Friday, August 23, 2013

Your Business is Small: Use This to Your Advantage When Considering Benefits

As a small business owner, you may not be making as much money as the big dogs, but you are certainly more versatile. It's simply easier for a company that has less product, less demand, and less of a workforce to adapt than it is for businesses with a big footprint--this is one of the best advantages that smaller companies have over corporate giants. As proof of this factor, many owners have become creative with employee benefits, often maintaining and retaining quality employees and sometimes picking up new customers along the way.

For instance, some companies offer employees a week of paid time off so that they can volunteer. This is an incredibly intelligent move. Even though it may seem contrary to the idea of making profit because it costs the company for labor that isn't happening, it can be extremely beneficial for all involved parties. Volunteering can be very refreshing for an individual and it can be really enlightening, as well. Lessons learned can be brought back into the workplace once the person returns from their "vacation." In addition to this, the company's public image becomes even stronger than it was because it is paying its employees to give back to the community--such a benefit is a win-win-win for business owners, employees, and nonprofit organizations.

Another benefit that a corporate conglomerate cannot provide to its workers is the ability to bring pets into the office. In some cases, these may be the owner's animals--at the office where my roommates are employed, the owners' dogs are always there. Allowing employees to bring their pets to work from time to time can give workers a change of pace that prevents labor from going stale. Obviously, this wouldn't work in a manufacturing center and would probably be more ideal if your employees were desk-centric. Companies that do this often have a catch though: No pooping in the office and no animals that are irregularly loud.

Some companies encourage their employees to bicycle to work.  Whether this encouragement comes in the form of installing a bicycle rack or offering a reduction in health care premium costs for the additional exercise depends on the budget and outlook of the employer.  However, a study by the National Center for Health Statistics found that active, physically fit employees have lower rates of absenteeism.  So a monetary incentive for biking or walking to work might pay off for businesses.

Maybe your dog will learn some new tricks while at the office | Courtesy of
My favorite benefit is this one though: The company picks a certain day of the week--Friday, perhaps?--and purchases beer for everyone. In case you don't know, I'm an avid beer drinker and this perk sounds too good to be true. Basically, employers let their workers drink while on duty or on lunch--within reason--and it tends to keep morale higher than normal, often making the end of the week even more enjoyable than it already is with the weekend around the corner. This is another perk that has its hang-ups, though: Some people may not want to consume alcohol or may disapprove of the behavior. Giving alcohol to your employees may also be a very bad idea in certain industries--in other words, use your best judgment before implementing this.

Providing any of these perks would either be too complicated, too messy, or too expensive for any major business to pull off. So instead of letting your employees disappear into the corporate cracks of your market, consider implementing some cool benefits. Remember that customers hear about how employees are treated and some may cease their patronage if your employees are not treated well. Adding more positives to the pros vs. cons list for these benefits is the fact that similarly-minded customers may decide to shop with you instead of your competitors because you treat your workers with dignity and respect. Remember that your size is an advantage in this regard and that flexibility is key to achieving success.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Thinking About Hiring? Be Sure Not to Discount the Millennials

When a business begins to grow, it may mean that it's time to begin hiring people. Sure, your partner or your children may have been able to pick up some slack here and there, but a part-time or full-time employee can be much more helpful, considering the dedication they must have to the business. But how do you select the right employee from the candidate pool? The obvious answer is to interview the candidates and consider each of them individually, but what if your own thoughts about people--specifically, those in regard to age--are getting in the way of your selection? Your biases could be holding your company back, so you better get past some stereotypes that are floating around largely thanks to media.

Some of the most ridiculous stereotypes out there right now surround millennials, people born between the years 1982 and 2000. Considered to be lazy, apathetic, and prone to mooching, the millennials are getting a bad rap for reasons that escape many of those that are included in this demographic. Like baby boomers before them, the news media has put millennials under the microscope and dissected them bit by bit, typically reporting findings that are negative. For instance, a number of articles have highlighted the fact that some millennials are still living with their parents. Though this is true, wasn't it true for previous generations like Generation X? People fall on tough times and with the massive costs associated with college--and the social expectation to enroll--countless teenagers have been groomed into educated, indebted twentysomethings.

An infographic explaining some of the intricacies of Generation Y. | Courtesy of Flowtown
Combine this with the economic downturn and, suddenly, many of these newly graduated college students couldn't find a job, let along afford an apartment. When the media started asking why, they began examining and blaming the personality traits of those who had received the short end of the stick. Of course they found negativity and apathy and angst: Wouldn't you be upset if you were told that college would get you a great job and those expectations fell flat? So, now there is an educated class, eager to work toward and for their passions, but many people have been convinced that they are lazy good-for-nothings, further complicating the debts they cannot pay. These stereotypes are false--many millennials possess entrepreneurial spirits and tend to be marketing savvy. They know that quality of product matters and that success takes hard work--their life experiences so far have largely convinced them of this latter understanding. Moral of the story is this: Do not underestimate millennials when considering them for a position. In fact, don't underestimate any applicant based on your own assumptions--it could mean the difference between your business succeeding or failing.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Don't Be Afraid to Fail, Just Make Sure You Don't Let Lessons Go Unlearned

At lunch the other day, my mother and I were sitting next to a man who was eating alone. Typically, these individuals stay within themselves, but our conversation piqued the man's interests so he spoke up. We ended up talking about an array of topics, but most important (to this blog) was the fact that he owned a business. The man's name was Sam and as we got talking about his ownership, my mother threw in a line she's begun saying with pride: "My son's opening a hostel over in Grand Rapids." While that was, at one point, more true than it is now, my partner and I have put the project on an indeterminate delay. So I told Sam this and he replied with a piece of wisdom that many have forgotten, telling me, "You're young enough to fail over and over again and still come back from it."

The word "failure" often strikes fear into the hearts of people, be they world-class athletes, a high-schooler taking a standardized test, or a small business owner shuttering the doors. Each of these types of people has their own environments and thresholds for defining failure. But even with different definitions, many people fail at failing because they let valuable lessons slip by while they wallow in their own self-centered concerns. For business owners, this may mean losing a major source of income--maybe even their only source of income. But even when times are tough, a strong entrepreneur keeps her or his analytical mind open. Consider examining the decisions that led to the closure or downsizing of your company--basically, what got you to where you are now? Was there anything you overlooked? Could you have asked for help at any point? If so, why didn't you?

While my partner and I were working hard on Stay Hostel, we were doing our best to generate awareness and keep interest alive. While interest was high--we even met someone who said "You're the
guys opening the hostel?!?"--it did not lead to any major financial assistance. One of the best things we received was the help of a real estate agent who would let us get a better look at prospective properties, free of charge. As I've said before though, money was an issue (because we didn't have any), so purchasing a property was largely out of the question, for the time being. We had chosen to go nonprofit in order to generate donations but then we realized that we were the only people who were really doing any work for the project. We had a board member acting as our treasurer, but he was too busy to put too much time on the ground. Another board member was present at one point, but he backed out when he realized that he had spread himself too thin.

Eventually, the fate of the hostel was left up to a single decision--that's how I see it, at least. We were
Uncle Scrooge says you've got to be "tougher than the
toughies, and smarter than the smarties!" You'll only get
smarter and tougher through trying and failing.
offered work at the Wayfaring Buckeye in Columbus after staying a single night there. Opportunities like this are pretty rare, from what I've seen, but good networking can bring them about. The issue was that I couldn't afford to pay rent in two places. But a buddy was looking for a place to stay, so there was hope. In the end, he decided not to take my place and I was prevented from gaining experience as a hostel manager. Soon after, we decided that we would dissolve the nonprofit and chase a for-profit endeavor, if we ever chose to ramp the project up again. Considering this a failure on our parts, we dwelled a bit on it. But soon we realized that we had spent a year honing skills we never knew we possessed: networking, organizing, interviewing, social media marketing and web design, just to name a few. While we may have failed, we developed ourselves and will take the skills we've gained and the lessons we learned into the future.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Data on Small Businesses is Hard to Collect; Internet Remains Viable Marketing Option, Regardless

It seems that the number of workers in the U.S. has risen again, pushing the unemployment level down to the lowest it has been since December 2008. By adding 162,000 jobs, employers have brought the unemployment rate down to 7.4 percent--according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Even with these detailed figures, experts are uncertain about the employment rates among small businesses. According to a report from the National Federation of Independent Business, the number of employees lost per business in July was 0.11 workers. But a conflicting report from ADP said that small businesses added 82,000 employees that month, contributing more than 40 percent of all new payrolls.

This conflict underscores the perplexity of gathering data for small businesses; it can be extremely difficult--nearly impossible, in some cases--to get a realistic estimate of the goings-on in the small business industry. With so many people opening and closing their own start-ups each year, the market is constantly in flux. An accurate picture becomes very hard to develop, especially when a number of people are operating out of their homes. Studies indicate that nearly 70 percent of entrepreneurs in the U.S. choose to start their businesses in their residence. Nearly 60 percent continue to work from home after their businesses have become established.

But with the Internet in the majority of our homes and literally a single click away, this should not be surprising. If you are running an online business and you have space to store product at home, working out of your house should be a no-brainer. There is no reason to pay extra for an unnecessary retail space when the majority of your sales are online. Not to mention the fact that you can write a home office off during tax time. Even better is the fact that, on most days, you can work in comfort because the only presentation that matters online is that of your business. When doing in-person business though, much of the game changes.

But even for the people who have an actual storefront, the Internet can be extremely helpful. Using it to bring in more customers is a great strategy as many individuals turn to their computers and smartphones for suggestions and reviews in their locale. If you happen to be an automotive repair shop that has a solid online presence--and you have good reviews, which you will if yours is a business that respects its customers--it is likely that you'll start receiving more clients in the near future. People often turn to Google to diagnose issues with their vehicle, just like they do with their bodies; if you can determine the keywords that people typically search for in the geographic location of your business, you may be able to get your business to pop up during this diagnosis period. Online marketing strategies exist for every type of small business. Using these may help grow your company into something both concrete and profitable, giving you the ability to hire more people and further contribute to the employment rate.