe that’s why he always seems to be looking for work.

 

But, it does bring up an interesting question: Just what traits are most important when hiring new staff? It is not an insignificant question, that’s for sure. After all, a new employee can improve morale, can become a new profit center, and can keep customers content.

 

On the other hand, they could do the exact opposite.

 

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If you let the wrong people in the door, there is no end to the potential havoc they may sow. They can steal from you, anger customers, hurt sales, not complete projects, or even sue you when they are eventually fired (i.e. alleging “wrongful termination”.)

 

So finding the right person or persons is critical. In a recent article here in the community, I shared three tips for hiring the right way, including thinking it through thoroughly beforehand, casting a wide net, and taking your time. Today, I want to drill down a bit more into the type of person to be looking for throughout that process; the type of employee that makes everyone better.

 

Let me suggest that there are three underrated traits that are more important than any other.

 

Of course you want someone who is smart and capable. Like being honest, that is a given. You likely want someone with some experience (although that is not always critical). Being dependable is also an obvious and important trait. These qualities can be easily discovered in the early stages of the hiring process. A person’s work and school history, and how they answer a few key questions can reveal if they have these “baseline” key traits.

 

Though often overlooked, here are three other characteristics that, if you find in a candidate, you can almost assure he or she will be a successful hire:

 

1. Coachability: A key characteristic of a great employee is the ability to adapt and grow. That is, can they not only take direction but can they incorporate that feedback, pivot, and make different and better choices? The ability to adjust and make changes is key to hiring an employee who fits in and does things the way you want them done.

 

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

 

Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, it’s also true that not everyone is cut out to be an employee (yes, that’s me you see raising my hand.) You want to be sure that the person you hire is able to take direction and incorporate feedback.

 

2. Independence: This may seem contradictory to coachability, but it’s not. Aside from finding someone whom you can easily train, you also want someone who can take the initiative and doesn’t need constant supervision. After all, one reason you are hiring employees is to lighten your load and unless they have the ability to think on their feet and do what they see needs to get done, your load won’t be very light.

 

3. Being a team player: The final piece of the hiring puzzle is finding someone who plays well with others. After all, no matter how coachable they are or how much initiative they may take, if they don’t work well as part of your overall team, they will be of little use to you. In the end, they will be a disruptive force and cause more harm than good.

 

So there you have it. You will know you have a winner candidate if you can locate that trainable, independent, team player, especially if they don’t boast about how honest they are.

 

 

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.

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here



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

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

©2015 Bank of America Corporation


Steve Strauss

You’re Fired!

Posted by Steve Strauss Jul 15, 2015

I was once fired from a job because, my manager said, I did not “write well enough.” Given that this was two months before my first book was about to be published (though my manager didn’t know that fact), you can imagine my surprise, but that made it no less difficult. I had a wife and new child at home. What was I going to do? For me, getting fired was one of those “blessing in disguise” moments; it forced me to start my first real business. (And, yes, I must admit that I sent that manager an autographed copy of my book when it came out.)

 

But let’s be frank: Almost always, firing an employee is a tough situation for everyone involved. Of course it’s a life altering moment for the employee on many fronts – financially, ego-wise, with regard to future employment, just to name a few. But firing is difficult for everyone else involved too – for the manager tasked with sharing the bad news, for the morale of the office (usually), and for other employees who worry about their own jobs. Firing an employee can also be seen as a sign of failure on the part of the company; if the person had been vetted properly during the hiring process, firing may have been unnecessary. Firing isn’t easy on anybody.

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The final thing to note up front about firing someone is that it should be the last action in a fairly formal and very transparent process, the process being:

 

  • Identify the problem
  • Explain what performance / actions / benchmarks are expected instead
  • Provide training, coaching, and resources
  • Have follow-up performance reviews

 

All of these actions must be documented for two reasons:

 

First, documentation puts everyone on the same page: what is wrong and what needs to be righted can be seen in black and white.

 

Second, documentation is critical to the legal aspect of a potential firing – both proving that you were even-handed and fair throughout the process as well as creating a paper trail to prove your case, should you ever need it.

 

If, after documenting the transgressions and the requested course correction, you still do not see the desired results, then it is time to terminate the employee.

 

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

 

You need to call a meeting and explain to the employee that he or she is being let go, and why. But, that said, if you have done your job right (above) the firing should come as no surprise.

 

One thing to note is that in most states, employees are considered “at will.” This means that they work at the will of their employer and can be fired for (almost) any reason, or no reason. I say “almost” any because you cannot fire someone for a discriminatory reason, that is, because of their race, gender, religion, and so on. You also cannot fire someone out of retaliation, for example, if they legally were required to attend jury duty and missed work.

 

The fired employee will need some practical logistical information that you need to have answers to:

 

  • When is their official end date?
  • When will they receive their last paycheck?
  • What will happen with their benefits?
  • Is there a severance package?

 

It is good practice to have a witness with you when firing the employee. The witness can testify that you followed proper procedure during the termination process, that you shared necessary information, and that you did not fire out of retaliation or discrimination. (And if you think a lot of this advice is to protect you legally should the employee later sue for wrongful termination, you are right.)

 

Final tip: Do not argue. Sure, you can and should explain your decision, but to the extent possible, make it short and simple, and reinforce what your documentation process identified. Afterwards, gather your team, talk about the firing, and what it means for them. Be aware that their emotions may also be running high and reassure them to the extent possible.

 

If you have followed this process and the ex-employee understands why you took the actions you did, it is highly unlikely that you will receive any backlash or legal challenge to the firing (and only in very rare cases will you receive a book from your ex-employee.)

 

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.

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here



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

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

Steve Strauss

Hiring the Right Way

Posted by Steve Strauss Jul 1, 2015

I once had an assistant whom I fired after only two weeks. Whose fault was that, hers or mine? Both probably.

 

There is a concept in business today that says you should hire slow and fire fast. This means two things:

 

  1. First, it means that the smart small business person will take their time throughout the hiring process, from creating a job description all the way through several rounds of interviews. You need to make sure that the potential new employee has the right qualifications, his references check out, and that he will fit your culture. You need to do your due diligence. Don’t rush it.
  2. That said, it also means that once you realize that someone is not fitting – for whatever reason – that you let him or her go sooner rather than later.

 

In the case of my old assistant, I didn’t really follow the first rule. In need of immediate help for a big contract I had just gotten, and not wanting to get bogged down in what could have been a long hiring process, I hired the first person that seemed right. Only she wasn’t. We didn’t click (which was my fault), and let’s just say that she had puffed up her resume (which was definitely her fault.)

 

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Lesson hopefully learned! I’ve certainly never made that mistake again (others yes, but not that one.)

 

Hiring the right person is a three-step process:

 

  • First, you need to think through carefully what it is you need from this employee
  • Second, you need to cast a wide net, and
  • Third, yes, you need to be sure to take your time throughout the process

 

Let’s drill down a bit into each.

 

The only way to find the right person for the job is by first knowing exactly what it is you need and what the job will entail. Understanding clearly what it is you want from this new employee and what their duties will be, not only helps you in the short run as you advertise for the position, but is equally critical for the new person to be able to perform his or her job properly.

 

Make a list of qualifications and duties, especially since new hires may be filling positions you have not filled before. Consider the culture of your small business. Think about what the new employee needs to know, understand, and be able to communicate. Then use that analysis to create a detailed job description. This will be useful both internally and externally. Externally, your accurate job description will serve as the basis of your help-wanted ad. Internally, it will help you analyze the applicants and narrow down the field. 

 

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

 

Casting a wide net is equally important because it will help ensure that you find the right person for the job. Nothing in the hiring process is worse than taking the time and spending the money necessary to hire a new employee, only to realize after the fact that you either made a mistake or that there’s someone better out there. You can avoid that by listing your job wherever appropriate: On Craigslist and the many job boards (Monster.com, etc.), putting up a sign in your store if appropriate, and most importantly, by putting the word out to your network. Nothing beats a personal referral.

 

Finally, be sure to take your time throughout the hiring process. Your perfect employee may see your ad or hear about your opening the first week, but maybe not. Their cover letter and resume may come in on day one, but probably not. Taking your time means sifting through the many applicants you will hear from and finding a half dozen or so that seem to be the best fit. It then means interviewing them once, probably twice and it means following up with references.

 

Yes, all of this is a lot of work, but it should be worth it. As the carpenter says: “Measure twice, cut once.”

 

 

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.

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here



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

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

©2015 Bank of America Corporation


Retaining_Top_Performers_body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

No business ever wants to lose its star performers. But with the overall economy improving and an uptick in hiring, your top employees have more options these days. Often an increase in pay from a competitor is the reason for someone leaving. But there are other factors that go into whether a valued team member stays or goes. Even if your small business isn’t in a position to offer a salary increase at this time, there are still things you can do to help retain your best workers—and keep them loyal and fulfilled. Read on for some tips from the experts:

Offer positive reinforcement
Whether it's through acknowledgements at a company meeting or via an informal ceremony, every employee likes to feel his or her efforts are being recognized and appreciated. For instance, if an employee has done an exemplary job on a particular project, such as meeting a sales goal before a deadline or even exceeding it, his or her work should be noted in a warm manner and always when the entire team is present. Another positive gesture is treating the star perfomer to lunch or dinner with colleagues. This allows you to acknowledge a job well done and reinforces the idea that good work is recognized at your firm.

Provide extra coaching and training
Even top performers can improve their skills. By offering extra training or coaching to valued team members, your company is in a better position to keep top workers who might otherwise be tempted to leave.

Retaining_Top_Performers_PQ.jpg“Perhaps there is a low or no cost way to improve your employees’ skills or teach them a new skill,” says Patricia Lenkov, a New York City-based executive recruiter who’s worked with small businesses for over 18 years. “Most people will appreciate an employer that provides opportunities for personal and professional growth."

Shanahan agrees. "You can offer a mentor program that will give top performers much more insight and exposure to the business than they would perhaps get at a larger firm," she says. "Make it clear this will help their career in the longer term, regardless if they stay with you or move on."

Articulate a worthwhile mission from the start
To retain top performers when you can’t offer them more money, it’s important to stress the mission and values that your company possesses. A good way to do this is to remind them of the sense of fulfillment they can derive from working at your organization, whether that means a family-friendly work schedule or rewarding programs, such as volunteerism.

Losing top employees is always a blow to a business. In a small company the impact can be even greater. But if a small firm can offer employees non-financial benefits that acknowledge both their personal and professional life, that bigger salary somewhere else just might not look as good.

 

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

Advice for College Grads

Posted by Touchpoint May 29, 2015

College_Advice_body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

It's that time of year again when millions of young men and women prepare to embark on an unknown and untested future as they graduate from college. To help them ease their transition from academia to the workforce, several small business owners share their sage and hard-earned advice.

1. Become a volunteer.

While college grads discover what they like and what they don't like, becoming a volunteer is a great way to explore a possible career path, says Fred Goff, CEO of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Jobcase, a platform that connects and empowers jobseekers.

"In addition, you can learn new skills that can be used in future jobs down the line," notes Goff. "Volunteering can also help you get a job."

To illustrate his point, Goff cites a study recently conducted by The Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that promotes service. It found that individuals who volunteer have a 27 percent higher chance of being employed at the end of the year than do non-volunteers.

2. Don't be afraid of making mistakes.

“To err is human,” said the English poet Alexander Pope. In this vein, college grads need to know it’s okay to not be infallible; in fact, judging by their lack of experience, it's only natural that they will fumble.

Philip Rooke, CEO of Boston-based ecommerce platform Spreadshirt agrees, adding that college grads should not be fearful of making mistakes providing they learn from them as they grow professionally.

"Learn the lessons and move forward,” he urges. “They are as inevitable as growing pains. Strategic risk taking is tolerated and necessary."

3. Don’t turn down entry-level positions.

If you’re lucky enough to get a job offer after graduation, don’t automatically turn it down because you feel it’s beneath your level of education. "It is a starting point," says Stan Steinreich, president of Fort Lee, New Jersey-based PR firm Steinreich Communications.

Steinreich advises grads to seek out the larger corporations over the smaller or mid-sized companies.

"Typically, they provide better 'boot camp' training in industry basics than smaller organizations can provide," he says. "Dig in deep and put in the time. There are no 9 to 5’ers in business today. Come in early and go home late. Use your time not only to do the job you are tasked with, but to learn and observe. And most importantly, stick with that first job at least a year.”

College_Advice_PQ.jpg4. Do your homework before an interview.

Never wing it when meeting with a potential employer for a job. It's crucial that grads "know the ins and outs of the firm, including their successes and failures while suggesting how they can help on both counts," recommends Thomas J. Madden, chairman and CEO of Boca Raton, Florida-based TransMedia Group, a PR, publishing, and internet marketing firm

5. Consider everyone a potential contact.

Anita Mahaffey, CEO and founder of Cool-jams, a San Diego-based maker of specialty sleepwear, swears by this takeaway. “Potentially everyone you meet in life is important to your future," she says. "Never discount any person you meet as you maneuver through the maze of life."

And while you’re doing so, she notes, make sure your reputation is spotless. This sounds simplistic, but it bears repeating in our over-connected, social media-obsessed world. "Think about everything you post as something a prospective boss might see in the future," she says. If that thought makes you uncomfortable, don’t post it.

As college grads join the job ranks and begin to stake a claim on their future, many will be filled with uncertainty and a little bit of fear. That’s normal, say the experts. Just stay true to yourself, work hard, say yes, and before you know it you’ll be the one doling out the advice.

 

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 competent financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Why, anybody can have a brain. They are a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous animal that crawls on the Earth or slinks through the slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they’ve got one thing you haven’t got: A diploma.

- The Wizard, The Wizard of Oz

 

In this case, the Wizard was talking to the Scarecrow, but the same can be said about small business versus their big business cousins. As you well know, they’ve got things you haven’t got – bigger budgets, greater reach, and more manpower.

 

But, that said, you’ve got something they haven’t got, and maybe something far more important: The personal touch. This is especially true when it comes to customer relations.

 

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One of the things people appreciate most about shopping with their local small business is that it is generally more personal than a large retail experience.

 

This is certainly borne out in the results of the latest Bank of America Small Business Owner Report (SBOR.) According to the Report,

 

“Establishing relationships with customers is a primary driver of repeat business. More than half (57%) of survey respondents feel they get repeat business because of relationships they have developed with their customer base. This sentiment is even stronger among Baby Boomer small business owners (71%) compared with 47% of Millennials and 53% of Gen-Xers.”

 

The SBOR comes out twice a year and one of the best things about it is that, because it is a survey of small business owners, it is a great way to pick up tips from successful entrepreneurs. This edition of the SBOR is no different. Indeed, when you look at how the survey respondents show their appreciation for their customers – how they market[DP1] the stuff that they’ve got that other businesses don’t – you can discover a lot of super ideas.

 

The two most common ways that small business owners said they showed their appreciation were:

 

Monetary (29%): There is nothing like a sale to both draw interest to your store and say thank you to your customers. In fact, if you really want to stand out, then have a sale, not for the general public, but for your best customers only. Similarly, offering discounts or coupons to your best customers is smart.

 

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

 

Events and Celebrations (29%): Along the same lines, consider having a special invitation only customer appreciation event.

 

One thing that the SBOR makes clear is that making it personal is a hallmark of these successful small business owners. As such, the Report lists a few other ideas that you might want to consider:

 

Personalized gifts (25%): As we all know, receiving a thank you gift is good, but receiving a thank you gift that really fits and took some extra thought is great. Your customers will think the same thing if you take the time to personalize your gift.

 

Referral programs (25%): “Refer a friend and get 15% off your next purchase.” Referral programs are popular among customers because people love getting things for at a discount (or free!) For the small business, referrals are extra special because they create that most treasured of marketing bonanzas: Word of mouth advertising.

 

Loyalty programs(24%): You have seen them of course, and are probably a member of a few. Whether it is a stamp card for a free car wash or a free sandwich or whatever, customers love and appreciate loyalty rewards programs and points.

 

So take it from the small business owners who were part of this SBOR; showing appreciation is the way to reinforce the one thing you have that no one else does, namely, an already-solid relationship with your customers.

 

 

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.

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here



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

 


Are you a small business owner looking to hire but having a tough time finding the right person? If so, according to the latest Bank of America Small Business Owner Report (SBOR), you are not alone. Almost half of the small business owners surveyed in the Spring 2015 SBOR are having similar issues.

 

The good news is that there are some smart and easy things you can do to rectify the situation.

 

First, we should note just how far the economy has come in the past few years. For starters, according to this latest SBOR, almost half of all small business owners surveyed planned on hiring additional employees over the next 12 months. Given that the “Not-So-Great-Recession” is not that far in our rearview mirror, the fact that so many small business owners are looking to increase staffing is both remarkable, and welcome.

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Indeed, according to the SBOR, small business owners’ confidence in the economy rose eight percent over last year, with more than half stating that they are confident that both their local economy, as well as the national economy, is going to continue to improve.

 

So yes, hooray, small business optimism is booming!

 

The bad news (as it were) is that, as indicated, 41% of those small business owners surveyed stated that they are struggling to find qualified job candidates. There were several reasons for this according to the SBOR results. The owners surveyed indicated that the job candidates either:

 

  1. Lacked the skill sets they are seeking (59%), or
  2. Had salary expectations that were too high (45%), or
  3. Preferred to work for a large or midsize brand (29%), or
  4. Wanted benefits that aren’t provided (26%)

 

If you are a small business owner, there really is not much you can do about Reason #3; if someone wants to work for a bigger company, so be it. But the other three reasons? There are definitely some savvy ways to work around those so that you can get the employee you want and need.

 

1. The employee lacks the skill set you are seeking: Back in law school, I had a friend named Eric. Eric was a smart guy for sure, but he was not our top student by any means. But, what he may have lacked in scholastic intelligence he more than made up for in emotional intelligence. People loved Eric. He was personable, funny, easy to work with, and took direction well.

 

“What people are looking for when they are looking to hire someone Steve, are two things,” he told me. “First, yes, they want someone who is smart and experienced and has the basic skills necessary to do the job. But I think, more than that, what they want is also someone with whom they will like working eight or ten hours a day.”

 

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

 

Eric’s offers after law school ended up proving him right. He had four interviews with major firms upon graduation and received three offers. Most of us were happy if we got one.

 

The point is this, skills can be taught. That is what training is for. Indeed, according to the SBOR, “Small business owners are increasingly opting to train and develop existing personnel. Among individuals who plan to apply for a loan, 38% plan to use the funding for employee training and development.”

 

That’s smart thinking.

 

So, look for someone like Eric; a candidate who is smart and personable and who is coachable. You can teach people like Eric the skills they need and then you really end up with a great employee – not only someone who can do the job right (because they were trained to do the job right) but also someone who can grow with your company (because that is part of their skill set.

 

2. Salary and benefit expectations are seemingly unreasonable: I am lumping numbers 2 and 4 together here because they are two sides of the same coin. In some ways, small businesses can never compete with big businesses. When it comes to pricing for instance, their larger volume and buying power usually means that a big corporation can offer lower prices than a small business.

 

Give them that. That’s their playing field.

 

But, by the same token, small business can do things that big business can’t, and that’s the secret. Play on your field. Use your strengths to your advantage when looking to hire.

 

For instance, the flexibility and personal touch you can offer are unique. Whether it’s flex time or a creative title or job sharing or tickets to the ballgame, a small business can often be very creative when it comes to benefits. And you know that once you find the job candidate that appreciates that, you are on the right track to hiring a person who can make a difference.

 

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.

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here


 

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

Time_Management_body.jpgby Erin O'Donnell.

 

At some point every small business owner has wished for more hours in the day to accomplish what needs to get done. In reality, the solution is not a longer day, but in how you prioritize and structure the time you have.


The U.S. Small Business Association offers a time management guide that encourages business owners to evaluate themselves: How many days end without a key task being completed? How often do you miss activities with family and friends to finish work? If this sounds like your workday, try these time management tips:


Plan and prioritize

Times of growth are when most entrepreneurs feel the time pinch, says Jennifer Martin, owner of Zest Business Consulting in San Francisco. They continue to micromanage the business even as sales accelerate, and productivity plummets. “That’s when it’s time to go back to strategic planning,” Martin said.


Write down specific goals for the business and break them into tasks. Do the same for each project. Keep a visual chart that tracks progress toward each goal. And figure out which tasks can be delegated.


Track your time

Martin recommends that her clients keep a diary of every minute of their time for two weeks. Then they can begin to attack the interruptions that pull their focus. “Always ask, is doing this going to get me traction toward my goals?” Martin says.


Once you see where your time goes, you can set a budget for how you spend those hours. Estimate the time needed for every task and plug that into a daily or weekly planner. But don’t fill every slot in the grid. The SBA guide recommends business owners reserve about 25 percent of their time to handle unexpected problems—and to take breaks.


Time_Management_PQ.jpgEliminate distraction

Much of time management is really information management. Tim Ferriss, author of The Four-Hour Work Week, advocates a “low-information diet” for productivity. One of the major tenets is to check and send email only two or three times a day.


Martin recommends using website blocking software. These apps let you identify distracting sites, then block you from visiting after you’ve exceeded your time limit. Other software can monitor everything you do on your computer or device, and then analyze your productivity.


When people interrupt you in person or by phone, be quick, firm, and polite. The SBA guide suggests either giving an immediate response or writing down the question with a promise to respond later. When people stop by at the wrong time, politely ask them to come back at a better time.


Finally, Martin says, save time and stress by letting go of perfectionism. As Facebook executive and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg is fond of saying: “Done is better than perfect.”


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 competent financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

A few years ago, the California Chamber of Commerce surveyed some of the best, most successful small businesses in the state. What the Chamber wanted to figure out was what these successful small businesses had in common. So they asked several questions, including the following (and yes, please feel free to score yourself at home):

“The real key to business success is . . .

 

  1. Hard work and perseverance
  2. Having valuable products
  3. Offering real customer service
  4. Advertising and marketing
  5. Having great employees”

 

A case could be made for almost any one of these answers of course since all are important in their own way. But, that said, the most common answer among these successful entrepreneurs was . . .

 

“E. Having great employees.”

 

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

 

When you think about it, that makes sense, especially for a small business. Employees are the ones who make things happen and are the ones on the front lines.

 

The success cycle goes something like this:

 

The entrepreneur takes care of his or her employees. This makes the employees happy. The happy employees do their job better and take better care of customers. In turn, the customers are happy. Those happy customers become repeat customers and those repeat customers create a profitable business.

 

The thing to notice is that this whole system – from satisfied customers, to a happy culture, to making money – all stem from how well the owner cares for his or her staff members.

 

You can certainly follow the reverse logic too. It’s hard to imagine how unhappy, overworked, under-appreciated employees could represent a company well, and how customers would leave their interactions with those employees with any good vibes at all about the business.

 

It is no surprise that the latest edition of Bank of America’s Small Business Owner Report (SBOR) indicates that “when it comes to their employees, small business owners overwhelmingly find the need to reward them and show their appreciation in a variety of ways.” Indeed, a whopping 94% of the small business owners surveyed in the Report indicate that they have some sort of employee appreciation program.

 

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

 

From the expected to the creative, what is surprising is how varied the different forms of appreciation can take. For starters, the owners surveyed offer the type of perks and benefits that employees clearly like:

 

  • Flexible hours (56%)
  • Paid vacation time (46%)
  • Regular salary bonuses (43%)

 

But, more than this, what we see in this edition of the Small Business Owner Report is that small business owners also understand that appreciation needs to be shown in many different ways, and so that is what they do. According to the SBOR, employee appreciation programs include things as varied as

 

  • Dinners and outings (46%)
  • Spot bonuses (44%)
  • Office recognition programs (35%)
  • Extra time off (34%)
  • Off-cycle raises or promotions (25%)

 

One of the interesting things to notice about these stats is that, first and foremost, the small business owners surveyed see that benefits must include many different forms of compensation, from salary to bonuses to paid time off. The reason this is important is two-fold:

 

  1. Of course, for starters, employees work to make money.
  2. But just as importantly maybe, is that employees work for reasons beyond just money. As the Harvard Business Review has stated, “compensation is more than just a paycheck. It is a signal to the individual about his or her value to the organization.”

 

  That is one of the real takeaways from this edition of the SBOR. Small business owners get just how important employees are to their overall success. These owners’ endeavors to show their appreciation by rewarding those whose hard work fosters



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.

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here



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

TeamBuilding.jpgA highly functioning, collaborative team can be an effective asset for the growth and harmony of a small business. Instead of relying on the abilities and skills of an individual employee, well-run teams can leverage the strengths of many talented workers to create an engine that is more powerful than the sum of its parts. Teams where constructive conflict is allowed, diversity is encouraged, and members are empowered to shoulder responsibility can often lead to the best results. Before you put together your next team, consider these strategies for harnessing the creativity and energy of your employees.


Click here to download the pdf.

Think_Like_Entrepreneur_body.jpgBy Iris Dorbian.

Being an entrepreneur requires determination, stamina, the courage to take risks, and the fortitude to withstand failure. Yet what's the good of having a dream if you don’t think like an entrepreneur?

Recently, the Kauffman Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on education and entrepreneurship, compiled incisive insights on this topic from top thought leaders, including a professor who teaches entrepreneurial thinking at the University of Virginia. Here are some key takeaways from the Kauffman Foundation article that can help any entrepreneur:

1. Ask questions

Curiosity is a great way to keep the entrepreneurial flame going while discovering new ways to achieve the next goal. When you stop asking questions, complacency and indifference can set in—both of which are the scourge of visionary thinking. Never stop asking questions, and remember that curiosity is the signature of a true entrepreneur.

2. Improvise

Being able to think and do things off-the-cuff is a quality that all resourceful entrepreneurs share. And because business success can often be arbitrary and relative to factors beyond the entrepreneur's control (i.e. economy, market trends, etc.), it's imperative to master the art of improvisation. Getting locked into a restrictive mindset squashes imagination and spontaneity, both of which are necessary attributes of the successful entrepreneur. 

3. Be open to risk

To launch a business, it's a given that you must be willing to take a risk. That tenet is Business 101. Without the willingness to take chances, an entrepreneur cannot push forward to pursue his or her dream. "Entrepreneurs are in constant motion, pushing forward despite the environment surrounding them," writes Kauffman Foundation author Alex Krause. "In an ongoing hectic environment, risk is part of the day-to-day, and thinking in such a way that expects risk and helps entrepreneurs respond better to risk."

Think_Like_Entrepreneur_PQ.jpg4. Be ready to fail

To paraphrase an old business adage, failure is the precursor to success. This might sound like counterintuitive thinking, but it isn’t. Without making mistakes, you will never learn from them and be able to take the next step with the new knowledge you’ve acquired.

5. Don’t go it alone

Successful entrepreneurs rarely operate in a vacuum. “Whether it’s business partners, investors, networking, or competition, successful entrepreneurs are never alone,” writes Krause. Similarly, if you’re an extrovert, it’s incumbent that you leverage your natural social skills to cultivate and seek out those who can help you with your ventures and vice versa. Conversely, if you’re an introvert, then you will need to overcome your innate shyness to forge partnerships with others leading to success.

6. Be self-driven

Having discipline and motivation are integral for thinking like an entrepreneur. Without these traits, you will not have the wherewithal to stick to a schedule, be your own boss, and assume accountability. Being an entrepreneur often means learning to forge your own path. There will be obstacles along the way—there always are—but learning to think more creatively and getting comfortable with risk will go a long way to helping you achieve the success you’re after. 


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 competent financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

SP_Sustainable_SMB_body.jpgJeff Basch, owner of Sierra Roofing and Solar in Dublin, Calif., was among the first roofing companies in his area to embrace the advent of solar panels in 2010. As an environmentalist himself, he saw not only the potential of solar to conserve energy, but also to help his business grow. Five years later, the solar portion of his business has indeed blossomed, as has the rest of his company. “Customers will call us because of our solar niche, but they’ll also have us do their new roof while we’re at it,” Basch says. “Offering a sustainable option with our traditional services has really propelled our business.”

As Basch has found, being a sustainable small business is not only good for the environment—it’s good for the bottom line.


Here are five benefits of building an eco-friendly small- or medium-sized business:

1. Lowers cost of operations—There are countless ways to root out energy and economic waste in a small business. Basch has swapped his salespeople’s F150 trucks for hybrid vehicles, which he estimates saves about 13 miles per gallon. Basics Fitness Center in South Portland, Maine, installed a solar hot water system, which essentially eliminates gas consumption typically needed to heat water six months out of the year.


Even something as simple as switching out your traditional incandescent bulbs can have an immediate impact on your energy bill. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) use about one-fourth of the energy and lasts ten times longer; light emitting diodes (LEDs) use only 20 percent to 25 percent of the energy and last up to 25 times longer.


“It’s like free money when you drive out costs because that money you’re not spending goes directly to your bottom line,” says Martha Young, founder of Sustainability4SMEs.com.

SP_Sustainable_SMB_PQ.jpg2. Presents new market opportunities—Young says many small business owners find significant marketing opportunities when they start offering green services. She worked with a landscaping company in Omaha, Neb., that built a new client base by reducing their customers’ water use through xeric landscaping, which uses plants, such as lavender, iceplant and yucca that are well suited to drought-like conditions and drier soil types.

3. Meets customer needs—A 2013 study found that corporate social responsibility is now a reputational imperative, with more than 90 percent of shoppers worldwide likely to switch to brands that support a good cause, given similar price and quality. Additionally, more than 90 percent of the consumers surveyed are more likely to trust and be loyal to socially responsible businesses compared to companies that don't show these traits.

4. Ensures a steady supply chain—Relying on substances such as oil or other natural resources can put businesses at the mercy of fluctuating prices and potential disruption of their supply chain. Choosing a renewable source for raw materials, such as recycled plastics instead of polyester and fleece for clothing, or soybeans rather than plastic for containers, is a great option, Young says.

 

5. Promotes downstream business—Smaller businesses trying to sell their products to large companies are increasingly being asked to provide details on their eco-friendly practices. “If you’re trying to do business with companies like P&G or Walmart, they will require you to fill out a survey, and then will give preference to sustainable companies because their own supply chain management and Corporate Social Responsibility reporting requires it,” says Young.

 

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.

SP_Pay_On_Time_body.jpgby Erin O’Donnell.

 

The longer an invoice goes past its due date, the less likely your business will be able to collect on it. And for a small business, the loss of any income is tough to absorb.


Some 64 percent of small businesses surveyed in 2012 by the Wall Street Journal reported having invoices more than 60 days delinquent. And the U.S. Small Business Administration estimates that more than 25 percent of receivables that go 90 days past due are never collected. As time drags on, the number only climbs higher.


So how do you ensure that your invoices are paid on time? Here are some top tips from entrepreneurs and small business advisors:


1. Set payment expectations before any work is done

From the beginning, Mike Sprouse has included dates of payment in the initial contract with clients of his marketing strategy firm, The Sprouse Group. So whether he’s working with a high-end fashion brand or a professional services firm, the dates and terms of payment are clear.


“I just felt like it would be helpful to lay things out from the start, for both us and the client,” Sprouse says.


The strategy has worked well during the first three years of his business, he says. Sprouse also offers to send a calendar reminder about 10 days before the due date. “Sometimes clients just plain forget, and not out of any malice,” he says.


SP_Pay_On_Time_PQ.jpg2. Send smaller, more frequent invoices

There’s no rule that says you can bill only once a month. If you’re working hard to maintain your business’s cash flow, try sending invoices more frequently, says business consultant Shell Black.


It may be easier for your client to pay a smaller amount every two weeks, says Black, who helps businesses set up and run Salesforce cloud computing software. Sometimes larger invoices must be authorized by an executive, he says, which can only delay payment further.


Consider which of your clients would be better served by a shorter cycle. Sprouse says about three quarters of his clients are invoiced monthly, and the rest are on biweekly terms.


Black says it’s also helpful to ask for a deposit, which generates cash flow and also sets an expectation that the balance will be coming due. “If you have a project that’s going to take a long time, I tend to agree with pulling some money up front and then billing on milestones within that project,” Black says.


3. Save time with technology

Small business owners have several choices of software and online services that can streamline invoicing and help them track due dates from anywhere, including PayPal, QuickBooks Online, and Bill.com. This can be especially helpful for a sole proprietor or small business owner with no office staff. Businesses can also accept payment online through PayPal, Amazon Payments, and Intuit, among others.


Tools like these, along with clear communication, will help you avoid the anguish of delinquency and keep your client relationships on good terms—for the long term.


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.

 

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.

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