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2011

By Reed Richardson.

 

Some days it may feel like getting everyone in your small business to work together is a Herculean task. Even if your company consists of a handful of employees or just yourself and one other partner, there may be times when it seems like everyone else involved in your business is using a different playbook. It’s tempting to attribute this disorganized effort to differences in job Pull-Quote-Tall.pngfunctions—salespeople aren’t in sync with the operations staff, human resources doesn’t understand the needs of customer service—but there may be another major factor contributing to a company’s lackluster performance, one that small business owners in particular frequently overlook: generational differences.

 

A decade ago, understanding how generational differences affect productivity in the workplace was often dismissed as a frivolous, touchy-feely topic, says David Stillman, co-author of the book When Generations Collide. Now, however, he says more and more companies are realizing the very profound effect that the four generations currently comprising the U.S. workforce—Veterans, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millenials (see sidebar for demographic explanation)—can have upon their chances for success.

 

Understand the differences

“The basic rule of thumb for any business is to really understand how communication differences among the generations affect their bottom line,” Stillman says. Stillman, a 40-year-old Gen Xer, co-owns the business consulting firm BridgeWorks with Baby Boomer Lynne Lancaster, his co-author. He explains that different communication norms are often the root of conflicts in the workplace. And lest you think these differences among the four generations will simply disappear as more and more Boomers and Veterans quickly leave the workforce, take note of a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics survey that shows that a solid majority of older workers have remained in full-time positions even well after reaching the traditional retirement age of 65.

 

Shaped by wildly different times, experts note that these four generations generally communicate using different means, at varying frequencies, and with sometimes radically divergent expectations about feedback. They tend to have strikingly different expectations about the companies that they work for and what they want to achieve in their own careers as well. In a rapidly changing and increasingly global marketplace, this diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints (not to mention technological savvy) brings with it many advantages, to be sure. But it also brings a set of challenges that can be problematic, especially for small business owners. White-in-article.jpg

 

Generations in isolation

“The chilling part for small businesses is that with a tiny workforce they could easily skew toward just one generation,” Stillman cautions. And those interests might not always line up with the long-term interests of the business. “Baby Boomers, for example, tend to be knowledge hoarders,” he notes. So, their expertise on how to, say, work around a production snafu or defuse an irate customer might never be passed on to the next generation of employees, he explains. To combat this, Stillman recommends that all companies undertake some kind of mentorship or knowledge sharing program. His business partner Lancaster agrees, adding, “The best way to foster this exchange of ideas and knowledge is to make the business case for it, to point out how it will help the bottom line and, thus, everyone will benefit.”

 

The lack of inter-generational interaction isn’t confined solely to Baby Boomers, however. In fact, a recent World of Work survey by the global staffing company Randstad found that the four generations rarely interact with each other in the workplace and often do not recognize each other’s skills or work ethic. And though the older of these two generations possesses the most knowledge and experience, the study found that a slight majority of Boomers and two out of three Veterans reported little or no meaningful contact with their youngest, 20-something colleagues. (You can download a PDF version of the study here.)

 

“The workplace is on the verge of real change,” noted Randstad managing director Eric Buntin in the survey. “By focusing on and encouraging the professional contributions of all employees, employers can help close the knowledge gap by instituting ways for each generation to recognize their strengths and value to all colleagues.”

 

Communication is the answer

The aforementioned formal mentoring programs are but one way to accomplish this. Particularly in small businesses, Stillman and Lancaster advocate a more informal approach, like simply gathering everyone together every few months to talk about how the company communicates, both internally and externally. “This shouldn’t be about fixing blame, but instead should be about asking ‘How can we do this better?’” explains Lancaster. Stillman adds, “you want to get past the ‘Back in my day’ anecdotes that set up an ‘us versus them’ mentality between generations, and instead get ideas flowing back and forth from old to young and young to old.”

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This give and take will help businesses better recognize that good ideas may come from different generations and because of different motives. For example, Stillman relates a story about one company’s recent decision to switch to paperless billing. “The Millenials in the company triggered the change because they wanted to save trees and be greener,” he explains. “But, understanding what the older boss might value, the case they made to him was that it would save the company both postage and materials.” The boss acceded to their request, but only after adding a caveat born out of the wisdom of experience, one that the younger generation had overlooked. “The boss said that the each customer must be given the choice of opting out of paper bills before any switch could be made,” Stillman notes.

 

In the end, a firm grasp of how the four generations work and communicate can pay dividends in not only better teamwork and productivity, but also in improved company morale, employee retention, and more effective recruiting. And for small businesses looking to achieve these results, Stillman says the best way to begin is to first accept that generational differences exist and then, just as importantly, “embrace those differences.”

Majoring in Entrepreneurship.pngEntrepreneurship has been around for centuries, but now it’s something you can study in college. According to a study which was conducted on behalf of the Small Business Administration, 63 percent of male MBA alumni and 54 percent of female MBA alumnae have worked for, or founded, an entrepreneurial organization.  Those who have taken entrepreneurship courses at the undergraduate level are highly represented with 36 percent of males and 31 percent of females working for small businesses.

 

The prevalence of students learning to become entrepreneurs contradicts the common perception that entrepreneurs are born – not made.  Recent academic research supports the notion that becoming a successful entrepreneur is not based solely on your gene pool.   A comprehensive study from the George Washington University School of Business[i] shows: 

 

  • Higher education levels in a country correlates with higher incidences of entrepreneurship
  • Out of all socio-economic and institutional predictors of entrepreneurship, education is the strongest predictor
  • An individual’s education level is positively correlated with success in starting a small business

 

This study was spearheaded by George Solomon, co-director of GW’s Center for Entrepreneurship Excellence, former director of the SBA’s Office of Special Initiatives, and one of the first individuals to earn a Ph.D. in entrepreneurship.  According to Solomon, studying entrepreneurship formally teaches students how to be “creative and innovative and [come] up with a new way of doing business.”  

 

George Solomon.pngThere are now entrepreneurship concentrations at prestigious business schools, such as the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, University of Virginia and many others ranked each year by U.S. News and World Report. The road to create these types of programs, however, was paved with obstacles.  For example, Ed Roberts, a senior business professor at MIT since 1990, had to fight for 16 years to garner the support he needed to start the Entrepreneurship and Innovation program. Since he started the program in 2006, it has proven to be highly successful, expanding from one course to 30 courses, and growing its faculty from one professor to 20. 

 

What else do schools of entrepreneurship teach?  In general, they focus on fostering teamwork skills, innovative thinking, risk taking and optimism about the potential for success.  More specifically, most programs are one year long and include courses on entrepreneurial environments and analysis, marketing new ventures and new venture finance.  The cornerstone of most programs is the creation of a new venture plan for a business that is innovative and scalable.  Students work with teams on formulating and validating a business concept, devising a go-to-market strategy, writing a business plan, securing funding and analyzing outcomes.[ii]

 

Finally, some schools offer specialized programs to meet varying entrepreneurial needs, such as teaching engineers how to sell the innovations they create; marketing approaches to artists and musicians and creating profitable ventures geared towards solving social problems for non-profit executives.[iii] Some universities have annual business plan competitions with awards ranging from less than $100,000 to more than $1 million at private universities such as Rice and Harvard.

 

How do students fare after they graduate from these programs? The following are examples of student entrepreneur success stories: MIT’s Entrepreneurship Center launched such successful startups as Firefly, which was purchased by Microsoft for $40 million, and Silicon Spice, which was purchased by Broadcom for $1.2 billion.  And, while not all entrepreneurship students will go on to make millions of dollars, most would say that the chance of making a successful living doing what you love and having control over your destiny are worth the price of enrollment.

 


 


[i] Solomon, P., Weaver, G.T., & Weaver, M.K. (2008). “Entrepreneurial selection and success:  does education matter?” Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development.

[ii] Shinnar, R., Pruett, J., & Toney, B. (2008).“Entrepreneurship education:  attitudes across campus.” Journal of Education for Business, p. 151-158.

[iii] Mars, M., & Garrison, S. (May/June 2009). “Socially-oriented ventures and traditional entrepreneurship education models:  A case review.”  Journal for Education for Business, p. 290-296.

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngWhile the summer days may still be remain long and hot, we all know that fall is just around the corner. For the small business person, that is significant. Aside from all of the spending that goes with kids heading back to school, fall is also the time when business people’s full focus turns back to work. Vacations are over, visiting relatives have left town and it’s time to get cranking again.

 

The upshot? Plans are made, budgets are solidified, change is in the air and there are ways to start the new season with your best foot forward.

 

So the question is, will your business be ready? When people are out there shopping and buying, will your store be the one where they drop their dough?  It should be and here’s how:

 

 

  • 1. Mix it up: The same “ol’ store décor” and the same “ol’ office” layout signals business as usual. So, consider switching things up. A fresh coat of paint, a new display, or simply a rearranging of furniture is an easy and inexpensive way to kick-start the feeling that fall is a whole new season. Invest in banners or new signs or even some balloons. Even simple changes are noticed by customers. The added bonus? Your staff too will be energized by the refresh.
  •  

    A new environment is a great way to shake off summer lethargy and get people thinking anew.

     


    2. Give them what they want:
    Given the state of the economy, what is it that customers want these days? You know the answer: A deal. Indeed, if they are not shopping around and looking for a better deal, then they are asking you for one – consider your pricing or the additional value you can provide.

     

    Have a sale, offer something for free, cut your prices. Loss leaders, when done right, lead to more sales.

     

     

  • 3. Spruce up your online presence: This is a huge one as the online world is ever changing.
  •  

    Begin with your website. When was the last time you gave it a makeover? Far too many small business owners think “we built our website in 2003 – so we are done.” In this Web 2.0 world, if your site is still nothing more than an online “Yellow Page” ad, you are making a big mistake.

     

    By doing some simple things like adding a blog or some video to your site, you immediately begin to make a better impression.

     

    Similarly, make sure that you have some sort of social media presence. It doesn’t have to be “the Big Three”, but having some exposure on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn is vital these days. Customers check these things out.

     

     

  • 4. Work to lower your overhead: One secret to small business success is to keep your overhead low. The fall is a great time to make sure you are on track in this regard:
  •  

    • Check to see if you can get a better deal from your landlord or service providers
    • Shop your insurance
    • And while you are at it, shop your vendors and see if you can find some less expensive ones or better payment terms from existing ones. 

     

     

    Finally, fall is intern time, so now is also the time to get your fall internship program in order. Students will soon be back in college and it would be smart to get ready to hire an intern or two or three. They can help you grow and save you some money in the process – not a bad deal at all.

     

     


     

    About Steve Strauss

    Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. 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. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.

     

    You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

    Here’s an easy solution to some of your business woes: Go out and get bigger clients and customers. This could include, but is not limited to clients who have a bigger budget, clients who have more to spend and are willing to spend it with you.

     

    Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngSmall businesses often have small customers; that’s the nature of the gig. Small business customers could be individuals, families, other small businesses, non-profits, professionals, freelancers, startups – you name it. And, while they all have budgets like the rest of us, it is also true that their budgets are usually pretty tight, which often means you have to work hard and long to make some real money since your margins are so thin.

     

    That’s why I am telling you that the smart move is to go out and get some bigger, probably corporate clients who are playing on a bigger field with more dollars. You can do more for them and charge more.

     

    Example: I have a pal who sells real estate. His specialty was selling small duplexes and four-plexes. When the real estate market was still humming along, this afforded him a nice lifestyle because there were so many of these types of deals available. But, then the economic tsunami hit. He was soon underwater.

     

    Instead of drowning by staying with what he had always done, he devised a new plan – namely, the one I am suggesting here. He decided that selling large apartment houses took basically the same skills that he already had, but that he would make a lot more money per sale.

     

    He decided to seek out bigger, better paying, customers.

     

    So that’s what he did. He took classes on selling these sorts of properties and began to schmooze potential owners. It took a while, yes, but within a year he was in escrow for a 100-unit, multi-million dollar apartment complex. When it closed, he made more money on that one sale than he had on all of the deals he had done in the previous year.

     

    So that’s the idea, of course begging the question: How do you attract and land these corporate clients? This is how, in seven easy steps:

     

    1. Do your research: Make a list of your ideal corporate client. What companies nearby fit that description? Come up with a list of five or 10 candidates.

     

    2. Target the right people: This part is a little tricky, but doable. Once you have identified a corporation with whom you would like to do business, you need to find the right manager with the budget who buys what you sell. But of course, in this Internet age, it is possible. Search for terms like “purchasing agent,” “procurement” and “RFP” (Requests for Proposal).

     

    You should also turn to LinkedIn to research and find the right people in those corporations. My previous post shows you how to do this.

     

    3. Be prepared: When approaching corporate clients, your job is to show them that hiring you is not a risk, and that you can handle the extra business and have a history of doing so efficiently. And look big. Spruce up your website. Dress for success.

     

    4. Know your new customer: Corporate managers are busy, and must be able to justify the decisions they make. So, you will need to make a crackerjack presentation. Why hire you? What is your offer? Show them why you are the best choice for the job.

     

    5. Understand their budget issues: Yes, they have bigger budgets than Sam the Butcher, but they still must spend their money wisely, justify their choices and get good results. You will need to able to show them that this expenditure is the best use of their budgetary dollars.

     

    6. Check out their supplier diversity programs: Typically, large companies have supplier diversity programs, which are intended to increase their work with small businesses. They may even have legal requirements to do business with minority-owned, women-owned or veteran-owned business for instance. This can be your ticket in.

     

    7. Follow up, follow up, follow up, and then remind: These words of wisdom once given to me do not mean you need to become a pest, but you do need to be persistent and professional.

     

    Now, go catch that big fish. Do you have any success stories on “catching the big one?” Share your thoughts with the SBOC community in the comments section.

     

     


     

    About Steve Strauss

    Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. 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. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.

     

    You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

    Mompreneurs.pngMothers may encounter challenges striking a balance between a career and parenting.  Most moms want as much one-on-one time with their children as they can get, and they also derive great satisfaction from being actively engaged in fulfilling work. The puzzle is how to do both successfully.

    A new generation of moms are creating a new model for “doing both,” and they are doing so in record numbers. Originally focused primarily on unique gear for babies, these self-titled “mompreneurs” are creating companies that encompass athletic-wear, concierge services, organic hair care, organizational tools, scrapbooking services, as well as child-focused products, such as educational software, ethnically diverse dolls, hip diaper bags, organic baby food and stroller accessories. In fact, the downturn in the economy may have opened the gates to a new generation of mompreneurs who are tech savvy and innovative.


    If you are a mother, or know one who is interested in launching or growing a small business, the following tips may be helpful:

     

    Find solutions. Some of the best product ideas are sparked from looking at everyday problems that are lacking a solution. For example, a mompreneur who was plagued by dry, cracked hands from housework created the “One Minute Manicure” – products that nourish and condition the skin, nails, and cuticles with immediate results.

     

    Adjust to odd hours. Many professionals today make themselves available 24/7 on their smartphones and mompreneurs are no exception. If you can start your day at 5:30 or 6 a.m. and get a few hours of work in before your kids wake up for school, you may find your whole day is more productive.

     

    Research new ways of doing business. There are many new tools and services for marketing a home-based business. You can market test your business idea with potential customers through online survey companies like Zoomerang and Survey Monkey. There are companies that will help entrepreneurs bring products to market in exchange for a small percentage of the royalties. Further, social networking presents opportunities to spread the word about quirky, home-based businesses quickly and at low costs.

     

    Product ideas.pngLearn a new word – “No.” Running a small business and managing a family requires you to cultivate the ability to prioritize and say “no.” In your personal life, you cannot do everything, so you have to decide what you are willing to give up, (i.e. dinners out, a perfectly clean house, watching television.) On the business end, do not schedule in-person meetings when the phone will do, do not commit to deadlines that cannot be met, and try to tackle complex tasks earlier in the day when you are fresher, saving more mundane tasks for the late evening.

     

    Forget an old word – “Multi-tasking.” Many mothers are used to multitasking. However, if you want to grow your small business, you will have to learn to delegate some of your tasks. If you have the funds, consider hiring a part-time assistant to handle administrative duties while you focus on the company’s vision. As your business expands, keep your eyes open for a partnership with a like-minded mother turned small business owner.

     

    The benefits of mom-run businesses radiate in all directions.   Children get more time with their mothers.  Families get the financial benefit of an additional income. These types of businesses can also help spur economic growth and niches can become filled with highly specialized products and services. And, if they don’t have to choose between family and career, mompreneurs themselves just might find their stress shrinking as their businesses grow.

    Like many entrepreneurs, I grew up in a small business family. My dad started with one small carpet store, grew it to the largest chain in Southern California, and then sold out to his partner, ending his career with one giant carpet warehouse.

     

    Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngThe very first thing you saw when you walked into that last store? A huge banner that read, “Our Word of Mouth Advertising Starts With You!”

     

    Now, what did that do? First and foremost, it made a great impression. It told customers that their patronage was valued, that they would be treated right and that their opinion was valuable. How smart was that?

     

    Of all of the things my dad learned in 25 very successful years in business, the main one seemed to be that you simply cannot underestimate the importance of making a great initial impression. It turns out to be the main lens of how people will view you, and as they say, “you don’t get a second chance to make a great first impression.”

     

    That being said, in these Internet days, there are more ways to create, and more ways to flub, that initial salvo. Here then are seven ways to rock that critical first impression:

     

    1. Have a great website: Today, people will often check out a company’s website before they ever walk in the doors and check out the business. And what happens when they find a site that looks like it hasn’t been updated in, say, four years?  What if the site is boring or difficult to navigate? What’s most likely to happen is they surf on, right past you.

     

    So, you simply have to have a great site. Not a fine site, or even a good site, but a great site. It has to be graphically pleasing to the eye, full of valuable content, intuitive and impressive. Creating this site doesn’t need to cost a fortune or take a ton of time either; there are no shortage of free or inexpensive services that can help you design a great website.

     

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

     

    2. Email like a pro: What do you think when you get an email from a professional colleague full of emoticons, too many exclamation points and the lower case i for I? Right. You are unimpressed. You probably take him or her less seriously.

     

    The fact is, email is now the dominant form of business communication and needs to be treated as such. Write like a professional and you will be treated like one. Write like a teen and you will impress no one.

     

    3. Go social: Like it or not, social media is here to stay. So, although you do not have to become a tweet master, it would likely behoove you to at least have a Facebook brand page and business LinkedIn page. For people who look at those sorts of things, they are very important.

     

    And now, here are a few non-Internet strategies:

     

    4. Look sharp: If you want to impress people physically encountering your business for the first time, then make it impressive. Spruce up the front of the shop. Paint. Plant some new foliage. Clean up the reception area. Get a nice, new sign.

     

    People who don’t know your business have no way of judging it, at least from the outset, except by how it looks. So make it look grand.

     

    5. Have a great receptionist: The person who greets people or answers the phone is your front-line in the first impressions game. If they aren’t impressive, you aren’t impressive. If they act bored, you look bored. Make sure this person is personable, smart and gregarious.

     

    6. Dress for success: This new everyday-is-casual-Friday era is pretty sweet, but it also can be taken too far. Remember, we are still in business. Flip-flops do not cut it. If you want to impress people, dress like you are a serious player, not a weekend warrior.

     

    7. Do great work: In the end, the best way to impress new customers is the old fashioned way: Earn their respect. Treat them like gold. Do great work. Offer some freebies. Go above the call of duty. Be impressive.

     

    Do some or all of these things and you will see that people’s great first impression of your business will often be their lasting one too. Do you have any recommendations on how to make a great first impression? Or, lessons learned from doing it the wrong way? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community in the comments section.

     

     


     

    About Steve Strauss

    Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. 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. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.

     

    You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

    Women Business Owners.pngWomen-owned businesses have become a powerful economic force.  It is estimated that they generate nearly $1.3 trillion in revenue and employ nearly 7.7 million people, according to 2010 studies based on the most recent census data.  While the following five tips are geared toward female entrepreneurs, male small business owners can also benefit:

     

    1. Do not stick to stereotypical gender roles. Societal norms have discouraged women from being too aggressive or authoritative in the workplace to avoid being viewed negatively by employees and peers.  However, being able to turn assertiveness and confidence on and off depending on the social circumstances has been shown to serve women best, according to a recent study from Stanford University. Although personal vision, technical skills and industry contacts can be important components of authority, the most important thing for any leader, male or female, is to feel comfortable and non-apologetic in the role.

     

    2. Reframe your thinking.  When office issues arise, sometimes small business owners need to have difficult conversations with employees but find it challenging. There are several things business leaders can do to make it easier not only on their employees, but themselves, according to the Clayman Institute for Gender Research: 

     

    • If you are saying something authoritative, it may be best not to smile.  However, if you feel someone is inordinately intimidated by your position, a brief smile may be a good way to keep the conversation natural.
    • Use difficult conversations as “teaching moments,” in order to empower your staff to act with confidence on your behalf in the future.
    • Step outside yourself and think in terms of safeguarding the needs of the management team as a whole.

     

    teaching moment.png3. Cast a wider net(work).  It can be empowering to associate with and seek the counsel of other successful business owners. You will find it valuable to tap multiple perspectives on everything ranging from pragmatic financial and tax decisions to matters related to the greater good, such as corporate philanthropy.  

     

    4. Lead by example. Female leaders are often particularly tuned in to how their demeanor and behavior influence their staff.  If leaders practice what they preach and live their work lives according to the values they espouse, they will have an easier time gaining staff commitment and passion than if they rely on formal authority.  Admit that you are human and fallible, engage in small talk and demonstrate an interest in employees’ private lives. 

     

    5. Resolve conflict effectively. Business owners who are good listeners will have a better chance of resolving conflict among their staff or between themselves and their employees.  It helps to consider the personal biases and triggers that led to conflict in the first place.  Using active listening skills shows that you understand how someone is feeling.  Be sure that the tone of the conversation remains calm and respectful, and stay engaged with the process of coming to agreement for as long as it takes.

    delegation.pngA small magazine publisher, who makes a yearly salary of $100,000, copy-edits the entire magazine herself instead of hiring professional proofreaders at a rate of $10 an hour.

     

    After writing his 10,000th line of code, without any help from junior programmers, an MIT-educated computer scientist begins to make errors that could jeopardize his successful network design business.

     

    The head of a graphic design firm squanders hours every week developing her own photographs and running layouts to the printer instead of training her assistant to handle these tasks.

     

    Do you have any work tendencies similar to those of these three business owners?*  Are you so involved in all aspects of your company’s operations that you alternate mundane tasks such as data entry, bookkeeping and supply ordering with strategic decision making and partnership development? Do you believe that delegating tasks and projects to your staff is not possible because they don’t share your vision, you don’t have the time and/or money to train them properly, or your work is too specialized? If so, you may be jeopardizing your company’s growth, employee and customer relationships, and your emotional and physical well-being.

     

    The alternative is learning how to delegate, which may include making changes to your business model. Examples of effective delegation techniques include: hiring new staff and/or taking the time to train current staff; using delegation as an employee motivation tool; and retaining consultants for periodic tasks, such as publicity, tax auditing and website design. Depending on your industry, you can also delegate any of the following business operations: booking speaking opportunities, developing a blog, designing PowerPoint presentations, handling event logistics, monitoring industry news, conducting competitive research, maintaining a database of potential customers, updating website content, and writing press releases.

     

    For some small business owners, this may require psychological shifts as well. If you founded your company, you may have to lose the nostalgia for the early days when you handled everything from writing the business plan, seeking investors, building relationships with local community leaders, and handling administrative duties. You may have to learn to let go of day-to-day tasks and relinquish some control.

     

    Once you’ve decided to delegate more work, answering the following questions should prove helpful:

     


    Delegating Pull Quote.pngShould this be handled in-house or outsourced? Outsourcing to a specialist may be better for skill-specific tasks that have a finite beginning, middle and end.  Using in-house staff is better suited for work that requires flexibility, last-minute responses and regular feedback from you.

     

    Should tasks or projects be delegated? If you are just looking to offload administrative tasks, it’s fine to delegate to junior staff because they probably will not need much training or supervision. On the other hand, if you want to develop employees’ skill sets, and encourage employees to work as a collaborate team, delegating full projects is probably preferable.

     

     

    How often should there be check-ins with employees? If you foster autonomy in the employees to whom you delegate work, you should focus on whether goals are being met, not on the process. Weekly meetings should be sufficient to ensure projects are on track and to provide additional resources if needed.

     

    Which is more desirable - “Yes” men/women or independent-minded employees? Once you allow staff members to give input to business strategy, you probably will not prefer employees who agree to everything you propose. You should empower staff to ask questions, work independently and make their own decisions.

     

    Once you start delegating more often, you will be able to focus on more important matters, such as refining your vision for the company’s future and areas that could be strengthened internally. When employees are given the opportunity to take on more responsibility, you’ll gain fresh insight and perspective, which could strength the organization’s quality of work. They may also improve efficiency.  In addition to the professional benefits of delegating, from a personal standpoint, you’ll be able to enjoy the

    pleasures in life that having your own business permits.

     

     

    *Please note that these examples are hypothetical, building on some real-world scenarios  the SBOC community has observed.

    Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngI just got back from Seattle. Aside from the bittersweet experience of watching my daughter get ready to head off to college, we made a pit stop to Pike Place Market, as we usually do. Pike Place is one of those rare spots that, while definitely a tourist trap, does not feel like a tourist trap.

     

    Aside from getting some java from the first-ever Starbucks and having some chowder from the spot where Tom Hanks chatted with Rob Reiner in Sleepless in Seattle, we spent a few minutes watching the guys at the fish market toss 50 lb salmon back and forth in front of their customers. Not only do they clearly have a good time doing this, but so do their customers.

     

    And, of course, I am not the first person to notice that tossing fish is not only fun, it is a metaphor for upping the productivity and culture of your business. In the excellent business book Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results, authors Stephen C. Lundin, Harry Paul and John Christensen explore how the Pike Place fish toss is a perfect example of how fun makes work better.

     

    Here’s why: Every small business has a culture. A few are by design, but most are by default; the default being the owner’s personality and values. While that may sometimes turn out for the best, it doesn’t always, so leaving your business culture to chance is a big mistake. Instead, it is far smarter to intentionally foster the sort of hard working, enjoyable and gratifying esprit-de-corps that makes for a great business.

     

    Why? Because your culture sets the tone. It reinforces values you deem important, even when you are not around. A great culture fosters greatness. Makes sense, no?

     

    Often, fun factors heavily into what is considered a “great culture.” Oh sure, you may think that your business is too serious or important to have fun  . . . but think again. Here are 5 reasons why upping the fun factor at your office or shop will boost business:

     

    1. It increases productivity: When you see profiles of high-flying and hard-working Internet companies like Facebook or Google, what do you notice? For me, the thing that sticks out is that there are built-in ways for the employees to let off steam and have a good time:

      Now, why is that? Because research has shown that people who enjoy their work, and have fun doing it, are also more productive.

       

      Of course, doing this sort of thing at your own place of work does not need to be expensive or difficult. Add a hoop to the parking lot. Put a ping pong table in the break room.

      • Foos ball tables
      • Video game stations
      • Basketball hoops
      • Scooters. Scooters? Scooters!
    2.  

    3. It fosters creativity: Creativity comes from the right side of the brain, and guess what? Not surprisingly, having fun is usually a right brain activity as well. People typically get those flashes of brilliance on the golf course, at night, or whenever they are doing some activity other than, say, going over the books again.
    4.  

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

       

    5. It relieves stress: Personal example – Nothing in my work life was more stressful than being a first-year attorney. The hours and pressure were excruciating, and the stress made me less effective than I otherwise might have been. And the firm did little to relieve that. It would have been far better had they taken a play out of the book of some of their Silicon Valley startup clients and allowed us to break up the day with some fun.

       

      We would have sued better, of that I am positive.

    6.  

    7. It boosts morale: People work for many reasons – to make money of course, but also to be productive, make a difference and socialize. It follows then that fostering fun at work ties-in with these other reasons. It boosts morale and makes employees happier.

      And happier employees means . . .

    8.  

    9. Happier customers: Customers love enthusiasm (when it’s genuine). Studies show that happy, fulfilled, engaged employees treat customers better, which in turn impacts the bottom line. Given your druthers, would you choose to buy from a store where the staff is bored and apathetic, or one where they have a good time and love what they do? Exactly.

    So —seriously— consider unleashing the fun. Tell us in the comments about the best work culture you’ve experienced. What do you think would be an ideal culture?

     

    (Now, where are those darn Angry Birds?)

     

     


     

    About Steve Strauss

    Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. 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. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.

     

    You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

    Gen Y.png“I need to focus my marketing budget on more lucrative market segments.”

     

    “Teenagers, college students and young adults in entry-level positions do not have any money to spend.”

     

    “I’m not in the electronics or music business, so I’ve got nothing to sell to today’s young people.”

     

    “I don’t understand customers under the age of 30.”

     

    These are hypothetical reasons many owners of small businesses have given for ignoring “Generation Y” – the market segment of consumers born between approximately the mid-1980s and 2000. However, these assumptions miss a fundamental reality. While some members of Generation Y are still too young to have their own disposable income, this segment represents a tremendous amount of current and future buying power. For example, 42 percent of teenagers have a debit card and 33 percent have their own checking account, according to the recent Schwab survey on “Teens and Money.” College students are in the formative years of developing spending habits and preferences.

     

    Small businesses in particular are well positioned to capitalize on this growing market for the following reasons:

     

    Small businesses are approachable.  Research shows that people under the age of 25 prefer the personal service and homespun feel of most small businesses. They are attracted to quirky, unique products and services that express their individuality.  If those products are green or organic, even better.  Generation Y is not interested in what their peers and neighbors have.  In other words, their mindset is the opposite of the “keeping-up-with-the-Joneses” attitude prevalent among their parents. It’s all about individuality.

     

    Small businesses are social.  Small businesses may be especially well equipped to communicate with young consumers through modes they prefer – social networking, mobile marketing and local events – for a variety of reasons:  Small companies can speak to young people in their own “language,” using a less polished, more up-to-the-minute tone in comparison to how most large enterprises typically do.  They can create immediacy by marketing a sale or special event that young customers can respond to in real time.  And they can have more intimate and meaningful two-way conversations with customers via Facebook fan pages and Twitter.  Small business will find that if you offer an experience or product worth discussion, Generation Y customers will do some of your marketing through word-of-mouth.

     

    Small businesses listenYoung people do not respond well to most traditional marketing but tend to engage better in conversations with companies that demonstrate they understand their needs. They are apt to develop loyal relationships with companies and brands that express the desire to hear them and are able to customize their offerings accordingly. 

     

    Don't pretend to be hip.pngIf you decide to engage with Generation Y, here are some tips to keep in mind when talking to a segment that accounts for $43 billion of U.S. spending power.

     

    1. Highlight any social justice, corporate responsibility or environmental initiatives in which your company is involved. 
    2. Do not pretend to be hip when you’re really not, or you’ll sound like parents trying to fit in with their teenagers’ friends.
    3. Use language in your promotional efforts that is casual, funny and to the point.
    4. Remember that, to some extent, the parents of Generation Y may have to approve of what your company stands for.
    5. Differentiate yourself not only from other small businesses in your market space, but also from large enterprises to which you could lose customers.
    6. Consider the payment methods younger customers might have at their disposal when deciding whether to accept cash, credit cards, and/or online payments (80% of Gen Y has debit cards).
    7. Include a blog on your website that has timely information on trends and issues of interest to Generation Y.
    8. Promote return visits to your brick-and-mortar store or e-commerce website with simple but memorable promotions, (i.e. flavor of the week, buy-one-get-one-free, karaoke nights, food-eating contests, etc.)
    9. Test out coupon offers on daily deal sites such as Buywithme, EZDeal, Groupon and LivingSocial.
    10. Further segment your Generation Y outreach efforts according to the fact that young consumers with buying power are racially, ethnically and economically diverse.

     

    There are many markets you may focus on as a small business – the greatest generation (1909-1945), Baby Boomers (1945-1965), and Generation X (1965-1975). Many consumers in these groups have more current spending power than Generation Y.  However, today’s 18- to 25-year-olds will grow older and yield more spending power. You do not want to look back and ask yourself “Y” you did not start building a relationship with them while they were younger.

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