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Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium No Text.pngThere is plenty of good news in the latest Bank of America Small Business Owner Report (SBOR), but maybe the best of all is that almost a third of small business owners surveyed are looking to hire in 2014.

And why are they hiring? That’s good news too. More than half said it was due to an increase in business, about a third said it was because they needed to bring in employees with additional skills, and a quarter said it was to relieve overworked staff. Small businesses are hiring because business is up. As I said, it’s good news all around.


And all of this hiring begs the question: Once you have found great employees, how do you keep them coming back every day?


1. Money: According to the SBOR, 54 percent of those small business owners surveyed said that they use “competitive salaries” to retain key employees. So yes indeed, as we all know, money is a mighty motivator.


Aside from competitive salaries, offering raises and bonuses to people who excel at their job is also a time-honored tradition for good reason – it too works. If you decide to use bonuses or a raise for that purpose (45 percent in the SBOR do), the important thing is to be sure to tie the increase to job performance. By letting people know that there is a carrot they can get if they reach certain performance goals, you will be creating a culture where people will feel rewarded for a job well done.

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


2. Recognition: Aside from financial remuneration, the other important way to make people feel wanted is to recognize them for a job well done, both publicly and privately.

  • Publicly, by letting the rest of the company know that, say, Alisha did a great job, you reinforce to both Alisha and the rest of your staff that you value a job well done. People love that.
  • The same goes for private recognition, only more so. Surveys of employee satisfaction routinely indicate that the happiest employees are those who feel valued. So be sure to let them know that they are in fact valued. Alisha is far more likely to stick around if she thinks that her boss appreciates the excellent job she is doing, and vice versa. If she feels unappreciated, she is likely to bolt.


3. Career development: More than a quarter of the entrepreneurs surveyed in the SBOR use career development as a tool for retaining great employees. This strategy works particularly well with Millennial employees, for a couple of reasons:


  • Because they are at the beginning of their career, Millennials view having and gaining skills as critical to their development and employability.
  • They also know that they will have many employers and several careers and thus, appreciate being able to learn new skills and strengthen the ones they already have.


Pull Quote.png4. Flextime: Another benefit valued by Millennial employees in particular, but also by almost any employee, is having the opportunity to balance work and life via flextime and variable schedules. The good news about offering flextime to your staff is that it costs you little but gets you a lot.


This strategy is also reflected in the SBOR where 47 percent of the respondents said they use flextime as a way to retain staff.


5. Listen: A statistic that jumped out at me when I looked over the SBOR results was that 38 percent of those polled said that they use recognition and implementation of employee ideas and suggestions as a retention strategy.


Upon second thought of course, it made sense. People work for all sorts of different reasons – to make money of course, but also, to gain skills and make a difference. It is that last point that is in play here. Listening to your staff means that you value their thoughts, that what they think and do does in fact make a difference.


And in the end, that is the bottom line when it comes to getting great employees to stick around. If they feel wanted and appreciated, if you show them with words and deeds that that is so, they will feel like their work is important and valuable.


And who would ever want to leave work like that?


What strategies do you use to retain top talent? 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


QAallancohen_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.


Savvy businesspeople may recognize Allan R. Cohen’s name from their bookshelf. Along with his writing partner, Stanford University’s David L. Bradford, he’s the bestselling author of the classic management titles Managing for Excellence and Influence Without Authority. The academic pair has consulted for dozens of top U.S. companies and they are widely considered as go-to gurus of leadership education. If you haven’t been lucky enough to sit in their classroom, here is your chance: In a few months, their massive open online course (MOOC) will go live. It’s part of a pilot with Cohen’s school, Babson University, and NovoED, a Stanford University education startup that’s focusing on connecting networks of small teams of learners. The best part: it’s free. Writer Erin McDermott recently spoke with Prof. Cohen about the new course—Lead Like an Entrepreneur—and why business owners might want to tune in to a virtual session.


EM: In addition to being an author, scholar, and business consultant, you’ve been teaching business students since the 1960s. How does what you’ll be doing with NovoED compare with what you’ve been doing in traditional classrooms?

AC: For the last seven or so years, I’ve been doing hybrid courses, both face-to-face and online. That’s in the direction of NovoED, but it’s different. When you see students in the classroom, you develop a relationship with them, and online continues it and may even deepen it. With NovoED, we’re never going to see the students. A lot of the ‘teaching’ is really what they do with each other. In the hybrid version, there’s a huge amount of students teaching each other, but I’m still deciding when to respond, when to intervene, when to ask a new question. With a MOOC, that’s pretty difficult: There can be thousands of people and you can’t possibly read every post. Part of why I’m doing it is the challenge of trying to figure out if it’s possible to create meaningful, interactive, and engaging learning experiences when we’re not there. We do that in the hybrid, where we get a heavy and rich discussion—but that’s a different relationship. The evolution moves away from the ‘sage on the stage’—as they call it—to the designer of the experiences. In my field, the challenge is to create dilemmas that students have to resolve and to which there aren’t necessarily correct answers.


QAallancohen_PQ.jpgEM: This class is called Lead Like an Entrepreneur. What can folks who are running their own businesses learn from it?

AC: We see leadership as an interesting mix of who you are and what you do. Who you are as a person very much influences the way others respond to you. Part of what we’re doing is trying to get people to do self-examinations, increase their self-awareness, and think about their impact on other people. We hope to enable that with material and virtual teams where they can discuss stuff, and hopefully get to the place where they can give each other some feedback. That’s one territory. Another requirement, for someone leading his or her own company, is to be able to articulate, sell, and commit to a vision of what your organization is about, how it will make a difference to people. We have examples and can help participants create a strong vision statement. It’s not just about putting words on paper—it’s about making it work and having people believe it in an organization that is consistent with that. Another thing that leaders of entrepreneurial organizations have to do is to create a team: Get people to join them who will collaborate to make the organization. Finally, there’s the whole field of how you influence people you don’t control—we’ve written a few books on this—and how you can give powerful feedback to people to help them learn and grow, and how to take feedback so you can learn and grow.


With all of these, we are opening up possibilities. It won’t go as deep as an actual course can go. One of the fascinating things about MOOCs and online education is that in some ways you can’t create the same kind of depth, but in other ways you get all of these people talking to each other, so it can be even richer. Education has to be about engaging people and getting them to wrestle with things and come to their own resolutions on issues.


EM: One of the biggest differences with this class: This will be free, which drops a barrier that has kept so many people away.

AC:  We also know that, so far, most MOOCs have extremely low completion rates. So, it’s free, but people drop out or drop in and out, and when there’s no obligation to complete anything, most people drop out. Part of what I’m interested in is can you make it engaging enough so that people stay. I don’t know. We’ll find out.


SBC newsletter logo.gifEM: And it’s the other unknown: How many people will show up? Stanford’s had classes with more than 200,000 participants. Are you prepared for that?

AC: We’re prepared in the sense that we’re designing for 25,000 or 30,000 people. We might end up with nine from all I can tell! In the design of it, I think of it as having two core elements: One is that we are not leading a discussion—we are creating something that lets students have a discussion. Another is constant trimming. We were estimating how much video there would be of us talking, and the answer was “less than we originally planned.”


EM: It’s a fascinating leap for everybody when you think about it.

AC: It is fascinating. David Bradford and I are both very skeptical and very intrigued. The idea that you might be able to get this stuff out into the world to a lot of people is very intriguing. And I think we’re just at the beginning. Most of the MOOCs so far have been about disseminating content. I’ve written a lot of books—people know what I have to say, content-wise. It’s getting people to practice what they’re learning, and get responses to it that’s the trick.


This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngEvery New Year’s over at my USA TODAY Ask an Expert column, I write a Top Trends in small business column. It is two-parts research, one part prognostication. Over the years, some things have come to be perennial guests on the list, for example, the latest and greatest tech innovation (pay-per-click to social media and now, mobile marketing.) Others trends show up on the list but once, only to never be seen again, for example, in 2007: Global Warming May Put You Out of Business. (OK, we can’t get them all right!)


So I was thinking about the trends and issues that small business face recently as 1) it is that time of year again, and 2) the latest edition of the Bank of America Small Business Owner Report came into my inbox. The SBOR is a semi-annual survey that looks at the concerns and perspectives of small business owners across the country. It is always chock-full of useful, surprising insights, and the latest one is no different.


So what is the state of small business today?


Good, very good.


The first thing I noticed as I reviewed the poll results was just how optimistic those surveyed are about both the national economy and their local economy. (The SBOR surveys 1,000 small business owners whose annual income is between $100,000 and $4,999,999 and who employ between 2 and 99 employees. In addition, 300 small business owners were surveyed in each of nine big cities, for 3700 in total).


  • 41 percent said the national economy will improve (compared to 34 percent last year)
  • 45 percent said their local economy will improve (compared to 38 percent last year)


So the confidence of small business owners is on the rise, and that’s a good thing for all of us.


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

Not surprisingly, this confidence translates into hiring as 31 percent of respondents said they planned to increase hiring this year, mostly due to an expected increase in business and to bring in new skills to the business. Also, 20 percent plan on simply increasing the hours of their regular employees this holiday season to account for the extra business they expect.

Pull Quote.pngHowever you cut it, small business owners expect an uptick in business.


We hear a lot these days about how the new health care law is effecting hiring, with some companies getting a lot of press for their vow not to hire so they don’t have to comply with certain aspects of the law. From the results in the SBOR, we see that most small business owners are not that shortsighted with 56 percent saying that Obamacare will have no effect on their hiring decisions. Only about a quarter said that as a result of the law they will hire only part-time and contract staff.


If there is any “bad news” in the report, I suppose it is that only 27 percent surveyed even offer health insurance to their employees. But this does not mean that they do not take care of their staff. Indeed, more than 9 out of 10 small business owners took some sort of action to “increase employee retention,” such as:

  • Offering competitive salaries (54 percent)
  • Offering flex time work options (47 percent)
  • Bonuses (45 percent)
  • Asking for, and implementing, employee feedback (38 percent)
  • Offering career development (28 percent)


The same is true this holiday season with the small business owners surveyed stating that they plan to offer perks like bonuses, a holiday party, flex and vacation time, and gifts, as a way to thank loyal staffers.


And what about the Millennial employee, do small business owners like hiring them? You bet. More than half surveyed said Millennials (ages 18-34) offer a unique skill set, and 50 percent said that Millennials are conscientious in a way that adds benefit to the company.


The upshot of that is that we can see why people like working for small business. Aside from the oft-found friendly, family atmosphere present at small businesses, it is clear that the owners of these companies value their staff and work hard to keep and make them happy.


And you can also see why the SBOR is such a valuable tool. It is a snapshot into the state of small business, every six months, and don’t you love it when your pictures turn out so great?

Looking at the next 12 months, where do you think the state of small business will be in 2014?

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

We are pleased to share the fall 2013 Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, a semi-annual study that uncovers the concerns, aspirations and perspectives of small business owners across the country. Our fall report takes a close look at the challenges of finding and retaining the right talent, revenue and growth expectations, the impact of the holiday season and access to capital.

Small business owners surveyed are optimistic about their growth in 2014, with nearly one-third planning to hire over the next 12 months, and more than half expecting their revenue to increase over the same time period. The critical role talent plays in the success of a business is one area where all owners can agree; however, finding and keeping the right talent can be difficult. Fall_SBOR.gifAlmost half of those surveyed say finding qualified employees is difficult, and more than nine in ten take steps to retain the valuable workers they already employ.


At Bank of America, we know that small business owners are an essential element of our local and national economies. That’s why our banking experts are there for them, in neighborhoods across the country, to help them with their deposit, investment, cash management and credit needs.


Whether they’re looking to make operational improvements or grow their employee base, Bank of America is committed to helping our small business clients realize their vision for a successful 2014.


Click Here to Download the Bank of America Small Business Owner Report.

Benchmarking Guide Thumb.jpgBenchmarking has evolved from a complex, time-consuming endeavor to a flexible strategy for finding ways to improve your company’s performance. With more informal approaches available, it gives small business owners an excellent tool for comparing their practices with those of their competitors. It even provides a means of learning how practices in other industries can convert to strategies for your company’s long-term growth.

Click here to download our guide "Benchmarking as a Competitive Tool"

People like to complain that the day after Thanksgiving, “Black Friday,” has become an overhyped shopping sensation around the nation, but the statistics tell another story. It turns out most of us love the onset of the shopping season. According to,


  • More than one in three Americans will go shopping on Black FridaySteve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png
  • 57 percent find the experience “fun”
  • 42 percent in fact say it is their favorite day of the year to shop

Similarly, that next Monday, so called “Cyber Monday,” has also increasingly grown in popularity. According to IBM, Cyber Monday sales last year grew by more than 30 percent from the year before.


So, the hype is real, and so too is the opportunity. You need to be prepared for both Black Friday and Cyber Monday because whether you think so or not, they will affect your business. Customers are ready to shop.


Here’s how:


Black Friday Strategies


Get in a “Sales” frame of mind: Sales are the thing that lures shoppers into the malls and other stores, so get with the program if you want yours to be one of the stores that people head to.


Get your sale ready now, and don’t just put your overstocked, unused items on sale, instead, discount those items people like most. This will attract more customers into your store and ultimately, allow you to sell them other items that are not on sale.


Promote the heck out of your sale: During Black Friday and Cyber Monday, sale promotions can be found just about everywhere (i.e. on TV, in the newspaper, etc.), so you have no choice but to get your message out there too. Put signs in your store promoting your upcoming sale, plug it into your e-newsletter, and advertise it online and off.


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


Let’s focus for a moment on your e-newsletter, because that has increasingly become the promo vehicle of choice for many small businesses. The most important thing is to make sure that your subject line really catches their attention.


  • Give people a reason to open your email: “25% off discount code inside!”
  • Have a great call to action: “Black Friday Blowout! Coupon inside for half-off all sweaters.”


Make them an offer they can’t refuse: What sort of offers work? Aside from steep discounts, consider also:


  • Everything on sale!”: Discounting the whole store is tough, yes, but the increased traffic should make up for it.
  • Free gift with purchase”: Remember, the two most important words in retail are “free” and “sale.” A free gift ties in with that mindset.
  • No hassle return policy”: This makes shopping with you safe


Also, be sure to have cheap stocking stuffers at the checkout counter.


Gift cards are king: Gift cards have become one of the most popular presents, so another way to increase sales and traffic into your store is to offer them in your store as well.


Be prepared: You better have enough stock on hand, so order from suppliers early. Also, have plenty of staff trained and scheduled to handle the rush. Do you gift-wrap? You probably should.


Cyber Monday Strategies


Get your site ready: The error-plagued rollout of the Obamacare website is an important reminder that you should test your site and have it ready for the (hopefully) increased traffic one should expect to see on Cyber Monday. Have enough bandwidth. Also, be sure to upload current product descriptions and pictures.


Offer brands: There are all sorts of reasons to promote brands on your site and have brand discounts on Cyber Monday: People love name brands, they love discounts on brands, and brands lend your site credibility.


Get your site mobile ready: Both your site and your email promotions must have the smartphone in mind, because more and more, that is how people are shopping online.


Offer free shipping: The Internet is a culture of free and discounts, so if you want to play there, you have to keep that in mind. People expect to find discounts online, and they often expect free shipping. Usually, online merchants will offer free shipping with an order of a certain amount, but also consider free shipping on any order of any amount.


Promote it: E-newsletters, blogging, pay-per-click, Facebook contests and promotions – there are no shortages of ways to get the word out.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are huge opportunities but only if you are ready. My suggestion is to get ready now.


How have you prepared your business in the past for Black Friday and Cyber Monday? 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

by Iris Dorbian.Franchising_Body.jpg


When Ron Holt signed up to buy a house-cleaning franchise in Pensacola, Florida 10 years ago, he was, in his words, a "bright-eyed 28-year-old full of blind energy." Unfortunately, his eagerness quickly turned into disappointment and disillusionment—and that was during the initial training week.


"I realized that the franchise system worked extremely hard to limit my success," recalls Holt. "I knew that I was going to be charged a royalty on all revenues, but I had no idea that so many other costs were going to be originating from the franchise home office.”


In compliance with rules, the franchisor mandated that all franchisees buy marketing materials from its home office. This edict also applied to cleaning and office supplies as well.


"Worst of all, there was a vague technology fee that the franchisor demanded for IT support," Holt explains. “It disturbed me because I truly wanted to live the life of an entrepreneur."


After paying a penalty fee, Holt backed out of the franchise agreement. He soon bought a small mom-and-pop cleaning shop that has since grown into Two Maids & A Mop, a thriving business with 12 locations in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. Now comes the twist: Although Holt had vowed never to consider franchising his business, Two Maids & A Mop recently sold its first franchise in Tampa, Florida. Holt adds that more franchise deals are scheduled to be signed before year-end.


So what happened to convert this one-time franchise skeptic?


"I knew what was wrong with the house-cleaning franchising industry based on my early experiences,” he says. “But what if I could do things differently? What if I could set up the franchisee for success rather than for my maximum profit?"


By charging only royalties—and nothing else—to potential franchisees, Holt feels he's reinvented the franchise business model. Time will tell if this blueprint will be successful. But it's certainly an example of turning a negative franchise experience into a new way of operating. Consider these lessons before you sign on to become a franchisee:


Franchising_PQ.jpgDo your due diligence

As Holt's anecdote demonstrates, had he done his research before signing up with his first franchise, he would not have been so blindsided by the franchisor's requirements. Consequently, Holt wasted time and money (approximately $25,000, which Holt says was separate from the initial franchise fee and miscellaneous startup costs) when he could have been building an independent small business for himself.  

Edward Kushell, president of the Los Angeles-based The Franchise Consulting Group, which helps entrepreneurs franchise their business operations, agrees wholeheartedly.


"The irony in [not doing your due diligence as a potential franchisee] is that in today’s world where there is instant and comprehensive information available on almost anything, learning about given franchise opportunities is not difficult,” he says, noting that he’s the former owner of eight franchises. “Moreover, franchising is regulated by certain states or by the Federal Trade Commission and requires franchisors to disclose information to a prospective franchisee prior to any franchise sale."


In addition to gathering as much information as you can about your potential franchise opportunity, Kushell also advises franchisee candidates to check consumer watchdog sites such as Ripoff Report or BlueMauMau, to uncover any unethical practices. And of course, scrutinize and vet the franchisor website thoroughly.


"Note all the promises and representations they make," counsels Kushell. "These should be the basis of many of the questions you will ask when and if you meet with them."


Read the Franchise Disclosure Document carefully


This might sound like a basic lesson in Business 101—but it’s worth repeating: never sign anything unless you know what you're getting into. This tenet applies especially when it comes to franchise disclosure documents (FDD).


Holt advises potential franchisees to absorb everything contained within these documents, so that you can fully understand the investment, the business, and the risk. “In my case, I saw so many franchises within the system growing their business and simply assumed that success would follow me too,” he says. “It was true that many of the franchisees were growing, but I neglected to examine the expense side of the income statement. The FDD contains several items that should provide you with specific information on the expected investment and expected return based on real data from current franchisees within the system."


Speak to current and former franchisees


A good way to size up whether a particular franchise model is right for you is to speak to franchisees, both former and current. Just as many consumers use review sites such as Yelp when deciding to buy a specific computer brand or patronize a certain restaurant, so should you, as a potential franchisee, seek out those who have experience in this realm—even if it's negative. By learning and weighing all the pros and cons, you will be able to make a better informed decision about becoming a franchisee. 


Kushell concurs, adding that it’s preferable for potential franchisees to meet ex- and current franchisees in person rather than soliciting their feedback via phone or e-mail.


"Ask them penetrating questions as to what their experience has been with the franchisor, how supportive they are, the problems, the positives, and most important, are they profitable?" suggests Kushell. "Many franchisees are willing to share this information with you."


SBC newsletter logo.gifDevelop a business plan


Like with any start-up, developing a business forecast is a strategic imperative for potential franchisees. Don't assume that you're going to make money from a franchise model simply because it’s designed to do that.


Kushell says the plan should contain financial forecasts looking out at least five years, and should be conservative, he adds.


Also, ask trusted associates for their feedback about your plan. "Have them review it and offer their opinions before making a final decision," continues Kushell.


As with launching any small business, franchising is not for everyone. As Holt, the ex-franchisee, learned the hard way, eagerness is not an excuse to avoid doing due diligence. Investigate your franchise and listen to the opinions of others who've been there. Otherwise, you might end up making a serious mistake that could end up costing you dearly, both financially and professionally.




Disclaimer: Since the details of your situation are unique, you should always seek the services of a qualified professional for advice specific to your business.

With Veterans Day around the corner, I am reminded of one of the questions I got the most during the past decade writing my USA TODAY column: why aren’t more small business owners hiring veterans?
It was a very legitimate question. The fact is, since 9/11, American veterans have come home to a very icy employment picture. For much of that time, veteran unemployment figures typically were several percentage points higher than the national average. For instance, in 2011, the number of veterans out of work stood at 12.1%. In 2012, it fell to 9.9%, but even that was several points higher than the national average. Happily, veteran unemployment continues to fall. Today it hovers around 7%.


So yes, the good news is that employers seem to be warming up to the idea of hiring vets. The only real question is why did it take so long? Veterans generally make very good employees, especially because of their training and background. 


And, if you think about it, that same training also means that veterans tend to be excellent entrepreneurs and small business owners:


  • Veterans understand how to create a plan, implement and execute it
  • Many are trained to be leaders
  • They understand systems
  • Hard work and commitment are in their bones


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

Yet veterans face the same challenges that all small business owners face, as well as some unique to the veteran experience. Like all small businesses, finding the training and assistance needed to succeed can be tough. Beyond that, veteran entrepreneurs who are disabled or have other trauma-related issues have their own, unique set of issues to deal with.


Pull Quote.pngSo for all of the men and women who were brave enough to both serve our country, as well as who want to start a business (or have), here is a list of resources to make your entrepreneurial life easier:



How have you or someone you know made the transition from veteran to small business owner? 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

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