small business


HE SAYS:

Every business owner, particularly, the owner of a very small business understands that the success of the business can be hindered by the lack of meaningful effort from even one employee.   Unlike very large businesses where no one employee can have a dramatic affect on the course or outcome of the business in a small business each employee is a crucial part of the business operation and, ultimately, its success.

For a small business owner it can be devastating if an employee does the minimum necessary to fulfill the job duties but brings nothing extra to the tasks at hand.   Let me give you a simple but demonstrative example that may illustrate my point.   Thinking it is not necessary to micromanage your employee, you casually ask him to load some items on the back of a truck for delivery and that employee loads those items so haphazardly that they are bound to fall off the truck and a second employee who you ask to drive the truck never gives a second thought about the load and drives off only to have the items fall off the truck and become damaged.   Technically, each of these employees did the job that was asked of them but clearly did not bring any care, attention to details or common sense to the task resulting in hardship to the business.

This kind of half hearted effort happens every day and can undermine a business to the point that despite the best efforts of the owner and other employees who care about doing a complete and thoughtful job the business is driven into the ground.   It seems to me that when a small business hires an employee it should be understood and expected that the employee is to not just do the tasks assigned at the most rudimentary and basic level but should elevate their efforts by bringing their intuition, common sense, and desire to do a good job to the tasks.   Just as in my example, the first employee should have loaded the items on the truck using common sense, with an attention to detail and with a desire to do the job right.  The second employee should have cared enough to check the load before he drove off.   Doing a job with a high level of skill and care instead of just giving a half hearted effort can make all the difference in the success or failure of any business.

Some people may say that it is the owner who needs to take care of his business and that the employees are there solely to do a job and nothing more.   As far as I am concerned, any employee who does not care or understand that their job is part of the “big picture” is not providing a service any more valuable than a piece of equipment such as a copier or fax machine that performs a needed function but brings no thought or concern to the task.   A valuable employee knows not only his job but how his job fits into the overall operation of the business and what role his work will play in the success of that business.   On the other hand, an employee that offers only a half hearted performance does a disservice to his employer and is a detriment to the success of the business.

Any employee who gives the bare minimum effort needed to just get by is really giving no meaningful or worthwhile effort at all.

On Monday, Joe questions those that are quick to cry racism in “Not Everyone Is A Racist”.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

Everyone who owns a business promotes their products and services, in one way or another, as a legitimate part of their business activities.   Very often, that promotion includes the business owner’s very unscientific or unverified statements or opinions as to the quality or value of the products or services being offered.   We all tend to embellish, at least, a little bit when describing what we have or what we do whether in our business or in our personal life.  It is just part of being human.

How many times have you seen statements that tell you “we serve the best food in town” or “he is the most skilled doctor around” or “she is the most experienced accountant”?  None of us completely rely on those promotional statements when choosing where to eat or who to hire.  We generally take those kinds of statements with a grain of salt as being merely opinions not proven facts.

Many of us have experienced the classic sales pitch from a car dealer who tells you that the car he is trying to sell you “is the best car on the market”.   Is it truly the best car on the market or is he just exaggerating?   This very thing has been tested in the Courts and has been found to be legally acceptable as mere “puffing” which means that such statements are recognized as statements of opinion and can’t be relied on as a fact.  In other words, the Courts have stated that there is no fraud or misrepresentation in a little bit of boasting or embellishment to make a sale.

Since the value of something is always in the eye of the beholder, it is difficult to make the case that when a business owner proudly boasts as to how good his products or services are that he is misleading his customers.   Certainly, the line is crossed if we are induced to buy damaged, defective, or inferior goods through outright lies and deception.   It may be a fuzzy line between boasting and lying, but I think we all can understand and appreciate the difference.

So, let the buyer beware but also let the business owner be fair and honest even if he is a little boastful.

On Monday, Joe gives his opinion on gun ownership in “Is It Right To Bear Arms?”.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

As a small business owner, your conduct in the workplace can result in costly litigation that, potentially, could be fatal to your business.   Once a lawsuit has been filed, you have little control over the cost; however, knowing the law may help you prevent a costly trip to the courthouse.

Harassment and sexual harassment are two forms of discrimination which have become the most discussed topics in human resources.

Harassment means to disturb, torment or pester on a persistent basis someone because of their membership in one or more protected groups.   This harassment could be verbal, physical or visual.

Verbal harassment occurs when words and sounds are directed toward other people in a way that disturbs, torments or pesters them based on their membership in a protected group.

Physical harassment includes, but is not limited to, assaults, impeding or blocking movement, or any physical interference with normal work or movement directed at an individual.  Visual harassment includes, but is not limited to, pictures, posters, calendars, cartoons, statements written on walls, and other objects that can be clearly seen.

Sexual harassment includes behavior such as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature such as name-calling, suggestive comments, or lewd talk and jokes.

Sexual harassment often takes one of two forms:  Quid pro quo harassment occurs when one person is asked, forced, pressured, or influenced to provide sexual favors or acts as a term, condition, or privilege of employment or advancement; environmental sexual harassment occurs when workplace conduct unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

There are two important steps you, as a business owner, can take to prevent harassment.   Adopt and enforce a written policy regarding harassment and train employees to identify and avoid inappropriate behaviors.  Your policy must include clearly defined behaviors that are inappropriate and must define the categories of people to be protected.  You may include other protected categories (and some states may require you to do so) such as sexual orientation and people with AIDS.  Your policy must also include a procedure for employees to file complaints and for complaint resolution.

Always seek the advice of an attorney when developing your policies and procedures to protect your employees and the future of your business.

On Monday, Annemarie comments on the never ending cycle of life in “The Cycle Of Life Continues”.    

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

We build barriers and walls all around us in many different ways but always to protect ourselves from some kind of real or perceived harm.

In our personal lives we are prone to keep certain things to ourselves lest they be misconstrued or, worse yet, used against us.   You know, when we build a wall around our feelings because we are afraid to let anyone in too easily so that we won’t be hurt.

When I practiced law the walls were of a different nature.  Dealing with your adversary, particularly, in litigation was much like playing a game of chess.  You did not want to tip your hand too soon and let the other side know your strategy or become aware of your game plan while at the same time you were trying to find out all you could about your adversary’s plans.  You were both trying to get a peek over the wall that each of you had built around your case.

Even when negotiating a settlement, neither side wanted to fully disclose the weaknesses in their case nor how much either party would accept or pay to settle.  If you tried to cut to the chase and demand your rock bottom settlement amount the other side always still believed you were hiding your true demand.   Full disclosure and frank conversations were always filtered through a wall of secrecy so that you did not reveal too much too soon and lose your advantage.

I have found that in running a small business you still need to build those walls.  When we try to establish a business relationship many times there is the jockeying for position, the posturing, and the carefully measured responses so that each side does not completely reveal their hand.  The walls are erected as soon as the first conversation starts.   It can be a long and arduous process to finally reach an agreement, if at all.

Even in ongoing business relationships there is a tendency to keep your guard up making it feel as if you are interacting with each other from behind two friendly but separate walled encampments.  Everyone is still holding their cards close to their chest.  I think the business community feels the need to guard its secrets even when there are no real secrets to guard.

When will all of these walls come tumbling down?  Probably never, since we need to protect ourselves, after all.

On Monday, Joe comments on downsizing to a core group of valuable employees in “The Few, The Chosen, And The Brave”.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

I have always believed in the proposition that you should treat people as you would want them to treat you.   I try to live up to that belief in both my personal and business life.

In my personal life this will manifest itself in many ways.  I will give my friends the benefit of the doubt and will take the position that they deserve my loyalty unless and until they show me otherwise.  I also will not judge my friends based on what other people say about them.  I will try to base my opinion about my friends on how they have treated me and not on how they may have behaved with others.  There are always two sides to every story and I don’t want to condemn someone, particularly, a friend after only hearing one side of that story.

In business, I try to adopt the same principles; however, I have found that the dynamics of the workplace make this more difficult.  As I have mentioned, when I first came to USFSB I did not have a lot of experience with managing and supervising a group of employees.   There was a significant amount of bickering and jockeying for position that may be considered standard office politics but which was totally foreign and, somewhat, disturbing to me.  This was compounded by the fact that as the employer you can be cordial to your employees but you, also, need to be a little distant and detached from them and the office politics so that you do not appear to be taking sides.  You need to be above the fray.

Even though, by and large, I was not friends with my employees, I still tried to treat them as I would have wanted to be treated by my employer.  The biggest disappointment, for me, in running a business and interacting with my employees was the fact that I was often wrong in my belief that my good deeds would be rewarded.   I believed if I treated my employees fairly, gave them financial rewards, and helped them as much as possible that I would, in turn, be rewarded with their loyalty, extra effort, and genuine concern for the success of the business.   I have found over the years that this is not always the case.       

On more than one occasion, when an employee has resigned, they seem to totally disregard all of the good things that had been done for them.  Even when they give reasonable notice, which is not always the case, they call in sick with impunity, they don’t follow through with promised training, they leave their unfinished work in disarray, and they generally act as if you do not deserve any loyalty.   When this happens, Annemarie and I can only shake our heads and say to ourselves will we ever learn?   On these occasions, I am reminded of the fact that, at least, in the workplace sometimes it seems that no good deed goes unpunished.

On Wednesday, Joe makes an observation about the breakdown of respect for authority in our society in “Respect Is Hard To Come By These Days”.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

Unmanageable debt can bring a small business to its knees.   All efforts should be made to operate your business from cash flow without the need to incur any debts; however, when it is absolutely necessary to borrow money it should be done wisely.

If you dream of starting your own business, it is better to wait until you have put enough start-up money aside to open your doors without the use of borrowed money.   Once started, you should do everything you can to avoid having to borrow money for your business.   Invest your time and hard work, do not buy anything that the business cannot pay for, and do not make the classic mistake of expanding faster than the business can handle.

Borrowing money to run your business should be the exception and not the rule.   Your chances of success will increase if you do not borrow at all; however, if you must borrow, you should follow some basic guidelines.   You should confine any borrowing to short term loans that you know can be repaid from the business.   You should avoid trying to sustain your business by depleting your savings, taking cash advances on your credit cards, or encumbering your home with mortgages or home equity loans.   If your business cannot sustain itself; or, when necessary, carry needed short term debt, then you should cut back on your spending or think about getting into another line of work.

Debt spells nothing but trouble for any small business owner.   There is nothing more frustrating to the owner of a business then to find that the money being generated from all of the hard work and effort is only serving to line the pockets of the creditors of the business instead of being available to the owner of the business.   Debt reduces your options and makes operating your business much more difficult because you now have to answer to the demands of your creditors rather than being able to run your business as you see fit.

If you are fortunate enough to be able to operate your business without borrowing any money, you will have the ability to pursue your own vision and not that of your creditors.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

This is the second part of a two-part series.  Click here to read the first part.

HE SAYS:

The Occupy movement wants to change the rules as an expedient and self-serving solution to the recession so that they can benefit from those that successfully pursued our American Dream.   There are frightened politicians all over this country preparing to raise someone’s taxes.   If not your taxes this time around, just wait until the Occupy movement gets a taste of blood and goes on a feeding frenzy for more taxes from anyone who has achieved any measure of success.

You and I know just as the Occupy group knows, this influx of tax money will not create jobs, will not reduce the deficit, and will not build equality, but, will be spent as fast as it comes in on an endless list of give-away programs.  The Occupy group has come to expect free resources as they protest, has talked about socialized healthcare, subsidized college educations, and now wants free houses by forcing banks to forgive foreclosures.  Who knows what will be next?

If they get their way, we will have created a society that requires one group, far more than 1% of us, to try ever harder to satisfy the insatiable demands of the group, much less than 99% of us, represented by the Occupy movement.   If you and your family own a business or want to start a business and you achieve any success or you build a successful career, which side of that miserable equation do you think you will be on?

It is no longer possible to be on the sidelines.  If you want to protect the fruits of your efforts, you need to reject the Occupy movement and take action.   To do nothing is to give in to the forces that want to fundamentally change this country in a way that will prevent us from ever again being the home of great opportunity where everyone has the chance to succeed or fail on their own terms.  This is not a struggle between those that “have” and those that “have not”, this is about those that “do” and those that “do not.”

If you own a small business or you are building a successful career, at some level, you still believe in the true American Dream.  It is time to speak up before it is taken away!   As we wait for the long anticipated “Demands” of the Occupy movement, we should start putting together our own list of “Demands.”

I offer no slogans or empty rhetoric, just some basic and simple truths.   I suggest that we demand of ourselves and of our fellow citizens the following:

1.  We should not live beyond our means and then expect to have other people subsidize our lifestyle by increasing their taxes.  We can all support charities and government programs that help the truly needy but no one should otherwise be forced to support anyone but themselves and their families.  

2. We all need to take responsibility for our debts instead of blaming the banks and the credit card companies.

3. Anyone who used student loans to get a college education should own up to this obligation and find a way to pay back the money.

4. We can’t expect to receive free healthcare, or a free college education or any other free benefits as they are not free nor can we expect other people to pay for it for us.   If someone is too disabled to work or to help themselves, then we can all offer help, but, otherwise we all need to provide for ourselves and our families.

5. We all should accept and embrace the realities and benefits of a free and open capitalist society where anyone can have the opportunity through their skills, efforts, and great ideas to accumulate wealth without being accused of being evil or greedy.   It is not unfair as that is how a free and competitive society is supposed to work.

6. We need to understand that if we can’t find a job and/or got downsized, laid off, or let go that the best way to create jobs is by encouraging success and a vibrant small business community.

7. We all need to take ownership of our choices and if things have not worked out as we had hoped we should have faith in ourselves and keep trying.

There is no need to leave the comfort of our homes or abandon our businesses or careers and camp out in the streets.  We can save the American Dream if we speak out, send letters to the editor, send letters and e-mails to our congressmen, post comments here and on social networks, and, generally, voice our opinions loud and clear before it is too late.

If you are concerned about the Occupy agenda, pass this and Part 1 on to other concerned citizens.

Next Monday, Joe uses his personal experiences to suggest that sports provide many benefits and life lessons in “Sports Are A Reflection Of Life”.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

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