Are you overpaying your small business’s taxes? One of the major reasons small business owners (including me) hate paying taxes is the mystery of it all.
Reputation is everything in business, so it’s easy to see why reputational harm poses a costly risk to small businesses. Reputational harm generally occurs when a business gets portrayed negatively in some way, from a bad online review to a negative newspaper article to an ex-employee who badmouths the company all over town. This can tarnish the image of a small business and even result in lost profits. Fortunately, your business insurance protects you from reputation-related risks. Damage to your reputation can really cost a small business. An assessment of claims data by The Hartford found that the average harm-to-reputation reputation claim costs $50,000, compared with $20,000 for a slip-and-fall and $8,000 for burglary and theft. So, it’s smart to make sure you’re protected by insurance. In some scenarios, a reputation harm fight can lead to a costly court battle. Consider the case of a Teaneck, N.J. event planner: New York mother Honey Bernstein hired Iris Gillon of Iris Gillon Music’N Celebrations to book a band for her son’s wedding. At the wedding, Bernstein disliked the music so much that she ordered the band to stop playing and cued up an iPod playlist. Afterward, she posted a bad review, complaining that the singer was “awful,” that too few musicians came and that the band leader had “no personality whatsoever.” The small business owner sued her former client for libel, product disparagement and defamatory injury to reputation. In her lawsuit, Gillon alleged that she had one customer cancel a contract as a result of the bad review, forcing her to issue a refund of $3,700, and that she generally experienced a downturn in business after the review was posted. The case is making its way through the courts. Reputation damage commonly results from online complaints or reviews, says Kelly Edwards, the CEO and Senior Marketing Director of Lawton Marketing in Lawton, Okla., who has shepherded many small businesses through reputation catastrophes. In addition to unhappy customers, small businesses may get disparaged by disgruntled former employees and competitors, Edwards says. Any small business owner can get entangled into such a dispute as the victim or even the accused perpetrator. The good news is that proactive action can help you protect your business. These five steps can help you avoid costly reputation damage: Nurture your good name. Small business owners should work hard to collect reviews from happy customers to diminish the power of any occasional negative reviews, Edwards says. For example, she recently went out to dinner in Las Vegas. The waiter, learning the group enjoyed the meal, offered them each a free glass of wine if they pulled out their smartphones and review the restaurant. However, make sure you learn and respect the rules of online review sites, and never review your own business or ask family and friends to sing your praises online, Edwards says. Monitor mentions of your business. Set up Google alerts for your business name and use social media management tools like Hootsuite to check social media regularly, Big Mouth Marketing , a Scottsdale, Ariz., online marketing agency, recommends. If you publish a blog that allows comments, either require approval to avoid inappropriate comments or set an alert to notify you of new comments. The sooner you’re aware of potentially damaging statements, the faster you can take action to correct the problem. Do damage control. If you discover a negative review or an online complaint, respond in a timely manner. Apologize publicly for the experience and provide your business phone number, asking the customer to call so you can rectify the situation. That lets the dissatisfied client or customer know they were heard and may stop them from spreading more negative information. This “makes you look like the good guy,” Edwards says. Try to talk the problem out. Simply picking up the phone can solve some problems. Edwards says she once found an unflattering online post about her own marketing agency. Based on the wording, she suspected a competitor had written it. She called the business and left a polite but firm voicemail message asking them to remove the post. It disappeared almost immediately. Learn the law. Most small businesses publish content on blogs and social media. For that reason, it’s important to learn the laws about reputation, so you can protect yourself and avoid inadvertently harming the good name of another business. For example, making a false statement of fact, even unknowingly, could have legal implications — part of the Gillon lawsuit hinges on the defendant writing that only three band performers showed up while photographic evidence shows six performers. And it’s possible to harm someone’s reputation verbally. So, don’t disparage competitors in public or when chatting with customers. If you take these actions, you can help strengthen the standing of your small business and reduce the risk of reputation harm.
In many homes, mornings are chaotic. There is hustle and bustle as members of the household arise, gather their tools and equipment, and steel their minds for the day ahead. Many entrepreneurs are like other adults in the hours before their day officially begins. They rise, get dressed, maybe read the paper, glance at their emails, look at their schedule, eat some breakfast or enjoy a cup of coffee, and then they head out to start their day.
Make no mistake: Of the two parties involved in a job interview, being the person doing the hiring has a lot to recommend it. You don’t have to iron your clothes the night before. You can breeze in 20 minutes late with an offhand “sorry … had to do something,” and face no serious repercussions.
Watch Out for These Four Productivity Killers While Running Your Small Business Stephen Robert Morse
Sometimes the most overwhelming part of running a business has nothing to do with your actual work. Rather, it’s all the distractions that creep in throughout the day and hook your attention, making it difficult to be productive and get stuff done.
Business forecasts are an essential planning tool for small business owners and they are usually required by potential lenders and investors. With meaningful forecasts to help predict results, businesses can plan more easily and accurately, as well as boost the confidence of potential investors and lenders. Because of this, smart business owners who are skilled in creating forecasts have an edge over their competition. So let’s go over what it takes to create a realistic business forecast.
Learning how to deliver superb small business customer service can help you keep your customers happy, sail through mistakes without losing accounts, and boost your small business. However, providing superb service can be a challenge at all stages — whether you’re just starting a business, or you’re an established small business owner who’s working to get your customer service right as you juggle all the tasks involved in running your business. Need a little help improving your small business customer service? This guide will walk you through the basics of providing great service and arm you with the ideas and tools you can use to make your customers happy. If you already have a small business, you’ll get the information you need to improve your service or to fix problems that may be holding you back from reaching a higher level of growth and success. Great Customer Service Is Good Business After you’ve arranged the basics for running your business, like setting up an accounts payable system and getting small business insurance, it’s time to turn your focus to customer service. By 2020, customer service will become more important than price or product when customers make choices about who gets their business, according to SCORE, a volunteer organization of business professionals helping small business owners. Even today, customer service snafus can cost you revenue, cause you to lose customers, and, in a worst-case scenario, tank a business. Stories of service fails or even perceived slights can spread instantly via viral videos and social media spats viewed by hundreds or even thousands of onlookers. The most well-known examples typically involve big businesses — recall, for example, that out-of-tune response to a broken guitar that dropped United Airlines’ stock valuation by $180 million. But negative word-of-mouth can hurt small businesses just as badly. Recently, an upscale new restaurant in my city upset a prominent local guitarist when the chef insisted on preparing the rabbit rare as described on the menu. The diner, who had ordered his meat well done, complained to a manager, who reportedly told him — in less-than-melodious language — to leave. One of the musician’s dining companions took to Facebook to post a scathing review that generated dozens of comments from incensed acquaintances who vowed never to set foot in that restaurant. The following weekend, the place was practically empty. On the flip side, excellent service can send you rocketing ahead of your competition. For example, you can borrow customer service hacks from companies like Zappos, a business that has outrun its competition in part by creating a culture of customer service in which employees are encouraged to go the extra mile — such as sprinting over to another store for a pair of out-of-stock shoes. “Excellent customer service is simply understanding how someone else wants to be treated, and viewing each person as an individual,” says Nick Bush, a Realtor licensed in Washington, D.C. and Virginia, who picked up his personalized style of service through his previous career in hospitality at five-star hotels. These high-end hotels often keep files on guests’ quirks, Bush says. “For example, say I’m checking somebody in and they mention they really love Diet Coke,” he says. “I’d put that into the system and have a Diet Coke waiting for them every time they arrive.” Now, he asks a lot of “how” questions to learn about clients’ needs and plans for their new homes, and he even reflects those preferences in unique post-closing gifts. For example, one woman mentioned she planned to drink coffee and read in a certain room, so he sent a Keurig coffeemaker to her new home. Providing the best small business customer service doesn’t have to take a lot of time or require you to personally interact with customers all day long, which could quickly lead to burnout. Instead, good service is a matter of putting systems in place to identify your customer service issues, training yourself and your employees, and harnessing the right tools and services to get the job done. Providing good small business customer service means doing what you say you’ll do when you say you’ll do it. Here is a step-by-step guide to becoming a customer service superstar: Choose the Right Customer Service Tools for Your Small Business There are many tools available — from social media, to chat, to CRM systems — that can make it easier to serve your customers. Consider these small business tools to help you provide stellar service: CRM System A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is an essential customer service tool. Not only will a CRM provide you with the reports you need to monitor your customer service, but it also can help you organize and streamline other aspects of your business, such as operations and marketing. Essentially, a CRM helps you manage your customer relationships by letting you store and analyze data about your customers, create customized reports, and send custom emails. A CRM also lets you slice and dice data so you can analyze patterns and trends. For example, with a CRM, you might see that your top customer often places a big order in the fall, so you can give her a call in early September to see what she needs. You can also automate contacts by, for example, setting up the system to send follow-up sales emails to customers who opened your e-newsletter. CRM systems are available at various price points. On the high end, SalesForce costs $125 per month per user, with a user being anyone who puts data into the system. Users could include you, your customer service manager, and all of your customer service representatives. On the lower end, Zoho CRM costs $35 per month per user. Help Desk While most CRM systems have some functions that allow you to create “tickets” to handle customer complaints, consider a help desk application if you want more features, such as metrics and workflow. A help desk application like Zendesk or Freshdesk can make it a snap for you to serve customers, and can be used for online businesses or hybrid brick-and-mortar and online businesses. You’ll be able to create a service ticket for each issue and route customers through the proper channels to get their issues resolved. Both SalesForce and Zoho CRM can integrate with help desk applications. Cost varies by feature. For example, Freshdesk ranges from free to $89 per agent per month, while the cost of Zendesk ranges from $5 per agent per month to $199 per agent per month. Chat Most CRM systems do not offer chat functionality that allows a customer to “chat” with you about issues online, but both Freshdesk and Zendesk offer it in their mid-to-higher-priced packages. Or, use chat software such as LiveChat or SnapEngage. LiveChat ranges from $16 to $149 per person per month, while SnapEngage starts at $17 a month. Different customers prefer to reach out to you in different ways. While some might like email or phone, chat is essential for any small business. In today’s world, customers expect instant gratification. Social Media Make sure customers, at minimum, can reach you on at least one social media platform. Social media is not just a place to occasionally post about a new line you’re carrying or an award you won: It’s an essential customer service channel that needs to be monitored and used to interact with customers and fix their problems. It’s easy to get alerts directly from Twitter if someone uses the @ sign in front of your Twitter handle, but to monitor other mentions of your company on Twitter, use a Twitter management tool like TweetDeck or the monitoring tool offered by Sprout Social. Or, to track mentions of your business across multiple online platforms, use a tool like Brand24. Knowledge Management Tools If you want to set up a library of frequently asked questions for customers, you can use tech tools to help you. For example, Desk and Answerbase are both good options. However, expect most customers to want to get a response from your business rather than read an answer off an FAQ. So why use them? They offer features that make the Q&A on your website easy for customers to navigate, through categorization and tagging, and they offer extras like community support, so customers can help each other. Team Communication Technology Desktop and mobile apps can help your customer service team communicate issues quickly with each other and with you, as necessary. Good choices include the popular business app Slack and alternatives like Azendoo and Bitrix24, which is totally free. These tools can help you stay plugged in and tuned in to your customers and the team that’s helping to meet their needs. Set Up the Right Reports to Identify Your Customer Service Issues While a small business owner can quickly become exhausted by trying to handle every single complaint or problem personally, it is crucial to get an overview of the types of issues your business is having and how they’re being resolved. Your best friend in staying on top of customer service is a customer relationship management system that can log complaints and generate reports for you so that you know where every customer service issue is and how your employees are handling it. Determine which reports you will monitor regularly. One way to keep tabs on customer service is by reviewing customer service reports on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. The best way to generate these reports is through a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system (more on how to choose a CRM later), a crucial tool for every small business owner. Here’s what every small business owner should know about their customer service: 1. Complaints Report Get a daily complaints report. Employees should log complaints into the CRM system so they get included in this report. You should review this report to find out which customer complained, what it was about, how big the customer is, and what is being done about the complaint. 2. Glitch Report You also should get weekly service reports, which aren’t necessarily complaints but are issues customers need resolved with the product or service. A weekly service report should show every open service ticket, what was last done to resolve it, and what is the next scheduled action. 3. Time-to-Close Report Another report to review regularly is a time-to-close report, which shows how long it’s taking to resolve customer problems. Set a goal and check to see if you’re meeting it. For example, you might say, “I want to make sure any ticket that gets opened is closed within 24 hours.” Customer relationship management systems can send alerts by email, text messages, popups, or calendar task items. This can prevent or minimize issues by allowing you to jump in and make sure a problem gets fixed early. For example, you could set up your workflow so that if a “gold level” customer calls in with a problem and their ticket is not resolved within two hours, the issue gets elevated to high priority. And, if it’s not resolved in another two hours, the issue goes to a senior manager or to you. Invest in Customer Service Training Training yourself and your employees to see things from the customer’s point of view is a crucial early step toward creating a culture of customer service. Training can help you nix simple mistakes and turn your employees into customer service standouts. Learn the Ins and Outs of Customer Service Consider starting your customer service education with the basics: free online resources, such as the U.S. Small Business Administration’s free video training on customer service. To delve more deeply into your customer service education, consider turning to organizations like SCORE that offer free training, resources, and mentoring for small business owners. For example, SCORE offers business workshops on an array of topics, including customer service, both in-person and online, with recorded versions available to view at any time. Also, through SCORE, the SBA, and other organizations, you can get paired with a volunteer small business mentor who will answer questions and coach you on starting and growing your business. Your mentor will not only share knowledge from his or her own experience, but also can point you toward local training resources. Finally, make it a practice to read blogs and books and listen to podcasts to continue learning on your own. If you have a commute, consider using that time to cue up audio versions of must-reads like Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles, or Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, in which he explains the thinking that makes his company legendary for wowing customers. Taking the time to continue to learn, think, and improve on your service delivery will put you far ahead of the competition because so many small business owners are still making basic customer service mistakes that are easy and often free to fix. Train Employees to Provide Excellent Service In order to provide good service, every employee in your organization needs to be trained on what to do and what not to do. Here’s a step-by-step guide to training your employees: 1. Hire the Right Employees Start by recognizing that all of your employees are in sales and that you need to hire people who can provide great service, no matter what the position. That’s because you should create a company culture in which, if an employee were hired to take out the garbage and they see a customer who needs help, they stop what they’re doing and help, says Susan Solovic, aka “The Small Business Expert” and a New York Times bestselling author on small business. Take your time to choose a candidate who has a caring attitude, patience, and the ability to listen, empathize, ask questions, and solve problems. For example, years ago, small business owner Deborah Sweeney, of MyCorporation.com, decided to provide better customer service by switching from an automated phone answering system to human beings. When she hires people to answer phones, she knows that she’s not hiring a “receptionist,” she’s hiring the face and voice of her company. She tells new hires that a big part of their job involves “answering the phone and being fabulous.” 2. Coach New Hires in Simple Techniques for Talking to Customers Immediately teach new employees the best ways to interact with customers and role play with them so they can practice their new skills. They need to learn to empathize, apologize, and defuse the situation when dealing with an upset customer. Train your employees to truly listen to a customer and to adapt their approach and words to the situation. A casual-yet-professional style of speaking, with contractions, short sentences, and a light tone of voice, can warm up an interaction with a customer and help your company build a relationship if the customer has a question or minor concern that your staff can easily fix. However, if a customer is angry or extremely frustrated, or if you are unable to give them exactly what they want, it can be helpful to adopt a slightly more formal, serious, manner. It can be helpful to teach easy-to-remember techniques that your employees can rely on in a stressful service situation. For example, the Telephone Doctor, a business that offers customer service training, recommends using the “ASAP” approach to diffuse a problem. ASAP stands for Apologizing immediately, Sympathizing with the customer’s situation, Accepting responsibility, and Preparing to help solve the problem. Small business owner Jen Oleniczak Brown uses a simple “improv technique” at The Engaging Educator, a company that teaches communication, presentation, and social skills to everyone from kids on the autism spectrum to senior VPs of large companies. Teach employees to say, “Yes, and …” when interacting with a customer, she recommends. For example, if an irate customer accuses your employee of being rude, teach them to say, “Yes, you feel I was rude, and I think we have a misunderstanding. How can we make this better?” This way, “You’ve given the customer the control, defused the situation, and shown empathy,” she says. 3. Consider Sending Employees to Outside Training Various organizations and companies offer customer service training that can help take your business to the next level, says Gene Marks, who owns a small tech company. Consider sending key employees, such as your customer service manager, to an in-person seminar or bringing in a pro to train your whole team. For example, the American Management Association offers two-day customer service seminars in large cities across the country for under $2,000 per person. Dale Carnegie Training offers two-hour mix-and-match modules on various customer service topics, and these can be delivered online or in a classroom on site. Topics include building customer loyalty, telephone service, and service-based selling. 4. Model Good Customer Service and Enlist the Help of Customer Service Standouts Make it a point to solve customer problems in front of your employees so they can see how you want it done. If you have an employee who’s particularly good at customer service, ask them to help teach others their techniques. Set up lunch-and-learn sessions or just ask the employee to provide tips to others throughout the day, Marks says. “That way, people can learn right there and then,” he says. 5. Watch and Offer Feedback in Real Time Make it a point to work near your customer service employees occasionally. One of Marks’ clients learned the importance of this when he moved his desk into the middle of the customer service area while his office was being painted. “He learned a lot during those two weeks,” Marks says. During that time, he was able to offer on-the-spot training by popping his head over a cubicle and making suggestions for alternate ways to deal with customer issues. Sweeney makes sure she’s often out on the floor among the employees who field calls. If she hears an employee having a tough time on the phone, she signals them to route the call to her so she can help out. Afterward, she talks with the employee to offer pointers. 6. Create a Library of Customer Service Resources Another way to help employees cut the learning curve on training is to build a library of frequent customer issues and questions, says David Kosmayer, founder and CEO of Bookmark, which helps people build websites. The library is a guide for customer service reps on how to solve common problems with which customers regularly need help. “This has been the greatest component to the success of our customer service team,” he says. Once they’ve been trained on the basics, new customer service reps can learn more in depth by browsing and using the library, which is kept in folders or by topic on Google Drive. “My advice is to start early,” he says. Start building it by simply adding frequently asked questions with in-depth answers. It doesn’t have to be exhaustive, and it will grow over time, he says. The system helped the Bookmark team provide excellent service during a recent product launch when thousands of new users signed up in a day. “This would’ve normally been a nightmare for our customer service team,” he says. “However, since we had previous expectations of what new users ask in our library, that made the customer success team’s job 10 times easier.” Consider: Should You Outsource Customer Service? Some small businesses opt to outsource their customer service to a company that provides customer service agents. This can make sense for some SBOs, but it’s also a move to consider very carefully. There are pros and cons of outsourcing small business customer service. It can make sense for some small business owners who don’t want to hire employees and who want to focus their own efforts on the big picture of the business. Outsourcing customer service can take some work off of your plate and allow you to focus on other areas where you have strengths, such as developing new products. However, if the company provides poor service, it can seriously harm your business and leave you scrambling to repair the damage. If you decide to outsource, you have many options. For example, you can choose a fully integrated customer service center that offers phone, chat, email, and fax capability and also manages online orders. Or, you can choose a call center where employees all work in one place. Or, there are companies that employ contractors who can work from anywhere via internet calls and cloud-based applications. To find customer service candidates to vet, ask for recommendations from your mentor or other small business owners in your networking group. Or check the list of call centers by country, offered by ELSNET, an organization dedicated to language technology. Consider narrowing your search to companies located within the United States. In fact, some experts recommend working with a company as geographically close to you as possible, so also do an online search for call centers your local area. Before you choose a company, make sure you’ve reviewed the way they work, the services they’re providing, and the costs compared with other choices. Also, make sure you test out the company before you sign on and that you feel 100% confident putting your customers in their hands. Finally, after you’re on board, assess your metrics and customer satisfaction scores on an ongoing basis to help ensure you’re getting the results you want. However, many small business experts, including Solovic, recommend keeping customer service in-house. The main benefit to this approach is that it gives you much more control over the quality of service and how that service is provided. It also allows you to better monitor service issues, fix problems promptly, and remove employees who aren’t working out. While outsourcing might work for some small business owners, Azazie, an online bridal boutique, has stuck with in-house customer service from the beginning. Having customer service reps — called “stylists” at Azazie — working in the same space as shipping, marketing, and other departments has helped customer service run smoothly, says Rachel Hogue, customer service manager. Reps are hand picked and empowered to use their own personal flair when dealing with customers. By having their customer service staff in-house, the company also can make sure they’re happy — which includes offering snacks, regular breaks for walking around, and standing desks for employees who prefer not to sit. “Make sure your employees are well taken care of and they’re going to be happy to serve your customers,” Hogue says. Creating a Small Business Customer Service Plan Now that you know the ins and outs of great customer service, think through your company’s existing issues or potential issues, so that you can design a workable plan. Look at your business, the services or products you provide, and all the ways you can satisfy your customers or clients. What opportunities do you have to shine, from the first impression of your company, to preventing and dealing with problems? Sift through customer surveys and take note of compliments or times when your company came through for a customer in a big way. Ask yourself how you can do that more often. What could go wrong, or has gone wrong, and how can you prevent these issues? Check your CRM or other available reports for patterns that seem to crop up again and again. If you have major problems or can’t figure out where you’re going wrong, consider bringing in a customer service consultant. For example, Micah Solomon travels the country helping businesses troubleshoot customer service problems and teaching best practices, Marks says. As you’ve learned, a high quality of customer service can help make your business a success, but it’s also easy to make service mistakes that can tank your business. Fortunately, it’s easy to provide stellar customer service by addressing these important factors: Knowing what outstanding customer service looks and feels like Creating a culture of service within your business, by training and empowering employees to solve problems Putting in place systems, management tools, and reporting that make it easier to communicate with and please your customers.
Your business is growing beyond belief — or someone has just quit — and you need help! It’s time to hire new employees, but you don’t know where to begin. You may have a general idea of the responsibilities you’d like to pass on, but don’t know how to find and interview a candidate, much less make the financial and legal arrangements required to on-board a new hire. There’s good news: It isn’t as complicated as you may think — so long as you follow a plan, like this one. Use this ultimate guide to learn: How to create a job description, write a job ad, and review a resume How to conduct a job interview Where to find the information you need about pay rates How to write an offer letter when you’re ready to hire your new employee What you need to know about insurance, taxes, payroll, and legal issues around hiring and onboarding new employees Deciding to Hire Someone How do you know when to hire your first employee? Hiring staff could be the right decision if you experience one or more of these events in your business: You’re turning down new clients or new projects from existing clients. You’ve identified a specific group of tasks that someone else could do to generate money and/or save you time. Your customer service is suffering. You’ve identified a new product or service line but don’t have enough bandwidth to launch it. You’d like to open a second office or shop. Making the decision to hire staff means taking on additional financial and administrative responsibilities. You’ll need the cash flow to pay them, and you’ll need to learn how to manage the taxation and financial forms and activities that accompany becoming an employer. Creating a Job Description Once you’ve decided to hire an employee, it’s time to create a detailed job description. The job description tells candidates about the tasks and responsibilities that accompany the role you’re looking to fill. Once you’ve found the perfect candidate, the job description then becomes an important benchmark for performance evaluation. Does your employee satisfactorily carry out all the described responsibilities? Use these tips to create a job description that’s clear and concise, yet detailed enough to attract the right candidates. 1. Full-Time or Part-Time? Do you need a full-time or part-time worker? It’s important to identify full-time workers to determine whether you must offer “minimum essential [health insurance] coverage” to avoid an employer payment. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, record-keeping, and child labor standards impacting full- and part-time workers. The FLSA doesn’t define what constitutes a full-time or part-time worker — but the IRS does. The IRS says that a full-time employee is, for a calendar month, an employee employed on average at least 30 hours of service per week, or 130 hours of service per month. 2. Choose a Job Title What’s the title of the role you’re creating? Choose a job title to reflect the main responsibilities of the job, such as Internal Salesperson, Customer Service Representative, or Marketing Manager. 3. Create the Job Duties Section This section is the “meat” of your job description. It includes the job’s main responsibilities, the areas of the business the employee will work in, and the estimated percentage of time each accountability area should take. Also list the specific tasks required by the role in the job duties section. Start the job duties section by listing three to five accountability/responsibility areas or functions. Next, brainstorm the associated specific tasks and duties for each area — list everything you want this employee to do under each area of responsibility. Then arrange the associated tasks/duties into duty statements to accompany each accountability area. For example, let’s say you plan to hire an external salesperson. One area of accountability might be external sales calls. Duty statements for external sales calls could include: Researching and generating sales leads Initiating contact with leads Following up sales calls Meeting personal sales goals Tracking sales using company financial software Closing the sale Finally, estimate how much time the employee should spend on each accountability area. 4. Required Skills or Qualifications List the specific required skills for the position here. Perhaps you require specific customer service experience, or familiarity with software such as MS Office or Adobe Creative Cloud. Include any second language — or programming language — requirements here, too. This is also the place to highlight educational requirements or professional designations required for the position. 5. Determine the Pay Rate Although it may not be part of the published job ad, you need to set a pay rate. If you’re wondering how much to pay when hiring new employees, you’re in luck. You can review online resources such as PayScale to see the median salary/hourly wage for typical job titles according to location across the United States. Another good salary resource is Glassdoor. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also offers pay scale information sorted by occupation, state, and metropolitan area. How to Write a Job Ad Creating a job ad is similar to writing a job description. The job description is an “internal” document for use within your business to help you understand what type of position you need to hire for, and what your new staff member will do. The job ad, however, will have a public audience, and lets potential employees know what you’re looking for. It’s specific, provides a taste of your company culture, and helps your business stand out among the many other job postings qualified candidates are reviewing. Use the job description you created above (especially the Job Duties and Required Skills sections) as the foundation for your job ad. What to Include in Your Job Ad Think of your job advertisement as a creative, eye-catching summary of your job description. When you’re writing it, think about your ideal candidate. What should your opening sentence include to grab his or her interest? Remember, you’re selling your business as a great place to work, and, at the same time, you want to attract top quality candidates. You should also think carefully about the future opportunities that you could offer an employee who is successful in this role. According to the 2016 Pew Research Center’s The State of American Jobs, 87% of workers believe they’ll need continuous training to develop new skills to remain successful in the workplace. Including development and training opportunities can make your job more attractive to candidates. Here’s what your job posting should include: A headline, including the job title Two to three sentences including critical information about the job; summarize the major accountabilities/areas of responsibility here Required experience, qualifications, and education/professional designations A brief sentence or two on your company; if you’ve developed an “elevator pitch” for your organization, you could use it here Your contact information, including how you’d like candidates to contact you to submit their resumes Whether you’d like the candidate to submit a cover letter and work samples, in addition to their resume Take a look at these sample job postings for a receptionist and an office administrator to help you create your own custom posting. Where to Post Your Ad Advertise your job posting in places where your ideal candidate would “hang out,” which in today’s world often means online and on social media platforms. You could post a job ad for free on your company’s Facebook page or from your Twitter account. If you’re posting an entry-level position, you may want to post your job on your local college’s online job board. Other places to post job ads online include sites such as : LinkedIn indeed.com monster.com Craigslist ZipRecruiter CareerBuilder SimplyHired Do you have a local or state unemployment office nearby? Their website could be another good place to post your ad — and it will probably be free. Simply do an internet search for “where to post a job for free in [add your location here].” How to Review Resumes Once you post your job opening and the resumes start rolling in, you’ll need a plan to organize them into groups: “yes,” “no,” and “maybe.” According to Fletcher Wimbush, CEO of talent assessment firm The Hire Talent, business owners have a choice of two strategies. A free or inexpensive digital Applicant Tracking System (ATS) like Osclass, BambooHR or Workable lets you rank applicants on a scale of one to five. “One or two are nos, threes are maybes, and four and fives are yeses,” says Wimbush. “The ATS then will allow you to sort and contact the fours and fives more efficiently.” If you’re looking for a simpler solution, Wimbush suggests simply printing out or creating a digital folder to hold your “yeses” and “maybes.” “Then start from the best and work your way through to the maybes if needed.” Once you have a list of potential candidates, how do you decide who to bring in for an interview? Wimbush suggests that you reach out to your top candidates and connect within 24 hours of receiving their resume or application to make your short list. “It’s also a good idea to follow up and reach out again every three to five days if they don’t respond just in case they missed the first attempt to be contacted – maybe it went to a junk mail folder, or they were away and not checking emails,” he says. You may follow this up with a short email assessment test — for example, three to five questions relating to some aspect of the position you’re hiring for. According to Wimbush, this is an efficient method of getting “a strong perspective of the talent market,” allowing you to effectively compare your candidates based on information you’ve gathered in a short time frame, so you can move along to the interview process. Wimbush says he short lists two to five candidates to bring in for more in-depth, in-person interviews, usually lasting one to two hours each. This gets followed by a job shadow day or work sample project to finalize the selection process. Red Flags to Watch for When Reviewing a Resume Most job candidates put their best professional foot forward when it comes to their resume. They’ve had time to create it, polish it, and many have gotten professional help to edit it. So this is likely the most professional reflection you’ll get of the candidate. That’s why it’s important to check for red flags like: Non-professional email address Random personal information, like a horoscope sign or birthday Non-professional language or slang Spelling and grammatical errors These could indicate potential communication problems down the road, both between you and the employee, and the employee and the public. Also take a look at the job history section. Are there any noticeable gaps in employment? And just how long have they stayed in their previous positions? “People who do not stay in jobs for more than three years and preferably five years are problematic,” says Wimbush. “Most jobs take at least one year to acclimate to, so anything in the one to three year range makes it difficult to demonstrate or sustain top performance.” Look at the job titles and employers. Is there a progression in responsibility and job level? Or have there been several comparable jobs within a short period, with no progression? These could indicate job performance issues. How to Conduct a Job Interview If you’re a small business owner who’s never conducted a job interview before, you could be just as nervous as the candidate you’re about to see! You can reduce your nervousness by being well prepared. Explain to the candidate what will follow during your interview. Tell them you’ll give an overview of your company, ask them some questions that require specific examples, allow them time to ask questions themselves, and then wrap up by advising them of the next steps. Always give the candidates the true time frames for next steps. Although you may feel you want to hire the ideal candidate the next day, the reality is it may take many weeks. Avoid the temptation to talk too much! Remember that you want them to do most of the talking — and you need to listen. Sample Questions Use these sample questions as a general framework for your interview, before adding interview questions specific to the role and your company. 1. What interests you in working for this company? The candidate’s answer to this question lets you know if they have looked into your business, or the specific role — in other words, how well prepared they are for the interview. 2. Tell me about a time when you dealt with a challenging customer, and what did you do to resolve the issue? See if they give a real example or a generality. This tests their ability to deal with “that” irate customer — an important skill — especially if you’re hiring for a customer service role. This is also a good question to get an idea of how innovative (or not) an individual may be when under pressure. 3. Give me an example of where you assisted in an area outside your normal role. Pay attention to the following when listening to the answers to this question: Do they readily give examples of wanting greater involvement? Do they feel that they only have to do one specific role? Are they willing to work as a team player? Occasionally, small businesses may need an employee to jump in and help with tasks outside their own job description, so flexibility is important. 4. What was your biggest learning experience to date and why? A job candidate’s answer to this question could reveal all sorts of interesting information. First, this will tell you if they are open to learning new things. It could also demonstrate their willingness to accept responsibility for mistakes, and show their comfort level with discussing challenging issues, 5. What do you feel you can accomplish in your first 90 days? This answer will tell you if they are somewhat organized in their planning, and if they feel they can hit the ground running, or if they’ll require more training and a longer learning curve. And, if they’re interested in first learning what the problems are before suggesting solutions, that’s a great sign, indicating logical thinking. 6. What questions do you have for me? The things that interest a candidate indicate his or her priorities. Are they more interested in how much vacation time they’ll have, or their responsibilities in the job? Are they curious about your business’s history, current issues, and expansion plans? Their questions will tell you if they have truly investigated your place of business, how interested they are in being part of your organization, or whether their bigger focus is on themselves. Finally, you’ll get an idea of whether they’re able to take advantage of such an open-ended question and think critically and creatively. What You Cannot Ask (Legally) Before interviewing a candidate, it’s important to know that there are some things you just can’t ask. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), you should avoid asking questions related to a candidate’s: Age Race, ethnicity, or color Gender or sex Country of national origin or birthplace Religion Disability Marital or family status or pregnancy Also avoid asking questions that could be perceived as looking for the information in a roundabout way. So don’t ask questions such as “Do you have after-school activities that interfere with your ability to work late?” or “Will this role interfere with your spouse’s work?” Determining Which Candidate to Hire After you’ve reviewed all the resumes and interviewed your final candidates, it’s time to choose whom to hire to work in your small business. Think back to the interview and any other interactions (such as email or phone conversations) you have had with each candidate. Was she comfortable with you, and did she show an interest in your business? Did he struggle to think of specific examples or answers in the interview? Did she talk too much, or too little? Did he display professionalism at all times? Sometimes business owners face the challenge of choosing between two close candidates with similar work experience and education. To help you choose, decide which candidate best fits your business’s culture and shares your values. Think about which candidate you felt most comfortable with, and who was able to most clearly articulate their past work accomplishments. Don’t forget to follow up with their references. While most people include reference names of people who’ll say good things about them, you can ask their references about areas in which the candidate may need to improve. Their answers may surprise you, and help you make your decision. Note: According to the EEOC, the rules about which questions you can’t ask an applicant also refer to any communications regarding that applicant, including reference checks, and when communicating with an applicant’s former employer, family, or friends. What to Include in Your Offer Letter Now that you’ve selected the candidate who best fits your organization, it’s time to offer him or her the position. Nowadays, most job offers are first made informally, often by phone but you should follow up with an offer letter that serves as a formal and more detailed record of your offer. Job offer letters help protect you and your new employee should any disagreements arise in the future over the terms of their employment. Watch the wording you choose — you don’t want the offer letter to mimic a contract, as this could result in legal headaches should your working relationship not work out. Pay particular attention to what you include (and exclude) from the letter. Note: Get a legal expert to review your offer letter before presenting it to the job candidate to make sure it covers what it needs to and doesn’t use any language that could land you in court should a dispute arise down the road. Keep these things in mind when creating an offer letter. 1. Legal Requirements Before crafting an offer letter to a potential employee, keep in mind that it should fulfill the state legal requirements for your location. Visit your state department of labor website to find the requirements for your area. 2. Job Title and Basic Info The opening of the offer letter should include the basic information about the position you’re offering. This includes: Job title Start date Orientation/training dates (if applicable) Full-time or part-time status Shift (if applicable) Avoid using any words or phrases that could suggest any guarantee of future employment. The Society for Human Resources Management suggests avoiding terms like “job security,” “we’re a family company,” or “in the future.” 3. Salary and Any Bonus/Commission Your offer letter should include details on the compensation and pay period for your employee. Set out compensation hourly, weekly, or per-period so your prospective employee won’t expect to get the whole year’s compensation if employment ends before year-end. Also mention to whom your employee will report — even if it’s you because you are currently the only one working in your business. Finally, include a brief sentence about evaluation periods, such as “your performance will be evaluated after three months’ employment, and on an annual basis thereafter.” 4. Benefits and Paid Leave Include a brief summary of the benefits included with the position, plus the eligibility requirements and time frames for the following: Health insurance Life insurance Short- and long-term disability 401(k) or other retirement plan Flexible spending account (if applicable) Educational assistance Also describe any paid leave you offer in addition to those legally required (see Legal Issues Specific to Hiring, below). Include sick days and personal days, paid time off/vacation days, and holidays. 5. Conditions of Employment In a paragraph, include any employment conditions a candidate should meet. This could refer to things like passing drug tests, satisfactory responses to background checks, willingness to sign confidentiality agreements about your business and products, completion of a Form I-9 to verify U.S. employment authorization, and compliance with immigration law, if applicable. Has the candidate worked for a competitor, or a similar business? If so, include a sentence here stating that a condition of employment includes the employee’s not being bound by non-compete or other agreements with previous employers. When he or she signs the offer letter, they’re confirming that they’re free of previous employer agreements. 6. At-Will Employment In the U.S., offer letters for new employees should include what’s known as an “at-will statement.” This helps identify the employer-employee relationship as not being a contract, which would obligate the employer and the employee to contract terms for a specific length of time. An at-will statement lets employers terminate employees when they choose, with or without cause, and it also allows an employee to resign from the position at any time. 7. Time to Respond/”Respond by” Date Make sure you include a “please respond by” date so your potential new employee knows when the job offer expires. Learn the Basics of Insurance, Taxes, Payroll, and Legal Issues Specific to Hiring As a small business owner who is also an employer, you’ll need to understand some payroll, insurance, tax and legal basics to protect you and employees — and to stay on the right side of the law. Here are a few things to know when you’re new to hiring employees. 1. Payroll Issues Put in place a payroll system that will help ensure employees are paid accurately. Options for small business owners include payroll systems like Intuit Payroll, OnPay, Gusto, PayChex, or Patriot Payroll. Your payroll system can calculate and withhold social security taxes, employee taxes and workers compensation. Use it to file your payroll taxes each quarter, then automatically send in any quarterly state and federal payroll taxes owed. Some payroll systems have additional features and may also integrate with your benefits program or accounting system.They also generate reports to help you manage your business and staffing needs more efficiently. 2. Insurance Workers’ compensation insurance and family and medical leave as required by your state. Workers’ compensation insurance protects employees and employers by providing benefits to employees who suffer work-related injury or illnesses, and even provides the family of a deceased worker a financial benefit; the requirements vary significantly by state. Employers may choose to provide health care insurance and retirement benefits. You can learn more in the SBA’s guide, Hire and manage employees. Depending on your state, you may have to pay unemployment insurance. Search your state government website for more details. If your business is in any of the following states, be aware that there are state-mandated disability insurance requirements: California Hawaii New Jersey New York Rhode Island Puerto Rico Depending on your industry and location, consider protecting your business with a fidelity bond. These bonds help protect businesses from losses due to employee fraud and theft. 3. Taxes When you become an employer, you must withhold, deposit, report, and pay employment taxes. You’ll identify which forms your employees must complete and return to you, which ones to keep on file, and which ones to return to the IRS or the Social Security Administration. Here’s what you need to know. If you don’t already have an employer identification number (EIN), also known as a Federal Tax Identification Number, apply for one online. You’ll need this to submit tax information on your employees. Next, identify that your employee is what’s known as a common-law employee. According to the IRS, this means that you, as the business owner, “control the services that will be done and how it will be done.” Other tax classes of workers include statutory employees, non-statutory employees, and independent contractors. Knowing the tax employment status of your worker helps you identify how to treat the payments you make to the worker when it comes to taxes. Set up tax records for each employee. Visit the IRS Employment Tax Recordkeeping page for an up-to-date list of what’s required. At the very least, expect to set up records for Federal Income Tax, Social Security, Medicare, and Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax for each employee. Learn how to withhold and deposit Federal Income Tax, Social Security, Medicare, and Federal Unemployment (FUTA) tax for each employee by visiting the IRS Understanding Employment Taxes page. Visit your state government website for state tax forms required for each employee, and learn what you’ll need to complete for each. 4. Legal Issues In addition to insurance, taxes, and payroll issues, as an employer, there are several legal issues to become aware of. The SBA provides an overview of employment and labor laws to which your business will be subject, now that you have employees. Verify your employee’s eligibility to work in the United States by having your employee complete Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. Register with your state’s New Hire Reporting Program. Federal and state laws require employers to report all new hires within 20 days of hire or even sooner, depending on your state. If you choose to run a criminal or credit background check on your new hire, make sure you tell the individual you plan to run the check and comply with the legal requirements to run a background check on your new hire. For example, employers across the country must get an individual’s permission in writing prior to running a credit check, while the laws around checking criminal records vary from state to state. Conclusion When the time comes, hiring employees is one of the most important things you will do as a small business owner. The ongoing success of your business depends on assembling the right team — helping ensure that you have the right skills, personalities, and relationships in place to serve your growing customer base. While the various steps may seem daunting, don’t get discouraged by the amount of work involved in hiring new employees. After all, the fact that you need help is a great sign — it means that your business is expanding. Use this guide as a framework to methodically plan your hiring process. You’ll save time, reduce your stress, and soon be welcoming a new member to your business team.
Whether your small business has two employees or 20, you will have certainly created workplace policies, procedures or expectations, either formally or informally. It’s essential that your employees know and understand these policies — because you’ll run a more effective organization if they do and because you don’t want to risk having your company break federal or state laws.
Thinking of starting up a new business? Great! In your excitement to launch and market your product, hire staff, secure financing, and set up your website or shop, it’s easy to miss or misjudge a few important startup costs. Yet neglecting these often-overlooked expenses could result in a cash crunch before your business even gets off the ground. Don’t forget to budget for these six small business startup costs. 1. Business Insurance While you hope nothing goes wrong when you’re launching a new business venture, sometimes it does. Not having business insurance in place could leave you struggling to pay for expenses you didn’t budget for while you’re trying to finance a new business. Every small business is different, so choose the insurance coverages best suited for your situation. Business property insurance helps to protect your workplace location and property like tools and equipment, while general liability insurance helps protect your new business from claims for bodily injury, property damage, and other personal claims. Business income insurance helps protect income lost when you can’t operate due to covered losses such as theft or fire. And don’t forget to protect your family against income loss with your own life insurance and disability insurance. 2. Fees and Licenses Among other often-overlooked startup costs are the fees associated with establishing a business. You may have to pay to search and register your business name. Depending on your business location and the nature of the business, you may need federal, state, and/or municipal licenses and permits. The costs and requirements will vary. 3. Utility Bills While you probably studied the commercial rents or property values in your area pretty carefully when budgeting for your startup costs, did you consider your other monthly utility expenses? Your startup operating expenses include more than just your office rent, lease payment, or mortgage. Depending on your business and location, your startup utility bills could also include: Electricity Heat and/or air conditioning Telephone Internet Water Talk to other business owners in the area to get an idea of the typical costs based on the square footage you’re considering. 4. Professional Expertise Don’t underestimate legal fees and accounting fees when estimating the costs to start a new business. Paying for good advice regarding your business structure, legal agreements, and financial issues early on in your business can help you minimize or avoid costly future legal or tax entanglements. Get quotes from two to three professionals, so you’ll have a realistic idea of the costs you’ll incur. 5. Taxes There’s no getting away from paying taxes, even when you’re starting a new business. Find out what municipal, state, and federal taxes your startup must pay and when. State and municipal taxes vary, so visit the U.S. Small Business Administration website for details pertinent to your location. At the very minimum, expect to pay state income tax and state employment taxes if you have staff, plus your federal business taxes, depending on your corporate/business structure. 6. Payroll/Bookkeeping Fees Whether you have an automated online system, a bookkeeper who visits your office, or a virtual assistant, don’t forget to account for this important monthly cost. While a bookkeeper may charge anywhere from $20 to $50 per hour, a monthly flat-fee arrangement may be better, or you may opt for a subscription to an automated online payroll and bookkeeping program. Starting a new business is a risk. Minimize your risk of failure and maximize your potential for success by realistically budgeting for all types of startup costs. This way you’ll be better prepared financially to handle the unexpected expenses that are bound to pop up.