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.”




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.


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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.

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