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Business Etiquette Today

Posted by Touchpoint Nov 29, 2011

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngGone are the days when business etiquette meant having good table manners at lunch and not drinking too much at the holiday party (though those are still good rules too). But these days,   with business changing as much as it has, the rules of business etiquette need some updating.

 

 

Interestingly, whenever I write about the changing workplace, I often hear from readers about the lack of etiquette. I’m not sure why it seems to be such a sore subject for so many people, except that, sadly, business etiquette seems to be fading away.

 

 

And that’s too bad.

 

 

It may be a reflection of, not only a more lax workplace generally, but a decline in civility and manners more broadly. To some people, manners seem to be an old-fashioned concept — some stuffy idea from when people were not allowed to wear flip flops to work. I don’t think people should disregard their manners and, based on what I’ve seen, neither do a lot of other people. Manners and etiquette are nothing more than society’s rules for a common way to respect and treat each other in public.

 

Here are the most common workplace etiquette mistakes I hear about and see most often:

 

 

Cubicle intrusion: With people today either working in fairly public cubicles, or no cubicle at all, too many people feel like what space they do have is not safe from intruders. Even though a person works in an open area, it does not mean that they don’t deserve some privacy and respect. Leave their stuff alone. Don’t peer over their wall. Knock before entering.

 

 

Speakerphones gone wild: An adjunct to the cubicle issue above, in a shared workspace, people can hear your phone calls. Take private calls in private. You also might want to reconsider putting your calls on speaker, as it could result in the whole office getting to hear what a big shot you are trying to be.

 

 

Email faux pas: Email is the dominant form of business communication now and it needs to be treated as such. That means, for instance, leaving the emoticons at home. It means understanding that grammar counts – “i” is not the same as “I”. Spell check. Grammar check.

 

As the old commercial goes – people judge you by the words you use, even if they are via email, so use yours smartly.

 

 

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

 

 

Phone manners, or lack thereof. While we are on this subject, your receptionist is often someone’s first contact with your business. I recently went into an office and the male receptionist said, “What’s up, bro?” Look, I am all for the new casualness (well, mostly, see below), but there has to be a limit. Business is still business. Teach your receptionist to say “please” and “thank you.” Teach them to say, “Hello, how may I help you?”  He or she should not drop calls or argue with customers or act bored.

 

 

Missed manners: In fact, “please,” “thank you” “pardon me” and “you’re welcome” often need to be taught to all staff, and then reinforced.

And it’s OK to do so.

 

 

John Wooden used to start the first practice with the freshman on his UCLA basketball teams teaching how to properly tie a shoe. Why? Because it was not only fundamental (you play on your feet after all), and not only necessary apparently, but it was also a good lesson: Do the little things right and the big things tend to go right. This rule also applies in business.

 

 

Customer casualness: Your customers who come in or call are not a pain in the rear or a bother — they are your bread and butter and should be treated as such.

 

 

Business too-casual: Business casual is not the same as business sloppy.

 

 

Kitchen confidential: If you put something in the refrigerator, you need to eat it or remove it before it goes bad. Leaving it there beyond that (and sometime long beyond that) is not only wrong, but gross. Clean up after yourself. Don’t eat other people’s food. And pay people back when they lend you a buck to buy a soda.

 

 

Maxed-out multi-tasking: When speaking to someone in person, no texting, emailing, game playing, or talking on the phone should be tolerated. What does it say when you do that? It says that playing Angry Birds is more important than paying attention to you.

 

 

Do you have some business etiquette horror stories? Please share.

 


 

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.

leasing equipment.pngThere may be many reasons for relocating your small business.  Knowing what type of impact a relocation will have on your business is essential in order to determine your success.  

 

 

If you are planning a move in order to be closer to customers, conduct demographic research, examine competitors in the area and determine whether or not you will interface with customers prior to making any move. Take a look at references such as The Statistical Abstract of the United States, which provides useful information that can help you narrow down your list of choices.

 

 

If you want to streamline business operations, consider whether or not you should move a specific part of the business to another area (such as moving a manufacturing arm).  Another alternative is to combine sales and manufacturing in one location.  Examine these options closely and determine which choice is best for your small business – it could provide the flexibility and convenience that you need. 

 

 

Although, saving money is always a factor in making business decisions, make sure you’re looking at the big picture and vet all financial possibilities. For example, if you move to an area with a more favorable tax structure, will you then lose money on transportation costs or having to remodel your new space?  Additionally, although you may save money on real estate, does the new area you’re choosing have the talent pool you will need to drive your business forward? 

 

 

If you are considering opening more than one outlet for a retail operation, be sure that your stores are far enough apart geographically that they don’t cannibalize each other’s revenues.  Additionally be sure that you have the manpower to staff both locations, as well as the personal bandwidth to manage multiple locations.

 

 

If you have considered these factors and decide to move forward with relocation, the following are some tips to remember:


 

  • Investigate lower rates for new businesses in your potential locations on everything ranging from electricity to workers compensation insurance to tax concessions for certain types of businesses.
  • Undertake an audit of environmental and/or regulatory issues long before you sign a contract for a new space.  Failing to look into whether your new location is near a landfill, or has sewage run off underground, can require an expensive remediation effort that can quickly eat up any cost savings you hoped to realize.
  • Apply for all the relevant licenses and permits and register with state and local tax authorities, no matter how redundant it feels.
  • Consult a tax advisor to determine if you can deduct relocation costs on your tax return, including research trips, travel and moving costs.

 

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Finally, make sure the timing is good. Ensure you and your staff has the energy to undertake a major project at this time.  A relocation effort can take anywhere from several months to several years before it is complete, and there will be some inevitable interruption of business.  On the other hand, once you are settled in your new location, you may rediscover some of the excitement that you had when you started your business the first time. Relocating your small business naturally involves some risk, but as an entrepreneur, you know that’s when you have the opportunity to earn greater rewards.

Gen Y.pngThe holiday season is a critical sales season for many small businesses.  According to the National Retail Federation, many small- and mid-sized businesses generate as much as 20-40 percent of their annual sales in the last two months of the year.  In recent years, the season itself has started expanding, and stores are no longer waiting to offer promotions. 

 

 

Many businesses are starting to offer promotions as early as September in recognition of the fact that some shoppers are hitting the stores before Halloween. Online retailers seem particularly apt to stretch the holiday season, offering a full month of discounts (including free shipping) in the month of November. Retailers who followed this model last season realized some significant returns:  Sales in December 2010 were six percent higher than the same month in 2009, according to the National Retail Federation.  This was in stark contrast to the 2008 holiday season when retail sales dropped 2.8 percent  from the previous year.


 

No matter when you start your promotions, there are many things small businesses can do to get the most out of the holiday sales season.  The following are some tips:


 

  • Find ways to stand out that are not related to the products you sell.  For example, decorate your store with themes that tie in with community events.  Consider sponsoring holiday charity auctions at churches and civic organizations.
  • Tap social media to promote holiday sales events. Use mobile apps to draw attention to sales in real time.  If you have a Twitter presence (and if you do, learn how to increase your followers here), analyze the hot items potential customers are discussing and gear your inventory and promotions accordingly. Use can use your Facebook fan page to briefly mention upcoming deals without using an aggressive sales push.
  • Reach out to customers with holiday cheerIt is important for businesses to send holiday cards to their loyal customers. However, if you are business that relies on a small number of repeat customers, be sure to write your holiday greeting cards by hand and include a personal note.
  • Plan ahead to handle holiday crowdsOne of the biggest mistakes small businesses make is waiting until the last minute to hire extra staff to meet holiday demand, so analyze your needs as early in the year as possible.  Holiday staff can be recruited through temporary services, employee referrals, and newspaper and online ads.
  • Lay the groundwork throughout the year. Although the majority of your sales may occur in the last two months of the year, it is never too early to start building customer relationships and loyalty.  Use techniques for attracting customers – such as mobile marketing, geography-based promotions, loyalty programs – throughout the year and then customize them to fit the holiday season.  Customers that have shopped with you throughout the year could be more likely to visit your store first as they search for holiday gifts.

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With the holidays quickly approaching, small retailers should take advantage of an expanded shopping season and explore new ways to connect with customers. Do you have any unique sales tactics during the holiday season? What challenges and opportunities do you typically encounter during this time? Share your comments with the SBOC community below.

 

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngLast year during the holiday season, my daughter decided that she wanted to get my wife a nice tea set because my wife had recently gotten into drinking all sorts of exotic teas. I thought that was a super idea.  One Saturday during the height of the shopping season, we bundled up, gave my wife some lame excuse  about where we needed to go, and headed to the mall where I knew there was a store that sold nothing but tea and related accessories.

 

 

I had been in the store once before and found it to be a calm, serene place. But boy, were we unprepared for what we encountered once we arrived. That holiday season the store had apparently caught Selling Fever. Everything was On Sale! (Except it really wasn’t). The staff was Super Excited! And while enthusiasm is great, fake enthusiasm is not, and hard selling enthusiasm is the worst. The woman who was “helping” us was 100% certain that the simple tea set my daughter had picked out “just would not do. I am sure that your mom would love some of this blended tea from India. And these stainless steel tea strainers would cap the present off very nicely,” she said.

 

 

A $40 present should really become a $110 present, according to the saleslady. When we demurred, she practically insisted. We left.

 

 

It’s not hard to understand how the tea store got it so wrong. The holiday selling season is a time when 1) many businesses make the bulk of their income for the year and 2) competition is the highest. But mistaking the need to sell with a hard sell is not the answer.

 

 

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

 

 

Instead, here are 5 ways to stand out during the holidays:

 

 

1. Become a destination: Instead of the hard sell, try the soft sell. Create a cozy corner where harried shoppers can have a rest. No pressure, no selling, just a rest stop. Offer everyone who comes into your shop some hot chocolate or a piece of candy. Or, have Santa arrive every Saturday afternoon for the month of December. That sort of thoughtfulness is what makes people want to patronize your business.

 

 

2. Have a special event for your best customers: In your e-newsletter, via your social media, or your channel of choice, announce a “Best Customers Only Event.” For these customers, open your store during the off hours, put a few great items on sale, serve cookies and punch and watch the register light up.

 

 

3. Donate to their favorite charity: Tell your customers that for every, say, $100 they spend in your store, you will donate $5 to the charity of their choice. You could have a form they fill out indicating the charity. Most people love that sort of generosity of spirit, and the chance to give to the organization of their choice (by shopping no less) and may help them turn to you for business instead of a competitor.

 

 

4. Give them a free coupon book: Remember when you were a kid and you would give your mom or dad a book full of coupons that said things like

 

  • “Redeem for one car wash”
  • “Good for one house cleaning”
  • “One free mowing of the lawn”

 

Well, why not do something similar for your customers, only specific to your business? This allows you to give your customers a present that would benefit you both.

 

 

5. Sell Gift Certificates: Because people love getting a bargain. What about selling $25 gift certificates that customers can use or give away – for only $20?

 

With a little ingenuity, your holiday season can be a successful one (and you won’t even have to hawk imported, expensive teas from India to make it that way.) How do you raise above all the other types of holiday promotions? Share your tips below with the SBOC community.

 

 

 


 

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.

 

 

 

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As we celebrate Thanksgiving, small business owners should take time to say thank you to the people who serve as the backbone of their company – employees.  Some owners may be in the position to throw an extravagant end-of-year party or give significant bonuses.  However, if you are looking for something that won’t be cost prohibitive but will still be meaningful and memorable, consider the following A-to-Z list of small business holiday gift suggestions.


 

Athletic club memberships can be expensive, but picking up a month or two could be a nice gesture.

Baskets of almost any variety – from fruit and candy to games and puzzles to thumb drives and mouse pads

Charitable donations in your employees’ names to organizations of their choice or a large donation (i.e. a percentage of sales) given to a charity your employees select

Desk organizers that run the gamut from pen-and-pencil sets to leather iPad holders.

Entertainment events with a holiday theme, i.e. a folk concert, an art exhibit or a book signing, held on company grounds

Food items personalized based on your knowledge of an each employee’s palate – from organic jams to exotic cheeses

Gift certificates to restaurants certainly, but also spas, sporting events, local travel, cooking lessons, or art exhibits

High-end “Secret Santa” where employees exchange services or products and have a chance to network in the process

International potluck dinner as a less expensive alternative to a glitzy party and potentially a greater boost to morale and camaraderie

Java sample packs from online retailers like eRoast or local microroasters that offer a wide variety of coffee flavors

Kid-friendly party for employees’ children, stepchildren, nieces and nephews, or grandchildren

Logo-endowed items, ranging in extravagance from stainless steel coffee mugs to backpacks to carry-on luggage

Membership to a wine or beer of the month club

Notecards or stationary personalized with employees’ initials

On-site classes in anything from financial planning to yoga

Photography sessions for employees and their families, all to memorialize special people, events and moments

Quiet time during the day in the form of extended coffee breaks or a walk outside

Red and green – or silver and gold – decorations, hand-painted to the liking of each of your employees

Seats to a local theater, concert hall or sporting event

Time off of at least half a day or several opportunities to leave early or come in late during the holiday season

Umbrellas, mittens, scarves and other gear for inclement winter weather

Vendor discounts from your major suppliers from cellular service to computer equipment

Wine or beer tastings on a Friday evening after work, which can be less expensive than an office party and just as festive

X-box and Wii games, karaoke competitions and gambling tables as part of a grownup night of fun

Yearbook for the company, incorporating recipes, photographs, holiday stories and original poems contributed by employees who choose to participate

Zoo or other experiential party in an outdoor location, as long as climate conditions allow

 

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So there you have it: 26 gift ideas for your employees this holiday season.  Whether you are an out-of-the-box type or someone who likes to have fun with your staff, there is a perfect gift out there that says “thank you” just the way you want to say it.  How do you show your employees that you are thankful for them? Do you plan to use any of the recommendations above? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community below.

White-in article-Woman.pngAs we approach the end of 2011, it is a good idea for small business owners to take stock of what you’ve accomplished and look forward to some fresh initiatives in the New Year.  The following are some ideas to make a successful transition to 2012:

 

1. Expand the ways that you communicate with customers.  Dive into mobile marketing, location-based promotions, blogging and a dynamic social media presence.


2. Stop trying to force your product onto a customer if it is not a good fit.  Show your customers you are able to come up with solutions that add value to their business problems.

 

3.  Brainstorm with employees on how everyone can work smarter.  Take stock of how much daily time is spent on e-mail; whether you are holding too many unproductive meetings and how to take internal communications to a level that spurs employees to take action.

 

4.  Spend some time on self-reflection and figure out what kind of a boss you are. Do you over-direct, micromanage, enable helplessness, inspire or teach?  It may not be easy, but making sure you are a good match for your own business goals is an often-overlooked issue for many managers.

 

5.  Invest in additional training and career-growth activities for your employees.  For example, subsidize memberships in industry organizations; bring in a leadership coach; offer reimbursement for career-enhancing certifications; etc.

 

6.  Take real action related to a social cause.  Sponsor a fundraiser, write an Op-Ed or go on an overseas mission.  You’ll find it not only makes you feel better, but it is highly appealing to the best and brightest young people you may want to recruit to work for you.

 

7.  Walk the floor more.  Even with an open-door policy, managers who stay in their offices create a very different work atmosphere than those who get out and spend time among the staff. Take the time to discover something about the personal interests or personalities of the people who work for you. You just might discover some untapped gems.

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8.  Redefine your strategic goals after meeting with employees, company advisors and partners to get their input.  New goals could include expanding into a new market, merging with a competitor or rebranding your company. 

 

9.  Conduct a survey of employees to gauge their level of satisfaction with opportunities for training and advancement, compensation/ benefits and work/life balance.

 

10.  Don’t forget to have some fun: Celebrate the holidays with your staff, even if it’s at the office. If possible, close down from Christmas to New Year’s. Encourage all employees to make end-of-year vacation plans – and remember that “all employees” includes you!

Steve Strauss

What is Your X Factor?

Posted by Steve Strauss Nov 15, 2011

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngSimon Cowell has, as you likely know, a new show on the air called “The X Factor.” The show was a huge hit in his native England and he brought it across the pond looking for similar success. There are a lot of things one could say about Simon, but one important thing is that he knows a good idea (or product or singer) when he sees one. He knows that someone who has a  special quality -  something different, that X Factor, makes them memorable.

 

Of course, having an X Factor is not the private domain of entertainers. Indeed, if you think about it, a great business can usually point to any one of several things that may contribute to its success – good products, a great location, whatever – but I venture to say that their success often comes from one special thing makes them stand out from the crowd. They all have their own unique differentiator that sets them apart.

 

Example: Not long ago I went with my wife to an idyllic, small little fishing village on the Pacific coast of Mexico where the locals were kind, the beach perfect, and the vibe just right (sorry, its name will remain a secret amigos)! Many mornings we found ourselves at the same great little place for breakfast.

 

Did we keep coming back there for the huevos rancheros? Well, yes, that was part of it. Was it because of the wonderful waitresses? Yes, it was that too, but that was not the main reason.

 

The main reason was free WiFi. In a small town like that one, where getting online was a challenge, free WiFi kept us coming back. That was their differentiator. Isn’t that true of your favorite businesses, the ones you frequent time and again? Don’t they offer something unique and out of the ordinary?

 

  • There is a bookstore in the Pacific Northwest called Powell’s World of Books. It is a World of Books indeed. The store engulfs one full city block and is four stories high.
  • In Los Angeles, there is a fun sushi bar on the Westside. I don’t recall its real name because all anyone ever calls it is “Reggae Sushi.” Yep, reggae music all the time mon.
  • At the Monte Cristo store on 5th Avenue in New York, you can buy just about any cigar made in the world.

 

These are all X factors. All of these businesses have figured out something special that they do that they could hang their hat on to distinguish themselves from the competition. So the question you should ask yourself is – what is yours? What is it you do that is unique and special that you can tout that will make your business more memorable?

 

Not long ago I was in Erie, Pennsylvania, giving a speech for the local Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Every year, the SBDC honors local businesses with a banquet, the culmination of which is the presentation of “Business of the Year” awards in various categories. I was fortunate enough to give the keynote at the banquet and meet these exceptional entrepreneurs. As I think back upon the award winners, I would have to say that every one of them had their own unique, memorable distinguishing characteristic.

 

My favorite: At a time when large drug store chains are putting local pharmacies out of business, Pioneer Pharmacy in Erie is easily the busiest pharmacy in the area, routinely filling thousands of prescriptions a week. When I asked the owner what the secret of his success was, he told me about the usual suspects – a great staff, loyal customers and so on. Then he mentioned what I now see was his X Factor: Free delivery.

 

Every day he has two full-time drivers who do nothing but deliver prescriptions to his customers for free. “And, I only hire retired gentleman,” he told me. Given many of his customers are ill or even home bound, it’s a brilliant idea.

 

So that is the question to answer. What do you do that is different and better? What is your business differentiator? Figure it out, tout it, and you will likely find customers will find you and frequent your business more often – if not for the fish tacos then definitely for the free WiFi.

Gen Y Entrepreneurs.pngThere are a lot of reasons you shouldn’t hire an intern. You shouldn’t hire an intern if you are only interested in free labor. You shouldn’t hire an intern if you need someone with a lot of experience. You shouldn’t hire an intern if you want an autonomous employee. You shouldn’t hire an intern if you need help with coffee runs and filing.

 

 

What is one of the primary reasons you should hire an intern?  Hire an intern if having one is beneficial to your company and the intern.

 

 

Benefits to your company

As a small business owner, hiring an intern can allow you to see if the employee would be a good fit as a future employee. Seeing someone in action – contributing at meetings; participating in company events; accepting constructive criticism and thinking outside the box – is much more valuable than anything a candidate could tell you in an interview.  Also, if it isn’t a good match between your company and the intern, you can part ways without feeling like you’ve made a major investment in bringing a new person up to speed.

 

 

In a way, internships can become part of your marketing program. Interns can help you spread the word about your business to customers and potential employees, which can be particularly valuable for small businesses that don’t have a lot of money or manpower.  Further, if your small business is an active and visible part of a local community, hiring local interns can be a great way to give back to the community that supports your business.

 

 

Interns can also benefit longer-term business operations.  For several months, a business with fewer than 10 employees can have the experience of managing a larger staff.  Further, managing interns can also act as an impetus to spur a business to take a closer look at their operations and ways they can save on labor costs.

 

Benefits to the intern

According to a recent National Association of Colleges and Employees (NACE) survey, 61 percent of those who underwent a paid internship during college ended up with a full-time job upon graduation.

 

There are many ways to find an intern, including forging relationships with the career services offices of local universities, posting listings in local newspapers or on LinkedIn, and utilizing the services of a national “matching service” like Urban Interns.


Businesses often look for students from top colleges, with high GPAs, who are majoring in an area that has some affinity with their businesses.  Since a lot of these students are snatched up by larger companies, it becomes more challenging for small companies to attract these candidates.  However, there are some things small business owners can do to make themselves more appealing than their big business counterparts:

 

 

  • Stress the fact that interns may get a broader spectrum of experiences at a small business, where they can touch on many job functions versus a large business where they may be focusedon one small area.
  • Pull Quote.pngAssign a mentor who will spend at least 20-30 percent of their work week actively teaching the intern.  Have the mentor intervene as soon as they observe issues with work performance.
  • Offer perks that have a tie-in with your business, such as clothing discounts if you’re a fashion designer, or free courses at a school.
  • Highlight any community-focused work your company dedicates its time to.

 

 

Finally, there are several things to watch out for if you decide to have an internship program:


  • An internship is meant to expose a trainee to a business area with which they have no previous experience.  So don’t make your hiring decisions based on existing skill sets but on qualities you would hope for in any full-time employee – intellectual capacity, work ethic, technical skills and openness to constructive criticism.
  • Some problems may arise from the age gap between senior employees, who may be in their 50s or 60s and college-aged interns, who may still be in their late teens. These issues could include misunderstandings about the value and appropriate use of the Internet and social media in a business setting, as well as appropriate workplace attire.
  • When hiring interns there are a number of criteria laid out by the Department of Labor in its Fair Labor Standard Act that must be followed, including some of the following: training must be similar to class work in an educational setting; interns cannot replace paid workers; and there is no obligation to hire at the end of the internship.

 

 

That is not to say that you cannot hire your intern if you want.  After three months of teaching an intern the ins and outs of your small business, you may discover that you’ve found a valuable long-term employee.  Have you ever hired interns? What has been your experience – share your thoughts with the SBOC community below.

delegation.pngOne of the first and most important decisions you make when starting a business is selecting the right organizational structure. The first question you have to ask yourself is “to incorporate or not to incorporate?” Deciding how to classify your business is a complex issue that can have long-standing implications. Because the needs of every business are different, and the law varies from state-to-state, it’s worth an hour or two with a knowledgeable attorney and accountant to investigate all of the issues that will affect your decision. Broadly however, there are a number of arguments that can be made on either side of incorporation.

 

In terms of pros, formalizing a corporate identity can help boost your business’ credibility. Additionally, incorporated businesses can sell stock or securities thereby expanding your capital-raising options. Finally, barring some exceptions, incorporation may safeguard your personal assets from liability if your company gets sued. On the flipside, time-intensive paperwork and related costs tend to deter some small business business owners in pursuing incorporation.


If you determine that incorporation is the right direction for your business, there are several alternatives to choose from:


  • Sole proprietorship is the simplest and most common form of business structure especially for small business owners who are in business by themselves or operating on a shoestring budget. There are no complex rules or paperwork. The main requirement is filing a certificate in the countries where the business operates. Generally, sole proprietors are personally responsible for business debts.


  • General partnership is similar to a sole proprietorship but is used when two or more people go into a business together. A general partnership has the same certificate filing requirements as a sole proprietorship and does not require a formal agreement between the partners. As with a sole proprietorship, you and your partners are personally liable for business obligations.

 

  • Corporations usually cross our minds when we think of large companies – and for good reason. A corporation is a more complex undertaking than a partnership or a sole proprietorship. Those with an ownership interest are shareholders and the company is normally managed by directors, though that could be circumvented through a shareholder agreement. Corporations are subject to regulations, such as keeping minutes for shareholder meetings and could be somewhat costly in fees to set up. There are two types of corporations; an “S” and “C” corporations, respectively.  The main difference between the two is taxes. “S” corporations can help you get around the double taxation issue, but you have to meet specific criteria. Shareholders for “C” corporations are taxed on the company’s dividends, even though the business already paid taxes on these earnings.

    The upside is that unlike in partnerships and sole proprietorships, corporations can make full deductions on health insurance premiums and shareholders have no personal liability for the company.

 

 

  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) is essentially a hybrid with the properties of both a corporation and a partnership. The owners of an LLC are called “members” and can manage the LLC themselves or with managers.  Owners have flexibility to determine the structure, from either a general partnership with limited liability, a limited partnership where everyone is part of management with limited liability as well, or even an “S” corporation without the ownership and tax restrictions. Each entity’s liability is limited to their investment in the LLC, but the tax and other benefits are shared by all.

 

Pull Quote.pngThere is no right answer when it comes to incorporation. Each structure has its merits depending on the size and type of your business. For example, if you plan to engage in activities that involve a higher level of risk, like driving customers or offering financial advice, you may be more likely to consider a corporation or an LLC because of the liability protection they offer.  Likewise, if you never intend to go public, or anticipate needing to issue stock for any reason, a corporation may be an unnecessary investment of time and resources. What’s most important to remember is that your initial choice of a business structure isn't set in stone.  You can start out in a sole proprietorship or partnership and later, if your business grows or the risk of personal liability increases, you can convert your business to an LLC or a corporation.

 

You can find a user-friendly summary of the various corporate structures here or by visiting the Small Business Administration website for more information.

 

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngLet’s say you are the general manager of an NBA team and you want to win the championship (assuming of course that you solve your labor dispute and get back to playing ball). There are two ways to approach this goal. Which do you think offers you the best chance of winning it all?


 

  • First, you could assemble a team of one great player, some other  really, really good players and a few OK players to round them out
  • Second, you could nab three superstars and fill out the team with a bunch of role players

 

 

If those scenarios sound familiar, it’s because they are. Last year’s NBA Championship consisted of the Miami Heat, with three superstars – LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. That mega-team made it to the Championship Finals their first year playing together. They were surprisingly beaten by the Dallas Mavericks, a team that no one considered to be a championship threat, mostly because they were made up of but one legitimate superstar (Dirk Nowitzki) and a team of talented role players.

 

 

You will notice that the one common trait that both teams had is at least one rock star player; teams without one don’t even sniff a championship.

 

 

The sports analogy applies surprisingly well in a small business context. Having a superstar employee can take your team over the top too – whether it’s an exceptional salesperson, a superstar marketer or what have you.

 

 

But just how do you find and hire superstar talent? Here’s how:

 

 

Be ready: Exceptional people will only go to a business that is exceptional as well. They will expect a wide berth and a lot of support. Therefore you have to be internally prepared – both logistically as well as psychologically – to accommodate the superstar, for the superstar will likely have some baggage: A big ego, demands, the need to do business his or her way, etc.

 

 

Now, maybe the person won’t be prima donna (probably won’t be, in fact) but you do need to be prepared for the fact that there will likely be some new demands made upon your organization. After all, you are recruiting the talent for some reason. They know that.

 

 

Recruit: Locating a superstar in your industry is often best left to professionals, that is, a talent recruiter. Executive recruiters are available in every industry and are great because they know both the players and the business. They will have leads, contacts and ideas that you do not. Sure it will cost you, but so will the superstar. You get what you pay for.

 

 

Of course you could try finding the person on your own – posting on Monster.com and Craigslist for instance – but it will take a lot more time and the results will probably not be nearly as great. After all, how many superstar talents are out there actively scouring Craigslist advertisements? Right.

 

 

Be prepared to pay: Superstars may expect superstar pay and benefits: Full medical and dental, a 401(k), several paid weeks off a year, paid holidays and significant base compensation with a hefty bonus structure built in.

 

 

Perks: Your rock star may also expect:

  • A company car
  • Life insurance
  • The ability to telecommute
  • Hi-tech toys like state-of-the-art laptops, smartphones, software and other tools
  • Ongoing training
  • The chance for growth within the company

 

 

Other issues: Be prepared for the fact that your regular staff may resent the newcomer, especially if the perks he or she receive are fairly transparent. That sort of inequality can’t help but breed problems. By the same token, the newcomer may expect that, for the pay he or she is getting, the place will be exceptional. Is it?

 

 

Bringing in a superstar has many benefits, but it is not always an easy fit. As with a sports team, egos often need to be finessed. But if you can mange that and get them to play together, your superstar just may lead you to the Promised Land as well.

 

 

 


 

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.


White-in-article.pngWith winter approaching, small business owners should focus on more than preparing for the holiday shopping season.  You should also think about ways to get your business prepared for the many challenges presented by the wintry conditions.

 

Understanding the Alerts

In order to stay one step ahead of winter storms and severe weather, regularly check the National Weather Service website for live weather updates and potential winter weather alerts. Understanding the meaning of the alerts will help you plan your response appropriately.

 

  • A “winter storm outlook” means there may be a storm of unknown severity in the next two to five days. 
  • An “advisory” means there may be a storm that causes inconveniences, but it will most likely not be life threatening.
  • A “watch” means there is a chance of heavy snow, sleet, an ice storm or a blizzard within two to three days.  
  • A “warning” means that a storm is imminent, and you and your employees should either stay home or find shelter.


Weathering the Storm

If you must be at work during a winter storm, there are several steps to protect your business and employees by taking precautions. 

  • Have battery-powered or hand-cranked radios on hand so you can stay informed on the latest weather conditions. 
  • Stock up on batteries and emergency supplies, including rock salt, sand and first-aid kits. 
  • Invest in a generator if you have a small business that depends on electricity.  Be sure that there is proper ventilation, as generators can cause electrical fires or carbon monoxide poisoning if used incorrectly.

 

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Calling a Snow Day

As you consider whether or not you should declare a “snow day,” consider the guidelines that the U.S. Department of Labor outlined for situations where inclement weather occurs (such as heavy snow or other types of disasters).

 

 

Utilizing Technology and Consultant Expertise

As technology used to predict the weather improves, some businesses are employing “business meteorology” – customizing their marketing strategies to target customers based on real-time changes in the weather. For more long-range strategic planning, small business owners may want to consult with one of the growing number of business meteorology consultancies that can predict weather fluctuations from several days to many months in advance. 

 

What are some of your tips to deal winter weather? Where have you found success in avoiding weather-related disruptions? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community below.

 

 

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Ideally, your holiday marketing approach should stem naturally from your yearlong promotional efforts.  However, if you find yourself slightly behind, or, if you’re looking to give your holiday sales a last minute kick in the pants, don’t fret. There are still many things you can do this season to make sure your store traffic (on- or offline) keeps flowing.

Here are five quick ways to switch up your holiday marketing:

 

Target Your Approach:  If you already have an opt-in program on your e-commerce site where customers can sign up to receive e-mail and text promotions, consider taking it a step further. With simple Web-tracking technology, you can now monitor customers’ past buying patterns and send highly targeted product promotions to customers via

e-mail and text.

 

Send Purchase Reminders:  During the ultra-busy gift-buying season, customers are likely to forget about some items they’ve left sitting in online shopping carts. You can take a strategic approach to giving your customers gentle reminders about incomplete purchases.  For example, you can send the first reminder one hour after “abandonment,” the second a day or two later and the third a week later.


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Blog About the Season:  Sticking exclusively to sales-oriented communication with customers can be a turn off. Even during the busy holiday season, customers can benefit from a break.  If you have a blog, now would be a good time to post entertaining holiday-themed content, tips on minimizing stress during the holidays or special recipes or news related to your core business.

 

Get in the Game:  Given the fun and festive nature of the holidays, this might be an opportunity to introduce gamification into your marketing mix.  Examples are points-based loyalty programs; customer-against-customer contests; and online games where customers earn credits they can spend in your retail outlet.


Choose Different Channels: No matter which approach you use the most, it is important to reach out to customers through a blend of different marketing vehicles.  Find the mix of social networking, blogging, mobile marketing, e-mails, printed material and events that keeps your business top of mind this holiday season.  Do you have any additional ideas?  Share them below.

 

 

Touchpoint

5 Places to Get Free Help

Posted by Touchpoint Nov 1, 2011

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngAs we near the end of 2011, the majority of small businesses (52%) still perceive that their top and biggest challenge is the general economic climate, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. So given that, where can you go to get help when you need it today, and without having it cost you a fortune?

 

 

Here are 5 places:

 

 

1. SCORE: SCORE is an amazing organization, made up of business executives and entrepreneurs. SCORE is an all-voluntary organization that offers free, confidential counseling and education on almost any subject you can name. Need help with a marketing campaign? SCORE can help. Opening an auto repair shop? A SCORE volunteer probably has done that too. SCORE matches you up with a counselor who will give you as much help as you need in your business, and if he cannot help you with some specific problem, there is another SCORE counselor who can. SCORE’s counseling sessions usually take place either at your place of business, in any one of SCORE’s almost 400 offices around the country, or, increasingly, online via email.

 

 

SCORE also offers a variety of small business workshops, both in its offices and online. In a typical year, SCORE will offer about 7,000 workshops and seminars and about 150,000 people typically attend. Some are free, and the others usually cost less than $50. And, how about this – even though there are about 10,000 SCORE volunteers nationwide, the organization is staffed and run by only 14 people. Everything else is handled by volunteers. It is an incredible organization and a great resource.

 

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

 

2. Small Business Development Centers (SBDC): SBDCs are an offshoot of the SBA intended to provide management and technical assistance to small business owners. There are SBDC’s around the country, and each is tied-in with a lead organization that sponsors the SBDC and helps run the program, such as a university or nonprofit organization. There is also a network of smaller centers and satellite locations in each state and these too are associated with universities, community colleges or nonprofits.

 

Similar to the SBA and SCORE, SBDCs offer counseling and other assistance to entrepreneurs. Volunteers come from chambers of commerce, the legal and banking communities, academia and SCORE. SBDCs also use paid staffers. This assistance can range from helping small businesses with financial issues and marketing to production, organization and even engineering and feasibility studies. SBDCs make a special effort to work with minority and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs, as well as veterans, women and the disabled.

 

 

3. The Small Business Administration (SBA) Website: What would you say if I told you that there is a website that helps small businesses in a variety of ways? That would be a pretty good resource to have, wouldn’t you say? Well there is and it is:

  • In its field offices throughout the United States, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam, the SBA offers classes, counseling and programs designed to help small businesses succeed at low or no cost.
  • After a natural disaster (Hurricane Katrina) or other major calamitous event (like September 11th), the SBA helps small businesses with disaster assistance.

 

4. Mentors: Having a mentor is one of the best ways to learn more about how to run a business. A business mentor can open doors, teach skills and provide valuable feedback. Where would you find one? Here are a few options:

  • Ask: Finding a mentor is often the result of simply asking someone who you admire if he/she would be willing to mentor you. Or just ask around. Tell people that you are looking for a mentor; you may be surprised at how willing people are to help.
  • Pay: If you know someone who knows what you want to learn but who probably would be disinclined to be your mentor, for whatever reason, consider buying their time. Is it ideal? No, but it may still work.
  • Click: There are many places online where you can find a mentor: SCORE, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC), SBDCs and via social media are a few other options.

 

 

5. Websites: There are many options here:

 

 


 

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.


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