JoAnn Laing's Blog - All About Small Business

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All About Small Business
Updated: 56 min 40 sec ago

Pace Yourself

Mon, 09/04/2023 - 15:23

Small business leaders must learn to pace themselves, take vacations, and not decide important decisions when tired.

Making a decision when tired can increase the chances of choosing the wrong alternative, according to risk analysis experts who have studied why people often choose the worst option.

When examining plane crashes, experts point to studies showing pilot fatigue, even after a mandatory rest period, makes poorer decisions, even in dire situations. The National Transportation Board has numerous studies demonstrating fatigue contributes to fatal ancients only slightly lower than alcohol and drugs.

Why, then, should small business leaders worry about fatigue? Because it is contributing factor in many company failures. Moreover, many managers fail to realize they are not functioning at 100% because of continuing tiredness caused by devoting almost all their efforts to the business.  

To succeed, small business leaders must devote almost all their waking hours to the business in its formative years. 

The stress of total commitment often takes its toll as the company moves into its growth years.

During the initial start-up period, the adrenaline drawn from the exhilaration of building the company provides fuel to sustain them. As the years go by, the constant attention to continue the successful trajectory gradually erodes mental and physical resources.

Trying to start and grow a business is stressful, and many people will experience burnout, fatigue, or depression.

Exhausted entrepreneurs can harm their businesses — as their day-to-day decision-making and cognitive skills may suffer.

“Entrepreneurs have one of the loneliest professions in the world,” says business scaling coach Tony DiSilvestro. “One thing I really wish entrepreneurs would do more is talk with other entrepreneurs.”

“Go to the business next door and have a cup of coffee with the owner. Talk about your struggles, learn from each other. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, don’t be afraid to ask a question.”

In a recent survey, 55% of small business owners said they had not taken a vacation in two years or more. Another 44% said they did not have an outside person to discuss company issues. Almost 80% indicated they thought about the company seven days a week and most waking hours.

Business consultant Karyn Greenstreet wrote that over 67% of the small business owners she spoke with regularly have told her they’re feeling fatigued, burned out, and lacking motivation.

Some experts think the challenging events of the past few years and the subsequent greater costs of doing business are adding to leadership woes. Some leaders take dealing with these newer issues is stride. But others think dealing with these obstacles has added to the strains and fatigue of company leaders.

Some signs of Fatigue:

1. Feeling exhausted and overwhelmed

No energy to do the work you used to love doing and dread the To-Do list  

2. Feeling frustrated and cynical

Issues cloud the excellent work happening in your company 

3. Thinking well is a chore

Forgetting things and making decisions takes time and effort.

4. Dropping your performance

Personal work standards are slipping.

5. Work is always with you, even at home

The office is always with you.

6. People skills are eroding

Other workers avoid a short-tempered, abusive boss.

7. Nothing seems good enough

Negatives come first in any situation, and the positives are ignored.

8. Socialization is no longer important

Socialization is nonexistent at work or home.

9. Sleep comes hard

Taking medication is an important sign of stress.

10. Health issues arise

Well-being is an important sign of fatigue or worse.

Some suggested solutions:

When stepping away from the job that is causing stress isn’t possible — and for most people, it’s not — there are still tools entrepreneurs can use to fight their burnout:

· Get enough sleep 

· Delegate more and 

· Hire people to do the jobs you don’t enjoy

· Find a passion outside of work 

· Devote more time to family and friends

· Walk outside more 

· Join or start conversations with other entrepreneurs

· Strengthening social relationships 

One consultant said she did not care what her clients did as long as it was different.

But the most important thing is to recognize tiredness when it happens, not after making a catastrophic decision.

Customer List Value

Wed, 08/02/2023 - 15:46

When Bed Bath and Beyond finally gave up the ghost and Big Lots entered into an agreement to buy certain assets, the acquiring company emphasized that the company’s purchasing and email lists were the most important assets. 

That statement for any small business leader reaffirmed why customers and sales lists are so important to long-term company success. Where a consumer-facing or B-to-B entity, customer lists can become an ongoing asset. But, like any asset, lists must be carefully nourished, pruned, and protected. 

Let’s start with the need for any corporate entity, big or small, to capture all the mail addresses and as much information as possible from every contact made to the website, switchboard, or call center. The mantra for every employee must focus on them that potential sales prospects are any individual who contacts the firm for information. The company recipient should be asked for their email address, phone number, and name at the beginning of the conversation. No matter the call’s outcome, the company has a potential new client. 

Smart corporations capture these recorded calls and their data in a central Customer Retention Management (CRM) database. Such a program needs to be instituted almost from the first day a company begins. 

Many executives point to studies about the reluctance of individuals to share their personal information. At a recent call center training seminar, one industry leader offered one solution for gaining the new contact’s information.  

Have the call center or any employee ask for a callback number if the conversation is unexpectedly cut-off.  

The speaker said such requests are complied with more than 80 percent of the time. In most cases, the company will gain direct access to a new potential client since the person making the call had some interest in the firm’s offerings. 

Once such contact data is available, establishing stronger communication links with the prospect is the second most important task. Because of the anti-spamming laws, it is important to obtain opt-in permission before proceeding.   

Yes, any data record must be the gateway to potential sales. SMB leaders must consider databases as swirling oceans with prospects ready today to buy, others looking to purchase in coming months, and other years away from acting. These records combine into an asset that is hard to value but harder to ignore. 

Certainly, Big Lots didn’t.  

But like any asset, data records must be constantly updated with fresh additions. Beyond adding records, it is important to encourage conversation between company and contact. Periodically, every record in the list must receive information of value to them rather than the company. Semi-annually or more frequently, each record is contacted with factoid snippets to make their job easier. Having a call to action on a contest open only to them is equally as important.   

Whatever message is delivered, each record is personalized, has a method for opting out, and encourages responses by offering a benefit to the recipient. The cost of these efforts can be offset by the sales they generate. 

Saying goodbye is always hard. Pruning your lists is even harder. Deciding to drop someone off any list should be on three bases. 

  1. A person demands removal. 
  2. Failure to respond for some length of time. 
  3. Change in status or is deceased. 

Aside from these reasons, given the relatively minor costs of sending online information, maintaining a large and growing list makes sense. Repetition and reminders result in sales. Make sure you stay in the forefront of any potential customer’s mind. 

One more thing, snail mail is still an effective sales tool, and your database would be more valuable with street addresses and corporate addresses. Start with your current sales list and link as many physical locations as possible with their email. Together, they make a powerful, income-producing tool to drive business growth. 

Identifying, Easing Partnership Disruption to Save the Company

Wed, 07/05/2023 - 09:38

Co-owners who are both a couple and business associates can reach the point of partnership desolation in both areas. The angst associated with such a breakup can severely affect the company unless the problems are not identified early and carefully addressed.

During this period of stress and change, the desired outcome of continued growth requires a willingness to compromise and an acceptance that only some things will end to everyone’s total satisfaction. All parties must agree that continuing the company’s growth is the primary goal. This process is always challenging and often ends with one partner or another leaving.  

When both parties become aware of the clues to pending disruption, they should start to process rectification. 

Ironically, according to research, most dissatisfaction occurs as the company is on an upward path to profit and growth. These are common omens to recognize before disharmony strangles growth or leads to company failure.

  1. One party needs to provide full information, particularly financial details.
  2. Money is moving out of the company without proper documentation.
  3. One partner takes more out of the company for personal expenses than the other co-owner.
  4. There is an increase in closed-door meetings with staff.
  5. Staffs display more loyalty to one partner than the other.
  6. One partner needs to spend more time at the company.
  7. Staff performance deteriorates.
  8. Staff turnover increases, with some departures staffing a new competitor.
  9. Communication between co-owners is increasingly through subordinates.

Francie Caccavo, creator and co-owner of Olivia’s Stuffing, pointed out in a recent podcast that “it is difficult for couples to maintain a relationship when they are together, making important decisions, and facing fierce competition on a 24/7 basis.”

The following research agrees with this observation.

In the 20+ years, Small Business Digest has interviewed small business owners; there have been 143 businesses whose owners were romantically involved. Post-interview surveys conducted in the last two years indicate that 62% have had subsequent breakups. The major causes cited were infidelity, inability to separate personal and business interactions, and, most often, who is the final decision maker.

From the comments made in follow-up interviews, we offer the following strategies to help partners continue to grow their businesses.

Determine early the areas of leadership. No one can do every job; some partners are better equipped for certain functions. 

  1. Decide over which functions each partner will be paramount and how to resolve disputed shared decision-making decisions if there is disagreement.
  2. Make all financial information to both parties. No partner can have absolute signing authority, and the freedom to examine all documentation is always available.
  3. There is a trusted outside counselor to settle any dispute. An external board of advisors or one or two retained trusted consultants can go a long way to easing any logjams to continuing as partners. These consultants should be separate from a marriage counselor employed to ease marital tensions.

Also, one partner or the other must accept that there is, in most cases, the need for one public face for the company. Over time, our feedback from interviewees is that the partner with the public face becomes the dominant decision maker. 

  1. Numerous respondents cited this as the root cause of the eventual breakup.
  2. The partnership should speak with one voice to staff and avoid the creation of staff silos, with each partner having a cadre of supporters. The destruction of the company is more certain should divorcing spouses begin recruiting allies inside the firm. So too, attention needs to be given to reassuring staff during the divorce process.

One couple could stay together by agreeing to sign a binding put-and-call settlement. Under this agreement, either party may purchase the other’s company share by offering a binding put-and-call offer. To explain, a put-and-call agreement allows one partner will purchase the other’s share at the stated price or can be bought out for the offered amount. This process gives either partner an equitable method of resolving what could be a poisonous situation.

Being a couple is hard enough. Being in business together adds to the strain. Understand the added stress, allow for your partner’s foibles, and bask in your mutual successes.

Selecting A Document Storage Vendor

Wed, 06/07/2023 - 16:44

June 2023 Blog – Selecting A Document Storage Vendor

Storing digital and paper documents is often considered a chore rather than a critical process that must be carefully considered and monitored.

The initial phase of any storage process is choosing when, where, and how the data is stored. We use the word data because even the most minor receipt can become important in subsequent events. Proper storage can mean significant savings in time and money down the line.

Businesses have varying needs for storing their digital and paper documents. If your business deals with confidential information, it is essential to select your document storage vendor carefully.

When looking for storage of paper and/or digital storage for your business documents, here are some questions you should ask the document storage providers under consideration before making any commitments.

How long has the provider been in business?  Best to choose a records storage company that has been a longtime member of the records management industry and understands the importance of protecting and managing information assets. Also, research reviews, Better Business Bureau ratings, etc.

  1. What is the provider’s knowledge and experience of storing records in your business’s line of business?

Each industry encourages a different record-keeping compliance process. Only when the provider has shown it has handled similar clients will you be comfortable that the vendor can adequately support your company’s needs.

  1. How are your business’s documents protected?

Look for a provider who makes protecting your business’s valuable records a priority, one who can explain in detail the physical or technical protections they have in place to protect our documents from being accessed by competitors, hackers, and other criminals with ill intent. 

The storage facility should have the following:

  • High-level, 24/7 monitored security and surveillance systems
  • Secured entry doors with locks and security codes
  • Motion and intrusion detection sensors
  • Environmental control
  • Emergency retrieval protocols
  • State-of-the-art fire detection and mitigations systems
  • Note: A dry system doesn’t send water into the pipes until an alarm is triggered.
  • Protection against sudden floods
  • Evaluate if the vendor has adequate security measures to protect the records against physical, artificial, and natural disasters.

Even if your business’s files are locked up tight, does the provider do background checks on its employees? Does it require them to sign confidentiality agreements, take fingerprints, or use biometric scanning?

Finally, ask the provider if they have an industry-recognized certificate, such as PRISM Privacy+, proving they have the most advanced security and physical safety procedures.

Further, consider whether a screened and uniformed courier should deliver your business records in a GPS-tracked and alarmed vehicle. An electronic receipt should be provided with every delivery.

  1. How does the provider take inventory of your business’s files and index them?

Some record storage providers will inventory and index your business’s boxes before storing them to provide an accurate offsite storage inventory when asked. 

  1. How does your business get its records offsite?

Another important question will be understanding how records are safely transported from your business to the storage facility. 

  • Understand the frequency of transport and how secure this transportation system is. 
  • How are records packaged, loaded, monitored for tampering on the way, etc.?
  • What kind of checklists and reports does the provider produce from the point of pick up to delivery?
  1. How is access requested, and how long does it take for documents to be delivered?

Requesting documents and files from your document storage provider should be easy. Understand the different options between asking for document locations or requesting receipt of your documents. Check if the provider offers:

  • Next-day delivery
  • Same-day delivery
  • Two-hour retrieval and delivery
  • Scan on Demand digital delivery

Ask about the vendor’s information tagging and search functions.

  • Can you find the information you need quickly? 
  • What if you can’t find something—what kind of help do they offer?

Further, we may want some people at your business to view our storage documents, but not everyone. 

  • Does the vendor have a way to enforce your business’s governance and security policy?
  • Do they validate records requests? 
  • How does the provider train their workers to handle requests for files?
  1. Where is the document storage facility located?

It is essential to understand where your business’s records will be stored. The longer the distance from the provider facility, the higher the accessorial charges of each record retrieval and delivery will be. 

If the provider has scan-on-demand services, then locations do not matter, and it can offer your business significant cost savings over many years.

  1.  What are Your Certifications and Insurance Coverages? 

It is vital to get independent verification that the document storage service your business sells. Find out about the provider’s certifications (such as NAID) and insurance coverage (such as Downstream Data Coverage).

  1. What value-added services does the provider offer?

Some records storage providers can assist your business with additional services like media storage, document scanning, and shredding. Having one provider for our entire records management function is often easier.

If the provider offers imaging services, you also want to ask how they secure online documents. 

  • Are they using cloud storage? 
  • Who can access documents? 
  • What firewalls and security measures are in place? 
  1. How is the providers’ security checked?

It’s no use protecting business documents from spies and wannabe thieves if the storage provider’s staff are going to interfere with them directly. Ask if the provider should have gone through DBS checking, been security vetted to BS7858, and signed the Official Secrets Act! 

  1. Will the provider come and collect business documents?

The collection isn’t strictly essential, but will the provider come over to your business, get everything boxed up – even bring the boxes and tidy up after themselves?

  1. How does the pricing work?

Ask about the provider’s pricing:

  • Is it per box or file, or based on the dedicated storage space your business wants to contract? 
  • What are other factors that can influence the pricing? 

As time passes, records keep getting generated in volumes, and your storage cost can climb multifold. Evaluate how the pricing works incrementally. Understand their contract terms so that your business will not be surprised at a future time.

  1. What about compliance regulations?

There are many laws governing the retention periods for various types of documents. Ask how the provider keeps track of all of them. 

Also, query:

  • Can your business access this information with the press of a button?
  • How does the provider handle document destruction? Documents must be destroyed after a certain period and in a certain way. Someone must do it and provide documentation. 
  • Will they send your business alerts when it’s time to destroy documents and verify they have done so?
  1. What industry associations does the provider belong to?

Your business can gain insight into a prospective document storage vendor by verifying industry memberships. The following affiliations confirm your provider’s commitment to industry best practices and standards:

  • PRISM International (Professional Records & Information Services Management)
  • NAID (National Association for Information Destruction)
  • AIIM (Association for Information and Image Management)
  • NRC (National Records Centers)
  • ARMA International (Association of Records Managers and Administrators)
  • NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency)
  • DPA (Data Protection Agency)

In summary, if/when we’re looking for a trusted and reliable document storage company, asking these questions and verifying the answers will help your business choose a document storage provider that offers dependable service, unparalleled security, and personalized support.

It is best to put out a detailed RFP asking these questions, then speak with two or more providers to compare and contrast their offerings and how they meet your business’s needs. Please only settle for a vendor once you find one who answers your firm’s questions and meets your business’s needs.

Above, we have provided a long list of do’s and don’ts. 

Consider the consequences if your files are breached or stolen. The time and money you spend today to give you security may never be necessary. It will be priceless if something untoward happens in the future.