Small business

Should You Hire? 3 Common Mistakes

Hiring employees or independent contractors is an on-going challenge to many small -mid-size businesses. When, who, what can I afford – all come into play. These are among the most common mistakes I see.

1. What skills and experience do you really need?

Classically, smaller employers want folks to wear multiple hats. There are some people who love doing a variety of types of work each day. But the work combinations must make sense and be right for your organization’s needs.

There may be a terrific sales person who is happy to be doing administrative work half of the time – but I have not met such a combination of attributes.

Two part-timers or outsourcing each area to experts or some combination makes far more sense in situations where the work needs are very different.

2. I hate to do sales… and other tasks you dislike

I often see founders who really dislike marketing and sales work. I am not too thrilled with it myself. But in most cases, the best business developer for the business is the founder or top executive. Potential clients want to know you before they will consider hiring your firm.

This can be true of other critical business aspects as well. If your business is highly technical, clients want to see the that founder or CEO knows the technology.

And are you really ready to give up these responsibilities? Many aren’t when it comes down to doing so – and they micromanage and wonder why they are not getting their own time back or the results desired. Giving up critical parts of your job is often more difficult than you expect.

In these cases of things that you dislike doing , you may need to hire support. But […]

TO HIRE … OR NOT TO HIRE?

Some entrepreneurs rush to hire too many, too soon and cannot support them. Others wait too long and do too much low margin work hindering their success.

The decision about whether and when to add staff is always a tough one. And these economic times make it more emotionally charged. Getting the help you need to grow and succeed is critical.

So how do you decide when or whether to hire?  Ask yourself:

Question 1: Is the need actually long-term and at the core of my business?

In this case, an employee may be the best bet. Example: if you are a small organization and can hire a person who will directly support current clients, you free some time to grow the business. A retailer may be able to add hours or serve customers faster and thus increase revenue with an extra hire.

Question 2: Would out-sourcing be worth considering?

Even with a core mission and long term need, you may want to consider other options. Some functions are smart to out-source due to the technical nature of the work or the need for constant personnel/equipment upgrading. IT services come immediately to mind. Others that are critical to your success may also be in this category. Functions may also be done by a contractor, such as a bookkeeper or a virtual assistant.

Question 3: Is the need for a specific period of time?

Such work, whether for a brief period or many months, may be most effectively done by hiring someone specifically as a short-term employee or via a temporary staffing agency.

Question 4: Does the work require expertise you don’t have?

Here you may consider hiring a management or specialized consultant or a freelancer, depending on the type of work, project demands, and […]

By |September 8th, 2014|hiring|0 Comments

Culture – Fad or Real?

‘Culture’ is again a hot topic in the business world. Studies show it has significant effects on success and growth. Yet few smaller organizations focus on creating an effective culture.

Whether you consciously planned it or not, your organization has a culture. And when you try to do something new, you see the negative effects often. But the positive aspects of culture can help you succeed if you develop them.

When I do organizational assessments, a common result is a divergence between what executives say they have as a culture and what their practices actually are. Too often, basic practices and policies have simply been borrowed from other organizations but are wrong for this organization’s needs and goals.

Perhaps you never consciously tried to create a culture. Or the culture you originally developed is not what you now need. Or worse, the culture you thought you had created is not what you actually have. Aligning your culture, your policies, and your actual practices is critical for success. As you look forward, take a look at your existing culture and practices.
* Are they what you want?
* Are they what you expected?
* How do you know if your answers are truly correct?

Will the existing culture support your strategic and business plans? If not, what are you going to do? How?

More from a pioneer on the importance of culture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Schein

By |September 30th, 2013|culture|0 Comments

No, No… Not Me, Not Networking

Research consistently shows that it is the entrepreneurs with the extensive network who are most likely to succeed. Yet many small business founders do little to grow and enhance – or even use – their network. How about you?

A real value of a good network is the connections it allows you to make to ideas, services and support you need to develop your business and succeed. You want people with technical and business expertise that complements yours. Add those with wide-ranging interests and specialists – both help you with the future. Plus friends for support and peers for inside info. Attending professional events, including those the Alexandria SBDC offers, is an easy way to meet new people who may be valuable in your network.

When you need to hire employees, your network can often provide referrals who match your needs far better than an ad or job posting. The trick here is to be specific about what you need, what results you expect from the new hire, and what your company offers and expects. Clearly communicate all that to your network and ask for help. The candidates you receive this way are generally better qualified in terms of the job and a better match in terms of your culture.

The same process is useful when you need outside services, advisors, or referrals to competent attorneys, CPAs, consultants, etc.

Network Effectively

Start by carving out a bit of time daily over two weeks to look the people you know already. Decide how to connect or re-connect. Will you use LinkedIn, another online tool, the phone, or what? Improve your most relevant connections first. What do you want and what will you give in return? Don’t forget your community or personal contacts, they offer a lot more […]

By |September 4th, 2013|networking|0 Comments

The Missing Link: Listening Skills

Probably you have not been told to ‘shut up and listen’ lately…but do you really know if you are a good listener? Or why that is important to your own and your organization’s success?

The old line that ‘god gave us two ears and only one mouth for a reason’ reflects the common problem: most of us do not listen well. Research shows that in the USA a far higher percentage of managers are extroverts than is the overall workforce. And many extroverts are better at talking than listening.

Listening well is a critical skill: good listeners are

more likely to learn of potential problems and solutions early;
better at assessing employees, job applicants, and potential partners or vendors;
more aware of changes which may affect them.

Good listening skills require some attention and effort to learn and use. They take an effort to turn off one’s own internal discussions, to think about what one is doing in a conversation, to ignore one’s phone or other distractions, and to change one’s talking habits. But your listening skills can be improved. And this will help with your personal life as well as your business!

Tips for more effective listening include:

listen for understanding of both what is said and what underlies the words or tone.
turn off your tendency to be defensive or think of your reply while the other person is speaking.
engage yourself fully in listening: make eye contact, say an encouraging word or nod periodically, take notes as needed.
ask relevant questions: for further information and to clarify your understanding of what you think you heard.
don’t interrupt or assume you know what the rest of the statement will be.
don’t give advice unless asked to.

Start by making a real effort […]

Common Small Business Problems Hinder Success

One of the advantages of consulting is that you get to see others’ mistakes. And learn from them. I have made more than my fair share of mistakes. Yet, I still am surprised by how often the basics underlying how you run your operations are the most common small business problems.

Good administrative processes will support and enhance your ability to grow and succeed. Set them up early and properly to be effective. Boring work, probably. Critical, yes!

Financial literacy is quite low in the US.

Whether you are a financial whiz or barely understand cash flow, you need effective financial processes in your business. You need a system that is right for your size and work. But you also need to understand and use it. Get basic training. Or hire someone to help you set up your own chart of accounts and understand what your system can do for your business. Then add help to maintain it as needed.

Your ability to manage your cash flow is critical to your success. And your tax returns are far easier with a good system. So is your planning!

Yet… recently it was a long-time business owner whose bank account was overdrawn before he realized he had not seen his outside book-keeper in months and his employee was not entering everything correctly. Last fall it was a CEO who had not made payroll on time – again; but thought employees should understand good intentions!

And don’t even ask me what happens to firms which do not pay employee tax withholding on time – think locked doors, seized bank accounts, personal assets at risk.

How are you hiring and paying for services your business needs?

Do you have employees? Independent contractors? Contractors or consultants? Interns?

Tax and labor laws […]

Growth Starts “At Home”

Many of us understand the importance of building the capacity of our business, but ourselves? Not so much. Developing your skills and knowledge are important. Developing your personal capacity for resilience is critical.

Resilience allows you to push past difficulties, cope with tough times, and maintain your health. All those are vital to any entrepreneur, not to mention to most humans!

Sure you already know what you should be taking care of (yourself, your health, and all those new year’ resolutions)… so how do you understand and build your personal resilience quotient?

First, learn how your brain works.

Do you understand how you react to challenges? How your temperament influences your actions? I see executives all the time who are so tied up emotionally in some problem that they are sense-less or crazy-making.

Understanding personal style and temperament can help you be more effective – and resilient. If you understand these, you can choose to change when you need to or to cope better with issues that you face.

If you know that what drains your energy and what bolsters it, for example, you can work smarter. One easy introduction is the free Keirsey Temperament tool. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is another.

Read the amusing economics book “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely to see how and why we so often over-estimate small risks and are not rational about our decisions. It will help you think smarter the next time you are making a business move, hiring staff – or buying chocolates.

Brain science is rapidly developing—a little attention and you can use yours to help you grow, to develop greater capacity, and to be resilient.

Second, evaluate past experiences.

We rarely use our past difficulties to inform our present. You’ve had times where you overcame an obstacle or dealt with something you […]