What Hidden Horrors Lurk in Your Small Business?
by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer
Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman all three can scare, but thankfully, theyre fiction. On the other hand, some workplace horrors are all too real. And when youre going about your daily business, theres no ominous score playing in the background to warn you if youre about to get ambushed by a different kind of scary monster.
We asked small business owners and consultants to identify common small business problems that plague business owners, and to offer some tips for avoiding them.
1. Short-Staffing: A tempting way to save money is keeping headcount low. But that can be a false economy, warns Emily LaRusch, founding Bettie of Back Office Betties in Glendale, AZ. We didn't have a need so great that we had to hire a receptionist immediately, so we asked our team to put in just a little extra time and effort to bridge the gap, she recalls. As it has turned out, several of my receptionists are feeling burned out and stressed because of the extra workload. She realized it was better to hire a part-time staffer to handle call volume and improve morale. Culture is extremely important to me as a business owner, and offering a balanced workload means my team is happier. When my team is happier, it shows in the quality of their work and their willingness to take on more. Saving a few bucks by holding off until we need a full-time team member is not worth the savings.
Action Item: Monitor staff workloads and hire help before you and employees are overloaded.
2. Rogue Spending: Its unlikely an employee could buy something huge without your knowing it, but a lot of little buys do add up. The reason why most businesses overlook this obvious opportunity is that they don't think of office supplies as being anything more than a few dollars here and a few dollars there not realizing that they are spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars over the course of a year, cautions Southern Californiabased business consultant Jennifer Martin of Zest Business Consulting.
Action Item: Assign a specific person to manage office supply orders and save you money.
3. Outdated Technology: On a related note, think youre saving money by not upgrading your office technology? Consider the lifetime of your current system. If its four years or older, you might be missing numerous advantages that the new systems provide, including touch screen capabilities, significant performance improvements, impressive battery life and a quicker start, explains Jorge Vergara, consumer PR manager for Intel Corp. Spending a little extra on technology could benefit you greatly. For example, someone with a very mobile lifestyle may want a thinner, lighter device packed with great battery life. Someone who demands extreme performance out of their device will want a more powerful processor.
Action Item: Assess your business needs and evaluate new technology options.
4. Bad Employees: Dealing with a problem employee is a challenge most owners prefer to avoid. Typically, bad employees are allowed to fester and create more disruption than they should, says Brian Braudis, president of Oceanville, NJbased The Braudis Group Consultants. He recommends a decisive effort early on to address employee problems. Not sure what to do? Consult your attorney. Only after a well-delivered, well-monitored and documented improvement effort fails should we consider dismissal. Do your due diligence. You dont want to vengefully dismiss only to have the employee win their job back permanently through litigation.
Action Item: Develop or update your employee handbook, and familiarize yourself with human resources law in your state.
5. Poor Training: Proper training and development can seem like a nice-to-have, but thats being short-sighted. Many businesses overlook the critical development they need in order to retain, develop and create more top producers, explains West Chester, PAbased business growth strategist Kelly Roach. Leaders and managers, she says, need continued development, and employees need proper training. Many small businesses jeopardize their entire existence by paying employees without providing the proper training, coaching and daily management. The lack of development can cost you in terms of poor performance, poor decision-making and poor customer service, all things that lead to small business issues.
Action Item: Identify key skills and invest in continuing education for yourself and your team.
6. Ineffective Marketing: Lots of owners invest in a marketing plan when they start their enterprises yet never consider strategy again. Marketing is the ongoing investment that actually makes money for a business, says Rodger Roeser, owner and CEO of The Eisen Agency in Newport, KY. Yet many entrepreneurs dont manage it properly. Spending too much, spending too little, no plan, no budget set aside, doing things as cheaply as possible, not hiring a professional it really hurts their business and their credibility right off the bat.
7. Lack of Alignment: Once organizations grow to a size of as few as 25 employees, its difficult to get everyone on the same page, according to Joel Trammell, CEO of software start-up Khorus based in Austin, TX. When employees dont know the companys goals, dont understand how their day-to-day jobs contribute to those goals and dont have a way to raise red flags about potential problems, the entire company is in jeopardy of not performing adequately.
Action Item: Deploy a cascading system like the Balanced Scorecard to help align individual goals to department and corporate goals.
Address these blind spots and the vision for your enterprise will start to come into focus. Youll avoid the hidden dangers lurking in the shadows, too.