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CrisisMode_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.


Your business has weathered a tough and challenging cycle. Now it’s time to start breaking out of crisis mode. How do you do it?


As with any kind of upheaval, it’s difficult to get past fears born out of a bad experience. A brush with the demise of a business falls into its own traumatic category, with your professional, financial, legal, and personal life seemingly on the line. But how you deal with the aftermath of that tough situation is important, too. Afraid of committing to an expansion or new segment of customers? Lingering resentments over what went wrong and who’s to blame? Unable to lead staffers in a clear direction?


Troy Hazard compares it to what he’s learned from racing cars. The serial entrepreneur, business consultant, and author has been taking classes at tracks for years. But one instructor’s advice resonated with both of his passions. The lesson: Don’t obsess over the first turn, or getting into an accident. Think about what you intend to do to attack the curve that’s two turns ahead, because that’s what will help you win the race.


“The biggest challenge most businesses have now is the hit they took back in 2008,” he says. “There’s such a fear about ‘What if it happens again?’ And the answer is: It’s going to happen again. It’s happened every seven to 10 years for the last 70 years. The problem is we’re so reactive to things that are drama today instead of focusing on a strategy for tomorrow.”


His advice to clients: Take time every day—“walking the dog, even that 15 minutes in the shower”—to think about where you want to be in five years or 10 years, and what changes you might make now to reach that goal.


Jeffrey Kadlic works with companies in the wake of a crisis. His small business private equity fund, Evolution Capital Partners, based in Cleveland, uses a system of five “pillars” to take a company out of what he calls “no man’s land.”


Kadlic’s five steps to getting back to business:


CrisisMode_PQ.jpg1. Get timely and accurate financials

“You can’t have any sense of what you’re doing or where you’re going until you measure where you’re at and what your performance has been,” Kadlic says. Some important questions: Where do you stand compared to your peer group? How profitable are you really?


2. Create a plan

Most companies start with a short-term plan, going out at least a few pay periods to evaluate their cash cycles. Kadlic suggests a 100-day plan, which should be enough time to see tangible results from the changes you’re implementing.


3. Put the right people in the right seats

Kadlic equates it to football: How can you create a roster if you don’t yet have a playbook? Once you know the market you’re about to attack, then it’s time to put the right specialists in your lineup to get it done.


4. Be transparent

This part can be difficult for a small business owner who’s used to making most of the decisions. But to have your key staff understand where they fit in this new plan is essential, Kadlic explains. “Show them the big picture and how they’re contributing to the results as a whole,” he says. He recommends monthly meetings to show where everyone stands in proximity to their goal. “It gives people a sense of ownership in what’s going on,” he adds.


5. Be accountable

Give employees a realistic goal against which they can be measured, he says. It sets expectations for old and new staffers. Plus, if someone isn’t working out as you’re trying to get back on track, those benchmarks make a dismissal less of a surprise to the employee and an easier way to define what a successor will need to do, Kadlic says.  


SBC newsletter logo.gifAt all of the businesses he’s bought over the years—most of which he’s entered during crisis mode, “because that’s where the opportunity is”—Hazard says he’s implemented not only a routine of not-to-miss Monday morning meetings, but also a “daily huddle” that keeps the focus on what’s down the road. In that 10-minute meet-up, teams from finance to operations come together to answer the question: What are the things you see that are strategic roadblocks for you right now? “It brings up the things that are going to affect the business long-term,” he says, “but it also gives everyone a chance to help overcome these obstacles and collaborate on a solution.”


Hazard likens it to what he’s learned on the racetrack. “It takes the day-to-day issues and turns them into longer-term strategies,” he says. “That’s what changes the culture.”

Is it a trick or a treat, all of those masks you have to wear when you start and run a business? Consider: When you are the boss, the various hats Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngyou wear likely include:


  • Entrepreneur
  • VP of Sales
  • Chief Marketing Officer
  • Accounts Payable and Receivable
  • Customer Support
  • Public Relations Specialist
  • Social Media Manager
  • Shipping and Receiving Clerk


And that’s just for starters.


For some people, it is a treat to get to take on all of these different tasks because it requires that one keep learning new things. Yet the trick is figuring out how to do all of these things effectively.


It is no easy task. In fact, usually it becomes an impossible one.


One of the real advantages bigger businesses have is that there are people within the organization who are hired and trained to handle these different sorts of specialized duties (i.e. lawyers are in charge of the legal department, accountants run accounting). In a big business, it would be unheard of for the Chief Technology Officer to also be in charge of sales, but in a small business, that sort of double duty is the norm, even when the person is neither trained nor qualified to handle those extra responsibilities.

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The fact is, while entrepreneurs tend to be a hearty, creative lot, able to take on various masks, there comes a point where doing so diminishes returns. As a wise man once said, “If you don’t have an assistant, then you are an assistant.” Overall, it makes little economic or organizational sense for the creative, intelligent entrepreneur to spend his or her time figuratively (or literally) licking stamps.


Here is a better plan:


1. Make a list of your non-essential duties: As a small business owner, there are critical things you must do and other things better left to someone else. Time-management guru Timothy Ferris says that he got so good at delegating the non-essential things that eventually he got down to a 4-hour workweek.


So yes, there are probably a lot of things you do during the day and week that can be handled by someone else. Your valuable time should likely be spent dealing with important customers, getting more business, thinking strategically, and getting the word out about your product or service.


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


2. Make a list of things you are not particularly good at: Aside from non-essential responsibilities, it is also true that you do undoubtedly do important tasks for which you have little aptitude or training. These usually take a lot of time, require a significant learning curve, and thus are also not the best use of your time.


List these too.


3. Delegate to those around you already: If you have employees or contractors with whom you work, it is probably true that they are more capable than you know. Give them some of these extra duties and let them prove it.


If you don’t have a staff, what about recruiting your spouse or kids to help ease your burden?


4. Bring in help: Of course, one reason that many small business owners wear so many hats is that it seems to be the more affordable option. Why hire someone when you can do it yourself? This is of course shortsighted thinking. Businesses can’t grow until the entrepreneur realizes that he or she cannot do it all themselves. Bringing in help (contractors, employees, interns, part-timers, whatever) to ease the burden doesn’t cost, it pays.


Whatever route you choose and can afford, you will have pulled off one of the real entrepreneurial tricks of them all:


Your business will become busier than ever, yet you will, ironically, also have more free time.


Which mask are you wearing at work this Halloween? 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


You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here


GrowingGreen_Body.jpgby Robert Lerose.


Going green—making environmentally sound decisions—seems to be a growing trend among small businesses. The results from Office Depot's Small Business Index report in 2012 found that 61 percent of small businesses were actively trying to go greener and 70 percent planned on going green. Besides the obvious benefits of conserving our limited natural resources, business owners are also discovering that going green doesn't hurt their bottom line. In fact, evidence shows that being environmentally responsible can not only boost company sales, but also create new product categories.


A competitive advantage

Whether your business is taking its first steps toward going green—such as instituting a company-wide recycling program—or deeply embraces sustainability as a core part of its mission, there is plenty of assistance available to accelerate your progress. "We help a range of businesses connect to the growing green marketplace and reach a larger audience," says Misha Clive, marketing and communications manager for the Green Business Network, a Washington, D.C.-based not-for-profit.


One way is through Green America's Green Business Certification, designed especially for small and micro-businesses. The certification is awarded to businesses that are environmentally responsible, socially equitable to its employees and the larger community, and transparent in its business practices. "Our certification program is industry specific, so businesses can get specific advice and resources on the next steps to take to improve the sustainability of their operations," Clive says.


While some skeptics might dismiss this as naive do-goodism, the reality is quite different. A Green America report revealed that 76 percent of small businesses that identified themselves as doing something green said that they saw a profit from their green products and services. "Green consumers are more willing to pay a little bit extra, and that helps with profit margins," Clive explains. "Green businesses actually save on overhead and increase their overall bottom line through their environmentally sound practices."


GrowingGreen_PQ.jpgThe report also found that 79 percent of small businesses surveyed said that going green gave them a competitive advantage because it helped them distinguish themselves to their customers—and their customers, in turn, become brand ambassadors. For example, South Dakota-based Native American Natural Foods sells bison cranberry jerky made from sustainably raised grass-fed bison and uses some of the profits to invest in the local community. In just one year, Clive notes sales jumped to $1.5 million through customer loyalty.


"Can you imagine that happening to some ordinary beef jerky that you buy in a convenience store? I don't think it's likely," Clive says. "It happened because their customers cared about what their business was. The jerky is now distributed in 4,500 stores. That's the advantage of being a green business." 


A valuable exchange

Sometimes the opportunities from green business ventures aren’t always so obvious. Consider Enviro-Log, a Georgia-based business that manufactures environmentally friendly firelogs made by recycling waxed old corrugated containers. Instead of accumulating in landfills, the containers are turned into clean-burning firelogs that generate 50 percent more energy per pound than wood and release 80 percent less carbon monoxide emissions.


"We felt the environmental opportunity coupled with the retail opportunity made a very good green platform business," says Ross McRoy, president of Enviro-Log.


Enviro-Log will haul used waxed containers from retailers and supermarkets at no charge and, through a patented process, produce the firelogs. Still, educating retailers and consumers on the environmental advantages of switching to a new product takes effort.


Results seem to be paying off. McRoy doesn't share actual figures, but he says that sales are growing annually by double digits and that the number of their retail partners is expanding. "It might take you three rotations in front of a retailer to establish your pricing and your message," McRoy says. "It is an education process. We always say we have to do the work for them, so they can see the picture and see what we see."


SBC newsletter logo.gifEngage your employees

Businesses where sustainability and eco-consciousness were part of the mission from the beginning will likely foster a culture that encourages innovative solutions and produces healthy profits, too.


Case in point: New Belgium Brewing, the third-largest brewer of craft beer and the eighth-largest brewer in the country. Founded in 1991 by an electrical engineer and a social worker, the Colorado-based company is 100-percent employee owned by its more than 500 workers.


New Belgium generates power through renewable waste methods, reducing their carbon footprint. "Energy creation had about a two-year payback for us," says Katie Wallace, sustainability specialist at New Belgium. "Ever since 2004, we've been making money and saving money on that. We're basically offsetting coal-powered electricity from our local utility."


New Belgium educates its employees on financials and sustainability metrics, and expects them to contribute to the process of saving money and resources. Sometimes even a small change can have huge repercussions.


For example, two employees came up with the idea of removing the cardboard dividers from the twelve-pack beer carriers. The move saved the company hundreds of thousands of dollars every year and hundreds of tons of cardboard. Since the dividers were inserted by hand, eliminating them also eliminated the leading cause of downtime on the packaging line and amped up productivity.


"Our CFO will tell you any day that we are profitable not in spite of our environmental efforts but because of them," Wallace explains. "We also find that engaging our co-workers in this effort and dedicating ourselves to a higher cause that's beyond making beer and making money and actually makes the world a better place is very fulfilling. We have a 97-percent retention rate—which gives us quite a bit of money that otherwise would be spent on turnover, training, and recruiting."


Not a bad way to help save the planet.

Say what you want about the flamboyant rock band, Kiss, but whether you like (or liked) their music, one thing is clear – these guys knew how to market their business, their band and their brand. The Kiss logo and look are in fact iconic at this point. They have sold well over 100 million records and they remain a top-selling band, even today.


So when lead singer Gene Simmons says something about marketing, I listen. Indeed, one of my favorite quotes ever came from Mr. Simmons: “I like being in a rock-and-roll band,” he said “but I love being in a rock-and-roll brand.”


What did he mean by that? Well, he knows of course that being in a rock band can be fun, but having a brand is what creates longevity and money. What do you think of when I mention the band Kiss? Probably the over-the-top makeup, a constant-party attitude, maybe one garish song or another. That is not by accident. Kiss has worked hard to make sure that their desired brand traits – the ones I just mentioned – are what we think of when we think of them.


The brand pays the bills.


What do you think of when I mention:


  • Mercedes-Benz?
  • Walmart?
  • Starbucks?


All of them have distinct corporate personalities, which is another way of saying they all have a unique brand. It is no accident that you associate low prices with Walmart or high prices and quality with Mercedes and Starbucks. These companies put a lot of time, money, effort and thought into creating their brand identities and getting us to remember them.


Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, once said this regarding brands (and I think we can agree he knows a thing or two about branding): “Customers must recognize that you stand for something.”


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


For the small business owner, it can be argued that having a unique, identifiable brand is even more important than it is for a big business. Why? Because 99 percent of all businesses are small businesses and without a distinctive brand, it will be impossible to stand out from your competitors. It will be very hard to be heard above the din.


Moreover, you will increase your profits if you have a memorable brand. People like brands. They trust brands. They are willing to pay more for a brand. If you are in the market and you see a no-name brand of cereal next to Cheerios, which would you be more inclined to buy?


Exactly. That’s the point.



Your brand is what people think of when they think of your business. A brand is that thing that makes your business unique. Are you the affordable lawyer? The gentle dentist? Whatever it is that makes your business different has to become the thing people remember about you.


Here are some ways to make sure you have an exceptional small business brand:


Consider the name of your business: The true advantage big businesses have over us is their budgets. They can spend millions getting you to remember that you deserve a break today. As a small business, it is harder to do that.

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That is why it is so important to consider the name of your business. It is the first thing people hear about you and is a way to make an instant, positive, and memorable connection. By incorporating your brand into your business name, you immediately jump to the front of the line. For instance:



There is no mistaking what these businesses are all about. Am I telling you to rename your existing business? No, but …


Have a great tagline, and use it over and over again: Your tagline is another way to tell people what goods or services your business offers. Consider the following taglines. Without even thinking, you can recognize which company they belong to:


  • “15 minutes will save you 15 percent, or more, on your car insurance.”
  • “We’ll leave the light on for you.”
  • “Just do it.”


Repetition and clarity are the keys.


Be cohesive and consistent: Everything you do must reflect your desired brand identity to help make your company more memorable. The name of your business, its location, your pricing, your logo and tagline, your website, your social media accounts, even the colors you choose must be consistent across the board to reinforce one another.


For instance, a fish taco place might use the color aqua throughout, have a beach-themed website, a beach-vibe shop, catchy beachy names for menu items, and so on. People will understand and remember it.


Conversely, if you fail to create a unique brand, you can KISS your profits goodbye.


What are some ways you have successfully branded your business? 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


You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

TurnDownCustomers_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.


Yoga is supposed to be an escape to mindfulness and physical rejuvenation.


But running a yoga studio is like any business, and Patrice Simon has had to refuse some customers. Once, she even had to summon police to her busy Costa Mesa, California, spot, Bikram Yoga Studio, when a student became alarmingly verbally abusive.


“It’s been a lesson in psychology for me. There are individuals who intentionally raise their voice at the desk or become insulting—and they do it so an audience can hear them,” explains Simon “I don’t let it get that far. I say, ‘You need to leave, and now.’ I get a vibe from dealing with people at this point. This individual went far over the line.”


It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes it’s best to turn down a customer. Many business owners say it’s rarely as straightforward as encountering an unruly person at the other side of the counter. It could be that the limits of your own enterprise are overstretched, or their deadline is impossible to meet. Mostly, it’s just one of those things that only your gut can tell you.


Everyone’s in business to make money, but when are those dollars just not worth it? Here are four situations that small business owners say they’ve encountered on the road to saying “no thanks” to new customers.


1)  It’s never going to be profitable


Some projects require an investment to keep relationships with big potential growing. And there are times when you have to hold your nose and say yes in order to keep your doors open. But those numbers need to add up somewhere on the horizon.


Michael Bremmer is founder and CEO of, a Marino Valley, California telecommunications-solutions provider for small and midsize businesses. He says 20 years of trial and error have led him to ask three questions of himself for any new customer: 1) What’s his gut feeling about the individual or business? (“Every time I’ve ignored my gut, I’ve paid the price,” he says.) 2) How reasonable are their requests? and 3) Is the amount of profit worth the time and effort?  “Even if you’re struggling to start your business, you have to choose so wisely because your time is your most valuable asset,” Bremmer says.


For example, Bremmer has had to send some customers to competitors or outright “fire” others. He says he recently had to cut off a longtime family friend who became unreasonable about pricing. He struggled with the decision because he could see how stress had made her irrational, but “the client who keeps you awake at 3 a.m.—that’s the one you’ve got to fire.”


2)  Haggling over price


John Olson calls them “the price hunters” and he’s learned to turn them away over his 20 years in business. They’re the people who call or email GrayStone Industries, his pond and fountain-supply company in Cleveland, Georgia,, with eyes only on the price tag. He says his staff gets calls from people who say they’ve contacted them and their competitors, and will buy from whoever has the lowest price.


In those cases, Olson says “we will not even provide a quote, which would force some other poor seller into beating it by sacrificing their own profit. That’s not the way we want to do business.”  His products and these projects, he says, require a “modicum of intelligence” from customers, and his staff is constantly trained to assist anyone with questions before or after a sale. So forget about a retail race to the bottom, he explains. “Anyone who cares more about the price than the company selling these type of products is setting themselves up for failure—it will come back to haunt any company who caters to this type of customer.”


TurnDownCustomers_NEW_PQ.jpg3) Negative or abusive comments


The customer is always right? Let’s hope not, judging by the unprecedented abuse that business owners say they’re experiencing via the Internet. Melinda West, founder and CEO of, a curtain and window-treatment ecommerce site based in Lakeville, Pennsylvania., says she has a greatest-hits collection of the crude, angry, or wacky messages she’s seen from the site’s order-comments box since she opened in 1999.


“People seem to have no problem leaving messages, but in person they likely wouldn’t be that crass,” West says. “The comments are so rude or bizarre that you don’t know whether to take them seriously.” So she’s had to block some users’ IP numbers from the site, canceled orders with a brief note, or told the pushiest ones that their goods were out of stock—just to make them go away. Though West says the overwhelming majority of the company’s orders are pleasant or at least uneventful, cutting off negative new customers no longer keeps her up at night. “Sometimes people are nasty and they don’t even order anything—how can they be so irate over curtains?”


4) A bad fit


Maybe the work is too outside your specialty, the budget is a tough stretch, or ethical or personal lines are crossed. Don’t ignore the red flags. Frank Ebysen, a founder of Santa Monica, California-based OnClick Marketing, an SEO and social media services company, says he’s adopted a “serious person” test, a concept his business partner learned from co-workers at a company overseas. For example, there are clients who have good ideas, but the lack of a sound game plan makes them problematic, he says. Now when they discuss whether to take on a client or turn them away, it comes down to whether the person is genuine and worth their expertise, or if they come off as “not a serious person.”


Or you could turn the tables. One PR agency executive says her small agency has started asking potential clients for a list of their references before they agree to do business. “They’ll get the feeling that you are selective and not just looking to make a buck. You’ll appear to be the leader in the situation—but mostly it helps to ward off the ones who will be a headache,” she says.


SBC newsletter logo.gifPerhaps turning away someone’s business could possibly help make that customer look within, to see that they were —gasp!—wrong. Simon says that yoga client who sparked the police call came back to her studio a year later, seeking forgiveness and promising to behave. He’s been a regular on the mats there for years now.


She says it’s added to the meaning of her business. “You never know what’s going on in someone’s life. There are students I see that are in such despair and in a heightened state of anxiety. They are coming to me to take care of that,” Simon says. “When you can understand that, then you’re doing your job.”

Hispanicbiz_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.


America’s Hispanic entrepreneurs have been on a tear.


There are now more than 3.1-million Hispanic-owned businesses in the U.S., an increase of nearly 40 percent since 2007 and double the number recorded in 2002. And despite the lingering weakness from the Great Recession that began at that time, revenue at those companies jumped 30 percent to a projected $468 billion for 2013.


That’s according to a new study by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Geoscape, a Miami-based demographics-intelligence company. Drawing on an analysis of data from the Census Bureau, the Department of Commerce, and proprietary resources, the researchers found the rapid growth in America’s Hispanic population is being reflected across the U.S. business landscape. There were about 52 million Latinos in America in 2012; they make up 17 percent of the nation’s population, according to the Pew Hispanic Center and Census figures.


Among the findings of the report:


Hispanics are more likely to be self-employed when compared to the general U.S. population. Some 9.1 percent of Hispanics are self-employed; that number tops at 7.8 percent for all of America, according to statistics from Geoscape and the market research company Scarborough.


The study predicts that the region it dubs the South Atlantic—which includes the states Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland—will surpass the Pacific states this year in terms of the number of Hispanic-owned businesses, for the highest concentration in the U.S. The Pacific division—California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska—is estimated to have 795,839. The South Atlantic is projected to have 866,000.


The region with the highest rate of growth between 2007 and 2013 is the study’s East South Central states—Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi—with a 59 percent increase in Hispanic-owned businesses. The South Atlantic followed, with 52 percent.


Nearly 30 percent of Hispanics who identify themselves as small business owners earn more than $100,000. Comparatively, 20 percent of all U.S. households earn more than $100,000 in annual household income.



The USHCC and Geoscape teamed up to investigate the health of this market as each struggled to fill the gaps left by standard measures, says Thomas Verna, vice president for marketing at Geoscape. The U.S. Census does a Survey of Business Owners every five years, with 2007’s readings released in 2010. Data taken last year won’t be made available until 2015.


“We felt the need for this data was clear and necessary,” says Verna who adds that the data draws a very positive picture for young Hispanic entrepreneurs, not just in the typical business segments, but in other more meaningful areas as well, such as technology, creative arts, retail, and consumer goods. “We believe there is a new rebirth and succession plan for American businesses that will include innovation and entrepreneurship from many different segments of our multicultural population.”


Hispanicbiz_PQ.jpgGeoscape further broke down the numbers according to an internal marketing metric that categorizes the Hispanic Americans into five demographic segments, each defined by the degree to which members “have adopted American culture, language, and traditions.” (For more on these segments, download the company’s breakdown here.)


Among those groups, Geoscape found 57 percent of Hispanic business owners were bilingual and bicultural. But some 26 percent of the entrepreneurs were classified as those who a) preferred to speak Spanish, b) immigrated as an adult more than 10 years ago, and c) follow Hispanic cultural practices. The findings track a recent Gallup World survey that found newcomers were more likely to possess entrepreneurial characteristics than native-born residents in high-income economies.


Verna says Geoscape analysts weren’t surprised by the South Atlantic’s new dominance in the Hispanic-owned business numbers. “Here in Florida, there has been a significant growth in South American immigration and with that has come a significant influx of capital, resources and ambition,” he says. But he also pointed to California, where the growth in various Asian populations has brought similar resources to the business communities there, offering a different picture of small business opportunity.


It’s a level of growth that’s becoming impossible for the wider economy to ignore, says Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the USHCC. “Oftentimes, the Hispanic business community has been viewed as a separate entity,” he says. “While we are proud of being businesses who happen to be Hispanic, we are first and foremost American businesses. Every tax bill we pay, every job we create, every product we manufacture and every service we provide goes to benefit the American economy.”

There are no shortages of ways to communicate these days. Whether it is by email, text, phone, a blog, online comments, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, land line, or – get this – face-to-face, the sheer number of ways to get your message heard is almost overwhelming.Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png


Despite all these options, communication is still an issue in many small businesses. There are many reasons for this, of course: Some people are better at communication than others, and some offices make it a priority while others do not.


And for many small businesses, the emerging mobile workplace has made communication an even bigger challenge than ever before. Indeed, studies show that on average, office workers work at least 25 percent of the time outside of the office now.


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


So getting a handle on how to communicate well in today’s office environment is critical to the success of any business. Good communication makes a business more effective, increases morale and productivity, and creates a sense of teamwork, camaraderie and shared purpose.


So how do you get there? The secret is to marry some old-school methods with some high-tech solutions. Here are seven ways to improve the communication within your office:


1. Hold regular staff meetings: While people may not like them, all-office meetings are still the best way to get everyone on the same page. Management can set goals, review products and procedures, set priorities, and discuss issues. Employees can raise concerns, ask questions, and get immediate feedback. Many businesses start every day with a short staff meeting to make sure everyone is clear and headed in the same direction.


2. Have quarterly one-on-one, face-to-face meetings: Having regular check-ins with employees is a tried-and-true communication tool for a reason – it works. By giving each member of your team personal feedback, and by really hearing and responding to their questions, concerns, goals and priorities, you ensure that everyone will feel heard, because they are heard.

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3. Have a suggestion box: A suggestion box is another old school idea that works – if you take some of the suggestions. Such feedback is so valuable that some companies give rewards for the best suggestions that management implements. Again, this is an easy way to get people to feel like their opinion matters.


4. Send out weekly company emails: A weekly bulletin can announce important events and changes, communicate weekly sales goals, and generally ensure that everyone is aware of what is happening in the company.


5. Permit, and encourage, instant messaging and texting: Given that this is how so many of us communicate these days anyway, it is important to use it to the advantage of your business. Instant messages are a fine way to facilitate collaboration, especially when email chains can get so laborious and time-consuming.


Instant messaging gives your employees the opportunity to communicate with one another and get their questions answered without disturbing others in the office. It is an instantaneous, convenient and informal method of communication that will help build relationships among your employees.


6. Create your own private social network: Social networks are great because they allow us to communicate with people virtually. The problem is that they are not private, and much of what is said inside a business is private. That’s why creating your own personal social network makes so much sense. A tool like Yammer aggregates inboxes, instant messaging, announcements, and much more.


7. Use an online collaboration platform: Especially with so many people working remotely, a smart way to stay in touch is to gather everyone online in one place. Tools like Basecamp and Podio are terrific project management applications for just this purpose.


The best offices use a combination of the tools listed here. Although online options are important, face-to-face communication cannot be beat. By combining the two, you will create a better work environment for your employees.


How do you encourage communication in your business? 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

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here



QAJackBarber_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.


What did you do on your college break? Jack Barber and Ben Berman became business owners. Their budding food-truck empire started two years ago when they were barely voting age, and now includes three vehicles, 15 employees, and an award-winning sandwich that’s drawing crowds in Maine. All of this while each is a full-time student more than 100 miles away during the academic year—Barber at Babson College, Berman at Tufts University outside Boston. Business writer Erin McDermott recently talked to Barber about how they balance academics and entrepreneurship, managing Millennials, and navigating the red-hot food-truck trend.


EM: How did you two get started?

JB: In the fall of 2011, Ben and I were freshman at our respective colleges and we were trying to figure out exactly what we wanted to do for the summer. We loved being in Maine, but unfortunately there aren’t many internships there. We came up with this crazy idea because we were meeting up in Boston at these food trucks. We thought: ‘Why don’t we try to bring these to Portland? No one’s done it yet.’ We seized the market opportunity, pooled our resources with friends and family, and purchased a food truck. At the time, Portland didn’t allow for them. In December, a friend of ours in the food industry suggested that we target a local beach.


So that’s where Mainely Burgers went—we had this business plan, and a food truck and we knew what we wanted to do with it. We went to Scarborough Beach and offered to run their concession stands and brought in our trailer to do all of the other types of food. It kind of just took off from there—to the point that we were able to add a second truck this year and then an ice cream truck as well.


EM: How did the beach officials react when the two of you—at all of 18 years old—came to them that January?

JB: At first, it wasn’t much of a reaction. After the pitch, we had a week of twiddling our thumbs and wondering what was going on and what we were going to do. Fortunately, we had some friends that had connections to the beach who were able to get us into a back-and-forth discussion to find out where we stood. Finally, about a week later, we got an email from the beach officials saying, “We absolutely want to go through with this.”  And that’s really when the business started.


EM: And all of that time, you were both balancing being college freshman with this?

JB: School work, acclimating, joining different clubs, being a part of sports teams—it was the whole package deal here.


EM: You ran into some local laws involving food trucks. What was the learning curve like?

JB: My dad, who’s in the food business, was a huge help, directing us in some of the areas where we didn’t understand it early on, like with insurance. In Portland we’ve been lobbying to change these laws for a while, so we had a good grasp of what we faced. The license part was difficult and frustrating. With Scarborough it was easy. When you go into Portland, it was a new market and the city was struggling to figure out what to do with it, so there was a lot of duplication of efforts. But that’s the price you pay for being in a city.


QAJackBarber_PQ.jpgEM: How has all of this influenced your academic life at school?

JB: It’s definitely been an unbelievable experience for school. I’m able to take everything I’m learning from the business, whether it’s finance, management, or organizational behavior. Even with people, it’s all applicable to what I’m doing at school. When I’m in class, I’m always thinking about how this relates to Mainely Burgers. A lot of my examples come from my past experiences there, so I love being able to do that. I’ve been able to become part of several groups at Babson, such as Food Sol, which is a food-solutions organization here. I’ve been able to connect with so many other people, including [Food Network TV host] Andrew Zimmern and other local entrepreneurs looking to start businesses. It’s cool for a 20-year-old to say I’ve got people asking me how to run their businesses.


EM: The conventional wisdom is that Millennials can be difficult employees. But you’re not only a Millennial boss; you also have mostly Millennial workers. What’s your view?

JB: I absolutely love having Millennials work for us. What I love is that they have a willingness to learn more. When we’re in the trucks, our employees are constantly asking questions—how do we improve on this? Why do we do this in this specific way? Whatever it is, they just want to learn. Truth be told, if a 20-year-old tries to ask someone who’s 35 to do something—and this is why we do this—they’re not going to listen as much. There’s a kind of respect that you get from Millennials when you’re the same age or they’re a little younger than you. They want to become part of this business because there’s something bigger, there’s more to it.  


EM: What happens now that you’re both back at school?

JB: We decided that we would shut down while we’re away. We had talked about possibly hiring a management team to do the fall, but we were nervous about it and didn’t want to risk the brand name. There are a few events that we’re catering—Ben or I will go back [to Portland]  for that. We were back last weekend for a late-night wedding, which was a lot of fun, and we have a few football parties. We’ll see about next year and we’ll re-assess. It’s the difficulty of finding someone to do it and being able to trust them. Realistically, we’d only run through mid-October and then shut down.


EM: You recently won the title of Best Burger in Maine from the foodie website Eater—by a wide margin. What’s your secret?

JB: We use a griddle to get a nice fry on it. It’s pan-frying a burger, basically. We have a house blend of seasonings that doesn’t overpower the meat. We use really good meat that’s 80/20 [lean to fat ratio]. We just flip it twice—you don’t want to flip it more than twice because it lets all of the juices out. And use great toppings. Butter the buns. Ben and I grew up at cookouts with cheeseburgers. There’s so much you can do that you’d never expect. One of our burgers we came up with this year has a pico de gallo that we make. It’s one of those combinations that you’d never expect that makes it great.

There are some things you can expect when you start a business. These are things you know will be true:


  • It will be fun and exciting
  • Finding customers and clients may be a challengeSteve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png
  • You will learn a lot


But there are also things you can’t know until you jump into the deep end of entrepreneurship. Let’s call these, “the things they don’t tell you.” For example:


  • It usually takes longer to get started and get ahead than you anticipate
  • It will probably cost more than you estimate
  • Running a business by yourself can be lonely
  • As a business owner, you will wear many hats
  • You must be a jack-of-all-trades to be successful


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That last point is especially salient. You have to be a jack-of-all-trades if you want to run your own business because that is the nature of the gig – it’s all on you sometimes.


But keep in mind: it is impossible to know it all. No one can. So, not only will you need to know and learn a lot, you will also likely miss the additional intellectual firepower that you had when you worked for someone else. Maybe being an employee was not for you, but I can safely say that it is nice to have smart people around to collaborate with.


These are just a few reasons why your business should seriously consider aligning with some small business groups and associations. Another reason is that it is good for business – networking gives your business exposure to both the community and professionals who may be in need of your products/services.


If you align your business with a business-focused group, organization, or association, you will gain access to a plethora of programs and assistance. You will encounter smart, sharp people whose job it is to help your business succeed. You will also meet other association members who have interests and skills that align with yours. All in all, it’s usually a smart move.


Pull Quote.pngSo, which associations should you join? There are many to choose from, both locally and nationally. Here are a few to consider:


Your local chamber of commerce: A chamber of commerce works to help local businesses by hosting networking events, offering business and marketing assistance and providing greater exposure for your business. The chamber will also have demographic information about the area that could be beneficial to your daily operations.


Other chambers: There are also niche chambers that may be a better fit your business. For instance, the purpose of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is “to foster Hispanic economic development and to create sustainable prosperity for the benefit of American society. The USHCC mission is accomplished [in different ways, including] implementing and strengthening national programs that assist the economic development of Hispanic firms.”


Depending upon your type of business, you may want to join a more focused group.


Small Business Development Centers: SBDCs are an offshoot of the Small Business Administration and might be another valuable tool in your association toolbox. SBDCs can help with:


  • Writing a business plan
  • Getting a loan
  • Networking
  • Counseling and training


National Association of Women-Owned Business: NAWBO assists and represents the country’s more than 10 million women-owned businesses. It has more than 7,000 members and 70 chapters across the country. As the group says, NAWBO is a “one-stop resource to propel women business owners into greater economic, social and political spheres of power worldwide.”


Other associations you might want to consider joining are:



As you can see, there is no shortage of groups and associations out there that can help you succeed. The smart small business will take advantage of them.


Have you recently joined an organization that has been beneficial to growing your business? 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

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