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Small Business Employee Handbook

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Small Business Employee Handbooks rank right up there with Business Plans; you know you “should” have them, but there are about 1,001 other things you’d rather be working on. All too often, an owner gets around to creating a Small Business Employee Handbook after an incident. I’d rather just cover the legal and recommended necessities simply and then address the critical piece: culture and fit.

The basic required elements can be found at the Small Business Administration’s site: http://www.sba.gov/content/employee-handbooks and there is even a link to a free template. Two words of caution on the template:

  1. It is not a SBA document as they claim and it contains links to a ‘for profit’ enterprise who wants to sell you something;
  2. It is lengthy, and may be more than you need. If the length could potentially scare you off, avoid the template!

Also, be sure to check if there are State requirements that you need to address.

Once you have the legal requirements covered, the rest of your employee handbook is uniquely yours. Upon reading your handbook, anyone should have a pretty good idea of what it’s like to work at your business – the “feel” of your business. The best place to start is with your values – either personally, if you are a very small business, or the company’s values. This is not a poster or a plaque with 4 or 5 words on it; these are those qualities that define you. What must you, your customers and vendors, see and hear if your values are present? What qualities, if missing, draw your attention to them?

Your values serve as the backdrop for your small business employee handbook; the next step in creating your handbook is telling employees what it’s like to work in your business, what your expectations are, and how you handle different situations. Address as many subjects that you can up front and you prevent problems in the future. Consider these items: do they earn “comp” time? What is your philosophy about client complaints? Does the customer really come first? Feel free to give examples that speak to your desired customer interactions.

A well-thought out small business employee handbook can prevent nasty legal situations. More commonly, it will create an environment of employee actions in line with your values, build trust, and easier staff management for you.

If you would like help defining your company’s values or creating your small business employee handbook, schedule a free 20-minute consult with me.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Your First Hire; Hiring in a Small Business Environment

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Your first hire is exciting and scary at the same time. You may be worried if you can afford it, you’re not sure what to hand off and if there’s enough work for an employee, and if you’re really honest with yourself, you’re worried about what that new employee will think of you and your business. So instead, you postpone hiring and just keep doing it all yourself. But there’s a cost.

If you’ve been on the fence about hiring for awhile but the data points to hiring, decide what your fear is about and address that. Next step is to define what the person will do. This is where many small business owners stop: they say “it’s a little of this, a little of that” or think they can probably do it better themselves. If you make the right hire, they will be phenomenally better than you! Make a list of everything you do during the course of a day or week; those tasks that aren’t part of your unique abilities can be handed off to an employee. Group the tasks to be handed off into general categories, such as marketing, bookkeeping, or customer care. What attributes and skills are a “must have”? I encourage you to have them complete a behavior profile, such as DISC or Kolbe. Both of these will tell you, for example, if the candidate is detail-oriented or a risk taker.

Yes, your first hire is an additional cost to your business, but look at the upside. What can you do with the time you free up? If you’re a professional who is booking appointments several weeks out, tasks now performed by an employee allow you to schedule more appointments, which equal revenue.  That revenue should be several times the hourly rate of your new employee. If the demand is not quite there, make a list of how you will spend your newly found time building interest that becomes revenue.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Does Apple Love You; Buying Behavior

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Apple Computer is in hot water. They are being charged with inhumane treatment of workers in their Chinese assembly plants. I’m guessing that the staff is scrambling looking for alternative assembly solutions but their biggest problem is convincing users and the general public that they care about the Chinese workers.

The buying public looks at data but, in large part, makes purchasing decisions based on their emotions. Anyone who’s ever had buyer remorse understands this all too well; you’ve made a purchase only to realize later that you overspent, didn’t need the product, or you didn’t get the elements you really needed. “What was I thinking?” you say. The truth is, you weren’t thinking. Your emotion made the purchase and left logic out of the decision making process.

As a business owner, it’s imperative that your customers believe that you care; you do that by understanding what emotions are ruling their buying behavior. Apple has built a strong brand around being the company whose products you love to integrate into your life. Their commercials and ads tug at your heartstrings (and, incidentally, your pursestrings). Now, the public will be viewing Apple ads with skepticism as they never have before. They’ll think “If Apple doesn’t care about the lives of their Chinese workers, do they care about me?

I often ask my clients to put themselves in the shoes of their buying customers: what is that your customers really want? It most often comes down to emotion – they want to feel part of a group, they want to feel special, they want to be loved. It really does come down to that basic emotion. On this Valentine’s Day, let your customers know that you care, about them and about their values.

From the bottom of my heart, I wish each and every one of you business success, prosperity, peace of mind and personal satisfaction.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Single Best Tip to Eliminate Small Business Overwhelm; Delegate

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Don, a client of mine, was feeling overwhelmed last week; he felt as though he just couldn’t keep up with all that was coming at him. Industry information, client requests, and staff e-mails and notes were keeping him from spending the time he wanted out prospecting and building new business. He would get things cleaned up for awhile, but then as he spent more time out of the office, it would all start building up again. Don felt defeated.

Rather than asking Don to dedicate 30 minutes a day to clean it up until he was caught back up again, I wanted him to deal with the barrage of information and requests coming at him once and for all. This time, we were going to cast a critical eye at each item and decide to Do it, Dump it, or Delegate it.

In order for a task to warrant Don’s time, it needed to earn its place. Was he the only one who could accomplish the task? Was it worth his billable rate? Don generated about $180 per hour. Sure, a simple to-do might only take ten minutes, but that equates to approximately $30 of time. He had staff members capable of formatting documents, scheduling appointments, and he paid them less than $30 per hour. End result? Delegate it.

As a business matures, activities that were once appropriate may become out grown. These can include long-standing activities, relationships within the office or outside, and office processes. Letting go can be bittersweet, but if you and/or your business no longer benefit, it’s time to Dump it. If it’s time to let go of a relationship, take care and treat it with respect and professionalism (the opposite of what “Dump it” implies!).

Once you’ve gotten rid of tasks by Delegating or Dumping them, your list will include only those items that have earned their place and deserve your unique brilliance. Your next step? Do it. That’s it. Take one item, act on it, move forward.

At the end of the week, Don felt accomplishment and valued by focusing his talents on their best use. .Isn’t that feeling worth a try? It really is simple:

Do it, Dump it, Delegate it.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Kudos to Mimi

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Mimi Steinbauer - Helen Dutton ClientI remember the first time my client Mimi Steinbauer gave me her address: the zip code was “90210”. I remember thinking, “Holy cow! I know that zip code from some TV show!” I looked it up and I was right: Beverly Hills. Yikes; what would a little ol’ Maine girl living in New Hampshire have in common with a Hollywood movie executive?

Mimi defied every Beverly Hills stereotype I could imagine (except the beautiful part); she was down to earth, thoughtful, caring, intelligent, and just a wonderful person all around. She knew her Hollywood job didn’t fit her perfectly, but it’s what she knew, it’s where her expertise lay. What else could she do?

Mimi sent me this link last week, showing me her answer to applying her expertise and knowledge to something she feels strongly about: films with a message, movies that make people think. Her newly launched company’s name describes everything about Mimi – Radiant Films International. It combines her personality, her family heritage, and her expertise.

She will be phenomenally successful and I am so proud of her for taking the plunge that it brings tears to my eyes.

Mimi, my hat is off to you. From this little ol’ Maine girl living in New Hampshire, I wish you the most success in the easiest way.

Hugs– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Helen Dutton, A Vision of Your Own, has provided business and personal coaching for small business owners since 2000, providing online and face to face coaching for entrepreneurs, small business owners, start-up businesses as well as established businesses across the country. Clients come from New Hampshire, her home state, but she has also acted as a mentor to business owners in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Denver area, and closer to home in the Boston area. Helen helps her clients develop their small business ideas, create marketing plans, improve operation efficiency, build customer service systems, build management and leadership skills, and develop confidence as a business owner. Helen provides business tips and resources through her blog and her newsletter, where you can also find business templates to help your business prosper.