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2012

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngRecently, I was speaking with a client at a large tech firm about her business and she was explaining to me that she was very busy because they had recently bought a smaller business and she was part of the team that was working to integrate the two companies. The companies faced all sorts of challenges combining their two distinct forces – work overlap, communication, and geography – but guess what the biggest issue was?

 

Culture.


 

The smaller business was still in startup mode and did things much more informally than its new big brother. That difference in styles was glaring to both businesses. The new owner wanted things done in a certain, professional way and the startup liked the laissez-faire attitude they were all used to. It was a culture clash.


 

While culture is one of those things that can seem important – but not that important – the truth may actually be the opposite. Why? Because culture is what happens when you, the small business owner, are not around. It is the air your employees breathe and the values you instill.

Now maybe you think that you don’t really have a culture in your small business, but you would be wrong – all businesses have a culture. Some cultures are by design, but most are by default, and that is too bad. If you are a grumpy, tough and a demanding boss, that is likely going to be the culture of your business. If you are friendly and foster teamwork, then that is likely your culture.

 

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

But beyond being the vibe and direction of your business, your culture is also how your employees will treat one another when you are not there. As such, creating a good culture is maybe the single most important thing you can do, so your small business can thrive without you needing to be involved in every detail. After all, if yours is a great place to work, it will still be so without your supervision. And if people don’t like working there, then when you are gone they will either goof off or worse, sabotage your business. Either way, your culture sets the tone.

The value of creating a positive business culture is that it allows employees to act appropriately, to understand what it is you are trying to accomplish and to implement that vision in their own unique way. It gives employees direction. In the end, it should also boost profits.

Here are six things you can do to create that valuable business culture:

 

 

1. Have clear goals and values and live by them: Successful small businesses usually have a plan of action that they get the entire team to buy into. Think about what your business values and goals are and then enlist your people into living them on a daily basis.

 

2. Communicate and listen: If you communicate what you want and expect, if you listen to what employees want and expect, and if you involve employees in the decision-making process, people will begin to own the results. Communication could be a quarterly “state of the business” report, or it could be a one-on-one meeting devoted to career goals. The important thing is that employees hear what is going on, know where things are headed, and feel free to offer feedback and suggestions.

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3. Make sure employees feel that they are part of a team: A sense of teamwork creates a superior business culture. Go to a game together. Help a charity together. At McKormick & Company in Baltimore, employees are encouraged to work one extra day a year in honor of the charity of their choice, they then donate their pay for the day to that charity and the company matches their pay dollar for dollar. Ninety percent of employees participate.

 

 

4. Reward your staff: Whether they are big rewards (profit sharing) or small ones (a gift certificate,) rewarding employees creates a positive culture.

 

 

5. Expect excellence: Demand excellence and reward it. Do your best, help employees to do their best, and work together to create results of which you can all be proud.

 

 

6. Have fun: The whole point of venturing out on your own is to create a business that you love. Sure it can be serious and stressful at times, but don’t lose the forest for the trees. Workplaces where employees are encouraged to do their work and have a good time have been shown to be more productive than places where work is everything.


 

Implementing even a few of these ideas can go a long way towards building a small business that will not only be a great place to work, but will prosper in the process. What type of culture do you currently have at your small business? Is it what you imagined? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community below.


 

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.

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngSmall business pop quiz: Which employees are entitled to overtime and which are not? What workplace benefits are required and which are perks? The answers to these types of questions are of course important, vital even to the success of your business, but many small business owners do not know the answers.

 

And that begs two questions: First, when you own a business, where do you go to get legal information? And second, are there common legal issues of which you need to be especially aware? For the second question, the answer of course is “yes,” and we will get to those in a moment. As far as where you can go to first get up to speed, here are a few options:

 

The Small Business Administration: The SBA should be your first stop when researching workplace rules and laws. For example, SBA.gov has an excellent piece entitled 10 Steps to Hiring Your First Employee, which covers everything from forms you need to fill out and file to getting an Employer Identification Number.

 

After that, you should also check out the SBA’s section on Business Law and Regulations. This area will help you learn more about environmental laws, relevant e-commerce laws, advertising laws and more.

 

The IRS: A good portion of your business life is undoubtedly consumed by taxes. The good news is that the IRS has a great one-stop shop that can help you unclutter the clutter and work your way through the maze that can sometimes be federal tax regulations. The IRS’ Self-Employment and Small Business Tax Center offers not only articles and publications, but also videos and webinars.

 

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO): USPTO.gov is another valuable legal research resource. When you own a business, you need to protect your inventions, logos and other types of intellectual property. What you can and cannot protect, and how to do so, can be found at USPTO. The government’s copyright office is similarly valuable.

 

SCORE: SCORE counselors are individuals with business experience and meeting with one, either online or in person, can help you get a general overview of what you need to legally know.

 

Websites: There are many websites that offer the basics in business legalities, along with software, necessary forms and more. A Google search will help you find these.

 

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

 

 

Now, as to that second question, while it is beyond the scope of an article like this one to specifically answer any legal questions, what should be helpful is a list of those workplace laws and situations that commonly trip-up entrepreneurs, so here you go:

 

1. Employee or independent contractor? Labeling an employee an independent contractor can be a costly mistake, so it would behoove you to know the difference between the two. While the resources above can help with that, understand that the general rule is that an independent contractor is called that for a reason – he or she must truly be independent.

 

Independent contractors:

  • Set their own pay
  • Make their own schedule
  • Decide when and where to work
  • May work for several businesses
  • Are truly independent

 

2. Overtime or not? Another issue that can easily trip up an employer is whether or not a certain employee should be paid for overtime. Essentially, hourly employees are entitled to overtime, whereas exempt employees are not.  An exempt employee typically holds managerial, executive, administrative, professional or outside sales positions. They usually get a salary in weekly, bi-weekly or monthly payments.  Check with your CPA regarding your specific situation.

 

 

3. No discrimination: The basic rule is this: When hiring, promoting, or firing, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Therefore, even when interviewing people for a job, questions that touch on those subjects should be avoided, as the answers should be irrelevant to your hiring decision.

 

Bottom line: Knowing what is and is not legally expected of you, and how to protect yourself, is critical. Do any of these laws surprise you? Share your thoughts below.

 

 


 

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.

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium2.pngWhat is it that separates the good small business from the great small business? Many things come into play:

 

  • Innovation: Better businesses tend to be more willing to innovate and try new things.
  • The team: When VCs invest in a startup, one of the most critical things they look at is the quality of the management team. Good ideas with a great team have a greater likelihood of getting funding than a great idea with a good team.

 

But probably the most important thing when it comes to going from good to great, or small to big, is this: Vision. The best businesses, big and small alike actually, are businesses that have a “Big Vision”.


In the video below, I sat down with some great small business owners who had some very specific ideas of what they wanted their business to accomplish this year. While I spoke with them around the first of the year and so their plans necessarily took the form of a New Year’s resolution, what was equally clear is that they had ongoing resolutions for their business. Their vision necessitated it.  And the same should be true for you.


 

 

Consider this: When he died, Joe Wilson, founder of Xerox (a company that was started with two people), was found with a small blue index card that he apparently had kept in his wallet. It said, in part, “To attain serenity through the leadership of a business which brings happiness to its workers, serves its customers and brings prosperity to its owners.”

 

That is one impressive corporate vision.

 

Or this: In 1945, Masaru Ibuka started a new company with $1,600 in the bombed-out basement of a department store in Tokyo – as bad a place and time to start a business as possible. Yet Ibuka quickly created a vision for his nascent company. Sony would be a place:

 

  • “Where engineers can feel the joy of technological innovation.”
  • That would “pursue dynamic activities . . . for the reconstruction of Japan.”
  • That would “welcome technical difficulties.”

 

So having a vision about what you want your business to be is a necessary first step in creating the sort of business you really want. That said, and as we all know, business success takes a lot more than just having a grand vision.

 

 

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

 

The real key is that you need to have specific, realistic goals and steps to carry out that vision. After all, waxing rhapsodic about your dreams and grand plans is all well and good, but if that doesn’t relate to the actual day-to-day, nitty-gritty of running your business, then it really is all for naught.

 

And to do that, you need to make some real-world resolutions. Resolutions are the compass that guide your business towards your vision.

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If you are looking to create an exceptional business – one that makes a good profit and makes a big difference (however defined), then you need to have your own vision, and resolutions will allow you to head in the direction of that vision.

 

The good news is that it is never too late to come up with your own resolutions. Take a look at the video and see what sorts of goals these small business owners have for their business. Hopefully it will give you some ideas and prompt you to make your resolutions for your business.

 

Do that, and you are well on your way to having the business you long envisioned. 

 

 

 


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.

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngThere are all sorts of clients you can have when you are in business, and most are pretty good. The valuable client, the friendly client, the repeat client – yeah, we love them. But what about the troublesome client, the difficult client? No, we don’t love them so much.

 

What makes for difficult clients? It could be any number of things:

 

  • They are too demanding or unrealistic in their expectations
  • They might be belligerent
  • They may complain excessively
  • They ask for revision upon revision
  • They don’t respect your time, work, or efforts

 

Whatever the case, they are called “the difficult client” for a reason. The question then becomes, what do you do about them?

Here are four ways to deal with, cope and handle a problematic client:

 

1. Appeasement: No, this may not be what you want to hear, but it also may be realistic, depending upon the situation. Some difficult clients are so hard to manage that they require drastic measures, but that is not always the case. Many times (usually when this client really helps pay the bills) it behooves you to just say yes, deal with it and carry on as best you can. Sure telling them to go fly a kite may feel good, but feeling good doesn’t pay the rent.

 

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

 

By the same token, aside from just dealing with it, the smart choice can often be to try to see things from their point of view. Why do they keep sending you those emails? Maybe they have pressures that you don’t know of, and in that case, your extra communication can be very valuable and welcome.

 

2. Take charge: People often test the limits of relationships to see how much they can get away with – to see where the line is. If you have kids, you know this to be the case. This is as true in business as it is in other relationships, so it is your job sometimes to draw the line and let the difficult client know that there in fact is a line.

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Regardless of your intensions, you have trained your client to get away with this behavior, or maybe more accurately, he or she has trained you to take it. The thing to do therefore is to get ahead of the situation. Take charge.

 

This will require more communication on your part. Explain that your time is valuable, that their relationship with you is also valuable and that you have some suggestions for how you can better work together. Then, after you take a stand, don’t chicken out. If the client demands extra revisions, this time taking charge may mean letting the client know that there will be an extra fee.

 

They even may respect you for it.

 

3. Protect yourself: Aside from working to re-train your client, you should not forget to protect yourself as you do because you never know when a small problem with a difficult client may turn into a big problem. In that case, you want to be able to cover your rear end:

 

  • Keep copies of all of your work
  • Retain all emails and letters
  • Document phone calls, meetings, advice and instructions

 

4. Fire them: Some clients are just not worth the effort. Try as you might to appease them and work with them, train them and deal with them, there simply are times when – no matter how much money they pay – it’s still not worth it.

 

Of course it is scary. It’s never easy letting go of a paying client. But you will likely find that two things will come as a result. First, you will be very relieved. And second, you will open up space and time to be filled by someone else who treats you with the respect you deserve.



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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