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5 Tips for Hiring and Empowering Great Employees

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: March 14, 2013 Updated: September 21, 2016

Hiring employees is probably the most important decision any entrepreneur will ever make. But relinquishing some of the responsibility of your business to others is tough.

The key to getting it right is finding employees with the right value alignment and attitude (often easier said than done). Of course, you need to work at it too. Once you’ve built your team, learning to let go and empower employees is critical if you want focus on growing your business.

These steps are explored in one of SBA’s Learning Center videos–Hiring and Developing Employees—which features insights and tips from successful small business owners who’ve struggled with many of these issues and challenges themselves.

Here are five tips they suggest for growing your business through hiring and developing great employees:

Learn How to Let Go

As you start a business, you’ll likely be wearing many hats. But if your business is going to grow, then learning to let go is critical: “You are a leader for the business,” explains Eileen Spitalny, co-founder of Fairytale Brownies, a $10 million a year online and mail-order baking business headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona. “In the beginning, we did bake the brownies; we did wash the pans. But you need to trust people, give them parameters, let them learn on their own, give them feedback and be there as their mentor, not over their shoulder. This is our philosophy.”

Both Spitalny and co-founder David Kravetz acknowledge that letting go didn’t come easy for them: “Looking back, we took too long to let go, and now we realize our team members are going to grow with the more responsibility we give them.” Fairytale Brownies encourages its employees to be proactive in their feedback, offering incentives such as movie tickets in return for suggestions on how they can better run the business.

Encourage Decision-Making Among Employees

Part of learning how to let go is looking for ways to empower your employees and give them decision-making authority. But how much trust can you instill in them without feeling the need to constantly monitor performance or simply “be there” for them?

After reading a self-help book on management skills, Fairytale Brownies were inspired to launch a “$100 Empowerment Policy.” This simple solution gives any team member the authority to spend up to $100 of company money to solve a customer problem without having to ask. “It’s taken a long time to get them to actually give up the money and a lot of times we’ll have to remind them,” explains David Kravetx, “Ninety-five percent of the problems can be solved with $100, whether it’s re-shipping a gift or refunding…and they don’t have to come to me to ask...it’s money well-spent for us.”

Hire the Right Values and Attitude and the Rest Will Take Care of Itself

For Steve Bell, owner of Pacific Cabinets, a multimillion dollar Washington state cabinet business, alignment of values and the right attitude is more important than experience. “If people have the same core values that we have—if they have a great attitude…if they have the ability to learn—then we can hire them and teach them anything they need to know in the business.”

For tips on finding a good match, read: 4 Interview Questions That Get to the Heart of a Candidate’s Potential.

Consider a Trial Employment Period

A new-hire trial period is another option that service-based businesses might consider to ensure a good match. Holly DiTallo, a trainer and co-owner at Scottsdale Education Center in Arizona, uses a two-week trial program to assess new educational contractors, “that’s just about long enough for us to be able to say come back another time or we don’t really think you’re the right fit.”

Fire Quickly if Things Aren’t Working Out

It goes without saying that your goal is to hire great people, but Fairytale Brownies—like many small business owners—learned some tough lessons with problem employees. “We would spend sometimes a year or longer living with an employee who we knew deep down wasn’t working out. We tried to change their personality and we learned that you can teach skills but if someone’s not working out, we will let them go a lot faster than we did at the beginning,” explains owner, David Kravetz.

What hiring challenges has your business encountered? How have you overcome these? Leave a comment below!

Don’t forget to visit the SBA Learning Center for more free self-paced online training courses, quick videos, web chats and more to help small business owners explore and learn about the many aspects of business ownership.

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About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

The Social Storefront – How to Sell Your Products and Services on Facebook

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: March 11, 2013 Updated: March 11, 2013

Have you ever considered extending your small business storefront to Facebook?

According to The New York Times, small retailers are having more success than their larger counterparts when it comes to selling socially with Facebook storefronts proving to be a successful outlet for small businesses with less than $100,000 in revenue and fewer than 10 employees.

Yet Facebook storefronts present business owners with a number of challenges. For example, if you have a business page on Facebook, you do not own it; Facebook does, and as such, it is free to change the look, feel, security and functionality of your page when it sees fit. Furthermore, many consumers may be reticent about conducting financial transactions on social media.

If your small business is interested in exploring this new revenue stream, here are some tips to help you get started building your social storefront:

1. Build Your Facebook Storefront

Facebook storefronts are wholly independent of Facebook and are enabled by third party apps and services from companies such as Ecwid, BigCommerce’s SocialShop application and VendorShop Social. Alternatively, you can also have an app developer build you a custom storefront.  

These apps offer a number of social shopping features that you can add to your Facebook business page. Some are free, with options to upgrade for increased functionality, while others charge a low monthly subscription fee. (Note: The Facebook store provider market is an emerging one with new start-ups popping up regularly. Furthermore, established players are increasingly targeted for acquisition. So do your due diligence on this one. Look for providers with a good customer service track record and try not to get locked into time-bound contracts.)

Whichever app you choose, getting started is quite easy. Once your app is installed, you can add product listings; a welcome page to showcase certain products and promotions; a shopping cart; and a variety of payment options such as PayPal. Some apps also include tools to promote your storefront to your fans, via email, your blog or website. 

2. Personalize Your Storefront

Next, personalize your storefront to reflect your brand and appeal to the fans and customers you are hoping to engage with and sell to. Think about adding a human element to your banner image—this will help connect you with your potential buyers. To maximize your Facebook sales, look for ways to engage and connect—post tips that relate to your industry; share articles, images and blogs that might be of interest; and have a dialogue with your fans. Above all, inject some personality into your page—this is a huge differentiator for small businesses, so use it!

The New York Times also suggests pinning and tagging status updates and photos to attract fans and keep your page dynamic. For example, you could run a contest that encourages customers to tag your products in the photos they post on their Facebook page. In doing so, you’ll get free visibility on that person’s wall for all their friends and followers to see. You can also use the pin feature to highlight a product of the week or a special discount.

3. Be Social, Build a Community

Make your page an active one—treat it as you would your own bricks and mortar store. Meet and greet fans, and engage with them. Encourage them to post by asking open-ended questions in your status updates; comment on and like the interaction that follows.

You can also grow your community outside the confines of our own page. For example, follow business pages that relate to your products, industry or neighborhood and interact with folks on those pages (without being overly promotional). For example, if you own a retail store on Main Street, look around and find out who else is on Facebook—your local coffee shop, library, community newspaper? Give them a like (using your business page profile) and join in the conversation with other business owners and their customers. Your business will appear on their wall and help increase your visibility and likeability!

4. Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

It’s unlikely that Facebook will ever be your only sales channel. So test the waters before you set up your store and ask your fans and customers if they’d be interested in buying from you via Facebook. Then, once you are up and running, don’t ignore your website or retail location. Small businesses are known to get as much as 15-30 percent of their sales from Facebook, but remember that not everyone is on Facebook, and not all are comfortable doing business there.

5. More Reading

For some real-world examples of how small businesses are using Facebook storefronts, check out this article from The New York Times: Small Retailers Open Up Storefronts on Facebook Pages.

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Buying a Small Business Overseas – 5 Tips for a Smooth Transaction

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: March 4, 2013

Interested in buying a business overseas? Whether you’re looking to expand into new markets or are just planning on funding your retirement plans outside the U.S., there are a number of steps you should take to ensure your new venture goes smoothly. Everything from business practices; legal and regulatory requirements; navigating an international sale deal; and language and cultural differences will come into play.  

Here are some considerations and issues to bear in mind as you go about buying a business in a foreign country.

Language

If English isn’t the first language in the country where you intend to buy a business, then learning the local language should be your first priority. If you can’t do this, then you will need to think long and hard about your motivation and determination for going the distance in this new territory.

Measure the Risks to Your Capital Investment

No matter how much capital you have, to lessen the risk, be sure to factor in the many variables that come from buying and running a business. Factor in cost overruns, delays getting started and unforeseen expenses. For example, don’t always assume that cheap labor is always going to be quality labor—you get what you pay for. You’ll also incur many of the employment expenses you incur in the U.S. such as benefits, taxes, sick leave, and social security.

Work with an Expert

As with any overseas venture, one of the most important things you can do when buying a business abroad is to consult an expert. Accountants, lawyers, tax attorneys, and real estate brokers, can all help you succeed with your cross-border purchase. To ensure the best representation, work with experts who have experience in the location and industry in which you are buying a business. But you’ll also need to find in-country experts who are familiar with business and regulatory matters in the country you intend to buy a business.

Do Your Research About Cross-Border Deals

It goes without saying that any business venture requires research, so here are some issues you should bear in mind:

  • Laws and Regulations – Legal and tax regulations overseas can be even more complicated than in the U.S. for business owners. Licenses and permits, for example, can take several months if not years to be granted. You’ll also need to understand how the country handles expatriation of taxes on profits on foreign business owners. Much of this information can be found online, but for more information, reach out to local in-country small business organizations, business leaders and chambers of commerce.
  • Understand the Buying Process – As you seek advice, be sure to ask about the negotiation and valuation process involved in buying a business. What’s included in the sale? You don’t want to be left with a hollow shell of a business when you thought you were getting furniture and fixtures too.
  • Pay Heed to the Competition – As an outsider, it can take a tough skin to make a success of a small business in a foreign location. Be ready for that—look for ways to test the waters of the community before you take the plunge. Also look to the competition to understand your market potential—is there a gap or untapped need that you think your business can serve?
  • Determine How You Intend to Manage Your Business – Will you re-locate yourself (that brings with it a raft of immigration factors), or will you manage it from the U.S. with on-site staff? Could you keep the current owner and hire him or her as an employee? Know your options before you hit the negotiation stage, and weigh the benefits of each.

Be Prepared to Connect and be Agile

Last but not least, buying and running a business—let alone an overseas business—requires tenacity, agility, and deep personal connections. So do your research, weigh the pros and cons, have a plan and heed laws and regulations. But above all, be true to your ambition and drive. Some of the best small business owners succeed not because they stick to the rulebook, but because they look for ways to take the initiative and forge a path for themselves.

 

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

How to Move Up and Become Part of the Supply Chain to Larger Companies

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: February 28, 2013 Updated: September 23, 2016

Looking for ways to become a supplier to a larger company?

A recent study showed that after a small supplier lands a big purchase order or a contract from a bigger company, the small company’s revenues go up 250 percent and they create about 150 percent more jobs in just two or three years. This is a great opportunity both for small business and for the economy.

But how can a small business go about landing a contract to be part of this lucrative business growth opportunity? Here are some tips, tools and resources that can help you get there.

Do Your Research And Plan Your Strategy

Breaking into a new market or new client base requires planning. This blog offers some tips for finding larger companies that would be a good fit for your business; getting that important first meeting; refining your sales pitch; and alleviating any perceptions about your “small” business status: How to Up the Ante and Start Selling to Larger Companies.

Use Available Resources – #1: “Supplier Connection”

Large U.S. multinational companies also know the value that supply chain networks have for them and their customers and have strengthened their efforts to reach out to small suppliers. For example, several large firms have come together to create a single, standard online application – called the Supplier Connection – that allows small suppliers to market themselves to many large U.S. firms at the same time. These firms include Office Depot, Bank of America, Dell, Facebook, Kelloggs, UPS, Pfizer and more.

The Supplier Connection portal is open (free of charge) to U.S. small businesses that have less than $50 million in revenue, or have less than 500 employees and that provide the following goods or services:

  • Facilities support
  • Food and beverage manufacturing
  • Industrial manufacturing
  • Lab supplies and equipment
  • Logistics
  • Professional, marketing and technical services
  • Service parts
  • Software

The program is part of the Obama Administration’s American Supplier Initiative, which was created to encourage companies to use small businesses as suppliers. Check out the Supplier Connection website for more information. These FAQs are also a useful resource.

Use Available Resources – #2: Your Network and Assistance Programs

Tradeshows and industry conferences are a great way to network and meet potential customers. Even if you don’t have the budget to exhibit yourself, simply attending can provide a great venue to meet the bigger players in your industry or target market.

Other avenues to explore include your local Chamber of Commerce or Small Business Development Center (many host events and networking sessions that showcase larger companies in your region).

If you need one-on-one help or counseling, consider a free mentor from SCORE. These folks have walked in your shoes, whether as business owners or executives, and can help you formulate and execute a growth strategy into new markets.

Don’t Forget the Largest Customer of All - Selling to the U.S. Government

The largest purchaser in the world just happens to be the U.S. federal government, which plays a major role in fostering the growth of supply chains filled with innovative small businesses. You can read more about the ins and outs of this market opportunity from the SBA here, the agency also offers several online courses that can bring you up to speed on how to sell to the U.S. government. Another option is to partner with businesses that already hold or are bidding on government contracts. This process, known as sub-contracting, provides a useful point of entry into this market (which operates quite differently than the private sector).

The government also offers programs that help specific business groups such as veteran-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, and others, gain access to the federal marketplace.

These blogs also offer insight into the business of selling to the government:

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

What’s a Small Business for Tax Rules?

By BarbaraWeltman, Guest Blogger
Published: February 28, 2013

The SBA uses a number of definitions for “small business,” depending on the industry. So, too, does the tax law, which has various definitions of “small business” for different tax breaks. These definitions are based on employees, revenues, expenditures and assets. Confusing? You bet! Here’s a list to help you.

Employee-based definitions

  • DbK retirement plan. This type of qualified retirement plan, which has yet to be utilized because of lack of IRS guidance, combines a pension with a contributory element (like a 401(k) plan). It is limited to companies with 500 or fewer employees.
  • Disabled access credit. A tax credit of 50% of costs between $250 and $10,250 (maximum credit of $5,000) can be claimed for the cost of making a company more accessible to the disabled. The company can have no more than 30 full-time employees during the preceding year; there is also a gross receipts (revenue) test explained later.
  • Employer wage differential credit for activated reservists. Employers with fewer than 50 employees can claim a tax credit for continuing to pay wages to employees called to active duty.
  • Retirement plan start-up credit. A tax credit of up to $500 for the administrative costs of starting a qualified retirement plan can be claimed by a company with no more than 100 employees who have compensation over $5,000 in the preceding year.
  • Savings incentive match plans for employees (SIMPLE) plans. These are retirement plans to which employees and employers both contribute. SIMPLE plans can be used by a business with 100 or fewer employees who received compensation over $5,000 in the preceding year.
  • Simple cafeteria plans. Cafeteria plans are used to offer a menu of fringe benefits to employees. A simple version, which avoids the need for testing for discrimination, can be used for a company with 100 or fewer employees on business days during either of the two preceding years.
  • Small employer health insurance credit. A credit of up to 35% of premiums paid in 2013 by employers can be claimed by a company with no more than 25 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) with average wages of less than $50,000. The full credit applies for up to 10 FTEs; a reduced credit is allowed for 11 to 25 FTEs.

Revenue-based definitions

  • Accrual method exception for small inventory-based businesses. While, most firms with inventory must use the accrual method of accounting to report their income and expenses, “small” firms can use the cash method. Small firms are those with average annual gross receipts of no more than $10 million in the three prior years (fewer years if the company hasn’t been in business for three years).
  • Bad debts deduction. Small businesses performing services in certain fields (e.g., law, accounting) can write off bad debts on the non-accrual experience method, which means they don’t accrue service-related income expected to be uncollectible. This accounting rule applies only to companies with average annual gross receipts for the three prior years of no more than $5 million.
  • Corporate AMT exemption. Small C corporations are exempt from the alternative minimum tax. This exemption applies only to those with average annual gross receipts of no more than $7 million ($5 million for the first three-year period).
  • Disabled access credit. The credit described earlier can be claimed by a company with gross receipts of no more than $1 million in the preceding year (see the employee definition above).
  • Late filing penalties for certain information returns. Businesses must report certain payments to the IRS by set dates. Reduced penalties for the failure to meet this obligation apply to companies with average annual gross receipts of no more than $5 million for a three-year period.
  • UNICAP rules. These rules impact when expenses can be deducted. There is a small reseller exception for property acquired for resale; the exception applies to companies with average annual gross receipts of no more than $10 million for a three-year period. There is a simplified dollar value last-in, first out (LIFO) method for applying the UNICAP rules; the method applies only to companies with average annual gross receipts of no more than $5 million for a three-year period.

Expenditure-related definition

  • First-year expensing. The cost of machinery and equipment can be deducted upfront rather than depreciated over a number of years if total annual investments in these assets do not exceed a dollar limit. For 2013, the full expensing deduction of up to $500,000 can be claimed as long as purchases don’t exceed $2 million. This dollar limit is reduced for excess purchases; no deduction applies once purchases for the year exceed $2.5 million.

Asset-related definitions

  • Shifting the burden of proof to the IRS. Whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor or whether compensation is “reasonable” can be shifted to the IRS for a business with a net worth not in excess of $7 million.
  • Small business stock. Gain on the sale of qualified small business stock in certain C corporations acquired after September 27, 2010, and before January 1, 2014, is not taxable if the stock is held more than five years (a partial break applies for stock acquired before or after these dates). The stock is “qualified” only if the corporation’s gross assets do not exceed $50 million when the stock is issued and immediately thereafter.

Conclusion

There are many tax breaks exclusively for small companies. Knowing whether you are eligible for a particular one depends on the tax law’s definition. If you’re unsure, talk with your tax advisor.

About the Author:

BarbaraWeltman
Barbara Weltman

Guest Blogger

Barbara Weltman is an attorney, prolific author with such titles as J.K. Lasser's Small Business Taxes, J.K. Lasser's Guide to Self-Employment, and Smooth Failing as well as a trusted professional advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She is also the publisher of Idea of the Day® and monthly e-newsletter Big Ideas for Small Business® and host of Build Your Business Radio. She has been included in the List of 100 Small Business Influencers for three years in a row. Follow her on Twitter: @BigIdeas4SB or at www.BigIdeasforSmallBusiness.com

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