Friday, July 26, 2013

Employee Retention is Crucial to Small Business Success

As businesses grow, they must realize the importance of retaining friendly and reliable employees. Though companies in the early stages of formation may not plan on having many workers, employees deserve to be treated with respect, regardless of how many you have on the payroll. This is crucial to having a low turnover rate and can be a determining factor for the success of your endeavor.

A lot of small business owners work with their employees,
not in the shadows of some office.
The first thing that an employer should think about is a matter of empathy. Now that you're a business owner, it might be easy to forget about the struggles you went through in earlier phases of your life. You were likely an employee under someone's supervision at one point--remember that? Think about that awful boss that you had: Do you want to be seen like her or him? Not if you want to create a solid employee base, especially if you're working alongside your employees.

As the business begins to grow, these early (and hopefully loyal) workers may lead the charge for your crew. Of course, not all of your first hires will stay on board. Other opportunities come along and again, you have to remember what it was like when you were trying to get by as a worker, not as the owner of a business. Your loyalties are obviously inline with yourself, your business, and your goals. You shouldn't expect this of everyone you hire, unless they are as personally invested as you are. Loyalty and longevity can be expected of business partners, but even they will come and go. Instead of being bitter about departures, consider it a chance to retool and revamp your operations.

One of the ways that businesses retain talent is by offering solid benefits. This may not be feasible during the initial phase of opening your business, but after you have established a solid ground floor, consider building your infrastructure by investing in your employees.  Employees who know they can go to the ear doctor or afford the glasses they need will be freer to focus on fulfilling your business's goals.  Consider offering bonuses to your workers around the holidays. Many companies stopped doing this due to the recession and have not reinstated such programs. If you have enough success, you should definitely give bonuses a thought.

Another way you can invest in your employees is by offering vacation time. Instead of offering a number of days off per year, consider going the route of offering an unlimited paid vacation policy--that's right, the policy is both unlimited and paid. It may sound ludicrous at first, but many employers, including a number of technology start-ups, have implemented such plans. The only issue is that some employees may take less time off for their annual vacations. Again, this may sound counter-intuitive, but analysts looking into such policies have discovered that many employees are against an unlimited vacation arrangement because they do not feel like they have earned those days. This is often seen in workers who have grown used to the older system of accruing vacation days, allowing them to feel as if they have generated their own time off, not been given it for free.

There are many options for employee benefits. Though the decision-making in this regard may be tough, just be sure you do it so that your workers understand that you appreciate them.

Friday, July 19, 2013

What Are the Benefits of Using Social Media to a New Business?

What's the most important thing to a new business? After getting off the ground, a business needs customers to survive and thrive. Whether you are selling bicycle parts or providing IT services, patrons will be necessary and because of this, marketing is vital. Not to discount real-world word of mouth, but it can only bring in so much revenue during the early stages of a company. Later, this may be a very strong contributor to your customer base, but it would be a mistake to rely on it alone immediately after the doors have opened.

While cultivating a reliable and loyal set of customers, new businesses should consider using marketing tactics that are both beneficial and inexpensive. Often, these approaches are technology-related and because of this, some business owners freeze up. Some suggest that the Internet and social media are their own forms of word-of-mouth marketing; the difference is that these can be much more helpful for a new business because they spread the word in a more widely-acknowledged and observed form. There is no need to be afraid of technology and, if you really are intimidated by the Internet and social media, you can easily hire someone to help you develop your online presence.
According to Zoomerang, businesses use social media to connect with customers, generate visibility, and promote themselves.

This may mean that you will have accounts with a number of social media outlets including (but not limited to) Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Google Plus. To get the most out of these accounts, a business should work on each of them, developing a comprehensive and similar profile for each. After establishing the accounts, content should be generated on a regular basis for all of them. Whatever that content may be, it should reflect you and your business; it should also be kept fresh. Posting pictures of the work you have done on your Instagram is a great way for customers to remember that your business is run by a person, not by some major corporation that simply wants their money and good profit margins--though you may in fact want their money, you hopefully want to help your customers as individuals too. Posting on Twitter and answering questions that other users may have for you can establish your expertise on the Internet, giving clients the ability to understand your motivation and--again--adding that personal flair to the whole business.

Unfortunately, many business owners discount the value of these channels. In this day and age, refusing to move into the realms of social media and online advertising can be extremely damaging to a new business. Many consumers go to the Internet for answers and if you do not have a website or a Facebook page, potential clients may look elsewhere. While some will still consider you, the majority of consumers are well-connected to the Internet and make a practice of looking into the companies that they may be considering for any number of goods and services. If you want to succeed--especially in an over-saturated market--you should invest in a polished website (for both standard and mobile platforms) and begin developing your virtual brand as soon as possible.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Don't Be Afraid of Mistakes, Learn From Them Instead

During my first business venture, I learned a valuable lesson. Surprised? You shouldn't be. The first-time trail, no matter what it's heading toward or from, is usually littered with mistakes and errors, be they financial, social, administrative, whatever. There are plenty of chances to learn a lesson or two. When you're starting from scratch, there are a lot of issues to tackle, and one of the first issues that should be addressed is money. Unfortunately, this was not our initial target.

We chose to go for a factor that some might say is just as important as capital: connections. And did we ever do it; networking event after networking event, email after email, business card after business card… It all began to blur rather rapidly. But luckily for me, my business partner was and is a very structured person, and he understands the value of remembering people. I'll be frank: To make sure that we did in fact remember people--whomever they were--he created a spreadsheet that listed all of the personal information on our new connections' cards as well as the topics we had discussed during our meeting. He also had some notes on how that person might be able to help us and if she or he could be an asset to our cause--I told you that he was structured.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Like I said, we started from scratch. Aside from drinking at certain watering holes on a regular basis, our social network outside of our friends was rather small. For an entrepreneur that is either new to the area or new to the scene of entrepreneurship in general, widening this fishnet can be daunting. It means getting out of your comfort zone, going to events that you may or may not feel like attending the day of, having conversations with and about people that you barely know. It means being willing to spark a discussion with a total stranger and engage them, as well as yourself, for however long the ride lasts. For some, this is intimidating; for others, it may sound droll; to us, it sounded like a challenge.

So we took it upon ourselves to get in contact with people in Grand Rapids whom we believed would be able to further our endeavor. We met with public employees from the planning department, professors from local universities, graphic designers, website designers, real estate agents, journalists, heads of development companies, the whole nine yards. Over the course of six months, I couldn't tell you how many people we had met.

But connections only mean so much. Without capital, there's not much that those hours of meetings can produce. So recently, we decided to put the whole project on the back burner. But that didn't mean that our time was spent for naught. Actually, there was at least one incredibly worthwhile lesson learned and here it is: It never hurts to ask. In just a handful of months, we were meeting with people that we never thought we would get the chance to, simply because we shot someone an email or a phone call. This major realization rings especially true for new business owners and those hoping to break into the scene. People in the industry as well as many others will be willing to help you get your dream off the ground, but you'll never know who they are unless you ask. This little nugget of knowledge is something that I will certainly drag with me into future business ventures.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The value of a sustainable workspace

Have you ever wondered what exactly makes a room green?  Custer, a sustainable design and furniture company in West Michigan, is a specialist in this field and has worked on many such projects.  Here are some ways Custer has transformed everyday offices into greener life and work spaces:
  • Lighting.  Lighting obviously utilizes energy and a number of companies provide industrial and commercial lighting that is considerably less energy intensive. Light Corp is ISO 14001 registered and meets requirements and policy specifications that take into account environmental laws and impact. Their LED lighting is 92% recycled and their T5 fluorescent lighting is 87% recycled. LED lighting utilizes light-emitting diodes as the source of light.  These diodes can emit large amounts of lumens while using a smaller amount of wattage. 
  • Desk space. The process of manufacturing furniture can be greener, making the products themselves greener. Enwork, for example, offers their clients the specific details of how their desks are produced and delivered: products, manufacturing, and packaging. The wood used for desks comes from the scrap generated by other industries; it is 100% post-industrial recycled content. In 2007, Enwork switched from PVC edging to ABS, which is a chlorine-free product that can be disposed of with general waste. They use water-based, solvent-free adhesives on their wood to eliminate overexposure to harmful toxins. Also, Enwork either recycles, reuses, or re-manufactures most of their product. 
  • Chairs. Wondering how sustainable a chair can be? Well, seating companies like Cumberland cover all the bases. They do not use any endangered rainforest wood species in their chairs, and they only purchase wood from companies that openly practice sustainable forestry. The foam that is used by Cumberland for chairs is called BioFlex and is manufactured with soybeans grown by American farmers. Their leather supplier is 100% recyclable, meaning no leather will end up sitting in landfills.  Also, Cumberland does not use plated chrome for their metal products which can emit unfriendly waste; instead they use stainless steel. 
  • Walls.  Even these can be designed or installed sustainably. Trendway, another business Custer uses, has numerous LEED commercial interior products including Trendwall. They reuse 30% of their movable walls in projects. A typical wall has a combined total of 46.3% recycled materials by weight; this means close to half of each wall is made with recycled material. They also are credited for projects they do using a minimum of 20% of materials that are manufactured, harvested, or recovered within 500 miles of their home base in Holland, Michigan. 
Take a look around your office and think about the energy-saving and sustainable products and technologies available to you. If you are considering a redesign for productivity, efficiency, or cost reasons, consider also how new green technology can aid you in your goals.