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2013

Burnout_Body.jpgby Susan Caminiti.

 

At his most intense time in the mid-2000s, Aaron Murphy was working anywhere from 70 to 80 hours a week running his real estate investment company near Seattle. “When I wasn’t physically at work, I was thinking about work,” he says. “It was like this track that was always playing in the back of my mind.”

           

With a schedule like that, Murphy says balanced meals and regular exercise were nearly impossible. “I was driving to and from houses that sometimes were 50 miles apart,” he adds. “I was eating at gas stations and not going to the gym at all. I wasn’t sleeping well, either.”

           

Murphy “pulled the plug” on his business in 2008, a year after the housing market crash pummeled the industry. But in the process, he’s come away with a few hard-earned lessons that he’s putting to use in his new business, ADM Architecture. These days, Murphy silences his cell phone between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., makes sure to schedule regular vacations, and takes 45 minute breaks to get out of the office to walk his dog.

 

“I learned from my last business that you can’t do three things at once and do any of them well,” he says. “When you run at that pace for an extended period of time, it’s going to take a toll on your health, relationships, and everything else in your life.”

 

Work smarter, not harder

No one starts a small business because they think it’s an easier way of life. Long hours, late nights, and amped-up stress levels are often the norm, especially during the startup phase. But if at some point, the hours spent on the business overtake everything else in life, a small business owner is at risk for what pros in the field like to call burnout—that frazzled state of mind when creativity, innovation, and pleasure give way to exhaustion, forgetfulness, and irritability.

           

The American Institute of Stress (yes, there is such an organization) lists no fewer than 50 signs and symptoms of stress that signal someone could be at risk for ruining their health—and potentially, their company. “Many small business owners get themselves into trouble because they fall prey to the thinking that working harder or longer is going to make things better,” explains Susan Martin, founder of Business Sanity, a business coaching and consulting firm. “When you’re pushing yourself like this, there’s a point of diminishing returns. It’s very hard to be creative or innovative, or to even do rote tasks, when you’re walking around like a zombie.”

           

Indeed, a sleep study conducted by David Dinges, the head of the Sleep and Chronobiology division at the University of Pennsylvania, looked at the attention levels of three groups of subjects who slept for either four hours, six hours, or eight hours over a two week period. Those who slept eight hours each night, not surprisingly, were the most alert and attentive. But even the folks who got six hours of shut-eye each night, were falling asleep at their computers by the sixth day.

           

“To function at optimal levels, a person needs enough rest to regenerate the brain,” says Dr. Michael Komie, a professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. “There are differences among people as to how much is enough, but generally people can’t consider sleep a luxury and expect to stay at the peak of their performance and creativity.”

 

Burnout_PQ2.jpgSo with clients to meet, proposals to get out, and orders to fill, how can entrepreneurs best run and grow their businesses without flaming out in process? A few tips from the experts:

 

Set regular business hours

It’s so easy to stay a few extra hours after everyone else goes home, or to sneak down into that home office after dinner to blast out a few emails. Don’t, says Martin. “In this 24/365 world, it’s too easy to get caught up working all the time,” she says. Set—and stick to—a regular schedule of hours. If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, resist the urge to respond to emails. Having a client see one from you that was written at 2 a.m. isn’t proof of your dedication; it’s evidence that you’re not in control of your business.

 

Don’t skimp on sleep

And speaking of slumber—make sure to get enough. Yes, a solid eight hours every night might not be possible, but don’t look upon sleep as something fungible. The body’s ability to stay creative, come up with new ideas, and simply handle the daily stressors of life as an entrepreneur is directly tied to how much sleep you get, says Dr. Komie.

 

Before Jeremy Andrews, co-founder of Smart Money Entrepreneurs, started his crowdfunding company, he held a finance job that routinely demanded 18-hour days. As a result, he says, “I spent my Saturdays and Sundays just sleeping.” Not eager to replicate those days, he gives his 12 employees the flexibility to work the hours where they feel most productive. “We’re not all built for eight hours of straight work,” he says.

 

Build in quiet time

Uninterrupted time to work on long-range plans or issues is essential for any small business owner. Block out an hour—or whatever time you feel is appropriate—and silence phones, email, and texts. Let your staff know that you’re unavailable for this time, as well. The cycle of burnout typically begins when a business owner “spends the whole day catering to whatever request or crisis comes their way, instead of taking care of what they set out to do,” says Martin. “This eats up their work day, making it necessary to work longer hours or on their days off just to get things done.”

 

Schedule vacations

By booking vacations months in advance, you’re less likely to forget to take them, and it gives you time to plan for your absence. And when you do schedule the time off, says Martin, don’t just use it to paint the kitchen or landscape the yard. Go somewhere and do something different. A change of scenery engages the brain and gives you a renewed sense of energy. After all, what good is growing your business, if you never take time to enjoy the fruits of your labor?

 

DomesticManf_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

 

Having your goods “Made in the U.S.A.” may be getting a little bit easier for America’s entrepreneurs.

 

Referred to as in-sourcing, on-shoring, reshoring, or just simply “bringing jobs back home,” business news outlets are trumpeting the return of manufacturing to the U.S., including corporate giants like General Electric, Apple, and Whirlpool.

 

But smaller fish hunting for domestic production sites are often frustrated by time-consuming and sometimes-fruitless searches at trade shows.

 

Now a new infrastructure is taking shape that can help connect entrepreneurs with an idea and the motivation to make a product here at home. The ironic twist: The Internet, which once made long-distance manufacturing seem so simple, is being harnessed to link up designers and makers, sometimes in each others’ own backyard.

 

For example, in the apparel industry there’s now Maker’s Row, a website that’s helping to link domestic designers and manufacturers. Factory owners create a profile that includes their facility’s capabilities, turnaround times, videos of their work, and all information necessary to make production decisions. Customers can even leave reviews. There’s some 1,400 manufacturers listed, in all 50 states, with everyone from emblem-makers and furriers to knitters and shoemakers and people making any kind of accessory you can imagine. It’s a U-turn for the highly offshored industry.


Cofounders Matthew Burnett and Tanya Menendez got the idea for Maker’s Row after discussing his frustrations with overseas manufacturing and the difficulties he encountered in finding a domestic producer for his Brooklyn Bakery line of leather accessories. They’ve created a site that adds much needed transparency and connectivity to some of the nation’s old-world craftsmen.

 

“As a small business, I found there’s a lot of inhibiting factors about creating products overseas, like language barriers, cultural barriers, and time differences,” Burnett says. “Small businesses are seeing these big companies coming back as a signal right now. They’re trying to find American resources and manufacturers, too.”

 

“But there is no real, comprehensive database of manufacturers out there,” he adds. “That’s where we saw a huge challenge in our prior companies—and that’s where we see a huge opportunity for Maker’s Row.”

 

DomesticManf_PQ.jpgBurnett says the U.S. manufacturers they’ve approached have been very receptive and have opened them up to their entire networks. Menendez adds that designers have been referring their clients through the site, as the feedback system for each manufacturer gives them a built-in vetted audience ready to jump at new opportunities.

 

Their timing may be right for many reasons. Cheaper U.S. energy from new natural gas sources and rising global transportation prices are altering supply chain calculations. Alarming news reports of human-rights abuses in overseas factories have raised concerns; increasing labor costs are a factor there, too. And there are the perennial issues of dealing with the unknown: long-distance shipping delays, sustainability, and intellectual-property and security worries.

 

Since the recession, many U.S. manufacturers have become more willing to take on smaller-scale projects, as a supplement to bigger contracts and as a way to diversify their revenue streams.

 

Roberto Torres leads one small company dedicated to domestic manufacturing who’s tapping into Maker’s Row. He’s president of the Black & Denim Apparel Co., a Tampa-based clothing line that produces high-end jeans, custom T-shirts, and accessories, all from American-sourced materials. He grew up in Panama, and immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1990s, which he says influenced the desire to make his goods here, too. “We wanted to make it here. For men who understand what American-made means,” he says. “In the ’80s in Panama, if you wanted something to last, it had to be made in America.”

 

Tampa doesn’t have a Garment District, so Torres’s team was somewhat isolated in getting started. Finding suppliers and manufacturers was a slog, from phone books and trade shows to the Internet and word-of-mouth references, Torres says.

 

And that’s why he calls Maker’s Row a “game-changer” for his industry. When Black & Denim recently decided to add a women’s line, within two days they had found all the manufacturers they needed to get started, Torres says. “Anything that can bridge a gap between two brick-and-mortar stores is paramount right now.”

 

If you’re looking to make your goods closer to home, here are a few other sites worth a look:

 

MakeXYZ

Here’s a matchmaker for the 3D printing world. Got a MakerBot sitting idle? List your desktop factory here to get on the radar of other designers looking to fabricate something closer to home than at one of the bigger 3D printing sites like Shapeways. For creators looking to print, simply search by ZIP Code for machines available to make your doodad, upload your file, and select your colors or materials. You can either arrange to have the printer ship your item to you, or just swing by to pick it up. MakeXYZ takes a five-percent commission on your project and turnaround times are generally swifter than the big 3D printing services, and cheaper, too: prices start at 25 cents per cubic inch. Launched by Austin-based programmers Chad Masso and Nathan Tone in November 2012, the site has nearly 600 printers signed up so far.  

 

Reshoring Initiative

Here’s an all-in-one resource for manufacturers large and small. This industry-funded group has several worthwhile tools, from its definitive library of white papers and case studies about in-shoring companies and news coverage to its built-in Total Cost of Ownership Estimator calculator, which allows users to do the math on the array of costs and freight expenses in order to compare how much they might save by using local manufacturing. They’ve also got a smart Twitter feed.

 

The Maker Map

This is a rapidly expanding open-source display of the world of makers, from hackerspaces and tool-sharing sites to bigger name fabricators and startup incubators. What started out as a Bay Area guide to local listing has recently gone global, but the majority of the entries are right here in the U.S. Manufacturers and parts suppliers that cater to this inventive group can create their own entries.

 

Many still have experiences like Sheila Duncan’s in trying to find a domestic manufacturer for her Trouble the Dog project. At first, Duncan was using a Chinese company to make the plush toy, which is a therapeutic tool for kids experiencing stress. After a round of frustrating back and forth, she decided to try to bring that work closer to home.

 

From her Marblehead, Mass., headquarters, Duncan says she spent “all day for six months” looking for a manufacturer willing to take up her initial run of 1,500, hopeful-eyed dogs at an affordable price. She traveled all over New England searching for a spot. In Maine, she encountered a sewing-factory owner who told her outright that “she couldn’t afford my price,” even though he was also sending out blanket emails soliciting new business. “So many I encountered just could not step out of the box of the way they were thinking to get something done,” she says.

 

Ultimately, Duncan did find her U.S. manufacturer, in Arizona. And although the costs are about 4.5 times what her Chinese vendor charged, she says she’s “glad she went through the hoops” to land a domestic source. “And I mean we are talking hoops.”

 

Why was it worth it? Duncan points to the reports of poor working conditions overseas that made her uneasy, and a bigger selling point these days: differentiation.

 

“Look in a child’s room and all the stuffed animals are made somewhere else,” she says. “What this is going to do for me, I believe, is give Trouble a way to stand out from everything else out there.”

Back in 1992, I read a book that completely changed my work life— it’s called Making a Living Without a Job, by Barbara Wint

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

 

er. I read it when I was working untold hours for a big law firm and trying to launch myself into the world of self-employment. Barbara’s great book gave me the roadmap.

 

 

 

In the years since, Barbara and I have become friends and I value her vision for how to be, as she calls it, ‘joyfully jobless.’ While I always expected that working for myself would be interesting, fun and challenging— and it is— what I never expected was that it would also require that I become, as Barbara says, ‘a lifelong learner.’

 

Isn’t that true for all of us these days? Whether it’s learning the latest social media platform, teaching yourself the basics of SEO, practicing your publicity skills or improving your writing, learning goes hand-in-hand with work, and with entrepreneurship specifically.

 

 

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

 

Barbara Winter in fact put it well in a recent post where she shares the work of Dr. Marion Diamond’s research on rat brains:

 

‘A professor of anatomy at the University of California Berkeley, Dr. Diamond spent two decades studying the effects of learning environments on rats. When they were taken out of typical laboratory cages and placed in enriched environments— lots of rat toys and rat puzzles— the very structure of the rats’ brains changed in as little as four days. These enriched rats solved mazes and puzzles faster than they could before landing in the toy-rich cages. By every measure, they got smarter. And, when the enriched rats were placed again in ordinary cages, their brains changed again. They got dumber.’

 

So yes, we all have to keep sharp. The question is, how and where can we do that?

 

There is no shortage of options, that’s for sure, and that is in fact one of the best parts of being ‘joyfully jobless’ these days. Here are just a few places where you can go to learn what you need to, to get ahead:

 

Webinars: Webinars today are almost ubiquitous— they allow you to get relevant, usable information from top experts. So many sites now offer webinar series that all you need to do is a simple search. To get started, try visiting the NFIB or SCORE online; both organizations offer a variety of online webinars.

 

Online workshops: Whereas a webinar is usually a live, interactive event (and recorded for later showing), an online workshop is just what it sounds like— a workshop. Again, there are many places to find them, like the IRS or from our friends at the SBA.

 

Community colleges: Online workshops are not for everyone, and of course the ability to ask a live person a question and get an answer can’t be beat. Checking out what your local community college has to offer is another great way for continuous learning. Community colleges have become the go-to place for offline small business classes; these classes are taught by successful entrepreneurs and teachers who are committed to your success.

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Chamber of commerce: No one wants to see you succeed more than your local chamber of commerce, and, not surprisingly, they offer many classes and mentorship programs designed to do just that.

 

Your bank: Like your chamber, your local bank has a vested interest in the vibrancy of the local economy and your business. My friends at Bank of America, for instance, have a group called Practice Solutions that specializes in lending to professional service industries such as medical, dental, veterinary, law, accounting, etc. These knowledgeable folks can zero in on your specific business needs and give you industry knowledge that can better position your business for success and growth. In most instances, Practice Solutions bankers already have the endorsement of your professional industry associations (for example, the AICPA, ABA, 32 State Dental, AVMA, various medical associations and more).

 

How have you managed to stay ‘a lifelong learner’? Share your experience 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

http://www.smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/people/Steve%20Strauss/content

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

FoodTruck_Body1.jpgby Jen Hickey.

 

As part of a new occasional series, we’ll be featuring a single-day snapshot of various entrepreneurial ventures for a look inside what they do to keep their business running every day, hour by hour.

 

Part of the inspiration behind Bian Dang, a mobile restaurant business Diana Yang co-founded with her brother Thomas, was his desire to find food like their Taiwanese grandmother’s among the food carts that dot the sidewalks of Manhattan. To get a taste of the business, Thomas worked on a few food trucks before launching NYC Cravings with Diana and business partner Eric Yu out of a retrofitted Italian bakery truck in April 2009, not long after the three graduated from college.

 

5:00 am: On a typical day, the siblings’ uncle Steven Yang arrives at the commissary (commercial kitchen) to begin prepping the food, so the truck is ready to roll out by 8 am. The New York City Department of Health mandates that all mobile food vendors must store and prepare food, as well as park their trucks or carts, at a state licensed commissary, of which there are many throughout the five boroughs. While they don’t start serving lunch until 11:30 am, they have to be on site by 10:30 am to start cooking. “Everything is cooked fresh on the truck,” Diana points out. However, on this day, they’re able to get a later start because they’ve landed a plum, permanent spot downtown near the World Financial Center (WFC), for which they pay a daily rate to the property owner.

 

9:45 am: Diana and employees Nick and Joanna arrive at the commissary in South Brooklyn. “At this time of day we don’t have to fight for parking,” explains Diana. “It’s much easier to pull out since most of the other trucks and carts have already left.” They start loading up the fridge with chicken, pork, rice, sauces, pickled greens, Buddha’s delight, tea eggs, Chinese tamales, dumpling sauce, reusable food containers, utensils, 70 pounds of cooking oil, and enough water for the steam tables and to cook the rice. “We’re looking into using biodegradable containers and utensils,” notes Diana. “We’ll most likely have to raise the prices if we make the switch.”

 

In 2011, they rebranded from NYC Cravings to Bian Dang, which translates from Taiwanese as “lunch box.” They re-painted the truck with brighter colors and replaced the bamboo leave accents with plum blossoms, the national flower of Taiwan. “We wanted our truck to stand out and be recognizable,” notes Diana.

 

10:10 am: With Nick at the wheel, the truck pulls out of the commissary and they head toward downtown Brooklyn. Once across the Manhattan Bridge, it’s a straight shot across town to the West side of Manhattan.

 

After about six months, business partner Yu stopped working on the truck, but he remains a silent partner. Thomas transitioned off the truck not long after to work behind the scenes, maintaining the company’s web site and focusing on catering and other opportunities. “Like most siblings, we would argue about how things should run,” notes Diana, who runs the day to day (inventory and scheduling) and handles the bookkeeping. They now have six employees. “We have seven people on rotation, including myself. Typically, we have about three people on the truck. Two in the winter, when business is slower.”

 

10:30 am: After showing their IDs and insurance card to a security guard, Nick pulls the Bian Dang truck into the appointed space. It’s a bright, chilly Tuesday in early March as he maneuvers into a cul-de-sac sandwiched between the Mercantile Exchange building and the WFC in Lower Manhattan, steps away from the North Cove Marina along the Hudson River. First, they start cooking the rice and steaming the tamales. Diana tweets their location and update’s Bian Dang’s status on Facebook and then pours new oil into the deep fryer.

 

FoodTruck_PQ.jpgThe company’s Twitter and Facebook platforms have allowed Diana to connect with loyal customers as well as introduce Bian Dang to a wider audience. “[They’ve] changed the food scene/culture. People are constantly checking in and updating their status on their food ventures,” notes Diana. “Because parking is not permanent, I like to update our locations in real time.”

 

11:00 am:  The cooked rice is transferred into the rice steamer, the next batch of rice is started, and the deep fryer turned on. Next, it’s time to start cooking the pork sauce and beef stew and steam the dumplings.

 

11:10 am: The chicken is put into the deep fryer for 10 minutes followed by the pork chops.

 

11:20 am: A couple shows up at the window that Diana recognizes from their former east side location near South Street Seaport. They were able to track Bian Dang’s location through its Facebook page. Joanna takes their order. “Location and weather plays a huge factor in how many customers we serve for lunch,” explains Diana. In Midtown and the Financial District, where there is a lot of  foot traffic, the lunchtime crowd is highly coveted, she explains. Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, the truck is typically parked at certain locations in Midtown East and West, and on Wednesdays, it parks in Dumbo, a Brooklyn neighborhood wedged between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges along the East River, where many small tech and marketing startups have located in recent years.

 

While the truck’s locations and schedule are available on Bian Dang’s website, there’s no guarantee the same spots will be available from day to day. Street closures due to construction, movie shoots, and any other type of unforeseen events can force trucks from their usual locations, and if you don’t get a metered spot, you risk being ticketed. Then there are the many streets that the city has restricted all food vendors from for security or congestions reasons. “We started when there were maybe three other gourmet trucks,” notes Diana. “But we established ourselves and made it clear that we’ll be in these areas for the long run.”

 

11:30 am - Noon: Customers start showing up, one or two at a time. “Our truck was built around savory comfort food like chicken and pork chops over our famous pork sauce,” explains Diana. Like many new businesses, things started off a little slow, until a popular food blog began spreading the word, and Cravings was nominated as “Rookie of the Year” for the city’s 2009 Vendy award. They soon developed a large loyal following among a certain demographic of workers. “About 75 percent of our customers are Chinese, and about 60 percent are male,” notes Diana.

 

“When Sandy hit, the truck was being repaired, so it had already been off the road for about three weeks,” recalls Diana. “After the hurricane, sales dropped off drastically.” Like many vendors, Bian Dang was displaced along with downtown residents and workers. As part of the relief efforts, the mayor’s fund and the New York Food Truck Association (NYCFTA) teamed up with several truck vendors to get them back into those hard hit areas.

 

11:40 am: Diana notices the deep fryer is not frying properly because the propane is running low. Nick passes her a new tank, and she shuts down the equipment to change the tank. Joanna warns the two customers in line of the slight wait for fried pork and chicken dishes. There are four other food trucks nearby, but only the sky blue truck decorated with pink and white flowers has a line at their window. That’s a good sign, especially this time of year. “The financial district is difficult to sustain in the winter, as it gets much colder than anywhere else in the city,” notes Diana. “But if you don’t come then, another truck may be in your spot when the weather warms up.”  And come spring, this area is flush with office workers, residents and tourists.

 

 

12:05-1:45 pm: They get a steady stream of customers for the rest of the afternoon. Diana leaves for a meeting on a separate project about 1:45 pm. “I have a great team of people working with me who I trust,” she says. “I have trained them to manage the truck, so that I can pursue other projects outside the business as well.”

 

“It's difficult for food truck owners to find workers because everyone on the truck needs a mobile food vendor license,” explains Diana. “The whole process can take anywhere from two to four months.” Anyone applying for a vendor’s license must first pass a food protection course. Diana chose the cheaper route by studying on her own and taking the online quizzes. The alternative is to take a two- to three-day in-class session, which costs just over $100. After receiving the food protection course ID via mail, you then can go apply for the mobile food vendor license. “It's a lot of waiting and paper work,” notes Diana.

 

2:30 pm: Nick and Joanna start winding things down. They drain the oil and make sure all food containers and equipment are put away.

 

2:35 pm: The truck pulls out of the WFC lot, and they head back to Brooklyn.

 

2:55 pm: Nick pulls the truck into the commissary and parks it in the washer to prep the truck to be scrubbed down (they pay the commissary to clean the truck daily), and Joanna begins cleaning all the buckets, tongs, utensils used during lunch service.

 

3:40 pm: With the day’s work done, Nick and Joanna leave the commissary.

 

In December 2010, Bian Dang made a brief foray into a bricks-and-mortar space, setting up a stall at Food Gallery 32, a three-story food emporium serving various types of Asian cuisine in Midtown. “We were supposed to open in the summer, but instead it officially opened in the dead of winter,” explains Diana. “The first few months were pretty discouraging, but business did pick up.” Ultimately, the high rent forced them to close that location after a year and a half.

 

Tapping into a niche market has helped the owners of Bian Dang stay profitable and expand. “We offer such a unique and strong product,” Diana points out. “I am constantly seeing the same faces over and over again.” In October 2011, the brother and sister team, with a new set of partners, launched the Fishing Shrimp truck, serving an array of fried seafood, and then in April 2012, the Fun Bun cart, which sells steamed pork buns. “Every year, different opportunities come up,” notes Diana. “It seems like we are constantly working on a new food concept.” 

After a long winter of rain, snow and big storms, it seems that the weather is finally starting to improve, and with it, people are starting to get outside more. Indeed, one of the first tasks for many folks this time of year is a trip to the store to get some cleaning supplies, storage boxes and plant food, and get on with some much-needed spring cleaning.

 

Winter doldrums, be gone!

 

But spring cleaning is not just a good idea for your personal life, it is in fact an equally good idea for your professional life as a small business owner. Cleaning out the cobwebs (both literally and figuratively) can give you, your staff and your business a boost. 

 

Here are five tips to get your small business back in full bloom for spring:Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

 

Spruce up the place: I am not suggesting spring cleaning for tidiness’ sake alone (though my wife would say that is a fine enough reason) but rather, spring cleaning as a smart business practice. An unpleasant truth of owning a business is that it can become repetitive and stale over time. Giving your business a thorough cleaning can shake things up for the better and open new avenues for new thoughts.

 

So go ahead and give the shop or office a once-over. Get rid of the clutter, clean out the storage room and get into the nooks and crannies. Most of us have some old files hanging around that can be moved or tossed. And what about some new paint or blinds, or even some new furniture?

 

You, your employees and, most importantly, your customers will like and notice the difference.

 

But don't stop there. Consider some spring e-cleaning. Clean out your inbox. Delete unused, old e-files. Back up your system or sign up for a monthly backup service if you don’t already have one. Update necessary software.

 

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

 

Freshen up your website:  If there is a © 2002 at the bottom of your website, it’s time for a little updating, wouldn't you say? And, as we are deep in the Web 2.0 era, that means that your site needs to have some interactive tools if you want to be taken seriously— for example a blog, some video, a poll, or the social media channels you use. If your site still looks like it looked in 2002, you are missing a significant opportunity to impress people and get some new business.

 

Plan ahead:  Spring is also a good time to get ahead of projects. Make a list of the ones you would like to get done in the next six months or before the end of the year. Prioritize them. Write them down. Put them on the white board. I recently read about the planning strategy of one very successful executive, and it’s to ‘have a long-term strategy and goal in mind, and then work backwards from there.’

 

Planning ahead can also involve thinking ahead to summer. Make sure you build in some time off, and while you’re at it, consider some fun things you could do with your employees in the summer, or some ways to give them a little extra time off during the warmer months.

 

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Try something new:  What about making a commitment to experiment with social networking a few hours a week for a few months? Set up a Twitter account and begin to tweet, or create a Facebook fan page if you don’t have one. Maybe even create a savings plan so that you can get that new iPad for your business that you've been putting off.

 

Get some help: Finally, don’t hesitate to ask for help around spring-cleaning time— after all, sometimes it can be a heavy lift. A part-time assistant or an intern can lighten the load, as can outsourcing projects and tasks that can be better done by experts. Find ways to free up your time, so that you can spend more of it on those business-related tasks that you want to do, rather than those you have to do.

 

How have you tackled spring cleaning for your business in the past? Share your stories and advice 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

http://www.smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/people/Steve%20Strauss/content

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

 

CompanyRestructure_Body.jpgby Heather Chaet.

 

Profits are down, morale is low, and something just seems off—sound familiar? This could be a sign that your company’s functional structure needs to be examined. Switching official tax structures—from a sole proprietorship to a corporation or something similar—is essential for legal and tax reasons, yet rebuilding that internal foundation of your everyday workflow is just as important. Deciding which steps to take during a restructuring can be complex and delicate, yet how to know when you need to make an organizational shuffling is just as difficult. Here are a five signs to look for in your business that could indicate you should consider changing your company’s structure.

 

1. A partner has a changing—or disappearing—role.

Many small businesses are started when partners come together for a common purpose, each with a specific strength. But what happens when one partner’s expertise is no longer needed? “One of the most popular, but less talked about reasons [to change your company’s structure] is the changing
 roles of early partners. This is most common in tech startups, where one 
person brings the development skills and technical expertise and the other
 brings more of the executive or marketing side of the business,” says Ron Rule, CEO of Coracent, an e-commerce firm. “Down the road, after any necessary software has been developed and tested, often times, the original deal no longer makes sense as the developer's role 
is complete and the burden of running and managing the company is on the 
other partner,” he explains. Changing the organizational structure can impact the day-to-day operations, as well as the interest of outside investors. Perhaps that other partner moves on or takes on different leadership roles, such as in research and development. Though it may be a hard and emotional task to do, re-evaluating a partnership is essential, especially in the early days of a company.

 

2. Your growing team demands more and more of your time

TeliApp Corporation, a high-tech startup that builds new smartphone apps for mobile devices, went through a major expansion—a good sign of growth and success, yet the company’s organizational issues also grew. “Prior to expanding, the company consisted of me, a CTO, a graphic designer, and a handful of programmers, all answering to me,” says CEO Josh Weiss, “As business began to pick up, we had no choice but to bring on more people. We added a marketing department, a business development/sales department, more graphic design personnel, and a social networking internship program. [However] every decision was still coming to me—and my email was flooded hourly with questions from my employees.” Weiss had to make a change. He drew up a flow chart, designating department heads (based on job performance and experience) to take on more responsibilities and is searching for a COO. “I could no longer be the only ‘go-to’ guy. Establishing a hierarchy is essential for a clear distribution of responsibility and to avoid duplication of work and enhance efficiency,” says Weiss.

 

CompanyRestructure_PQ.jpg3. Your team is not delivering maximum performance.

You’ve hired hard workers who are good, solid employees and share your passion and drive…but they just aren’t delivering. A situation like this could make a small business owner wonder what he or she is doing wrong. Justin Hong, COO and partner of Highly Relevant, a digital marketing agency, focused on figuring out why his rock-star team wasn’t delivering as they well as they could. “Some clients weren’t receiving all of the attention they required, while other clients were receiving more,” he says. “We needed to hone in on why that was occurring to be sure that all of our clients get what they need.” Hong worked with his team to figure out ways to shift reporting methods and redefine expectations—and how results are tracked. “[We discovered] our team didn’t know what their priorities were. We had to establish specific key performance indicators—or KPIs—for what the team should be doing. Once you set goals and KPIs, it is much clearer from an expectation standpoint. You can’t hold anyone accountable if you don’t have clear expectations,” says Hong. 

 

Although some restructuring and evaluation of KPIs may result in letting employees go, Mitchell D. Weiss, adjunct professor of finance at
the University of Hartford's Business School, warns small business owners against making that move too quickly. “Just because the person you have in a particular position
isn't hacking it there, doesn't mean he or she wouldn't be able to become
successful in another,” Weiss explains. “Take the time to
separate the people from the tasks required of them before deciding who
stays and who goes.”




 

4. You are changing everything else.

Success isn’t a guarantee. When the opposite happens and your company faces massive difficulties, this is an opportunity to rethink your structure, especially before tackling a new venture. Melonie Boone, CEO of
Boone Management Group and founder of the former Complete Concepts Consulting, didn't 
just restructure her company, she totally started over. “The bottom dropped out [of Complete Concepts Consulting]. My business partner took a full-time job with little warning, client turnover hit the company hard, and unbudgeted legal fees for the partnership separation and refunds to
 clients for service failures took a toll
 on the business,” says Boone. “Complete Concepts Consulting no 
longer existed, and [I went] back to square one. I hunkered down to rebrand and
 relaunch the company as Boone Management
Group, which has been thriving.” The main takeaway? “You can't ignore organization
 problems when they are staring you in the face. You have to be humble 
enough to want to change and nimble enough to do it," says Boone.


5. You are holding back your own growth.

For many entrepreneurs, you are your company. But what happens when you realize you are the problem with your organizational structure? “For me, the decision point came when I became the rate-limiting factor in
my business,” says Tara R. Alemany, best-selling author, speaker and owner of Aleweb Social Marketing, “I went from being a solopreneur to outsourcing some work
 to a dependable business partner [and] adding a part-time virtual assistant.” Letting go of control can be tough for an owner to do, however.

 

“I reflected on what aspects of my
business needed to be done—and which ones needed to be done by me,” explains Alemany. “Anything that didn't need to be done by me became fair game for delegation. I started first with those activities where my clients would see great
 results if I hired a professional to do them, rather than muddling through
it myself.” The free time translated directly to Alemany’s bottom line in terms of increased billable hours. “The additional billable hours gave me the resources to hire an 
administrative assistant who handles scheduling, booking events and doing 
research for me. Once again, that frees me up to take on more projects. I've seen more growth in my company since I started following this approach
 than at any other time in its history,” says Alemany.



St. Patrick’s Day is rapidly approaching, and marketing tie-ins associated with the holiday are obvious for businesses like Irish pubs and restaurants. It’s easy, mandatory even, to create a St. Patrick’s Day theme when the name of your business is O’Malley’s Pub.

 

But what about the rest of us?Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

 

As it turns out, marketing opportunities in a case like this may be even better for the non-Irish business because they are different and unexpected. For example, what if, on the week of St. Patty’s Day, you took your restaurant sign that said Benson’s Café and added an ‘O’ to create O’Benson’s Café? That week you could run St. Patty’s Day specials, have your servers dress in green, and proclaim that ‘This week, we’re all Irish!’ You will definitely stand out.

 

The point is that there are opportunities for almost every business to incorporate seasonal promotions, even if your business seemingly has nothing to do with a certain event— you just need to get a little creative. For instance, during the Easter season, Benson’s Café could hold an Easter Egg Hunt or have someone dressed in a bunny outfit entertain children dining with their families.  Even during graduation season in June, the restaurant could offer 50% off any meal for graduates or create a ‘college meal deal’ of pizza and soda.

 

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

 

If you want to take advantage of the many marketing opportunities that come with various seasons and holidays, it’s best to approach your strategy in an organized way. Here are some steps to get you started:

 

Step One: Create a seasonal marketing calendar

 

Major yearly events that should be included are:

  • New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day
  • Valentine’s Day
  • St. Patrick’s Day
  • Easter
  • Mother’s Day and Father’s Day
  • Graduation
  • Memorial Day and Labor Day
  • July 4th
  • Back-to-School
  • Halloween
  • Thanksgiving
  • Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa

 

One thing you will notice about this list is that most of these events incorporate— what else?— shopping! And that’s a very important reason why seasonal marketing is a powerful and smart idea for so many businesses. You want to be where the consumers are, and if they are thinking about back-to-school shopping, it would behoove you to position your business to take advantage of that mindset.

 

March 12 pull quote.png

But what if you think that your business has nothing to do with, again, as an example, Back-to-School? Then you may want to think again. According to the National Retail Federation, about $70 billion was spent on back-to-school shopping last year, and it’s not just mom and dad buying notebooks for junior. Its college kids purchasing furniture for their first apartment or dorm. It’s shopping for clothes for the kindergartener. It’s catering to parents whose kids are going to preschool, or high school, or college for the first time. Almost any business can tie into these sorts of things.

 

Step Two: Decide what types of promotions you want to associate with each seasonal event 

 

Whether you decide to have a sale, host an event, or have someone dress up in character, the decision-making process goes something like this:

  1. Think about what the customer’s problem is during the particular seasonal event you are interested in;
  2. Brainstorm ideas for how your business can help solve that problem;
  3. Figure out how to best promote your business at that time of year, and;
  4. Decide how best to get the word out.

 

The good news is that once you crack this code, you will have created another reliable way to make money, every year at the same time. How cool is that?

 

It’s O’cool!

 

Have you tied seasonal opportunities into your business in the past? Share your story 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

http://www.smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/people/Steve%20Strauss/content

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

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