Alexandria SBDC Announces Human Resources Counseling for Small Business!

Patra Frame - Strategies for Human ResourcesAlexandria SBDC now offers individualized human resources counseling for small business…at no cost!

The Alexandria SBDC would like to announce a new program that will begin this month. Many of our small business clients fear HR issues and mistakes, but do not fully appreciate how the right people and processes will help them succeed. Patricia Frame, founder of Strategies for Human Resources (www.SHRinsight.com), Human Capital Management Consultant, Speaker, and Author, will provide one-on-one Human Resources Counseling for Small Business through the Alexandria Small Business Development Center. These sessions will be available at no charge to City of Alexandria businesses on the fourth Wednesday of each month (except December). Sessions will last for 50 minutes at the SBDC offices, and there will be three timeslots available each month. The first series of sessions will take place on Wednesday, September 26th, at 9, 10 and 11 a.m.

HR consulting sessions will be scheduled on a first-come, first-serve basis. To take advantage of this opportunity, send Gloria Flanagan an email message (gflanagan [at] alexandriasbdc.org <– remove spaces and change [at] to the @ symbol for the actual email address), with “HR Consulting” in the subject line.

You must also include the following information in the body of your e-mail:

  • Name, company name and contact information
  • Current number of employees in your organization
  • 2 – 3 critical business issues facing your organization
  • Issues that you would like to address in the meeting

Participants who are not current Alexandria SBDC clients will also need to complete the “Request for Counseling” Form.

Once we have received your e-mail we will contact you to schedule your session.

Biographical Background Information for Patricia Frame is provided below:
Patricia A. Frame is an experienced management consultant, HR executive, speaker, and author on human capital issues. She is known for her ability to address organizational goals and issues effectively and to create human resource management practices which support these goals without excessive administrivia. Patricia has advised executives and boards on a wide range of human capital and strategic planning issues. She has expertise in organization development, talent management, process restructuring, compensation, and training. She has worked with technology-based companies, government contractors, non-profits, associations, and retail operations. She advises small to mid-size organizations on ways to succeed and to help their employees thrive. Ms. Frame has given seminars for SBDC in recent years on the basic processes of HR management.

Bring in your business concerns and let her help you find a path forward to enhance your success.

Good Promotions for Back to School Season

Back to School season is really important for Small Business retailers. And, after Labor Day weekend sales are over, the rush of the autumn season pushes not only our clocks back an hour, but sometimes sales. Pat Melton, researcher extraordinaire (among many other hats) of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, came across a great article by Sharon McLoone at the Old Town Alexandria Patch site. As the article states, “Heather Stouffer, founder of Alexandria-based Mom Made Foods, shares some healthy eating tips for kids starting the school year.” She is finding creative ways to promote her business through the Back to School season, and not just because her line of food lends to kids start school shortly. Every event, holiday or celebration must be contemplated by Small Business retailers and services providers to see if there’s an opportunity to highlight products and services. This economy is going to get better thanks to the work we do as Small Business to kickstart the US market, so let’s take advantage as often as we can!

Read the full story over at Old Town Patch.

What are you doing for Back to School season to push out good promotions to finish your third quarter well?

Lead Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Regulation: Contractors and Homeowners Be Aware

The White House renovation
The White House renovation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prior to 1978, lead was an additive in paints used in the residential and commercial construction industry. Consequently, residential housing stock built prior to 1978 was painted with lead-containing paint. The ingestion of lead paint dust and chips is a known potential health hazard to adults and children, but particularly to children 6 years old and younger. Pregnant women are vulnerable as well because of the potential of harm to the fetus if lead dust or chips is ingested.

To remedy a perceived problem, U.S. E.P.A. promulgated the Lead Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Regulation. Effective in its amended form on April 22, 2010, the regulation requires contractors working on pre-1978 housing stock (single family homes as well as multiple unit housing) and child occupied facilities to be a “certified renovator,” engage in work practices that contain the spread of lead dust and chips during renovation, and educate clients by providing a pre-renovation pamphlet. The lead paint renovation repair and painting regulation applies to contractors of all types whose work disturbs lead based paint and who are compensated for their work. It applies not only to renovation contractors and painters, but to window and door installation contractors, electricians and plumbers and any contractor whose work disturbs painted surfaces.

The regulation applies to work which disturbs more than 6 square feet indoors and 20 square feet outdoors. There are no opt-out provisions. Even if the residence undergoing renovation does not house the targeted population, the regulations apply and the contractors must observe the work rules.

The new regulation increases the costs of renovation projects and exposes non-compliant contractors to legal liability. The increased costs range from EPA’s estimates of $8.00 to $167.00 per project to a private estimate of $500.00 to $1,000 for the remodeling of a kitchen, painting a couple of rooms or replacing several windows. While it is unclear what the full economic impact of the regulation will be, EPA’s Inspector General criticized its cost analysis in a July 25, 2012 report. The report noted that EPA’s cost analysis failed to use a statistically valid sample and failed to consider certain necssary costs which a contractor would incur. Thus, appears that the increased costs are closer to the private estimates than to EPA’s estimate.

Finally, the contractor who violates the regulations faces potential civil and criminal penalties, with fines up to $37,500 per violation. EPA is actively enforcing the regulation. It has fined, this year, a Maine rental property owner $10,000 for using power equipment improperly to remove paint from exterior surfaces of an 1850’s building, failing to train its workers properly and failing to apply for the proper certification. In another case, EPA fined a New Jersey window and siding company $1,500 for failure to follow the dust containment, waste disposal and training regulations. Likewise, it fined a Nebraska home repair company over $5,000 for failure to provide the homeowners with EPA’s approved lead hazard information booklet and to obtain the appropriate acknowledgment regarding the renovations.

So, if you are a contractor be certain that your employees are properly trained and that you are complying with the regulations. If you are a homeowner be prepared for higher renovation costs and longer renovation times.

Law Office of Paula Potoczak

218 N. Lee St., 3rd Floor

Alexandria, VA 22314

703-519-3733

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Document Retention for Small Business

Frequently small businesses ask me as a professional bookkeeper varying questions about document retention.  I am not going to tell you which documents you should retain.   This information needs to come from your CPA, attorney and/or your corporate headquarters.  I want to write about document retention because ultimately, you may be responsible for archived documents.  There are certain documents that you will be required to keep on file and available if needed by auditors.  Not only must you have them, BUT you must be able to retrieve them – which box and which folder.   If you can’t find it, then you don’t have it!

Learn which documents you must retain and for how long.  Find out if electronic copies are acceptable or if you must keep hard copies.   I will write about my best filing system another time, but a few tricks concerning retained documents:

  1. Use colored dots to mark the corner of files you will need to archive at the end of your fiscal year.  Then all you will need to do is pull those files and place them into an archive box for storage.
  2. If you have a single document and not a year’s worth of similar documents, it is okay to create a folder for one document, label it and then color tag it.  This makes it easier to retrieve this document if it is needed.  I always give critical documents their own folders.  [HINT:  I will make an electronic  copy of an archived document if it is something I may need to refer to from time to time.]
  3. Part of my filing system is to keep an electronic catalog of all my files.  Not only does it make it easier to find a document or folder (I’ll write more about this another time), it makes it very easy to create content lists of archived boxes.
  4. Number your boxes and label them with the general contents and dates.
  5. Your boxes need to be stored someplace where they will be safe.   If your basement floods easily or is subject to dampness, don’t put them there.  If your attic has insects, don’t store them there.  If you have a lot of boxes don’t stack them beyond their maximum load; the boxes can become damaged and will collapse.  You might consider checking into commercial storage companies.  They will pick up your boxes and will deliver boxes back to you if you need to retrieve a document (see the value of having a good list?).  These companies can be expensive, but may be worth the cost if you have neither the space nor a good, safe location to store them.
  6. If electronic copies of your documents are allowed, typically certain guidelines must be followed.  Some of the requirements will include minimal redundancy of your electronic files, where the electronic data is stored, legibility, etc.  You must obtain a copy of those guidelines and adhere to them.

Retention is a very important topic and should be part of your company’s Policies and Procedures.  Documents that must be retained should be known to anyone in your company who works with them.  I recommend also that document management be assigned to someone who will take responsibility.  That person might be you, because ultimately the liability is yours.

 —

Sue McLaughlin is the founder and principal of McLaughlin Bookkeeping Services, LLC and MBS Bookkeeping Seminars. Her mission is to offer small-business clients a fair price for bookkeeping services while delivering excellent customer service.

Start Smart: Creating Great Performance

Small Business Human Resources - Great Employee Performance ManagementThe smaller your organization, the more important each person in it becomes. Think a moment – what would happen if you just lost $5,000 or $10,000 tomorrow? Yet hiring and retaining the wrong person can easily cost you that in lost opportunities or time or energy quite quickly.

So, how do you ensure your staff are terrific assets?

Start with your hiring process. New companies often hire family and friends because they are ‘comfortable’ with such people. Small organizations often think of people as an expense to be minimized, rather than an investment in your success and future.

Look carefully at how you design a new job and hire for it. You do not need an elaborate job description or expensive search process. You do need to be very clear about the work that needs to be done and the experience, attitude, and knowledge actually needed to do it well. Where will you find such a person? How will you know? What will you pay for?

Many of us lose valuable employee productivity from the start, through bad assumptions and poor planning. Your new hire checklist – mental or written – probably focuses on things like keys and payroll and forms.

What you need is a new hire checklist that ensures you:

1. Reinforce why you hired the person: say what you saw in their experience, attitude, and knowledge which demonstrated their value to your organization.

2. Explain the basics of ‘how we work here’. What are your organization’s common habits and practices that a new person needs to know?

3. Define your vision and goals and relate to the person’s specific job.

4. Set the standards for behavior and high performance at the beginning. Have the materials and equipment each needs and someone to train them on any company specific processes. Be clear in explaining what the person needs to know to successfully do the job. State your expectations in terms of daily activities or weekly accomplishments. What goals do you want achieved in the first 3 months? 6 months? What standards does the person need to meet? Do you expect all calls/email to be answered within one business day? All customers to be greeted when they enter your store? Be clear about all those details.

5. Talk about how you like to work. If you expect employees to bring up problems immediately, say so. If you want them to try to solve the problem first or bring you a proposed solution, tell them. Do you do a weekly staff meeting or scheduled individual meetings? Do you prefer written or oral reports? Are you calm and deliberative? Creative and outgoing? Tell new people.

Not there with current employees?

You can change. Define your own processes and expectations and clearly communicate them to existing staff. Then, as you grow, do so with each new hire too.

Now, of course, the reason this does not happen all the time is that many of us expect others to know and understand our goals and standards. Magically, without our having to do the work ourselves to clearly define and articulate them! So your own performance is the first person’s to sort out.

But the value of doing so is an immediate boost to productivity and performance in your organization. Your staff will know how to succeed and how to help the organization succeed.

Patricia Frame is an experienced management consultant, speaker and author on human capital issues. Ms. Frame founded Strategies for Human Resources in 1993 as a consulting firm specializing in meeting the human resources needs of small to mid-size organizations. 

Bookkeeper and Your Accountant

Bookkeeping and Your Accountant - MBS Bookkeeping ServicesThere can be confusion among small business owners when it comes to responsibilities between bookkeepers and accountants.  There are some who believe that they will save money by using the services of a professional bookkeeper rather than services of a Certified Public Account (CPA.)  I answer that question with this analogy:  would you ask a nurse to perform open heart surgery, or would you ask a heart surgeon?  Both are critical to the field of medicine just as the bookkeeper and the CPA are both critical to the field of accountancy.  Let me point out a few important differences.

CERTIFIED PUBLIC ACCOUNTANT

A public accountant is qualified to help you strategize and make important decisions so that you can grow your business and avoid some common pitfalls.  A CPA can also help you with strategic tax planning.  Your CPA takes your business financial planning to the next level.  If you don’t currently have a CPA, get one.

BOOKKEEPER

The bookkeeper then implements at the nuts and bolts level the strategy you and your accountant develop.  Your bookkeeper will set up your books and classify transactions that correspond to your business strategy.   At the most basic level, your bookkeeper spends a great deal of time posting transactions to the correct accounts so that your financial reports correctly reflect the financial health of your business.   Other important functions include maintaining reconciled book balances and managing your accounts payable and accounts receivable.   Your bookkeeper must be able to provide you with your current cash position when you are faced with a critical financial decision.   I’ve just scratched the surface.

These are your most basic differences.  But as with all things, bookkeeping professionals have different skill sets and areas of proficiency.  There are many professional bookkeepers who are trained and skilled to help you in many other areas.  These might include budgeting, forecasting, pricing, payroll, training, and so on.  So what should you do?  Your business is your ship and you are its captain.  You should make a list of skills and assistance you are looking for in a bookkeeper and look for someone with those skills.  A good place to start is by asking for referrals from similar businesses or from your accountant.  Schedule a meeting with the Alexandria Small Business Development Center; they have professionals available to advise you.  If you have an in-house bookkeeper, make sure your bookkeeper gets the training she/he needs.  If you are a start-up, meet with your accountant on a periodic basis to be sure you are on track and give your bookkeeper feedback.   Bad bookkeeping means poor output which can mean insufficient data for you to use when making critical financial decisions.  Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish, as the old saying goes.  The little you may save today may cost you plenty in the future.  Be smart and get professional advice.  It doesn’t matter if you keep your own books, if you staff it, or if you outsource… Be Smart!

 —

Sue McLaughlin is the founder and principal of McLaughlin Bookkeeping Services, LLC and MBS Bookkeeping Seminars. Her mission is to offer small-business clients a fair price for bookkeeping services while delivering excellent customer service.

Small Business Marketing…on the Go

Marketing doesn't have to stop while small business owners have some summer fun on the beachJuly and August are often a time when businesses slow down, and employees and their families take vacations while school is out for the long summer break. If your business or staff takes a break, it does not mean that you should stop promoting your business. Have you ever realized that travel-related items can be an effective way to promote your enterprise, whether in summer or any other time of year? Tourism and hospitality companies, such as travel agents, hotels, and tour operators have been doing this for a long time. Their clients may be other businesses who use their hospitality or travel services, or they may market direct to the end customer. You may be able to relate your business to travel in some way, and if so, travelers can be walking around displaying your business name wherever they may go with travel-related items

Let me give some examples. Have you ever noticed luggage tags or straps while you are checking your luggage at an airport or retrieving it from a carousel? Luggage tags and straps not only serve the obvious practical purpose of identifying luggage, but a standout color or design really help the luggage, that is so often black, stand out from the rest. This is a welcome advantage for the busy traveler and anyone who does not want to search among dozens of look-alike piece of luggage. One of my favorite (and inexpensive) ways to identify luggage is with a colorful Luggage Spotter which wraps around a handle, with a logo on the outside and the personal identification on the inside, so that it is protected from casual view. The Luggage Spotter™ uses Velcro to stay in place and the bright colors make it easy to spot from a distance. I use them all the time on my own luggage. Several of our customers have selected this as a way to give travelers something useful at a low cost. The logo could be that of a hotel, travel group or some affinity group that the traveler belongs to.  There are also many styles of luggage tags to choose from that hide personal information.

Still on the subject of air travel, did you know that TSA approved locks, and also plastic pouches that hold the allowed three oz. or less liquid or gel in bottles in a one quart zip top bag can be imprinted with a business logo? These are very useful items for any air traveler. If you wish to make a special gift, consider a travel wallet that will hold a passport and airline or other tickets. Low cost ones are available in vinyl, or go for a first class impression in leather.

Luggage itself may be one of the ultimate special gifts, and is certainly likely to be kept and used again and again by the recipient. A piece of luggage may include anything from a simple duffel bag or a garment bag to a set of luggage in different sizes. Inexpensive custom cameras will appeal to ad wide audience and can be tied into a special event or location. Maps and guides are other ways to make a traveler feel valued. Conventions and meetings planners can provide custom fold out maps to their attendees, whether it is a map of the exhibit hall and meeting space in a convention center or a map of the city and location that they are meeting in. If it is designed for the attendees at that event, it Has greater value and will certainly be appreciated.

So your business need not take a vacation, even if your employees do. With the imaginative use of some customized travel-related items, travelers can be out there promoting your business while they are on the go from place to place and they do not have to be anywhere near your business location to do this for you.

If you would like to discuss promotional ideas for your business, please contact Judith Harley at Oxford Communications, Alexandria, Virginia. Oxford Communications has been providing custom-imprinted promotional items, business gifts and corporate clothing to the business community for over ten years. Oxford Communications may be reached at 703-922-4193 or [email protected]. You are invited to visit our website at www.oxfordpromos.com.

 

Photo courtesy of Horia Varlan

Want A Website?

There are two basic ways I know of to create a website.

  1. The designer creates it, using his software, and then uploads all the files to your website host. Any changes you want will be made by the designer. There are no limitations – no formal grid. Options are limited only by your designer’s ability.
  2. The designer uploads a website framework to your webhost, and adds a “theme”, or set of colors and styles. This type is called “CMS,” or “Content Management System.” CMS sites originated with the publishing industry where newspapers needed to allow many reporters to add their articles, without altering the main template. These sites are especially good if you want several people making updates, or if you want certain people to have access to only certain parts of the site. Here, you make your own text changes, working through your web browser window. You can access your website from any computer, from any where. Keep track of your password!

What is a “website host?”

There are many website hosting companies, also called “Internet Service Providers” or ISPs. Some are free, but give you limited access to help. And if you forget your password, you’re doomed. Many hosting companies charge a reasonable fee, like $100 to $200 per year. My web host charges me about $117 per year and lets me have as many websites as I can handle. They also handle my email. I can call them any time for help.

In addition to your hosting fee, you pay an annual fee for your website address, also called URL, or domain name.

There are many types of website. One is a Blog. Blogs are CMS’s, because they can be accessed through the web browser by many different people. “WordPress” is the name of a very popular blogging software.

A basic company website can be called a “brochure website”, where it basically stays the same, and tells all about your company or organization. There are also Forums, Wikis,  Photo Galleries, Family Tree, Catalog, and many other types of sites.

The most well known, large CMS site builders are named “Joomla” and “Drupal”. These are heavy duty CMS’s that are complex for the client to learn. These would be best for large organizations who need a lot of functionality.

“Google Sites” give you a small amount of data storage for free. You have a lot of functionality with Google Sites, including permitting certain people to have access, being able to add maps, calendars, and all sorts of neat functions. But Google does tend to abruptly pull some of their services or aps, so you have less control. “CMS Made Simple” is another website builder. Like WordPress, it offers lots of color themes and allows many contributors. It also allows your content to be timed, so you can have an article that will disappear on a certain date.

You may have been tearing your hair out, exclaiming, “why? Why do I have to learn this stuff?!” I don’t know. I guess we are all doomed to continue learning!