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2012

It’s that time of year again – fall is officially here. And one of the least-celebrated parts of fall, one that I think could stand to be celebrated more, is the onset of Daylight Savings Time. After all, we all know that two major pain points for most small businesses are not having enough time and not having enough money. Well, here’s a chance for you to gain a little extra time – one hour, to be exact!

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The basic idea is that if time is money, then having more time equals having (or making) more money. And you don’t need a full day – with some of these simple tricks, you can make good use of that extra hour.


Here’s how:


1. Get organized: Because we are all so busy, one of the biggest time-wasters we face is nothing more than the inefficiency that comes from being, well, a little (or a lot as the case may be) disorganized. The first step in any efficiency plan is, not surprisingly, to get organized. Increased organization comes in two ways:

  • First, plan your day in the morning (here’s a chance to use your extra hour!). Spending a few minutes to plot the day ahead by setting goals and prioritizing tasks will make you far more productive.
  • Second, don’t just organize your day, but also organize your space. Put things where they belong. Keep your desk neater. Always have the right supplies on hand.


It is estimated that an increase in organization can yield up to an extra two hours of productive time a week and up to an additional six percent in revenue.


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


How? Well, think about it. One thing you can do with that extra time is that you can take better care of your customers. Now, an hour a day may not seem like much, but what if you used that hour to its maximum effectiveness? You could check in with customers, make some sales calls, or make sure you are caught up on invoices/orders.

Being more organized means being more efficient, more effective, and more profitable. It's as simple, and as important, as that.


2. Own your software, and don't let it own you: It’s amazing how often small business owners buy great software to help them with their business, but fail to take the extra time necessary to really learn how to use it.


Software manufacturers spend enormous amounts of time and money learning about small businesses, and they use that knowledge to make programs to help us succeed. Take advantage of that. Devote your extra hour to learning how to really use that new software you purchased.

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3. Slay your inbox: It is probably safe to say that there is no bigger time-consuming culprit these days than the deadly email inbox. How many times have you checked your email today? Exactly. So if you want to be more effective you need to get a handle on your email. Here are a few ways:

  • Unplug: One easy way to get ahead of the never-ending inbox is to simply go offline and answer your email without having to constantly see and deal with what’s incoming. Respond to everything that needs a response, then log-on to the Internet and hit ‘send.’ This is especially good to do with your extra hour early in the day, when folks are less likely to bombard you with emails.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel: If you send out the same email, or same response, fairly regularly, create a canned email that you can copy and paste, or – better yet – use a software tool like TextExpander to create the response in a few keystrokes.
  • Outsource it: I reference Tim Ferriss’ book The 4-Hour Workweek often, and for good reason – Ferriss’ tips are indispensable for everyday efficiency. Regarding email, Ferriss suggests that the key to handling a heavy load is to have a virtual assistant do the vast majority of it for you. You train them, they answer the emails, and only send you the few, important ones that actually do require your response.


4. Get the help you need: One of my favorite efficiency quotes ever is, “If you don’t have an assistant, you are an assistant.” Far too many small business people try and do everything themselves, it’s no wonder they are tired and stressed out. Getting some help frees you up from the mundane and allows you to use your time more effectively, so you can do what you should be doing: growing your business.


What are you able to do with one extra hour in your day? Share with the community below.


About Steve Strauss

 

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

 

3D_body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

 

This Yoda doll represents more than just some Star Wars geek’s fandom. It’s how this little plastic Jedi Master was built that ought be of interest. The model was constructed a fraction of a millimeter at a time out of plastic via a process known as three-dimensional (3D) printing—a method that a growing number of entrepreneurs are embracing, and a concept that some say could revolutionize manufacturing as we know it.

 

The machinery involved is not new, but the way it’s being used is, and it’s altering the way prototypes are built and empowering innovators. In recent months, fans of 3D have watched a steady flow of can-you-top-this reports of breakthroughs, as scientists and even garage tinkerers have gone public with ideas on how to build everything from body parts to medical devices to an entire race car. Even Jay Leno’s doing it—printing his own antique car parts.

 

3D_PQ.jpgIf this sounds like just another breathless description of the latest futuristic do-dad, hold off on your skepticism for a bit. A quick look at design-oriented small businesses—from jewelry makers to architectural firms to shops dedicated to fabricating prototypes—show transformations in how businesses are working and thinking because of 3D printing. One upshot: Bad news for middlemen everywhere.

 

“For a long time now, production has been shifting away from the people doing the designing. They became the liaison—not the builder anymore—and the makers were more removed,” says James Moustafellos, an architect by training and the associate director of Temple University’s Center for Design + Innovation. With 3D printing, “as the technology advances, it’s bringing the building back to the designer, and eliminating the middleman. It’s allowing the person doing the drawing to then become the builder. It completely upends 150 years of roles and methods.”

 

Understanding 3D printing

Here’s how the 3D printing process works: It starts with drawing an object on a computer or tablet, taking into account three dimensions of the item. From there, the details must be shipped through software that slices the design into thousands of layers and translates the data for the printer. (Some sites, like Thingiverse, let you download digital designs shared by other 3D enthusiasts.)

 

On the printer side, the process may seem a bit similar to home or office copiers. The difference with 3D printing is what replaces the traditional “ink” in the cartridge. Using an array of materials that include everything from plastics and ceramics to sterling silver, gold and even chocolate, the printer head moves across the glass screen, applying a layer of the material where the data dictates. Then it repeats that cycle over and over, building up the model until the form is complete. Depending on the complexity of the design and the material it is composed of, the printing job can be finished in hours. The time and cost savings can be dramatic, and top-end machines are capable of heretofore impossibly intricate work.

 

Drew Lanza has been designing and developing perfume-bottle concepts for seven years; he’s been utilizing in-house 3D printing for more than two years. Previously, his five-employee New York firm, Syntax, sent preliminary product designs to an outside shop for prototyping, but he’s brought the work back into the office. “It’s helped me tremendously. Design iterations happen extremely fast—we can do it for them within in a few hours right here,” he says. “By having that aspect in-house, we can test things out by looking at them in reality rather than in digital. It just speeds up the process by days or weeks.”

 

Syntax’s prototypes still go to a fabricator for complicated, final versions made of materials like glass or lucite, but by solving early design issues with the in-house 3D printing, it has saved him and his clients thousands of dollars on intermediate iterations. Lanza says clients love the ability to hold a prospective design in their hands—and it also helps him in trying to sell an idea or design concept.

 

Getting started

How can a novice get started? It can be a relatively inexpensive to experiment. Here’s a quick look at the tools you might need:

 

  • Software

“It is a different world, and you have to think differently” when it comes to 3D, says Annamari Mikkola, a Connecticut jewelry designer and art director. She uses a combination of Pixologic’s ZBrush and Rhino, and ships her work to Shapeways, a Netherlands, New York, and Seattle-based startup that uses professional-grade 3D printers to fabricate models within 10 business days.

 

Designers say the changes are dramatic. Before, “it would take hours of designing and soldering, but the active time was much longer and cumbersome,” Mikkola says. “Now, it’s digital and as a process it’s so fluid. My ‘hourly rate,’ so to speak, is better because I don’t have to do everything.” Other upsides: She no longer has to keep expensive precious metals on hand, nor does she need to bring soldering equipment and various chemicals into her home studio, where she balances work and her two young kids. “It’s much cleaner and easy for me that way,” she says.

 

Other worthy software: Cubify, Tinkercad, and now Autodesk, the home of AutoCAD design software, has a suite of free apps geared toward makers and 3D printing users, including 123D (for designing), 123D Catch (which can convert photos into a three-dimensional model), 123D Sculpt (involving “digital clay” that you can manipulate on an iPad to make a 3D form).

 

“We are not going to see run-of-the-mill designs anymore,” says Christian Pramuk, a product manager at Autodesk. “Having several iterations where you finally need to get it right, or the design intent wasn’t properly communicated—that can take weeks or months. Being able to explore and design on your own and iterating on that quickly is important.”

 

  • Printers

Prices have come down in recent years, as industrial-scale machinery has been adapted to attract hobbyists and designers.

 

If you’re looking to buy your own, the market (and 3D community) leader is MakerBot. Their latest entrant, the “plug-and-play” Replicator 2, is drawing comparisons to early game-changers like Apple’s first Macintosh computer from the likes of Wired magazine. At $2,199, it may be a steep investment for a newbie, but may prove worthwhile if you want a simplified version of the technology that dedicated tinkerers are using. Among other numerous options: For less than $500, there’s the Solidoodle and a bit higher on the chain, there’s MakerGear’s M Series 3D, for $1,299 if you want to assemble yourself, or $1,499 for an already-built model. The printing materials—the “ink,” for the 3D printer—cost anywhere from $25 and up.

 

Or you can build your own 3D printer, as Jonathan Hirschman did. The Brooklyn-based owner of Pieco and a founder of the New York Meetup group MakeItNYC assembled his MakerGear Mosaic M2 from a kit over three days. Granted, he had to wade through thousands of components and then deal with a lack of an operating manual, so that’s probably not an option if you’re the type to struggle with putting together a bookcase from IKEA. Still, Hirschman notes that, no matter how you access it, 3D printing has become a real game-changer for people who want to create things. “It’s a democratization of a lot of technologies that were out of reach.”

 

If that’s too daunting, there are numerous services online that will print your project for you, including Shapeways, Sculpteo, i.Materialise or Moddler. (Price-wise, plan to spend anywhere from a few dollars on a small item to $100 or more on larger projects.) Or you can find any number of specialized printing firms or new-wave community machine shops, like TechShop or San Diego’s MakerPlace, that have been established to rent out access to entrepreneurial tinkerers. It’s a setup that appeals to small business owners with an eye on the bottom line.

 

“If I want to make a prototype, I can make one. If I want to make something custom, I can make one. I don’t have to send it to some injection-mold facility where, just to get the prototype, might cost thousands of dollars,” says Mikkola, of her jewelry designs. “People want more and more customized stuff. It’s mass customization. People just want something special and something made specifically for them.“

 

And even if you can’t get the hang of 3D designing, Mikkola says go ahead and hire someone who can do it for you. “Team up with a designer and go for it,” she says, laughing. “The possibilities are limitless.”

Over the past year I have had the opportunity to meet some really great entrepreneurs from all across the country through my relationship with my friends here at Bank of America. Traveling from the Great Northwest to Dallas, from D.C. and on to New York, I have been able to sitSteve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png down and chat with scores of successful small business owners.

 

The topics we discussed were as varied as their businesses:

 

  • What works in your business?
  • What have you had to change?
  • How did you survive the no-so-Great Recession?
  • What tricks might you have to share with your fellow Small Business Community members?

 

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

 

 

Below you can see the wrap-up video of these chats as well as a synthesis of these small business owners’ words of wisdom. I believe that we can all benefit from what was a very valuable exercise in small business crowdsourcing.

 

 

The first lesson that emerged is that, in this hyper-competitive age when you are competing against not only the shop around the corner but also the business across the sea, it is vital for any small business owner to maintain a significant personal connection with his or her customers.

 

This is even truer with your most important customers— that is, the 20% who make up 80% of your business, (see, generally, the 80-20 Rule). These customers are constantly given reasons by the competition to switch vendors. The fact is, your most valuable customers are probably your company’s most valuable asset, so you should treat them as such.

 

Additionally, as small business owner and executive coach Ora Shtull told me, it is actually very easy these days to see where your customers congregate— and go there. Trade shows, Starbucks, conferences— if your customers are there, then you should be too.

 

Beyond that, according to restaurateur Brian Kelly, even something as simple as taking the time to say hello and remember a customer’s name goes a long way to forging a relationship that can last for years. As my brother the salesman says, “Remember their name and you are halfway home.”

 

This lesson was reinforced and reiterated in a slightly different way by Phil McKenzie, who thinks that it is equally important to communicate with your customers online as well as off. And yes my friends, this means jumping into the deep end of the social media pool.

 

You do not need to be on every social media platform out there— Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, to name a few— but you do have to master at least one. So which one should you choose? The one your customers are most likely to use. For example, if your clientele is primarily women, you may want to create a powerful presence on Pinterest, since about two-thirds of all Pinterest users are women.

 

An interesting adjunct to this social media discussion is the fact that, unfortunately, most small businesses are not using social media to its full capacity. According to the inaugural Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, only 47% of small business owners are using social media to offer discounts, deals and coupons to customers. This is a big problem because social media is an incredible vehicle for real-time customer engagement of this kind, and over half of small business owners are not utilizing it

 

If you are not doing that, well, what are you waiting for? Get with the plan, Stan.

 

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Finally, one last clear theme that came through in these interviews is that the best small businesses do not just offer good value at a fair price, but rather, they offer exceptional value. What does that mean? Well, take small business owner Carissa Reiniger, for instance. She routinely makes it a practice to send articles, clips, videos and other recommendations to her customers for no other reason than she thinks they will find them valuable.

 

Of course, no one likes to be sold to all the time— so don’t constantly sell. Instead, offer customers something besides your products; share with them ideas that you think would be of benefit to them, not you. Do that, and they will become raving fans, and you will have a ravingly successful business.

 

Have you checked out the entire ‘Big Ideas for Small Business’ YouTube series? You can do so here, and share your thoughts below!


About Steve Strauss

 

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

ProtectPremises_Body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

 

If you think that because you own a small business, you don’t have to worry about big business security threats like burglary, employee theft, and cyberattacks, you’re not alone. But that doesn’t mean you’re right.

 

According to a recent study conducted by security vendor Symantec and the National Cyber Security Alliance, most small businesses labor under a false sense of security when it comes to their online data. Nearly 80 percent of those polled said they lack a formal written Internet security policy for employees, with only 52 percent admitting they have a plan in place for dealing with hackers, viruses, or other cyber-ills. Also, less than one in ten small businesses were concerned with losing such critical data as consumer information even though such a loss would be ruinous to their business, with past statistics suggesting that roughly 60 percent of small businesses close within six months of a cyberattack.

 

ProtectPremises_PQ.jpgThese are shocking stats. And when you compound them with the fact that losses from physical theft cost U.S. businesses billions of dollars each year, there’s no doubt that the need to protect one’s premises, inventory, and intellectual property is more important than ever. How then can small business owners safeguard their property from criminals? And what about the ever-ubiquitous threat of hackers in cyberspace, who may steal with one flick on the keyboard the customer data that could be the lifeline for your business?


Consider the price of lost data

Savas Papadopoulos, chief technology officer of the Baltimore, Maryland-based FastNeuron Inc., sells backup software for servers and workstations and has over 30,000 users worldwide. He says the unique value of your data is a key variable to consider when looking at backup servers that will protect a small business’s information.

Papadopoulos urges small business owners to build in “redundant” systems and adopt a wealth of options, such as multiple backup servers. “[Small businesses] need backups in different locations in case their office is broken into, flooded, or catches fire,” he explains. “The most important thing business owners need to do is imagine the worst-case scenario:  What if all your computers break down? This could happen if lightning strikes a nearby power pole and the surge enters the building. How much would it cost to reconstruct all the data? For most businesses, the cost of backing up is miniscule compared to the potential losses.”

Michael Krutikov, senior global marketing manager for Symantec’s SMB backup and recovery business, wholeheartedly agrees. He notes, “small businesses should understand what types of systems they have running, what types of applications they have and which files are most critical. It’s embarrassing to call your customers to request their information over again. Losing data really impacts small business [productivity].”


Evaluate the level of risk of potential on-site criminal activity

To prevent break-ins, all small businesses need to perform a risk assessment of their premises. For businesses that have a normal level of risk, the owner should install a burglar alarm, one that is functioning and serviced regularly. Plus, make sure that the employee access protocol list, which contains the name of several employees that a security firm will contact in the event that an alarm is activated, is up-to-date and active.


This is a critical best practice says David Walsh, co-founder of Netwatch a global provider of surveillance systems that counts small businesses as 85 percent of its client base. “It’s important that those three to four names are still active in the organization so they can be notified,” he says.

However, if you believe your business is at immediate high risk, then Walsh strongly recommends that you install a hidden surveillance system, such as a closed-circuit television (CCTV) that will detect criminal activity both inside and outside your property. (And if you think that the threat of employee theft is exaggerated, consider this: According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, three out of four employees will steal from their place of business this year, one of those employees will steal repeatedly and 75 percent of employee-related crimes will go unnoticed. The Chamber estimates that employee theft costs American businesses between $20 billion to $40 billion a year).


To illustrate his point, Walsh relates an example involving a Boston-based client, Falmouth Toyota, a family-run car dealership. “They had situations whereby intruders would steal components of cars to resell,” he says. After Netwatch installed a CCTV on the premises, the culprits were caught engaging in the theft on camera and the information passed to police.


Train your staff to keep a lookout for suspicious customer behavior

Is someone lingering a little too long in the dressing room at your boutique? Or loitering at a display, their eyes darting around while their hands fiddle with your wares? Even if you do have CCTV presence in your store, you should never completely defer to technology. Always have staffers trained to spot potential shoplifters. Conduct training sessions on what to look out for and document these security policies in writing.


Keep private offices and filing cabinets locked at all times

This may sound like obvious common sense, but it bears repeating because it could prevent a loss of documents and avoid untold damage to your business. Nip it in the bud with this obvious security measure.


Use a non-generic password for servers and mail

Joel Gross is the founder and CEO of Coalition Technologies, a three-year-old LA- and Seattle-based Internet web design and marketing firm. He can vouch for this bit of advice about passwords from his own personal experience.  

 

“I actually had a poorly constructed password for my Google Apps business account,” recalls Gross. “It was ‘p@ssw0rd.’ Someone was able to hack it and sent a bunch of spam e-mails to clients, which is very embarrassing since I run a web development firm and am supposed to know better.” 

 

Gross advises small business owners to create computer passwords that are “necessarily complicated and have almost nothing to do with your business or products. Even for amateur hackers getting past generic passwords is very simple. Many of them keep running lists of the most common passwords. For instance, ‘technologies123’ would not be prudent. The best password will have nothing to do with your business and include number patterns as well as random capitalization. Also, if an employee quits or leaves on bad terms, make sure that all passwords are updated immediately.” 

 

Whether it’s merchandise, money, or data, it’s imperative that all small business owners design and implement a security system that will prevent valuables from ending up in the possession of criminals. With businesses becoming a frequent target for criminal activity these days, there’s no excuse for security laxity. Investing in precautionary measures will safeguard your business and your time.   

SolotoStaff_Body.jpgby Susan Caminiti.

 

When Julie Subotky started her professional planning company, Consider It Done, in Aspen, Colorado, she delighted in doing everything herself. An executive needed to charter a private jet? She took care of it. A couple wanted to throw a lavish New Year’s Eve party but didn’t have the time to organize it? Subotky attended to every detail. But by the time she moved her thriving business to New York City in 1998, one thing was becoming abundantly clear, she recalls: “I was going in way too many directions and I needed to start hiring people if I was going to keep this business going.”

 

SolotoStaff_PQ.jpgThere comes a time when many small business owners realize that no matter how talented, energetic, or passionate they are about the company they’ve created, they’re going to need help running it. Hiring that first employee is a critical next step in expanding the business and allowing entrepreneurs to focus on the areas of the company in which they truly excel.

           

“There’s only one reason to hire an employee,” says Gene Fairbrother, president of MBA Consulting Inc., a Dallas-based firm that specializes in start-ups and small business issues. “Does that position add profitability to the bottom line?” Fairbrother is quick to point out that there are several ways to accomplish that. Ask yourself: Will the additional help add to the revenue stream, as in the case of a store owner hiring a salesperson or two? Or, if you’re a consultant or attorney, for instance, does hiring a bookkeeper or marketing person enable you to delegate those functions and therefore increase the time you have to generate more revenue for the business? “Both scenarios add to the bottom line of the business, but do so in a different way,” he explains.

           

Have a plan

Making the decision to bring on employees is only half the battle, say the experts. Finding the person with the skills that will best complement you—and the business—is the real challenge. “Most small business owners are terrible at interviewing,” is the blunt assessment of Ben Dattner, consultant and author of The Blame Game, a book that looks at the role of who takes credit and assigns blame in determining a business’s success. “They operate under the illusion that they’re better at it than they actually are and that makes them shockingly inaccurate in hiring the right people.”

 

One of the most common mistakes small business owners make in the hiring process is not having a written description of the position they’re looking to fill. “If you don’t have that, you’ll never find the right person because you don’t really know what you’re looking for,” says Dattner.

 

The first employee Subotky hired was an assistant, a decision she would reconsider today. “I wanted to offload some of the things I was doing,” she explains. “But I think a better strategy would have been to hire someone with the skills and strengths that I had less of. I can do the bookkeeping for my company, but it’s not my strongest suit. A lot of small business owners tend to hire people we like and who are similar to us when what we really need to do is hire people who have different skills than we have.”

 

Fairbrother suggests writing down the basic duties of the position and the skills needed to perform the job. Clearly, a bookkeeper requires a different skill set than an IT person, but without some sort of checklist for each position, it’s difficult to compare and contrast potential hires, he says.

 

Be patient—and listen

Once the interviewing process begins, let the candidates do the talking. Despite the urge to regale each potential hire with the story of how you started the company, your job is to listen, says Fairbrother. “As the interviewer, you should be listening 75 percent of the time,” he says. “If you’re talking, you’re not really learning anything about the person in front of you.”

 

Dattner suggests starting with these interview questions to gauge not only skills, but also how well the candidate will fit into your organization:

 

  • In what ways will this role help you stretch your professional capabilities?
  • What have been your greatest areas of improvement in your career?
  • What’s the toughest criticism you’ve ever received and how did you learn from it?
  • What are people likely to misunderstand about you?

 

No matter how impressive a candidate may seem, Fairbrother cautions against making an offer after the first interview. “Most small business owner hate interviewing so much, they want to hire the first person that seems right for the job,” he says. “The first round of interviews is to eliminate the people you don’t want. The second round is to select among the best candidates. Call references. Get input from your other employees, if you have any. But above all, take your time. Being rushed often results in hiring the wrong person and then after a few months of misery, having to go through the whole hiring process again.”

 

Set expectations

Along with a written description of the position you’re looking to fill, another good idea is to create an employee policy manual. The very act of putting one together, say the experts, forces a small business owner to think about—and define—the payroll, vacation policy, benefits, and performance evaluation process that you want for your business.

 

Subotky says no detail is too small to spell out. She recalls one employee coming to work in sweatpants because she knew her day involved office work. “Even if I had wanted her to meet with a client, I couldn’t have sent her out the way she was dressed,” she says. Now, Subotky explains in her employee manual how her six employees are expected to dress for work each day. “I think people want to know what’s expected of them even in a small company,” she says. “I know it’s helped me to have an employee manual because it makes it easier when I bring on a new person. Everything is in writing and easy to refer to.”

 

Don’t micromanage

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of hiring your first employee is coming to terms with what it will mean for you, the small business owner. Dattner counsels entrepreneurs to ask themselves if they truly are ready to change and adapt. “Hiring someone means ceding control of certain things,” he says. “You have to trust and you have to delegate.” That’s not always easy, as many small business owners will attest. But as Subotky says, “I do believe it’s the only way to really grow your company.”

ToughOrLiked_Body.jpgby Susan Caminiti.

 

Long after Machiavelli first posed the evocative question of whether it is better to be loved or feared, small business owners still wrestle with similar concerns. But should they have to? Can entrepreneurs be tough, effective leaders and still be liked (or even loved) by their employees?

 

The short answer is yes—but with some caveats, say the experts. Effective leadership comes down to setting clear goals, communicating those goals to your employees, and then holding workers accountable for meeting them, says Mike Staver, CEO of The Staver Group, a coaching and professional development firm, and author of the book Leadership Isn’t for Cowards. “Holding people accountable is not mean and it doesn’t indicate that you’re a bad person; it’s simply good business,” he says. The trouble, Staver believes, comes when small business owners sacrifice any or all of that strategy in order to be viewed by the staff as a good guy or gal.

 

When working with his small business clients, Staver says one of his first recommendations is: Don’t take things so personally. “Most [owners] want to be liked and that clouds how they deal with business issues,” he explains. “They personalize discussions or disagreements with employees when it really has nothing to do with them.”

 

ToughOrLiked_PQ.jpgStaver recalls working with a small business owner who was angry with one of his vice presidents over a performance issue, yet concerned that she would still like him. “I tried to impress upon him that the situation really had nothing to do with him personally no matter how it felt to him,” Staver explains. “Striving to be nice all the time can turn into enabling someone not to do their best.”

 

Be Decisive

Bryan Janeczko found that out the hard way. He’s the founder and CEO of Wicked Start, a web-based service that helps entrepreneurs with the basics of getting their businesses off the ground. Not long after he started his company in 2010, he hired a woman he had worked with on a past project to be a senior manager.

 

After about a month, Janezko says he realized he had made a mistake. “I knew from our past dealings that she was smart, but I was starting to see that she had no ability to connect with other people and it was affecting the rest of the staff,” he recalls. Janeczko had a few sit-downs with the executive over the next six months to clear the air but nothing was improving. It got to the point where she was telling him to communicate with her only through email or text, not phone calls.

 

A few months later Janeczko says he finally made the decision to fire her. “I know I let it go on longer than I should have,” he admits now. “I want to like my staff and I want them to like me, but what I realized was that you can’t change people and I should have acted on that knowledge sooner.”

 

Put it in Writing

The informal nature of many small businesses can lead owners to send out mixed signals about what’s expected of employees. One day you’re a calm and understanding boss, and the next day a customer complaint or late delivery has you panicked and impatient.

 

“Even if you don’t have a lot of time, put your expectations in writing and get a reply back from employees so that everyone knows what’s required of them,” recommends Nancy Ancowitz, a business communication coach in New York City, and author of Self Promotion for Introverts. “You might think you’re being a nice guy by simply telling people to do their best, but that’s not nearly enough information and employees deserve more than that.”

 

Set Boundaries

It’s also crucial to know your limitations as the boss. Yes, it’s important to be sensitive to your employees’ needs—especially when there are just a handful of workers—but certain boundaries are best left uncrossed. Says Staver: “You can be empathetic without getting caught up in the details of an employee’s life. Remember, you’re not their therapist and you’re not their priest.”

 

Nor do you need to be their banker. Rennu Dhillon, the founder and CEO of Genius Kids, a chain of learning centers in the San Francisco Bay area, discovered that when an employee asked her for a loan. She gave the worker the money—and established a schedule for repaying it—but felt taken advantage of nonetheless. “If I asked this person to switch her schedule or fill in for someone else, she would never do it,” Dhillon says. “It was a one-way street.”

 

As a result, Dhillon says she’s learned to keep a certain distance between herself and her 30 employees. “I’m not unapproachable, but I’m tough,” she says. “I make it very clear now what my expectations are. I’ve become the bad cop and I let my other senior managers play good cop with the staff.” As for employees who ask for loans, Dhillon has a simple, straightforward response: No. “I tell them it’s company policy,” she says. “That keeps me out of the uncomfortable position of having to explain myself anytime someone would ask.”

 

While the shift in her leadership style was a bit unsettling at first, Dhillon says she’s happy with the results. “Our productivity is better and I’m hiring people who are going to do the job well, not just people I like or who I think are going to like me,” she says. Then she adds, “When you start out, you hire employees and try to be their friend. You want it to be a great, fun place to work. But as your business grows, it gets harder to be their friend and their boss. My belief now is that this is work and we all don’t have to love each other, but we do have to respect each other.”

 

Staver says it’s a message he hears from his own clients as well. “When you think about it,” he says, “the best compliment for a small business owner is ‘She’s nice, but you better get the job done.’”

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngA while back I wrote a column that seemed to strike a nerve, called “Top 10 Signs You Are a Good Boss.” As I look at the list, I think I missed the boat a bit on “#3 – You lead.” In that section I said, “You are their boss, not their friend (well, you might be their friend too, but that’s beside the point.) Your job at work is to set an example, have a vision and get people to buy into that vision. You know – be a leader.”

 

Close, but no cigar.

 

Yes, your job is to have a vision and get your team to buy into that vision, but what I think now is that being a leader in a small business requires more than just setting the tone. When you run a business, you are a leader in many more ways than that, whether you want to be or not.

 

Here then are 5 ways to be an effective leader in your organization:

 

1. Create a positive culture: All small businesses have a culture. Most are by default and only a few are by design. That’s too bad, because of all of the things that you can do to be an effective leader and help your business grow, very few are more powerful than creating a great culture.

 

Are you a jerk? Then you likely have a jerk culture. Conversely, do you encourage employees to take care of customers, each other and themselves? Then your employees will follow that example. Your culture is the air your company breathes. It is the values you work by. Your culture sets the tone for how things should be done and how you want them done, especially when you are not around.

 

2. Provide professional development opportunities: People work for many different reasons, and making money is just one of them. Among the most important of the other reasons is training and professional development. Employees really appreciate, and these days, expect, such opportunities.

 

In the great book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey puts it this way:

 

“Imagine a woodcutter trying to saw down a tree with a dull blade. A bystander suggests that it would behoove the man to stop and sharpen his saw, but the woodcutter demurs, complaining that he does not have time to do so. By helping your staff take the time to sharpen their saws, you make yourself the leader they need.”

 

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

 

3. Encourage mentorship within your business: There are many ways to offer people the sort of professional development that I just discussed, but one very effective, and equally affordable way, is to encourage mentorship within your organization. Mentors help employees learn not only how to grow professionally, but how to excel at work. That is a win-win.

 

Another benefit of a mentorship is that the relationship often offers as much value to the mentor as it does to the mentee. For the mentor, it offers the chance to give back and get satisfaction from helping a colleague get ahead.

 

4. Recognize good work: Aside from financial rewards like raises and bonuses, the other way that employees like to be recognized for a job well done is simply by being acknowledged. Giving credit where credit is due and saying “Thank you” goes a long way. There are many ways to do this: It could be a personal note, a mention in the company newsletter, a special parking spot for a month – you name it. The important thing is that you do, in fact, name it.Oct 9 Pull Quote.png

 

5. Have an “open door” policy: Leaders are only leaders if they have willing people to lead. By being a good listener, by getting and giving feedback and by being someone that people trust, you create the sort of bond that enables true leadership (and thus followership) to emerge.

 

Leadership is one of those oft talked-about virtues, and for a good reason. It allows you to rally the troops and get people working for a cause bigger than their own paycheck. And when that happens, you will have created an exceptional small business.

 

What attributes do you believe makes a good leader? Share your stories with us below.

 

About Steve Strauss

 

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

 

 

LookBeforeLeap_Body.jpgby Heather Chaet.

 

When deciding to use a beautiful photo of Mount Fuji or that funny cat picture as your screensaver or to have the Cobb salad or a turkey sandwich for lunch, a simple coin flip will do. But, for big decisions that affect the direction and success of your company, navigating which way to head when you reach that fork in the proverbial road means you need something more than the quarter in your pocket.

 

LookBeforeLeap_PQ.jpgWhat is your decision-making GPS system? Small business owners are confronted perhaps daily with large dilemmas or issues to resolve—having a method to make a smart choice streamlines and focuses those often daunting determinations you need to make. Here’s a checklist of seven questions to ask before making that big decision.

 

1. What is best in the long term?

When making a big decision, thinking beyond the “right here, right now” is a vital first step toward avoiding a big stumble. “It's easy to make decisions based on what's [simple] at the moment or what makes my ego feel good. But those are rarely the right decisions,” says Ian Ippolito, founder and CEO of vWorker.com, which connects employers and entrepreneurs with virtual workers. Sometimes it helps to add a specific time frame on that question, as Paige Arnof-Fenn, 
founder and CEO
 of Mavens & Moguls, a global marketing strategy consulting firm, suggests. “[One of] the main things I think about is
 will it matter six months down the road,” says Arnof-Fenn. Thinking in terms of a finite time horizon often provides better insight to the right solution.

 

2.  What is the return on investment?

For any small business owner, evaluating how this choice will impact your bottom line is essential. Christy Cook, president and founder of Teach My, the maker of award-winning learning kits for children, agrees. “I am not a ‘numbers’ girl, but over the years, I have trained myself to ask 
the same question every time: What is the return on investment? If small business owners don’t measure
the ROI, decisions will be made that could put the business into serious
 financial jeopardy.” Frank Deblasi, cofounder and CEO of HooplaDoopla.com, the online money saving site, says ROI goes beyond just finances, “I think this is a very common question for business at any stage, as it can cost money and time to not get a return on something—[whether it is] a marketing decision or even hiring a new employee.”


 

3. Are there any other decisions that need to be made before this one?

All too often when running a small business, many issues must be dealt with at the same time. Prioritizing which one needs your immediate attention is as tough and as important as figuring out the right answers to those decisions. “For the last year, we've been implementing a raft of changes, and we
 always need to weigh the pros (and any cons) of the change and see if
 anything else is needed more urgently,” says Sandip Singh, CEO and founder of the fundraising website GoGetFunding.com. 


 

4. What's the worst thing that can
 happen if I make a mistake (and can I live with it)?

Just as fundamental as exploring the benefits to any change, looking at the worst-case scenario can provide a prime perspective. “We use the same advice in running our [own] business as we give to the business
owners we work with,”
offers 
Jim Stewart, founder and CEO of ProfitPATH, a strategy consulting firm, “For them and us the main question is ‘What's the worst thing that can 
happen if this goes wrong?’”
 Being able to evaluate how your company will handle a situation if projections are incorrect or unexpected additional funds are needed to complete an expansion is crucial.

 

5. What will happen if I don't do this?

Stewart often asks this after tackling the doomsday situation. Envisioning the alternative—doing nothing—can lead to a more definite outlook on the issue, perhaps even providing alternative choices not considered before or a totally new path your company could take to achieve a similar result.

 

6. How would I advise someone else to handle this
 decision?

Take yourself (and the emotional cloud that may overshadow a solid choice) out of the equation. “By approaching a decisions from this angle, you attempt to 
remove the personal and emotional attachment from the outcome and get
 closer to the most logical answer,”
 suggests Charles Gaudet II, CEO and founder
of Predictable Profits, a leading small business marketing company.

 

7. What does my gut say?

Tap into that instinct that has led you to this place to begin with—but consider doing so in a quiet moment only after asking all of the other questions and analyzing data you have available. “I relax myself for a few minutes until I feel completely calm,” explains Ippolito. “Then I ask myself, ‘Is this the right thing to do?’ It's often easy for me to say ‘Yes’ to this sort of question in an excited mood, but then, in a relaxed mood, I'll realize the true answer is ‘No.’ This trick has saved me from making all sorts of bad decisions.” Combined with logical assessment, channeling that indispensable business intuition that has brought you success is the perfect final question to ask before you act.

There are all sorts of reasons why you may want to make your business greener. Maybe you want to be a good corporate citizen, maybe you are sensitive to environmental concerns.  But did you know that going green can actually save your small business Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngmoney? After all, the whole idea is to reduce, reuse and recycle, and all of that reusing and recycling can translate to more money in your pocket.

 

So, how do you do it? There are any number of small steps a business can take to help reduce its carbon footprint. Here are seven easy and affordable ones:

 

1) Use Energy Star equipment: By using Energy Star products and appliances, you can be assured that you will save money and help the environment at the same time. Energy Star is an Environmental Protection Agency certification program that according to its website, EnergyStar.gov, exists to:

 

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants caused by the inefficient use of energy; and
  • Make it easy for consumers to identify and purchase energy-efficient products that offer savings on energy bills without sacrificing performance, features and comfort.

2) Use timers and motion sensors: Lights are often left on in conference rooms and offices even when unoccupied. By installing occupancy sensors, your office energy use will be less wasteful and your electric bill will be lower. Similarly, electronic equipment like computers and monitors are often left on even after everyone signs off for the day. To remedy this, put a timer on the extension cord powering the computers so that they shut off automatically.

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

3) Change your light bulbs: Along those lines, simply replacing your standard bulbs with compact fluorescent (CF) bulbs (the squiggly ones) will reduce your power bill significantly. An Energy Star bulb:

 

  • Uses about 75 percent less energy than a traditional incandescent bulb and lasts at least six times longer; and
  • Produces about 75 percent less heat, so it’s safer to operate and can cut energy costs

 

4) Choose an all-in-one printer: By using an all-in-one printer that offers two-sided printing, copying and faxing, you can easily and immediately cut your paper consumption, as well as costs, in half.

 

Oct 2 Pull Quote.png5) Reuse and recycle: Boxes, packaging, paper and office folders can easily be re-used. And, if you don't reuse them, then at least have recycling bins handy so your employees can recycle them.

 

6) Buy recycled office supplies: Paper, pads, sticky notes, file folders and even ink and toner cartridges can be purchased in recyclable versions, and often at the same price as "regular" items. Indeed, many recycled paper products are now roughly the same price as conventional paper due to increased demand and better production operations.

 

7) Use green power: Many local utilities offer customers renewable power from green sources, like wind farms. Often, there are local incentives for using such sustainable energy supplies, and the new stimulus law also includes federal tax incentives for alternative energy use. Similarly, there are all sorts of breaks for investing in green tools like solar panels.

 

It’s important to remember that, as with many of these ideas, “greening” your business may seem like an expense in the short term. But keep in mind that, over the long term, such changes don’t cost – they pay.

 

Finally, be sure to let your customers know what you are doing. Lots of consumers are making purchasing choices these days based upon how green a company is. So be sure to make note of how your company is decreasing its carbon footprint to the local media and to your customers. Many customers will reward your efforts with increased loyalty.

 

Have you taken any steps to “green” your small business? Have they been successful? Share them with us below.

 

About Steve Strauss

 

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.



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