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5 Ways Business Owners Scare Their Employees

scareWhether you know it or not, being a business owner also requires being a leader – especially if you have employees. If you don’t display good leadership skills, you won’t get the most from your employees, and your business will suffer.

Despite good intentions, many business owners and managers unknowingly strike fear into employees simply by what they say – or don’t say. And fearful employees are not productive employees. They react to fear with the primitive ‘fight, flight or freeze” instinct and begin to focus only on their own survival, says Christine Comaford, a leadership consultant and author of the new book “How Teams Become Brilliant Together” (Portfolio/Penguin 2013).

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Here are five ways that business owners inadvertently scare employees into a dysfunctional state:

1. You “help them out” by giving them solutions. When you constantly tell people what to do instead of encouraging them to figure things out on their own, you develop a business full or order-takers instead of innovators. By training them to always ask, you end up with a group of workers who are perpetually frozen in survival mode.

On the other hand, when you engage people in problem-solving themselves, you create a sense of safety, belonging and mattering.

2. Your meetings are heavy on sharing and point-proving, and light on promises and requests. Meetings that are rambling and unfocused send people into fear and confusion. But short, high-energy meetings that have a clear agenda keep everyone motivated. Ideally you should focus on only enough information sharing to solicit requests from people who need something, and promises from people who will fill that need.

If you tune up your communication, the result will be meetings that are efficient and effective, and that keep your employees happy as well as productive and accountable.

3. You give feedback to employees without first establishing rapport.  In short, you must be able to influence people, not just boss them around.  Here are three shortcut phrases that can help you do that:

  • “What if…” When you use this preface to an idea/suggestion, you remove ego and reduce emotion. You’re curious — not forcing a position, but kind of scratching your head and pondering.
  • “I need your help.” Specialists call this a “dom-sub swap” because when the dominant person (the boss) uses it, they are asking the subordinate person to rise up and swap roles. This is especially effective when you want a person to change their behavior or take on more responsibility.
  • “Would it be helpful if…” When a fearful employee is unable to move forward, offering some options will help them see a possible course of action or positive outcome.

4. You focus on problems, not outcomes.  Instead of asking ‘What’s wrong?’ and ‘Why is this happening? You should ask ‘What do we want?’ and ‘How will we create it?’”

Being outcome focused is more energizing and fills people with confidence. Avoid saying things like “Let me help you” or  “I’ll make it better for you.”  Instead, say “What outcome would you like?” and “What will having that do for you?”

5. You talk about change in the wrong way. Most business owners and managers want their businesses to change. That’s the only way to grow and get better. But as we know, most employees – and people in general – fear and resist change.

People tolerate change better if it’s framed the right way – more like “sameness with a difference.” Try presenting change as merely an improvement in what is already being done. The bad stuff is being removed, and the good stuff is being added. You might even avoid using the word “change” at all and instead use “growth” which is less daunting to most people.

“All business owners want to outperform, outsell, and out-innovate the competition,” says Comaford. “And most of us have teams that are quite capable of doing so. We just need to stop scaring the competence out of them.”

Copyright © 2000-2013 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

4 Technology Keys to Guiltless Getaways

Technology keyIt’s an ongoing dilemma for millions of business owners: How to take vacations or other time off and still keep business on track. Not only do Americans take far fewer vacations than workers in other countries (hundreds of millions of vacation days go unused in the U.S. annually), but studies show that business owners take the least amount of time off of anyone.

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Many business owners feel somehow guilty at trying to get away, perhaps because they are so emotionally tied to their companies. While the best vacation is one that truly allows you to relax and forget your troubles back at the office, in reality that’s just not going to happen for most business owners and entrepreneurs. So more and more are doing the next best thing by using technology to remotely manage their businesses while away.

Several tech-based “silver bullets” make this possible, including smart phones, tablet computers, cloud-based business management applications and wide availability of high-speed Internet connections. With some planning and a bit of tech-savvy, these things are making it easier than ever for biz owners to banish their guilt and feel more comfortable about getting away.

Tom McGlynn, owner of a California-based personal fitness company RunCoach, used to struggle with keeping his business on track while traveling. Then he discovered how technology could come to the rescue. Now, rather than being office-bound for the summer, he travels around the U.S. to coach marathon runners.

After the web became the center of McGlynn’s business, he found that he could do almost anything online – and from the road – including accessing fitness training software, designing workouts for clients and keeping his business books.

Here are four tactics and technologies that can help any business owner achieve guiltless getaways:

1.  Get a smart phone: Busy business owners who’ve embraced smart phones often say it’s a move that has entirely changed how they do business. “I used to carry a laptop when I traveled to keep track of things,” says a tennis club owner who goes to junior tournaments around the U.S. “But now all I need is my iPhone.” He receives and answers texts and emails quickly, keeps track of his schedule, checks tournament draws, gets directions and much more.

For some business owners, the smart phone is also their lifeline to social media while they are away. They can update a Facebook page, send tweets, post content on LinkedIn and monitor results all from their phone.

In just a few short years, smart phones have gone from a technological curiosity to one of the most essential pieces of technology in the small business owner’s arsenal.  If you don’t yet have a smart phone, or aren’t using yours to full advantage, it’s time to step up to the smart phone plate.

2. Run your finances online:  More than almost any other task, the ability to manage the financial side of your business from anywhere is a key to guiltless getaways.  But the days of being tied to desktop software are long gone (or should be). These days, web or “cloud” based applications are the way to go.

You can manage travel expenses, pay bills, do your business banking and keep your books easily online. And that’s just the beginning. QuickBooks Online, for example, is a handy way to keep track of your finances anywhere, anytime – especially while traveling. You can use it to create and send professional looking invoices, check your cash flow and share your books in real time, all without sending files of any kind back and forth.

3. Share and collaborate digitally: It’s never been easier to share files and collaborate with colleagues, vendors and customers online. With services such as Google Docs, Dropbox, Zoho and Basecamp, you can take comfort in knowing you’ll be plugged into what’s happening and can respond to any emergency or opportunity even if you’re away on vacation.

4. Outsource anything you can. Outsourcing is ideal for business owners who want to get more time away. Hire a virtual assistant to help with administrative tasks and scheduling. You might also consider working with other business owners to cover for each other when traveling.

Copyright © 2000-2013 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

12 Tips for Naming a Business, Brand or Product

brand croppedWhen it comes to finding a great name for a business, brand, product or service, it really comes down to this:  A good name should make someone smile or nod, not scratch their head in confusion.

But this notion, mind you, is not universally held. Many businesses – and the branding agencies they hire to help them – have lately leaned toward combining letters and sounds into invented names that are hard to pronounce or understand.

Others prefer to aim for fresh, unexpected names that you don’t need a computer to decipher. One such advocate for fun and likable names and taglines is a San Francisco-based naming firm called Eat My Words (www.EatMyWords.com) that specializes in helping people who find themselves in a business or product-naming pickle.

Here are some naming tips from the pros at Eat My Words who come up with creative brand name suggestions and emotionally-driven company tag lines daily:

Naming a Business

1)    Don’t name your business after yourself. As tempting as that might be, the name is essentially meaningless to your future customers and evokes nothing about your business. What’s more, many names are hard to pronounce, spell or remember. One exception: If your name lends itself to clever word play such as a consultant named Steven Lord who call’s his business “Lord Knows.”

2)    Don’t date your business name. If you select something trendy or numerical (i.e. Women 2.0) the name might appear dated in a few years. Stick to names that can withstand the test of time.

3)    Use a name that will scale to fit future products. As Eat My Words notes, you don’t want to outgrow your business name. For example, if Amazon.com – which originally sold only books — had named itself Bookstore.com, they’d have painted themselves into a corner that would have made it difficult once they started selling anything and everything.

4)    Your name doesn’t have to convey trust and credibility.  That’s something you build through your logo design and marketing materials. If you try to build that into your name, you’ll likely end up with some hopelessly boring options.

Naming a Product

1)    Keep it simple and conceptual.  According to Eat My Words, basic yet powerful words make for the best product names. A few they’ve created include a travel make-up kit named Dash; an all-natural energy drink called Bloom; and a line of gourmet dips for kids called Monkey Dunks.

2)    Avoid acronyms. You should only expect people to remember one name, not two. Brand your product with a full name and let the acronym be something you only use internally.

3)    Name you product before your company. That’s not always possible, of course, but if people only remember one thing, it’s better they remember the name of the thing they will actually be buying (and searching for online).

4)    Select names that work as a family. Apple, for example, created a family of products that all fit together by using the same naming convention around “i” including iMac, iPod, iPhone, iTunes and iPad, among others.

Naming a Brand

1)    Define the personality of your brand in three words that will be your acid test. When Alexandra Watkins was naming her naming agency, she wanted to convey that the brand was “playful,” “creative” and “unexpected,” which lead her to Eat My Words. Something like ABC Name Bank simply wouldn’t have cut it.

2)    Your brand name should be spelled exactly how it sounds and be easy to pronounce. This certainly bucks a popular trend these days, but if you don’t follow this rule you’ll be constantly telling people how to spell or pronounce it. Your brand should be approachable – not something people struggle with and are embarrassed to try and pronounce.

3)    Choose a brand name that’s meaningful to your customers. Names with hidden meanings or foreign phrases can’t stand on their own, and you won’t always be there to explain. Each time you have to explain what your name means you are apologizing for it.

4)    The name should create a picture in the customer’s mind.  That’s because people remember pictures more easily than they remember words or letters.

Copyright © 2000-2013 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main

8 Keys to Re-energizing Your Business

energize keyIt’s a tough world out there. Customers are demanding more. Competition is keen – sometimes from unexpected places. Your business must work harder and smarter to improve profits. And on top of it all, there always seem to be new taxes and regulations to deal with.

Sometimes however (not that this includes you, of course), business owners don’t make the best planners. “We are action-oriented people,” says Bill McBean, who launched and sold several businesses and is now General Partner in the family-owned firm McBean Partners. “But by taking a hard look at a few key places and putting a plan in place you can bank on a more prosperous future,” he says. McBean, author of The Facts of Business Life (Wiley, 2012) suggests these ways to put your re-energizing plan in place:

1) Improve your own leadership skills

Since success starts at the top, you should evaluate where your own leadership skills need improvement. Start by looking at what’s working for your business and what’s not. Evaluate honestly how things are going. Are you supplying the business with what it needs to succeed – equipment, time, capital and resources? Are you paying employees based on what you want them to accomplish? Have you let any bad habits slide that need addressing? Now you can look ahead and decide what you need to do differently.

2) Do a full review of systems and procedures

In essence, systems and procedures actually operate your business, thought many owners misunderstand this concept, says McBean. Again, evaluate what’s working and what isn’t. Look for outdated processes that continue merely because “it’s the way we’ve always done it.” For example, inventory must change with the market, along with pricing and policies, since what sold well a few years ago might not sell well now.

3) Go on a gross profit-building mission

This step alone is one of the business owner’s most powerful weapons. Look for ways to cut costs and increase gross profit. “Don’t assume you know how much things are costing you,” says McBean, “or that your employees are reacting to new sales opportunities.” Ask yourself: What expense mistakes did we make last year and how can we avoid them now? But don’t cut just for the sake of cutting. Look for smart ways to save money and start building a cash cushion.

4) Re-engage employees

A successful business needs employees who care as much about the company as you do. “Engaged employees are energized,” says McBean. “They handle problems on their own and actively look for ways to improve the business.” Seek out new ways to show employees you care. Even a simple “thank you” can help tremendously. A paid afternoon off, movie passes or other small perks also work wonders. Find out what frustrates employees most in their jobs and – if possible – supply tools or training to improve the situation.

5) Set specific goals and amp up the energy

Your goal with goals is to aim high, but be specific, says McBean. And remember that goals must be measureable. If goals are not measurable you can’t gauge progress and will eventually abandon them. What gets measured gets done.

6) Boost you product or service offerings

Can you squeeze out another product or service from what you already have in place? “For example,” says McBean, “there’s nothing stopping an auto parts store from selling marine industry parts, especially if you’re located near water.” People need what they need, when they need it, so make it easy for customers to get what they want. And don’t ignore the power of impulse purchases or convenience items – even if they aren’t matched up with your core products.

7) Revamp your marketing

Look careful at who your customers are now. Have they changed? Are you trying to reach them in ways that make the most sense? For example, might the money you’re spending on ad placement be better spend on direct mail or online? Does social media marketing make sense?

8) Look for ways to impress loyal customers

Your customer base is critical so it’s essential you find ways to foster loyalty. Beyond offering a great product or service, what will keep customers coming? The prize goes to business owners who are more creative in answering this question, and who offer more than simply what customers “expect.”

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main

How to Hire Teens While Staying Sane and Legal

Beautiful Young AdultsSoon, teenagers by the millions will be seeking summer jobs – the vast majority at small businesses coast to coast. An estimated 18 million U.S. teens will work this year, one of the highest totals in the developed world.

Speaking as a parent of teens, this is a good thing.  But in its song Teenagers, the rock group My Chemical Romance seems to capture the U.S. Department of Labor’s take on teens with a refrain that says “Teenagers scare the living @#$% out of me.”  DOL, you see, is rife with rules and regulations on teen labor, and prone to enforcing them with fines and sanctions. As are its state gov counterparts.

For example – and not to pick on Portland – but one recent DOL “enforcement initiative” involving Portland restaurants found violations of minimum wage, overtime and child labor laws at a whopping 79% of the eateries. Even kid-focused Chuck E. Cheese locations in San Francisco were fined $28,000 for violating child labor rules. Whoops!

The point is this: If you plan to hire teens for summer (or other) jobs, be careful.

Most rules are common sense, and deal with safety issues. That’s because young workers suffer a disproportionate share of on-the-job injuries. About 160,000 teens suffer work-related injuries or illnesses yearly…about a third of them requiring emergency room treatment.

And more than 75% of incidents happen in the retail and service industries – not sectors usually considered more injury-prone such as manufacturing and construction.

Teens at Greater Risk

Young workers – especially those in their first summer jobs – are at greater risk of workplace injury because of their inexperience. And also because, well, they are teenagers who may hesitate to ask questions and may fail to recognize workplace dangers. (What did that song say?)

Familiarize yourself with federal and state laws on teen employment – especially the rules on what types of jobs teens are specifically not allowed to perform.

Finding Help for Hiring Teens

Dozens of private suppliers sell OSHA compliance materials, and there are many safety consultants to choose from, available easily online. But your best starting point is OSHA’s small business website at  www.osha.gov/smallbusiness. Look for OSHA Compliance Assistance Quick Start, which helps new small businesses understand the rules and find the right resources. It’s a step-by-step guide to major requirements that may apply.

DOL has a helpful website devoted to the rules of youth employment called “Youth Rules” at www.youthrules.dol.gov. Here you’ll find information and links to almost everything you need to know about federal and state rules, including limits on hours teens are allowed to work, and jobs they can perform. This is where you will also find information on age requirements, work permits and wages.

Another helpful government site called “TeenWorkers” has a wide range of information on summer job safety for specific sectors such as construction, landscaping, parks and recreation, life guards and restaurants. Under landscaping, for example, you’ll find tips on preventing injury from pesticides, electrical hazards, noise and many others. The small business FAQ section includes a long list of the most common questions businesses have about hiring teens, along with links to detailed answers.

OSHA says that restaurants rank especially high among industries at risk for teen worker injuries, and even has a website devoted to restaurant safety for teen workers. To find it, check the A-Z Index at the top of the OSHA homepage under Restaurant Safety.

A Few Teen Hiring Basics

For teens employed in non-agricultural jobs, restrictions on hours and jobs include these:

  • Minimum age is 14.
  • Those 18 or older may perform any job (hazardous or not) for unlimited hours.
  • Youth 16 or 17 may perform any non-hazardous job for unlimited hours.
  • Youth 14 and 15 years old may work outside school hours in non-manufacturing, non-mining, non-hazardous jobs. They cannot work more than three hours a day on school days; or more than 40 hours per week when school is not in session.
  • During the school year, 14- and 15-year-olds may not work before 7:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m. However, during the summer that’s extended to 9:00 p.m.

Before you assign a job to a minor, be sure it’s allowed by law. If you have a specific question regarding the job which you are hiring a minor to perform, contact the Department of Labor’s toll-free help line at 866-4US-WAGE (866-487-9243).

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main

6 Lessons on Becoming a High Impact Business

High growth biz Uncle Sam wanted to know:  What kinds of companies are America’s true growth generators? Is it corporate giants like Apple, Amazon or GE? Is it startups? Is it relative newbies such as Facebook.

After some exhaustive research, the answer was clear: “None of the above.

As it turns out, the real economic spark plugs in the U.S. are not big public companies. They are small, privately-held, fast-growing firms that already exist. These “high-impact” businesses are defined as firms whose sales and employee count have at least doubled over a four-year period.

Surprise! High Impact Includes All Industries

That’s about 350,000 businesses and the research shows they tend to be a bit younger (but still average 17 years old) and a whole lot more productive than others.  And they’re not just a bunch of high tech firms, either. They exist in relatively equal shares across all industries – and get this – even declining and stagnant ones! No single industry dominates.

That alone is both positive news and a huge lesson for startup entrepreneurs and other business owners who fear they can’t hit it big in more traditional businesses or industries. In short, you can.

Here’s another stunning finding of the U.S. Small Business Administration study: This relatively small group (less than 10% of all U.S. companies) of privately-held small firms accounts for all (not most, but ALL) net job growth in the U.S. economy. And get this: These high-impact businesses are also largely immune to ups and downs of the business cycle. Sound good?

Small Firms Dominate

But surely these must be the “bigger” small business, right? Wrong again. The vast majority (94%) of high-impact businesses have just one to 19 employees. Another 5.5% come in at between 20 and 499 employees, and a scant 0.5% have more.

In other words, a few hundred thousand businesses with just a handful of employees are having a bigger collective impact on job growth in the U.S. than all the corporate giants combined. Now ain’t that somethin’!

By now, you should be saying to yourself you’re either one of these firms – or you want to be. But how? For answers, let’s check in with Edward Hess, professor and Executive-in-Residence at the University of Virginia’s graduate business school. Hess has studied high-impact businesses for years and has an insightful new book called Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Entrepreneurial Businesses (Stanford University Press, 2012). He offers these six lessons on being a high-growth firm:

1)    Don’t grow yourself into trouble

Many small businesses flame out when they try to grow too quickly, as growth outstrips people, processes and controls. Cash flow is critical. Growth requires investment ahead of cash receipts. “Entrepreneurs must understand they might not be able to afford all available growth,” says Darden. Avoid the “grow or die” myth. A better approach is “improve or die.”

2)    Upgrade continuously

Remember this: What got you here, won’t necessarily get you there. In other words, solutions that work at one size business generally won’t work as you get bigger. Growth means continuous change. Hess has found that common tipping points that require adjustments occur at 10, 25, 50 and 100 employees. Top entrepreneurs and their teams know how to experiment, learn and adapt.

3)    Know when to back off

All private businesses face the same growth challenges. The most successful ones know how to pace their growth. Hess calls it the “gas pedal” approach. They know when to let up on the growth gas pedal to give their people, processes and controls time to catch up.

4)    Manage your risks

Growth creates stress on finances, quality controls, people and processes. It can dilute your business’s culture and customer value proposition. And it can even thrust you into a different competitive space. Understanding these risks is crucial to managing your growth pace and preventing your business from being overwhelmed.

5)    Get better at delegating

In order for your business to grow, YOU must grow, too. There’s only so much you can do yourself. That means you have to evolve from being strictly a doer, to also being an effective manager, delegator and leader.  Sometimes that’s hard to do or swallow, but it’s a must.

6)    Keep strategic focus

Having and keeping strategic focus is also critical to growing “safely.” The most successful high-impact firms focus on doing one thing that lots of customers need, and doing it better than the competition.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main

Related BizBest Articles

The 10 Bookkeeping Basics You Can’t Ignore

Millions of business owners and startup entrepreneurs are masters at creating great products and services, building awesome teams and winning over customers. Many of them, however, would probably flunk basic bookkeeping.

But if you don’t understand the different types of “accounts” your bookkeeper uses to organize your finances, measuring the success (or failure) of your efforts will be futile.  Being deft at digital marketing, for example, isn’t enough if you don’t have a clear financial picture of your business and run headlong into cash flow problems.

What do your accounts receivable look like? Are you constantly paying your own bills late? Not sweating the small stuff like understanding your own books is trouble in the making, says Lita Epstein, who designs online courses about reading financial reports and is the author of Bookkeeping Kit for Dummies (Wiley, 2012).

Here are basics of the 10 most common types of bookkeeping accounts for a small business that you should know:

  1. Cash. It doesn’t get more basic than this. All of your business transactions pass through the Cash account, which is so important that often bookkeepers actually use two journals—- Cash Receipts and Cash Disbursements — to track the activity.
  2. Accounts Receivable. If your company sells products or services and doesn’t collect payment immediately you have “receivables” and you must track Accounts Receivable. This is money due from customers, and keeping it up to date is critical to be sure that you send timely and accurate bills or invoices.
  3. Inventory. Products you have in stock to sell are like money sitting on a shelf and must be carefully accounted for and tracked. The numbers you have in your books should be periodically tested by doing physical counts of inventory on hand.
  4. Accounts Payable. No one likes to send money out of the business.  But it’s a little less painful if you have a clear view of everything via your Accounts Payable.  Good bookkeeping helps assure timely payments and – importantly – that you don’t pay anyone twice.  Paying bills early can also qualify your business for discounts.
  5. Loans Payable. If you’ve borrowed money to buy equipment, vehicles, furniture or other items for your business, this is the account that tracks what’s owed and what’s due.
  6. Sales. The Sales account is where you track all incoming revenue from what you sell. Recording sales in a timely and accurate manner is critical to knowing where your business stands.
  7. Purchases.  The Purchases Account is where you track any raw materials or finished goods that you buy for your business. It’s a key component of calculating “Cost of Goods Sold” (COGS), which you subtract from Sales to find your company’s gross profit.
  8. Payroll Expenses.  This is the biggest cost of all for many businesses. No matter how much you beg, few people want to work for nothing.  Keeping this account accurate and up to date is essential for meeting tax and other government reporting requirements. Shirking those responsibilities will put you in serious hot water.
  9. Owners’ Equity.  This account has a nice ring to it. Basically, it tracks the amount each owner puts into the business. “Many small businesses are owned by one person or a group of partners; they’re not incorporated, so no stock shares exist to divide up ownership,” says Epstein. “Instead, money put into the business is tracked in Capital accounts, and any money taken out appears in Drawing accounts. In order to be fair to all owners, your books must carefully record all Owners’ Equity accounts.
  10. Retained Earnings. The Retained Earnings account tracks any of your company’s profits that are reinvested in the business and are not paid out to the owners. Retained earnings are cumulative, which means they appear as a running total of money that has been retained since the company started. Managing this account doesn’t take a lot of time and is important to investors and lenders who want to track how well the company has done over time.

Many business owners think of bookkeeping as an unwelcome chore.  But if you understand and make effective use of the data your bookkeeper collects, bookkeeping can be your best buddy, helping  you run your business more effectively.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main

4 Reasons to Ban the Yearend Bonus

Sure, nobody wants to be labeled a Scrooge. But if you’re among the roughly 50% of U.S. businesses (and shrinking) that still offer traditional yearend bonuses, it might be time to join the 21st century – and plan for something different in 2013.

Too many small business bonus plans operate on autopilot, under “conventional wisdom” that offering yearend bonuses works. But these ritualized holiday handouts can actually undermine your mission, strategy and goals.

“As an employee incentive strategy, the traditional yearend bonus is better suited to the 19th century world of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol than today’s workplace,” says employee recognition expert Michael Levy, CEO of Online Rewards, who’s created incentive programs for a wide range of large and small companies.

In fact, the yearend bonus or gift has already been fading for some time, according to surveys conducted by the human resources firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Five years ago, nearly three-fourths of companies surveyed said they offered yearend awards – a figure that’s plunged to just half, and appears headed lower.

More and more businesses are discovering that “automatic” bonuses do little to reward and retain high performers, nor do they help much with morale or loyalty. Yearend rewards are often too far removed from actual positive actions that occur throughout the year to be meaningful. Business owners who drop yearend bonuses are shifting instead to year-round efforts that have proven more effective.

Unless you’re a Wall Street firm (where plump yearend payouts remain a staple of the trade), reviewing your strategy could be a good idea.

Here, BizBest offers four reasons to ban the yearend bounty and look for new ways of getting more bang for your bonus buck:

1. Yearend bonuses have little impact on performance.

Traditional yearend bonuses as applied at most small businesses simply don’t have a significant impact on employee behavior. For the most part, they are symbolic rather than strategic. Even if you’ve “always done it,” bite the bullet and ban the bonus. Today’s employees react more positively to the instant gratification of receiving real-time rewards throughout the year, rather than waiting 12 months for a bonus envelope.

2. Payouts or gifts should be based on performance, not entitlement or tradition.

Some of America’s most innovative small companies are realigning holiday bonus budgets to put them more in step with individual performance, as well as overall business goals and results. Instead of offering yearly lump sum payouts, these businesses are creating continuous reward and recognition strategies that recognize outstanding performance when it happens. These timely rewards are better able to target employees based on individual performance.

3. Year round programs are better at strengthening relationships between employees and business owners or managers.

By offering smaller but more frequent rewards throughout the year, you’ll regularly promote behavior that advances your overall business goals and creates a more lasting positive perception among employees – and customers, too.

4. A “meaningful” bonus might be much less than you think.

Numerous studies show that most employees merely want to be recognized for their ongoing contribution to the business. This doesn’t require a Wall Street-sized check. “Many workers are happy with a $25 gift certificate to a local store or restaurant,” says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray. “Others would be happy with an extra day or two of paid vacation at the end of the year.” Electronic devices, gift cards, travel vouchers and movie passes often serve as better rewards than cash because they are indulgences the employee might not otherwise experience. Cash often goes toward basic expenses (credit card debt, for example), and is less memorable.

Not about being cheap

This isn’t about cutting costs or being cheap. But done right, your investment in bonuses and rewards throughout the year will improve results and help achieve your business goals.

Instead of the stale yearend approach, consider a variety of employee reward and recognition programs, sales incentive solutions and even customer loyalty programs tied to employee performance. Your goal should be to create engaging and purposeful incentive solutions, not simply a bonus plan that people starting thinking about when the weather turns colder.

 Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Why Google AuthorRank is a Game Changer

The arrival of Google AuthorRank, and its cousin Google Authorship, reorders the digital universe in a way that can send digital importance and social influence soaring for business owners, journalists, writers, bloggers, entrepreneurs and executives active in social media.

Authorship and AuthorRank are part of a new and rapidly evolving Google initiative with immediate game-changing implications. Years in the making, and based on several Google patents, Authorship raises the ante for all business owners and executives by making social media participation even more important – and potentially effective – than ever.

Used properly, Authorship can greatly boost your digital profile and deliver higher returns on your social effort. Early studies show that having Authorship linked to content you create increases click-through rate 150%. From now on, adding Authorship to any blog or site that carries your bylined content should be standard practice.

Here’s the rub, however: This does not happen automatically. To benefit from Google Authorship you must set it up and use it. Getting it right to begin with is crucial. The Google Authorship signup site has basic implementation instructions, but there are several options, depending on your circumstances. It’s mostly a matter of giving Google the digital means (via a Google+ account and email associated with your bylined content) to verify the content is yours.

Authorship, as you might surmise, tracks individuals, not businesses. I applied for Authorship (here) in a matter of minutes for my articles on BizBest and was approved for the program via email a few days later.  As one cool side benefit, I now have my very own Google search results site showcasing 10+ pages of just my content, with photo and bio.

In techie terms, Authorship is able to work its magic via a micro data format Google calls “Rich Snippets.”  Pulling this off took Google years to figure out, but what’s important for you is this:  “Old-school” factors such as keywords and link-building that once held sway in search will now play second-fiddle to authorship, authority and social influence for business owners, entrepreneurs, journalists, bloggers and other content-creators who take advantage of it.

Be aware: These changes are already in place and gaining momentum.  And although Google Authorship has had a bumpy, confusing start and little publicity, it’s something every social biz owner must grasp.  It signals a sea change in how your unique social media contributions (read that as “content”) get scored and shown by the search giant.

Authorship already influences search results, and that has big implications when your name is associated with a brand. Not only will your content appear higher, it will be displayed higher still for anyone connected to you via Google+, which Google quickly determines on the back end.

Testing Authorship Power

I recently ran a test to see if this works, with amazing results. First I wrote 16 Sweet Social Marketing Tools You Gotta Try, published the post to my blog BizBest, and shared it on Google+ among other places. A top blog in the startup space called MyVenturePad picked it up off my RSS feed and published it on that site, as did Business Insider in its War Room section.

A few days later I searched Google for “social marketing tools” and found that I owned three of the top ten organic results on the page, including two in the top 5.  And this is for a highly competitive search term, evidenced by a dozen advertisers who paid to be on the same page that I was dominating for free, thanks to Authorship.

The Second Shoe

AuthorRank – an anticipated change to the Google search algorithm – is essentially the second shoe to Authorship, and second cousin to PageRank. Google has for years been on a quest to squelch crappy content and surface trustworthy, high-quality content created by influential and knowledge people – like you. Google seems to finally have all the pieces in place to take those efforts to the next level.

Web pundits speculate that AuthorRank will change the search game as we know it. It will definitely affect Google PageRank, and the impact will likely be huge. Social execs, professionals and business owners who understand these things now will be far better positioned to exploit the changes as they happen.

A 6-Point AuthorRank Assault List

  1. If you haven’t yet figured it out, this is also a giant reason to embrace Google+. Sure, it’s a drag to need yet another social media platform. But several factors in determining AuthorRank depend on what you do with G+, including the number of +1’s you get, your involvement in Circles, and so on. If you’ve avoided G+ (as most of us have) it’s time to step up.
  2. This further undermines traditional SEO. But that’s good, because now it’s less about a bunch of tags and keywords, and much more about content quality and digital authority.
  3. Set up Google Authorship for yourself and any other “thought leaders” you might have in your business. Remember: It must be individuals; can’t be a company.
  4. Focus on publishing high quality content and share it on social media (don’t forget Google+). Building connections with other high AuthorRank influencers will also work in your favor.
  5. Authorship has its own metrics (called Authorship Statistics) available on Google with lots of data on your content and search impact. You can even track stats on specific pieces of content.
  6. Creating high-quality, shareable (read “interesting”) content is key. You’ve heard this before, but AuthorRank makes it even more important. Don’t be afraid to specialize. In fact, since you can build separate AuthorRank in multiple topic areas, this is a good idea.

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8 Places to Find Your own Free Business Mentor

No matter what type of business or startup you run, having a “mentor” to help guide you can increase your odds of success, big time. Having a wise, loyal advisor – especially one who’s “been-there, done-that” – is like money in the bank.

Mentors can’t make decisions for you.  That’s your job.  But their expertise can be invaluable as a sounding board or reality check.  Mentors aren’t in it for the money.  Generally they work with business owners for free, for the satisfaction of helping out.

So how do you find such a person? Here are some places and organizations that help match mentors with business owners or startup entrepreneurs:

1. SCORE (www.score.org)

Probably the best-known organization providing free (and confidential) mentoring to small business owners via its national network of some 13,000 retired business executives, leaders and volunteers. SCORE’s volunteer mentors share their expertise through both in-person and online counseling (via email).

2. Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs)

Another great source of free or low-cost help and advice for current and would-be business owners of all types in all locations. There are over 1,200 SBDC locations nationwide. For help locating one, visit www.asbdc-us.org.

3. Women’s Business Centers (WBCs)

WBCs offer business training, counseling and other resources to help women start and grow successful businesses. To find your nearest WBC check the Office of Women’s Business Ownership at www.sba.gov.

4. Minority Business Development Centers

Part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, MBDCs offer free help to minority-owned businesses through about 40 centers nationwide.  Visit the Minority Business Development Agency at www.mbda.gov.

5. eBusinessNow.org

This specialized SCORE program helps biz owners use web-based technologies to grow their businesses.  An experienced SCORE technology mentor available through this program can provide personalized advice – for free.  Go to the “Find a Mentor” section at eBusinessNow to find a SCORE location near you, or search for a mentor online.

6. Trade or Professional Associations

Many trade and professional associations operate mentoring programs for business owners just starting out. Some offer formal one-on-one mentoring sessions as well as group networking opportunities.  Check associations in your industry.

7. Mentors for Government Contracting

If your business plans to sell to the federal government, the General Services Administration (GSA) offers a Mentor/Protégé Program designed to encourage prime contractors to help small businesses be more successful in government contracting and enhance their ability to perform successfully on government contracts and subcontracts. You’ll find it at GSA.gov.

8. Your own Network

Who do you know? Is there a previous boss who was very inspiring to you or a friend who is a business owner? Ask that person to be your mentor or share his or her successes and struggles. You have nothing to lose. Just be prepared to share with them why you chose them in particular, your goals and what you are looking for from them. The best way to connect these days is LinkedIn. Make sure you’re on it!

Here are some tips for getting the most out of a mentoring relationship:

  • Be organized, prepared and consistent. No one wants to waste their time if you aren’t serious about success.
  • Plan your mentoring sessions in advance. These could be as simple as having a one-on-one consultation or lunch meeting once a month to discuss where you are against your business goals, how best to tackle business obstacles, getting advice on business processes or regulatory requirements that you don’t understand, and so on.
  • Casual one-on-one sessions are good, but also have more structured sessions that address different aspects of starting, running, managing and growing your business. A good starting point is for you to prepare a detailed agenda of items to discuss at each meeting.
  • Take notes, take change of your “action items” and review progress against these in your next session.
  • Be respectful of your mentor’s time. Use their insight and apply as you best see fit. It’s still your business.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.