Friday, December 27, 2013

A small business advisor shares his story - with tips on starting & running your own business

small business profitI had the pleasure recently of chatting with Adam Gordon - who is a highly experienced business advisor that runs a business called the Profits Leak Detective, based in northern NSW.

He has been helping small business owners for more than 25 years.  His clients are typically people who started their business based upon possessing good technical skills, quite often having worked for someone else while they built on their technical training.  Their experience however, rarely extended into learning about marketing, financial management or business management.
Very often, these entrepreneurial spirits would find that running their own business had turned into “hard grinding work”, seven days a week – with far smaller returns than what they had envisaged.  Adam explains that he “…. helps them find and plug the leakage from their profits” so they need only work four and a half days a week, instead of seven.
I asked Adam to share some of his own story in starting a new business - and also for some words of advice for new business owners. His experience of surviving the trials and challenges of the start-up stage may perhaps offer some hope and inspiration to those of you who may be currently struggling with establishing your own business.

1.     Adam, why did you initially decide to start your own business?
I’d long wanted to run my own business, to have the so-called independence of owning one’s own business and being my own boss.  The problem was being trapped in the security of a comfortable income and, while the hours at times could be a bit daunting, they weren’t always like that.  It was quite ccomfortable work - but not ultimately fulfilling.  

For me, the change was an unsettling experience because of the risk in removing the security blanket. However, the desire to work for myself became an increasingly dominant desire.  The moment of discomfort did come – somewhat unexpectedly.  The security blanket was removed from me through an organisational restructure and my job was made redundant.  I took a deep breath, ignored the siren calls and lure of another security blanket that was offered, and instead followed my heart and started-up my business.

2.     What were the biggest “start-up” challenges and difficulties you had to overcome in your first 1 - 2 years?
The first was that terrible “Catch 22” – being able to demonstrate to potential clients that I could do their job and meet their requirements - before I had clients or any “track record” that would reassure them and give me credibility.

Luckily I had a redundancy payout from the bureaucracy for whom I had worked, which helped fund me while I gradually built up a client base and eventually some steady cash flow.
The second challenge was “selling myself” as a business advisor.  This was ironic, because I had never experienced any difficulty in marketing the products and services of my previous employers ...... But when it came to marketing “me”, well that was something different! ... It was necessary to overcome some early conditioning, having been raised in an era where we were taught to avoid being "boastful" and to downplay one's achievements.

3.     What do you find most satisfying now in running your own small business?
Making a difference - seeing small business owners grow in their business so that they become managers and entrepreneurs, and not just technicians.  I don’t mean that necessarily in the E Myth sense.  I want to see them take control of their business, so that they control their business rather than it controlling them. I want to see them succeed, to be highly profitable, to not have to continually worry about money, to have the lifestyle they desire, to not feel they have to spend every waking hour in their business. I can’t really describe the feeling of satisfaction that I get when that happens.

4.     Adam, you’ve worked with hundreds of business owners over the years - what do you think are the key personal qualities that a person must possess if they are to succeed in their own business?
Three necessary qualities that come immediately to mind would be :
i)             determination and persistence, to get through the times of disappointment and frustration
ii)           a diligent attention to detail, with a consistent focus upon a quality service or product
iii)           equally, the ability to step back and periodically take a strategic look at the bigger picture – including the market place and where they want to position themselves within it

However above all, I think the most critical quality is the ability to recognise that they are not “operating” a small business i.e. doing whatever their particular skill is - but instead, they are “running” a small business.  There is a big difference.  They need to make the transition from thinking “I’m a stainless steel fabricator” or “I’m a plumber”  .... to  “I run a stainless steel fabrication business” or “I run a plumbing business”
Without making that fundamental change to their thinking, they will never grow nor become more profitable - they will remain forever a technician doing a technicians job. And the business will always remain dependent upon them and their skills and their availability.

5.     What have been some of the marketing strategies that you’ve found most effective in growing and developing your own business?
There have been two strands to my marketing.  Firstly it has been all about building relationships with both organisations and people.  Both require networking, being involved with both community and business organisations.  And ‘involved’ requires contributing, not just turning up to functions.

Secondly I have endeavoured to become known as a “go to” person in my field.  And that has meant developing skills in terms of techniques and the ability to deliver to clients.  In turn that leads to ‘word of mouth’ promotion and referrals, always the most effective promotional tool.  I’ve also used articles in local newspapers and Chamber of Commerce publications as a tool to demonstrate expertise.
In more recent times I’ve used my newsletter, blog and LinkedIn to do the same thing.

6. Any final words of advice you would offer to small business owners?
Don’t be the same as the others; dare to be different.  So many small businesses don’t want to be seen as different from other players in their industry.  But how do you stand out from the crowd unless you are different in some way? Your product may essentially be the same - so how you package it or promote it or price it will need to be different.

Also, keep trying new things, whether it be products or services, or ways of delivering your products or services. Times change, the market changes – and you must change with it!  But to do this effectively – you must keep on learning; constantly updating your knowledge and acquiring new skills.

Thanks to Adam, for sharing with us some of his 25 years experience in small business consulting. Let me add that when you're running and trying to grow a business, you'll make some mistakes - but don't beat yourself up. After all, if you're not making a few mistakes along the way, then you're probably not trying anything new!

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 About the author
Brian Carroll is the founder of a management training company Performance Development, based in Melbourne, Australia.  He is a qualified psychologist, experienced leadership coach and an engaging presenter, with a passion for helping people develop their full capabilities.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Starting-Up A Small Business: essential quick, short reads

So, perhaps you're thinking of starting a small business - or maybe you've just launched one.

And you're after some tips to help you get it right, because you're acutely aware that some half of new small business owners walk away from it all within the first 2 years.  Most of these budding  entrepreneurs typically commenced their business journey full of enthusiasm and excitement, believing they had the formula to succeed.

Too many of them end up walking away feeling thoroughly disheartened and disillusioned from the whole experience, realising they had been overly-romantic in their early views of life as a small business owner.

The reality of starting and running your own business is that there is much that must be learned. As with anything, good quality planning and preparation is essential - and of course there comes the time to recognise when bold action is required.

So what does it take to succeed as an entrepreneur and build a strong foundation for your business. Here's some short articles that offer plenty of tips and sound advice on how to effectively build a small business from the ground up .....
  1. Starting your own business - here's some things you should think through carefully before taking the plunge into small business
  2. Selecting the right business name - a good business name can help you win customers and project what you stand for. It should be short, punchy and memorable - but you may need to consider trademark issues
  3. Manage your cash flow - a healthy cash flow is the lifeblood for your business. You may need to squirrel away some of it for a rainy day
  4. Marketing your small business - marketing is about listening to your customers and identifying opportunity gaps in the market that can be exploited. Here's a simple explanation of marketing and some great ideas to help you grow your business
  5. Getting your website found by Google - if some of your business is generated through your website, then you will know the importance of appearing high on the first page of search engines, so that potential new customers can find you. One option is to pay for the privilege of a high ranking through the use of paid advertisements with Google AdWords. But the other option is to learn about search engine optimisation - and this offers a nice simple explanation
  6. Change & small business - adapt, innovate or perish - here's an important reminder about the importance of remaining flexible, and some great ideas on how you can encourage innovation in your business
  7. Time management routines for the small business owner - your personal productivity is dependent upon developing good healthy routines for planning and managing your use of time on a daily and weekly basis
  8. Self-motivation tips - there can be times in business when you hit an inner wall, and you get stuck with procrastination and inertia. Here's ten ideas for giving yourself an energy boost to get moving again
  9. Mental toughness - of course there will be many frustrations and disappointments along the path of starting-up and running your small business. Mental toughness will be one of the keys to your ability to remain resilient and persistent.
  10. How to conduct a job interview - once the business starts to expand, you will be needing to recruit staff. But if you get this wrong, it can cost you big time - so here's some tips to help you select the best people
  11. Getting the people management stuff right - when you have employees working for you, then your ability to manage and motivate others will become at least as important as any of the technical skills you might have
  12. Small business is all about relationships - a great reminder that a sustainable business depends upon building healthy relationships with your customers, your staff, your suppliers - and don't forget your family
These articles offer different types of ideas that can help you in both managing yourself and your business. Small business can be a tough gig - but when it all comes together it can be incredibly satisfying and rewarding at many different levels. But it requires hard work - no question about that.

Hey, if you're just starting out, here's a short video clip that offers some good quick tips -

Michael Gerber, of E-Myth acclaim, has studied the reasons why many small businesses fail. He explains that very often the entrepreneur is someone who possesses specialist technical skills (eg. as a plumber, hairdresser, architect or chef) combined with initiative and a strong drive for independence - which  are indeed important qualities. But to succeed in running a business, you also need to acquire additional capabilities in sales and marketing, financial management, people management and organisational skills. 

Although you don't need to become an expert in these areas, because to some extent you can outsource or hire contract specialist expertise; never-the-less you still need a solid understanding of these additional business capabilities so that you don't get "ripped-off" or mislead by "experts".

In other words, launching and growing a sustainable business requires you to become a student again. Commit yourself to continuous learning and gaining the range of business tools and knowledge you need to succeed.

About the author
Brian Carroll is the founder of a corporate training and leadership development company, Performance Development, based in Melbourne, Australia.  He is a qualified psychologist, experienced management coach and an engaging presenter, with a passion for helping people achieve their full potential

Sunday, December 15, 2013

HR Tips for Small Business - Recruiting and retaining good staff

HR tips for small businessIn large organisations, there is quite often a Human Resources department that exists to oversee staffing related matters - including the recruitment, training and development of employees. The people working in these departments are typically HR “specialists”.

In small business however, the HR function is just one of the hats that the owner will be required to wear. As soon as you start to grow your small business and employ staff on either a contract, part time or full time basis, then there is a range of “HR stuff” which a business owner must research and carefully consider.
The question of wages and other HR issues

For example, one of the very first questions you must ponder is what will you pay your staff? Are there relevant awards for the particular job you have available? Certainly for many service and hospitality related jobs, such as chef or waitress or store assistant or hairdresser, there are defined award rates.

But not every job is covered by an award in Australia – and there will be occasions when in order to get the best people you need to meet the wages that are offered in the wider market.  So, you must consider whether you will simply pay them the award rate, which defines the legal minimum hourly rate and other employee entitlements, such as annual leave for example? …. Or, do you need to offer higher-than-award wage rates in order to attract quality people? ….. Will you offer a bonus if the employee performs extraordinarily well and contributes to further growth in the business? …… What specific duties should be included in the job description of the employee? …… What performance standards will you expect and how will you measure the performance of your staff to ensure that they are adding sufficient value to your business?
If you run a small business and are either thinking about employing staff or perhaps you already have staff working for you, but you’re not too sure about some of this HR stuff, then read on ………. I had an interesting chat with Tracy Busse, who runs Waveform Consulting based in Melbourne. Here’s what she had to say about HR as it applies to small business, and some great tips she offered for recruiting and retaining good quality staff…..

Tracy, what experience do you have with HR?
I have many years of operational experience in hospitality and 20+ years’ experience in Human Resources in South Africa, Australia and the UK. My experience across most HR functions includes the hotel industry, not for profit/community development and water/government business enterprise. I have also run two small businesses, a restaurant and currently a HR and transitions coaching consultancy. I have studied HR/organisational psychology in both South Africa and Australia up to Masters Level.

What is your key HR message for small business owners?
Having experienced most HR functions and a range of HR initiatives in my working life, it is easy for a small business owner to get confused by the seemingly complex array of HR regulations, systems and programs. However I think it can be simplified into one key message - to value the people who are working for you and to treat them as whole people not “just a staff member”.

I recently had a conversation with a business coach. His future vision is to create workplaces where his children will be well treated and flourish as human beings. A key message here is to treat people as you would wish you children to be treated in their workplace one day. Values such as respect, fairness and dignity come to mind. And of course this also includes making hard decisions and managing performance. It doesn’t mean a happy family at the expense of the business.
HR is often viewed as the “soft” side of the business, compared to the “hard” side of the business being focused on the numbers and the Profit/Loss figures on the ledger sheet. And yet I think that a healthy business needs a balance between these hard and soft elements, if it is going to be sustainable over the long term.

I believe that this “human care factor” should apply to direct staff members as well as any contractors or consultants that might be engaged by your small business. Whether your employees feel that you are treating them with care and respect will ultimately influence the quality of service they in turn deliver to your customers.
You won’t win loyalty, pride and dedication from your employees unless they feel that you are looking after them.

What can small business do to attract and recruit great staff?
I suggest you cast your net wide when a staff vacancy arises in your small business.

·        Use social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, twitter, Google+ are all great, cost effective options)

·        Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth – ask all friends and family

·        Use your business networks

·        Be prepared to invest your time in finding the right person. Remember it is much more costly to end up with someone who is a poor fit.

·        if you opt to use an employment agency, then invest the time in ensuring that they are high quality and that they understand your business and culture
Additionally, I have found there are many untapped talent pools out there that a small business owner can leverage.

I run outplacement programs and often spend time with quite skilled people who have been retrenched from large organisations that have “down-sized”. Others are disillusioned with corporate life or want more work/life balance and some keep getting turned down because they have too much or too little experience.
The members of these talent pools are quite often looking for career changes, new opportunities and workplaces that fit with their values. I see small business as a very viable opportunity for this talent pool – either as entrepreneurs, staff members or contractors.
(for interviewing tips, have a look at How To Conduct the Job Interview - Brian)

What can a small business owner do to retain quality staff?
This is a good question. If small business owners are going to invest their time in finding really great people, then they have to be prepared to do what it takes to keep them and be great at it. I have many ideas about how to do this - some include ….

·        Value people – an imperative and the message must be consistently conveyed in everything you think, do and say. You can rant and rave in the heat of the moment at a computer or machine that may have let you down – but an employee will never forgive you if were to treat them in such a way

·        Induct and train people properly when they start in your business…..  Ensure that you provide new staff with a full understanding of your mission, vision, values, culture, what you expect of them etc. – Explain this bigger picture and then the rest will fall into place more easily e.g. systems, procedures, information etc.

·        Develop people – how will you grow and develop your new staff member? Consider both job capabilities, future capabilities and personal development

·        Have regular communication and keep your staff informed about what’s going on in the business – particularly during times of change

·        Offer a range of employee benefits beyond just the traditional e.g. health and well-being initiatives, work/life balance, a range of flexible working options e.g. part-time, contract work, telecommuting, virtual assistance etc.
There are essentially four questions that people want answered when they are working for you:

i)            Where are we going as a business or team?

ii)           What is my role and what do you expect of me?

iii)          How am I going – are you satisfied with my work?

iv)         Where will I be in the business / team as we move forward in the future?
Provided that you answer these basic concerns of your staff, then you will be well on track towards retaining them.  Of course, whether the work itself matches their skills and interests will also influence their motivation – as well as the quality of the relationship that you build with them. Studies have shown that one of the most common reasons an employee leaves a job is because of a poor working relationship with their immediate manager.

Are there any risks associated with attraction and retention in the small business?
I’ve come across many small business owners who experience a fear of “being taken advantage of”. And yet I have found that when you give trust, more often than not you will usually receive it in return. The same principle applies to your relationship with your customers …… As I said earlier, the relationship you have with your staff will often determine the relationship you have with your customers.

The other common fear is the risk of losing good staff, particularly after having invested time in their training.
But small business owners needs to consider the advantages they can offer to an employee – a far broader range of experience across many functions, more flexibility, staff often get more opportunities and they can develop their own systems and procedures rather than be subject to the constraints of corporate life. Consider your competitive advantage and market it!

So in conclusion Tracy says "Your business is only as good as the people within it and happy staff will equal happy customers!"

 About the author
Brian Carroll is the founder of a corporate training and leadership development company, Performance Development, based in Melbourne, Australia.  He is a qualified psychologist, experienced management coach and an engaging presenter, with a passion for helping people achieve their full potential

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Employee health & well-being in small business

In Australia a small business is defined, at least under the government’s Fair Work Act, as an enterprise that employs up to 15 staff. However, the majority of small businesses seem to employ between one to four staff (sometimes referred to as a micro-business).

If you run a business with a small team, then you know that having just one employee absent for a single day will create some disruption to your operation. Particularly when you receive late notice, such as a phone call just before their shift commences

Staff absence is quite often of course the result of genuine illness, although sometimes it can reflect a morale problem – and other times it can be because of family or other circumstances (such as a sick child that needs to be minded).
When you run a small business, the health and well-being of your staff is not something that you can afford to ignore – and therefore any ideas that can help to reduce or prevent absenteeism are worth considering.

I recently met with Tracy Busse, who runs a small HR consulting business in Melbourne called Waveform Consulting, that offer services in this area of staff health and well-being. Here’s what she had to say in response to some basic questions……
Tracy, what is your experience with employee Health and Well-being?

I have administered OH&S and my passion was managing a preventative health and well-being program over many years delivering benefits to 600 staff. I combine this passion with my organisational psychology/coaching background and life experiences to offer coaching, seminars, webinars and workshops in the health and well-being arena. My particular area of interest is building emotional resilience, healthy thinking and confidence: a mindset for success before, during and after life and career transitions:

Do you think small business can provide a healthy environment for staff?
Most definitely! I am sure that many already do and there is so much more that can be done at the workplace. It makes business sense because happy, healthy staff are productive and effective. As a small business owner you want everyone to be at their best.

What can small business do on a shoestring budget?
I have operated in workplace environments with a substantial budget but also where there is no budget for health and well-being. As a small business owner you can deliver benefits without cost or with minimal cost or you can also pass on cost or partial to employees (user pays basis).

I have so many ideas around this…….where to start? If you did nothing other than to make health and well-being a regular feature at team meetings or informal chats then that is a great start.
A successful approach that I have seen is to start with your team and ask them what are the key risks in their workplace – brainstorm and list them all, consider physical safety risks as well as risk to their health and well-being e.g. trips and falls, security for shift/late night workers, difficult / aggressive customers, sun exposure for outdoor staff, sitting/standing for long periods, manual handling, mental health issues such as depression.

Then when you have all the risks identified and understood, you need to prioritise. Come up with, say the 5 top risks in your workplace/s and develop a program around those needs. For example, if staff feel vulnerable when walking to their car after a late night roster, you might consider getting someone in to run a 1 to 2 hour self-defence course for interested staff. Your solutions could involve making preventive information readily available in the workplace - such as posters, or highlighting relevant websites.
You can either run the program yourself or with a larger team in your business, you might ask staff to work in pairs to run various elements, which can also have team building benefits too. Try to be as creative as possible and use themes to introduce humour, keep the programme light, fun and enjoyable.

What are some ways that health and well-being can be fostered within a small business workplace?
Over the years, I’ve seen small business owners do a lot of different things, including for example ….

-      yoga or exercise classes
-      having a weekly fruit bowl
-      organising a lunchtime walking group
-      running a quit smoking program, weight loss program,
-      getting some specialist ergonomic advice to help with better workplace design (this could be as simple as improved lighting, or seating that offers staff better back support, or computer screen covers that reduce eye strain)
-      promoting regular health and medical checks (for example for high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.), including offering flu injections leading up to winter
Many larger organisations offer an employee assistance program which usually provides free access to psychologists. Did you know that your local GP can provide a mental health treatment plan which gives access to up to 10 sessions per year with a clinical psychologist and a range of health professionals?  So people suffering for example from depression or extreme relationship stresses can benefit from expert assistance.
Many charities and not for profits supply posters and online resources  e.g. Beyond Blue, Heart Foundation, Cancer Council. In many cases they will send someone to talk on a particular topic – if you are too small to offer this, then why not ask other businesses to join in or run it through a local business network.

Another option is to speak to your work cover insurer, private medical insurer or super fund as they sometimes offer on-line resources on workplace health.
Are there risks associated with placing a focus on workplace health?

The risk of doing nothing about staff health is that your business could subsequently suffer through unplanned staff absenteeism, as well as the possibility of higher insurance costs in the future.
However, there can also be risks associated with doing something. The common fear is that you will open up a can of worms  However, if there are staff well-being issues in your workplace then you would have to deal with them at some point anyway - so you may as well face up to them earlier instead of later.

There is also a fear around confidentiality of information and liability. You don’t need to see or keep any medical records - that is the role of a health practitioner. If you do have knowledge of a condition or health situation you are liable to take reasonable precautions/preventative actions to avoid further risk or aggravation to the injury.
If you are promoting resources such as those from Beyond Blue – you can have a disclaimer stating that it is purely for information purposes, you are not recommending or accepting liability for the service. You are liable for staff if they are participating in a work related event, even if it is outside work hours, so if you use an outside provider make sure that they have insurance.

Another concern you might have is that you won’t have sufficient time to do this and it will detract from running your business. But you don’t have to do it all – get other people involved. You might just be giving someone else the opportunity they need. You also don’t need to do lots of big things, sometimes just a small effort on a regular basis might be enough – and it shows your staff that you care about them
In closing, Tracy says "If your business relies on healthy happy staff - then their health and well-being is integral to your business, so view this as an investment rather than a cost"

Related article "How to motivate staff"

About the author

Brian Carroll is the founder of a corporate training and leadership development company, Performance Development, based in Melbourne, Australia.  He is a qualified psychologist, experienced management coach and an engaging presenter, with a passion for helping people achieve their full potential