Hiring the Talent You Need to Succeed

Human Resources - Hiring Smart for Small BusinessYour organization’s future depends on hiving the right people to achieve your plans and grow successfully.  Hiring effectively is step one.
How well prepared are you to hire the right people?  Hiring is hard work and takes preparation and knowledge.  You need to know how to attract the best people, to convert potential candidates into actual applicants, and to assess whether a person can do the job successfully in your organization.
Have you had any training or spent the time to study hiring extensively?  Or do you fall prey to every blog post and business article on the most recent ‘do this’ trick?  We often think ‘I hired people in my old company and so I know how’.  But your process needs to support your mission, goals, and culture.  You need to understand more about the hiring process than you ever did in another company so that you have an effective process.  And then you need to ensure everyone involved in hiring understands how to interview and evaluate candidates.
So many job postings I see are boring lists of requirements.  Yet we wonder why we do not get good candidates.  Are yours the exception?   Then, too often we rely on ‘big-name’ sources to post our job ads, without knowing which sources are best for our needs.
If you have an application process in place, have you tried using it to apply for a job at your company from an outside computer?  How does it work?  What does your process say about your organization?  Does it encourage those you want or discourage them?
Do you, and anyone else involved in interviewing, know how to do that well so you can assess each person?  And, are you good at checking references?  Selecting the best match for your needs?
Learning to hire effectively and putting good processes in place can be done easily and pays big dividends.  Whether you rely on direct learning, hire a consultant to assist, or add trained recruiting staff, a little effort will significantly enhance your organization’s future.

Patricia “Patra” Frame is an experienced management consultant, speaker and author on human capital issues at Strategies for Human Resources.  Patra will be presenting “Hiring Smart” on April 3, 2012 at Alexandria SBDC; register here and come to this must-attend presentation for all small businesses and nonprofits who have limited Human Resources staffing.

Healthy Employees are Productive Employees

Healthy Employees Walking TogetherAs business owners, we worry often about the health of our business, but how frequently do we worry about having healthy employees? Sure, it gets attention when an employer contributes to health care insurance. If employees are absent because of sickness or a condition such as carpal tunnel syndrome that limits their productivity that affects the bottom line, and the prosperity of the business. However, even if employees show up for work, they may be suffering from health conditions which reduce their ability to do their best.

How can a business owner help maintain the wellness and health of employees, so that everyone benefits from a healthier business, both financially and otherwise? Prevention is clearly key. This is why employee washrooms in restaurants always have the sign “All Employees Must Wash Their Hands before Returning to Work.” Maintaining a healthy workplace and encouraging employees to adopt and maintain healthy habits go a long way. Leading by example is very effective. If the boss is seen smoking — and known not to exercise — then employees may read the hidden message that it is okay for them to do the same. On the other hand, if the boss brings a gym bag to work (as she stops off at the gym either before or after work), then this sends a completely different message. If the boss discusses engaging in sports activities (and not just watching sports on the television) whether as an individual, or in family activities, then this becomes a conversation topic among coworkers.

As small business owners, we may not be able to pay for gym memberships, but we can provide incentives for employees to lead a healthy lifestyle in other ways. Large companies can organize weight loss, smoking cessation or healthy eating workshops, and encourage employees to attend, and sometimes provide incentives for doing so. Small companies can create some challenges to employees and provide some tools to get started, such as a notebook for tracking exercise routines, food intake or other measurable criteria. An inexpensive pedometer can go a long way to help track distance walked or jogged during a lunch break or outside office hours. A business owner can reward an employee who participates in a wellness workshop in their free time, or achieves individual fitness and health goals. The key is to provide motivation that appeals to the employee.

We all want to stay healthy, both on and off the job. Having healthy and productive employees is surely an indicator of a successful business. Motivating employees to maintain their New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, or whatever the individual goal might be, will send a sure signal that they are valued beyond their work performance. Hiring and training new employees is much more expensive than retaining existing staff, and so wellness encouragement reduces overhead and management time spent on these issues. A few hours or a few dollars dedicated to focusing on employee wellness now can pay dividends in the future.

For suggestions on incentives or rewards for an employee wellness program, please visit our website at www.oxfordpromos.com or call Oxford Communications at 703-922-4193.

 

Photo courtesy of USACE Europe District

Non-Competition Agreements for Small Business: Not Too Broad or Too Narrow, But Just Right

The Supreme Court of Virginia Building, adjace...

Non-competition agreements, or non-solicitation agreements, are generally clauses within employment agreements which limit employees’ ability to enter into employment or to start a business which competes with a former employer.  Under Virginia law, non-competes (sometimes called or written plainly “noncompetes”), though viewed as a restraint of trade, are enforceable if the three prongs of the non-compete–time, geography and function–are properly limited.  The non-compete terms should be broad enough to protect the employer’s business interests, but not so broad as to prevent the employee from earning a living and should not violate public policy.

 

Many times the focus on non-compete agreement terms fall on the time and geography prong.  In November, the Virginia Supreme Court squarely refocused the discussion on the function prong of the non-compete.  In Home Paramount Pest Control v. Shaffer, the Court reviewed a non-compete agreement that it had approved 22 years ago in Paramount Termite Control v. Rector.  This time the Court declared that the function provision, which the company had not changed in the ensuing time, as overly broad and the entire agreement as unenforceable.

 

The Court held that the language which stated that the former employee could not engage “directly or indirectly. . . in any manner whatsoever in the carrying on or conducting the business of exterminating, pest control, termite control and/or fumigation services as an owner, agent, servant, representative, or employee, and/or as a member of a partnership and/or as an officer, director or stockholder or any corporation or in any manner whatsoever . . .” was not reasonable because the clause effectively prohibited the employee from holding any type of job in the industry.  The reasonableness of the time and geography prongs were insufficient to save the agreement.  Under the Home Paramount, if a business wants to preclude an employee from performing any work for a competitor, then it must be ready, willing and able to prove a “legitimate business interest” to do so. That’s not necessarily an easy task.

 

So, to ease the process for small businesses, now is the time to review any non-compete clauses used in your business.  Be wary of non-competition agreement forms or templates.  What terms are permissible in a non-compete clause in Virginia may not work at all in California – and vice versa. Terms permissible 20 years ago or even 6 months ago  in Virginia are no longer workable.  Court decisions over time can and do change the law.  The laws of individual states evolve over time and the laws of each state differ.

 

All three prongs of the non-compete must be appropriately limited, reasonable and related to the position in question.  The function prong cannot be so broad that it effectively precludes the employee from performing any job in the industry from CEO to janitor or even from owning stock passively in a multinational, publicly held corporation.

 

 

Law Office of Paula Potoczak

218 N. Lee St., 3rd Floor

Alexandria, VA 22314

703-519-3733

What have you accomplished by owning your Small Business?

Small Business Success - Crossing the Finish LineWe hear often about the things we must do and the challenges we have to overcome to achieve great success. While this is  vital and inspiring content for the true hurdles all of us in business for ourselves must face, sometimes we just want to hear about the good stuff. So, that’s what today is all about: your successes.

Here are some categories that might spark your creative juices about victories in your business:

  1. Have you recently closed a big deal with a potential client or returning client? What was the process you adhered that led to the sale?
  2. Did you weather the down economy and now you’re seeing an uptick in the revenue of the business?
  3. Were you recently surprised by a note of gratitude from a past or current client?
  4. As others have covered in the past, customers who have problems with your business can actually be beneficial. Have you had a customer service experience where you’ve been able to save the day after you’ve made a mistake?
  5. Did a client return to your business after having a bad experience with a competitor?

What have you accomplished by owning your Small Business? In the Comments section below, let us know what you have accomplished by owning your Small Business.

 

Photo courtesy of Official U.S. Navy Imagery

Do I Really Need a Business Plan?

Alexandria SBDC Business Planning GuideMany people ask themselves that very question before starting a business or expanding an existing one and the quick answer is yes. Many entrepreneurs state that they have most of the information in their heads or on notes in outline form – why take the time to write it down in a format? It is well-accepted that if you take the time (a true commitment) to put your ideas in a clearly written form, the chances that your plan will be successful is multiplied many times over.

If you have never been a business operator and owner before, a detailed yet succinct formal business plan is what you need to give you tracks upon which to run. This train, with each of its cars (sections), will be pulled by a strong engine from the departure platform directly to a successful destination.

If you are an existing business owner considering an additional office or another retail store nearby (or completely out of town), a modified business plan will be helpful as you consider the costs and sales ramp-up period involved to reach breakeven.

On the other hand, if you are an experienced entrepreneur and have been through the process a few times, a “mini-plan” may be all that will be necessary for you to move ahead and obtain financing, if that is necessary.

If you foresee that funding the project will involve a lender, investor(s) and/or a landlord, a Business Plan is mandatory. Write for your intended audience but always write the plan for yourself. This plan will be an individual creation different from any other and bear your personal stamp.

Now, let’s talk about exactly what is in a business plan and how it works to help you. It is comprised of five major sections:

  1. Executive Summary;
  2. Business Description;
  3. Marketing;
  4. Operations; and,
  5. Financial.

In addition, there are sub-sections to the marketing and financial areas, cover page, table of contents and an appendix.

Contrary to what you may think, the Plan is not written in the order one may read it. The first section to complete is the Marketing section. This is the “engine” that drives the train and delivers the revenue you need to insure that your business can meet its cash flow requirements. The second section to craft is the Financial section with the project costs and performance projections spanning up to five years supported by written financial assumptions. When these two sections are considered to be in final form, you have completed about 80% of the hard work.

Finally, you are likely interested in how long it will take to finalize a business plan. You can anticipate it taking about 60-90 days if you work on it studiously and consistently. How long will it be? It will be anywhere from 30-40 pages (plus copies of tax returns for lender) dependent upon the audience for your plan. How does it affect the plan if it’s just for yourself? It shapes into a shorter and less wordy document. And, for a bank or other lender? Work on just the facts and prove the ability to service the debt. Lastly, for an investor(s)? Show returns over longer periods, concentrate on the return on investment (ROI) and exit strategy for the investor. You will find the task engaging and rewarding in many ways and glad that you took the time to do it right.

For more details on creating your business plan, visit Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s website or call us to schedule a meeting to discuss your needs.

 

Presidential Campaign Fundraising Has Little in Common With Small Business Financing

CNN‘s Tom Foreman explains in the network’s “Explain it to me” video series how the “presidential dash for cash” (in political parlance, campaign fundraising) laws and strategies work in simple terms. While watching the video, I realized that much of this is counter to Small Business financing and funding. Primarily, the subject of access to that capital to start or expand a Small Business. In campaign fundraising, as Mr. Foreman explicates, you can raise your own funds just like most of us who began our own businesses, but with presidential campaigns you can also choose to get matching funding from the federal government. We mere mortals do not get this preferential benefit if we go to the federal government and tell them we’d like to start a Small Business. Something mostly understood is that most funding for these presidential (and likely Congressional) campaigns come from a limited number of large donors and less of the funding comes from small-dollar donors. However, in Small Business, we have more opportunities than ever to find funding in creative ways since most small businesses can start with less than 5,000$ in capital (although 10,000$ is the average amount spent and asked for in small business loans).

If you’re looking for funding for your startup or expanding Small Business, don’t follow the norm by looking solely to financial institutions (and don’t leave them out of the funding portfolio either!) and borrowing money from family and friends (who more and more because of the economic downturn are weary to invest in new ventures). Here are a few resources for Small Business capital resources:

  • Crowdfunding: this is a relatively new concept, where you can ask many people to held invest small amounts to a larger loan amount (keeping their risk and your interest payments low); there are sites like MyMicroInvest.com and Prosper.com but there are many more players out there (so do your due diligence to make sure the sites are legit);
  • Bartering: the age-old concept of bartering with other Small Business owners here in Alexandria and the surrounding area is alive and well; learn more about bartering at the International Reciprocal Trade Association website; and,
  • Sell your Accounts Receivables: not a new concept either, it’s mostly unknown to expanding small businesses; if you have a healthy Accounts Receivable and are looking to grow your business, there are businesses that will help you do what is technically known as factoring.

Do you have other resources for finding capital for your or fellow small business? Post them in the comments!

What Does the Alexandria SBDC Do – Our Services

 

Alexandria Small Business Development CenterAlexandria Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is Alexandria’s economic development program totally focused on small businesses. It’s those small businesses that comprise the largest segment of Alexandria’s economy, but we know their potential is often hindered by lack of information or expertise. When Alexandria SBDC’s services help businesses solve problem, overcome obstacles, link to resources and find new opportunities, Alexandria’s economy is strengthened. With that in mind the City of Alexandria, the U.S. Small Business Administration and a number of private sector sponsors provide funding so that all Alexandria SBDC services are provided without cost.

The services of Alexandria SBDC fall into three categories to correspond to business needs at each stage – START, MANAGE and GROW.

START

  • Instruction on steps to follow to start a business
  • Individual guidance on concept feasibility, business plan preparation and financing
  • Introduction to lenders
  • Referrals to attorneys, accountants and resources for site selection
  • Help with City and State regulatory issues

MANAGE

  • Cash flow management (every business needs to monitor!)
  • Referrals to attorneys, accountants, human resources specialists and other experts to solve problems or improve operations
  • Strategic / expansion planning
  • Tax / regulatory planning
  • Marketing / networking strategies / social media
  • Business education programs on all aspects of management, operations, human resources, marketing, branding and specialized training for retailers, restaurateurs and government contractors
  • Research resources

GROW

  • Access to loans and investors
  • Business education programs in areas of government contracting, e-commerce, international trade, and issues of fast growth
  • Introduction to key resources for expansion planning, business valuation or selling a business
  • Networking / marketing opportunities / social media
  • Research resources

With many years of experience, Alexandria SBDC staff responds quickly and can recommend solutions to problems and link businesses to the most effective resources. Savvy entrepreneurs describe Alexandria SBDC as the number they keep handy for times when they run into a problem or need an objective sounding board. They also describe the SBDC’s monthly business education programs as opportunities to pick up “nuggets of information” and continually improve their approaches.

The key message is that Alexandria SBDC offers individual and confidential assistance without cost to City of Alexandria businesses and Alexandria residents with businesses elsewhere. Get more information at www.alexandriasbdc.org or 703-778-1292.

 

Alexandria SBDC — 15 Years of Serving Small Businesses

Alexandria SBDC StaffOn December 17, 2011, Alexandria Small Business Development Center (SBDC) celebrated its 15th anniversary as the primary economic development program in the City of Alexandria that is totally focused on small businesses. The SBDC stimulates the local economy and job growth by providing Alexandria’s small businesses, which represent 91% of total businesses in the City, with individual guidance, information,  and an array of educational, research and management resources.

 

The following is a sampling of the SBDC’s impact over the past 15 years:

  • Over 3,000 businesses helped
  • 19,000 hours of assistance provided
  • $57 million in new loans facilitated
  • Over 5,000 jobs created or retained
  • Approximately 150 businesses averted failures as a result of SBDC guidance –

· Over 80 regained stability after 9/11 and Hurricane Isabel
· 70 were strengthened during the economic downturn of 2007 – 2009

Not quantified in the statistics above is the SBDC’s influence on fewer business failures, less costly mistakes by inexperienced entrepreneurs, more efficient business starts, easier navigation through regulatory processes and the commerce stimulated through SBDC referring businesses to attorneys, accountants, bankers, business organizations and other businesses for teaming or supplier relationships.

The SBDC, originally affiliated with The George Washington University and then with the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce from 1999-2010, is now hosted by the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership (AEDP). It is co-located with AEDP and the Alexandria Convention & Visitors Association in their new Partners for Economic Growth suite at 625 North Washington Street.

The dedicated staff of 3 full-time and several part-time specialized consultants offers individual guidance in such areas as startup ventures, financial management, loan proposal assistance, business and expansion planning, tax/regulatory planning, business best practices, government contracting, and enhanced retailing.

While the Board of Directors and staff of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center celebrated 15 years of accomplishment, their focus is on the future and reaching more of the City’s small businesses. Refer any Alexandria small businesses that could benefit from business feedback and guidance to Alexandria SBDC.

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