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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.

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.

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.”

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."

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.”

 

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.

 

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.”

Marketing_Mobile_body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

Americans have always been a people on the move. The frontier may be more settled today, but consumers are still in motion—and mobile devices are becoming more integrated into their daily lives. Small businesses need to develop a mobile marketing strategy to stay connected to their customers and prospects or risk losing potential sales. According to a 2013 survey by iAcquire, a content marketing agency, 40 percent of people will leave a website that is not mobile optimized. Here are some suggestions for putting a plan in place.

 

Customize the message

"Nearly every customer or potential customer has a cellphone and, through mobile, small businesses can take that cellphone and engage it," says Mike Wehrs, CEO and president of Scanbuy, which provides cloud-based mobile connection solutions. "You're putting an actionable item right in their hands on the device that they want to have in their hands 18 hours a day. You level the playing field with larger businesses that small businesses might be trying to compete with."

 

The first step is to figure out the goal of your mobile marketing plan, such as increasing store traffic, building customer loyalty, spreading awareness of a sale, or building attendance at a sponsored event. To get a higher return on your mobile campaign, Wehrs advises tying it to more traditional advertising, such as a newspaper advertisement.

 

Scanbuy also provides its own type of quick response (QR) code that can provide a customized experience for the consumer. For example, Scanbuy put their QR codes on merchandise for a small coffee store chain. When a customer scanned the code, they saw a short video that explained where the coffee beans were grown, providing a nice eco-friendly background. Returning customers also got a customized message thanking them for their patronage and offering them a 10 percent discount coupon if they bought the highlighted merchandise. If the customer scanned the QR code after lunchtime, the message automatically changed to 25 cents off any pastry with their purchase, since pastries would be thrown out later in the day.

 

Marketing_Mobile_PQ.jpg"Now you have what appears to the end user as a completely unique experience, but it ties to a very easy rule of what time of day it is when somebody scans something," Wehrs says. "The consumer has the perception that the store is really talking to them. It feels like a personalized offer."

 

Make the menus easy

Experts say that small businesses should not think of their mobile customers as separate from their other customers. Both groups want the same things, but there are some specific differences in the way mobile customers interact with a business. For example, mobile customers are three times more likely to act on the result of a mobile search than desktop or laptop searches, the iAcquire survey found. A site that is mobile optimized is key to those higher conversions.

 

"If someone has to zoom in to read some text or, worse yet, if they have to zoom in to hit a button, a lot of people will leave your website because it's a frustrating experience," says Luke Starbuck, director of demand generation at Mobify, which helps e-commerce retailers ramp up their conversion and revenue rates. "Being mobile optimized on a homepage is about having a clear option for the user to search. Search is more important on a mobile homepage than on a desktop."

 

The menus and navigation options should be clear and easy-to-use. For example, Starbuck says that websites that have an icon with three horizontal bars on top of each other is an easy way to indicate a simple to manage menu that often drops down from the top of the page.

 

Seeing what your competitors are doing can help you come up with your own mobile programs. "Pick up a smartphone or a tablet device and spend time browsing some of the biggest companies that are in a similar space or serving similar customers to see what works or doesn't work," Starbuck says. "Reach out to customers to understand what their expectations are. Ultimately you're really just looking to provide a great customer experience and meet their expectations."

 

Make consumers feel special

Campaigns that reinforce the immediacy of mobile marketing messages with reminders in your other marketing communications have the potential for generating the best results. For example: "[The text campaign could say,] 'Text Dave's Barbecue to 949494 to join our mobile list for exclusive coupon deals and store events,'" says Brendan Burnett, online marketing manager for Outspoken, which helps businesses leverage the power of mobile messaging technologies. "You can back that up with in-store signage, send it out on your emails, and put it out on social media channels."

 

Getting people engaged with traditional strategies—such as a contest—can work well in mobile marketing, too. Outspoken ran a successful contest at a trade show with a text campaign that generated a large number of new prospect leads. "Compared with trying to get someone to go to a landing page and sign up, it can be a lot more cost effective [to do mobile marketing]," Burnett says. "It's the closest way to your consumer."

 

Making the customer feel part of an exclusive circle of preferred members can drive engagement, too, as Burnett knows firsthand: "I've got this restaurant two blocks away from me that does text messaging and I just love it. They give me great deals and free desserts. It makes me feel like I'm in their mobile club, that I'm in the know."

Touchpoint

When the Boss is Absent

Posted by Touchpoint Jul 7, 2014

When_boss_is_absent_body.jpg

by Matt Krumrie.


Stephanie Laitala was diagnosed with a serious medical condition in April of 2009. Ten days later she was in surgery. In the coming months she underwent chemotherapy. Seven months later sales were up 20 percent at her company.

 

How did this happen without Laitala, president and owner of OWL Bookkeeping and CFO Services, at the helm?

 

"We didn't have anything in formal writing, anything to account for my leave of absence,” admits Laitala.

 

But in 2008 Laitala implemented the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), created by Livonia, MI-based EOS Worldwide. The EOS is a simple, complete, business management system that empowers leadership teams to run successful companies. She was introduced to the EOS through a fellow business owner and that person introduced her to Mike Paton, a Twin Cities-based Certified EOS Implementer.

 

"Owl wasn't where I wanted it to be," says Laitala. "We were growing, but by teeny amounts. The kind of growth you trip over, not the kind of growth entrepreneurs crave and I was really frustrated. Mike and I met and the approach clicked. It's been the best thing we ever did."

 

The EOS doesn’t just empower the business owner only, it can set clear direction for an entire staff within a small business.


"Everybody knew what they were responsible for," says Laitala. "They knew exactly what their job was and exactly what my job and responsibilities were. Everything was covered because it was measured through the EOS."

 

But planning for an unexpected absence goes far beyond having a system such as an EOS in place, says Laitala. There needs to be someone who understands invoice procedures, can do payroll and pay bills. Someone other than the business owner should have access to key system passwords and be able to serve as a signor on checks.

 

"What will shut down the doors is not having money come in and go out," she says.


For Laitala, she was fortunate to work with a company full of accountants, so her operations manager handled the accounting and bookkeeping functions while she was out. For other companies, that might not be so easy.

 

"It's such a good idea to have at least one other person be able to access the money," says Laitala.

 

Having systems and procedures in place to prepare for an unexpected absence is critical for small business owners. Whether it’s a medical issue, accident, unexpected family or personal situation, an emergency can strike at any time. Without a plan a business can quickly lose key customers, projects can stall, and in some cases, an entire business can shut down.

 

“Planning ahead isn’t just necessary to handle the immediate effects of the boss being absent—the future of your company may depend on it,” says Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half Management in Westlake Village, California.

 

Even if you are able to weather the initial storm, if ongoing strategies are not in place, you risk suffering from the aftershocks. For example, employees may become burned out taking on extra responsibilities and begin looking to leave for new opportunities, or initiatives that were postponed may not be able to be jumpstarted quickly enough to take advantage of the corresponding business opportunity.

 

“A plan for what to do when the boss is absent prevents situations where no one knows what to do and ensures the company stays up and running,” adds McDonald.

 

One option is for the most senior manager to begin running the day-to-day operations, says McDonald. Very quickly, however, he or she should begin establishing new roles for others who can take on more responsibilities. The sooner these roles are established, the quicker the company can get back to as close to normal as possible.

 

“Make sure all key stakeholders understand the plan, can execute it and will be able to effectively communicate it to the rest of the staff,” says McDonald.

 

As president of Executive Group, Inc., a Loretto, Minnesota-based CEO peer group, Bill Mills works with over 75 CEOs across the country designing strategies that enhance personal life and freedom while producing sustainable growth and profits. About a decade ago he worked with the husband and wife owners of a Long Island, New York printing company where the couple was out extensively over several months tending to their ill son. The problem was especially acute since the son also worked at the company and was next in line to succeed his parents. 

 

The experience reinforced his belief that small businesses should create an accountability chart, says Mills. This differs from an organizational chart and provides a roadmap that clearly describes the function, role and responsibilities of each individual throughout the organization.

 

"I think that in times of crisis people pull together very well and I think that's what gets people through," says Mills. "But by having an accountability chart in place, it provides a starting point."

 

Mills works with CEOs to implement a program called the half day plan. The idea behind the plan is to get business leaders to design a program where over the course of the year they only commit to working 50 percent of their typical time. Each individual designs their own plan--perhaps working four hours a day, a few days a week or even one month on, one month off. At the end of the year they add up their hours and it needs to equal working only 50 percent of the time.

 

"Through a series of questions and planning, we break down the CEO’s job responsibilities and identify who in the organization, if the CEO suddenly couldn't be there, should take over those key responsibilities," says Mills. “This type of plan not only gives the CEO more freedom, it gives other employees  more responsibilities and prepares staff for a possible crisis in case leaders are unexpectedly out for any period of time.”

 

Business owners—and all managers—need to establish succession plans, even for temporary absences, says, McDonald. “This will ensure the business can continue running while the boss is out. Identify a successor and begin training him or her immediately before an emergency arises. 

 

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"An added benefit of a strong succession program is that it can be motivational for the successors, placing a spotlight on their value to the company and enhancing retention of these star performers," says McDonald.

 

Communicate with all constituents

Employees, vendors, suppliers and more importantly, customers, want to know that new leadership doesn’t mean drastic or immediate changes, says Margaret Spence, president and CEO of Douglas Claims and Risk Consultants, a West Palm Beach, Florida-based company that provides injury management solutions.

 

"Nothing could hurt a small business more than having the key person leave, retire or pass away and the biggest account walks away because they no longer feel attached to the business," says Spence.  "Remember, customers buy based on relationships that may have been built over time. The new person or team must quickly reach out to the customers and work on retaining them long-term."

 

Since emergency can strike at any time, a contingency plan that includes key man insurance should be in place, says Spence. Key man (also called key person) insurance helps companies survive the loss of a key leader. This is especially important for a small business because  the unexpected death of a business owner can dramatically impact the company, or even cause it to cease operating. Key man insurance covers the cost of consultants, executives, clerical, and administrative personnel to operate the business for a given amount of time.

 

"This will allow the business to hire temporary executives to run the company until long term decisions can be made," says Spence.

 

As for Laitala, her health sabbatical helped her grow as a business owner.

 

"It made me realize more about how I was leading the company," she says. "Sometimes getting away from the business allows you to see how a team is really doing. I am a visionary leader, but I realized the way I was running some things may have actually been hurting the business.”

 

Today, she leads a workshop called “How Cancer Saved my Business.” And her company has continued to grow 20 percent every year since 2009 while increasing from six employees to 37. The best part? She's now five years cancer-free.

 

“I am fortunate we had the systems in place, but I work with some really great people and they ultimately were responsible for helping us pull through,” she says.

Performance_Reviews_body.jpgby Debbie Griffin.

 

Few small business owners enjoy giving performance reviews—especially when they’re negative. But it’s important for managers to understand the most effective ways to give feedback to employees. Tom Spencer, president and CEO of Aubrey Daniels International, a 30-year-old consulting firm, helps clients do just that. His company works with business owners to understand how to do performance reviews in the most constructive way. Spencer earned a doctorate in psychology from West Virginia University and a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis from Northeastern University. He started with Atlanta-based ADI as a consultant before taking over the top spot in January. In a recent interview with writer Debbie Griffin, Spencer explains why performance reviews are important and the best ways to do them.

 

DG: Let’s start with the basics. What is the purpose of a performance review?

TS: A performance review helps to develop the person and should enable them to perform to the best of their ability for the organization. It identifies the behavior you’re looking for from the employee and ensures that workplace conditions will support it. An ideal performance review sets up multiple opportunities for reinforcement of those behaviors and should prompt a manager to look for those opportunities.

 

DG: Who should conduct a performance review?

TS: An employee’s direct supervisor should do a performance review, but it should be a two-way conversation. It’s a 50-50 responsibility to make sure expectations are clear, and it should be more performance management than review or evaluation. The purpose is to get the behavior you want from the employee and make yourself available to them.

 

DG: How do performance reviews affect the bottom line?

TS: Typically performance reviews won’t support the bottom line unless the performance goals of individuals are aligned with overall goals of the organization. Pinpoint the results you’re looking for and the behavior that will drive those results. After that, there needs to be frequent follow-up and reinforcement of the behavior required to achieve those goals.

 

Performance_Reviews_PQ.jpg

DG: How often should performance reviews be conducted?

TS: If it’s important enough to have a goal around it, it’s important enough to talk about every month, or at least quarterly. An annual performance review is a challenge especially if that’s the only time you do it. And those goals defined annually tend to be so general or broad that they’re misaligned with day-to-day activities. The goals need to be measurable, and there should be agreement on how they’re measured. The most important thing is providing frequent, positive, reinforcement of desired behaviors and opportunities to engage employees in general.

 

DG: How should a manager address issues that an employee needs to improve?

TS: You describe the behavior and the impact of the behavior on the organization. It’s important to be conversational rather than confrontational, and a manager must have employees’ respect and trust in order for those conversations to happen. For example, asking a worker to perform a particular task better but reacting adversely when he or she asks questions in order to learn actually provides negative reinforcement of a desired behavior. Conversely, good behaviors are extinguished all the time because nobody notices or says anything.

 

DG: How does ADI conduct its own performance reviews?

TS: ADI holds monthly meetings and defines measurable outcomes for each team position, some of which are tasks, while others are behaviors. Take the hypothetical examples of marketing and IT, where the measurable outcomes are more leads and improved server up-time. The behaviors or tasks involved might be meeting a quota through cold calls and implementing a server-redundancy plan on schedule. ADI has sit-down meetings, continuous one-on-one conversations, and frequent team meetings via Skype. The company uses scorecards and progress graphs to track results, measure progress, and set new goals, and the scores can earn profit-sharing money. At the end of the day, people should know if it’s been a good day or a bad day, and it’s good to have daily reinforcement.

 

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