Benefit Hacks

By Jennifer E. Goldman, President of Resonance, LLC  

Most small businesses are not required, or financially equipped, to provide certain benefits to their employees. With an overwhelming number of the U.S. population being employed by small businesses (seriously, it’s nearly 100%), that means that a huge percentage of people aren’t being offered benefits like health insurance or 401(k)s by their bosses.

Just because your company may be in this same boat doesn’t mean you can’t find other ways to differentiate your business and show your employees the appreciation they’re due. All you need is a little creativity and the willingness to invest some amount of money and time into giving back to your team.

By recognizing that your business would be nowhere without your employees and showing your gratitude, even in small ways, everyone wins: your crew will experience higher job satisfaction, increased company loyalty and accelerated engagement, which leads to better turnover rates, higher productivity and increased customer satisfaction.

Here are a few examples:

  • Lunch and Learn: everyone gathers once a week to spend the lunch hour together and one employee is responsible for giving a presentation. That person can talk about anything: new training experiences and what they learned, the project they’re working on, or perhaps challenges they’re facing and asking for suggested solutions. This is great for team building.
  • Fitness: hiring a fitness instructor to come in at least once a week to lead an aerobics or yoga class that’s free for all employees to participate in. If it’s affordable, another great idea is to purchase a gym membership for all employees (make sure you ask for a volume discount, though!) Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and promote healthy living.
  • Company Picnics: Take a field trip to a local park and fire up the grill! Employers provide the main dishes and employees bring a side dish to share. Several companies have found that this becomes a beloved tradition and plan one every spring and fall. What a great way to bring the team together and include their families.
  • Small Packages: you know what they say – good things come in small packages. A few times a year purchase novelty items, wrap them up and leave them on everyone’s desk. It can be as simple as a coffee mug filled with chocolates or as nice as a bottle or wine or crystal paperweight. It won’t really matter what it is, that unexpected surprise will start everyone’s day on a good note.
  • The Getaway: you can really start some excitement by having a free getaway that one random employee can win. Have gift bags filled with tissue paper and maybe some goodies (this way at least everyone gets something) and ask all the employees to pick a bag. The employee whose bag has a sticker on the inside bottom wins an overnight stay somewhere awesome, and the day off to go. It doesn’t have to be an expensive trip, you can purchase a one-night stay at a local bed and breakfast or a nice hotel at the nearest beach.

Everyone wants to feel appreciated; it’s just human nature. By finding simple ways to show your employees that you appreciate them, you’ll find the benefits are immeasurable.

Pick Your Poison

By Jennifer E. Goldman, President of Resonance, LLC      

I read something recently about how even if your most productive employee is toxic you should cut them loose because in the end they are worthless to you. As someone who has spent too much time around people with toxic personalities (not by choice, I assure you) my immediate reaction was total agreement.

After some thought, and a taped conversation about employee engagement, I had a change of heart. I agree that toxic personalities can bring down an empire; that toxicity cannot be contained and will spread until everyone around that person is unhappy or uncomfortable.

While the natural reaction, when you encounter a toxic person, is to run far and fast; what should you do if you’re the boss? You can’t ignore it, you can’t let it affect your other employees or your customers…and truly, you can’t just fire someone without proper cause.

There are, however, several things you can do, some even if you aren’t the boss:

  • Determine what it is, specifically, that makes this person toxic. Are they constantly negative or nasty? Are they lazy and have a habit of wasting other people’s time, too? Are they slovenly, making everyone feel uncomfortable being in close proximity? Sometimes just identifying the problem more clearly can help alleviate it.
  • Try to have a friendly (but professional) conversation with the person to find out if there’s something in their personal or work life that perhaps they need help or resources to deal with. It may be as simple as needing a friend. I can remember one instance where a woman was brusque anytime someone asked her for anything. We worked in the same department; avoiding her was not an option. After a while as she became more comfortable chatting with me she revealed a family tragedy that she’d never quite gotten over. Talking with her and gaining her trust helped her to at least have a better relationship with me and may have made her a little softer around others. If I had been her boss, however, I would have taken it one step further and offered grief counseling referrals and paid time off to go to the sessions.
  • Sometimes it’s the job, alone, that can cause someone to turn toxic. Many people wind up in jobs they don’t enjoy; they stick it out because they need the paycheck, but mostly out of fear they’ll never find anything else/better. Giving someone like this extra challenges that help another department in the company can sometimes accidentally reveal a hidden talent or passion. I once found out an employee I had was happy as a clam with a dust rag in her hand. She was always good at her job, but allowing her to spend time wiping down walls and scrubbing the nooks and crannies of the moldings in the building was all she needed to feel better about her environment and become more pleasant to be around. (It didn’t hurt that the place started to shine as a result either!)
  • And sometimes you just have to lay down the law. This means implementing or enforcing company policies. If you don’t already have one, write a dress code for your office – or update it. Make sure everyone’s employee reviews have been performed, citing policies and goals and other measures to help assess each employee’s value and to have documented how some employees are detrimental. Also write and implement a policy on what happens to employees who receive less than stellar reviews.

 

In the end, what’s important are the people in your company. Don’t lose sight of the fact that even your most toxic employee is a human being, but also be aware of how each person’s personality and actions affect all the others who are trusting you to protect the environment in which they spend so much of their lives. Respect all of them by making the difficult decisions; but do so with intention, kindness, and fairness.

Employee Morale

By Jennifer E. Goldman, President

 

It’s amazing to me how many places of business continually suffer from low morale. These are typically the companies that also provide low levels of customer service and either extremely high or low employee turnover rates. What I don’t understand is how the owner or upper management is completely blind to it.

 

What it really boils down to is a breakdown in the company culture. It isn’t that upper management is blind to it, it’s that they’re the ones who created it.

 

Have you ever noticed the difference in how people interact with you (or avoid you) when you’re in a good mood versus when you’re down in the dumps? That’s the affect owners and managers have on their staff, and over time it’s what creates what we call corporate culture.

 

When owners and managers have positive attitudes, are efficient workers, empower those around them to make decisions, allow their employees to make mistakes, regularly show appreciation and generally treat people fairly it creates a positive corporate culture.

 

When owners and managers are negative, expect more from others than they are willing to do themselves, demand that everything be done their way and are quick to criticize, it creates a negative corporate culture.

 

There are many more factors, however, that can affect corporate culture and thus employee morale.

 

What’s worse is that it began with the leaders, and although they may notice that their staff isn’t happy or behaving the way they would like, they don’t know what to do and ultimately wind up behaving in a more unsatisfactory way themselves. It’s a vicious cycle.

 

Sometimes the problem is that the person at the top is too removed now to notice. Sometimes they don’t have the authority they feel they need to make the decisions they think will change things.

 

So how you can turn bad morale around? Well, like everything else, the first step is admitting you have a problem.

 

One easy way is to invite someone you know will be completely honest with you to basically just wander around your place of business, strike up random conversations with employees, make observations, and ask absurd questions. Retail and restaurant businesses do this all the time, they call the spies ‘secret shoppers’.

 

Another way is to hire consultants who provide services that include keywords like employee relations, change management, process review, or human resources/relations. These consultants can offer data driven reports to help put the problem into perspective for absentee owners, removed boards, or oblivious managers.

 

Once the report is digested, it’s time to make a plan. Those same consultants can likely offer recommendations, best practices, implementation plans and strategies, and other assistance.

 

What can you do if you’ve noticed bad morale in your workplace but you have no authority? You could request a closed door candid conversation with your boss, you can take notes and make a report of your own that you share with the “powers that be” at your company, you could locate consultants in your area who may be able to help and find a way to discreetly introduce them to upper management, and ultimately you could decide to leave in search of a job in a better environment. But do me a favor? On your way out, tell them the truth about why you’re leaving. It could just be the wakeup call they need.

Too Many Hats

By Jennifer E. Goldman, President

As business people (or as human beings in general) we often wear “many hats”. Sometimes we wear too many hats. It just “is what it is” in our fast-paced Age of Information.

I can remember when my children were little, I thought I’d topple over from the sheer weight of all the hats I wore. I was the cook, the maid, the chauffeur, the scheduler, the shopper, the tutor, the disciplinarian, the nurse, and the organizer. And I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few hats; selective memory at this point, I’m sure.

I willingly wore all those hats because I was sure that I HAD to wear all those hats. No one else would take those responsibilities. No one else was as good at handling those responsibilities. There wasn’t enough money to pay someone to handle any of the responsibilities.

As I formed a small business, I took on the same attitude. There isn’t enough money and no one who can do things quite like I do.

It didn’t take me long to realize I didn’t want my eternal business card to read “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer”. I didn’t have enough hours in a day to accomplish all that I wanted my business to do, if I handled every task on my own. I also realized that I’m not the most capable person for certain tasks. (Shocking self-realization!)

As I began planning how my business would grow, and the best methods for guiding it in that direction, several things became clear:

  1. I have BIG plans for my company and I can’t do it alone. No woman is an island, right?
  2. I have a few, very distinct specialties; the areas that aren’t my specialty ARE someone else’s.
  3. If I want people to value and pay me for what I specialize in, I need to return the favor.
  4. In order to grow a business, you have to learn to trust the capability and integrity in others.

I also realized that I never intended to be my own worst boss; working myself 24/7 just wasn’t good for anyone. Me, myself and I considered going on strike for the long, insufferable hours without overtime pay or additional benefits.

I quickly started shedding hats. Paying a graphic artist to design my logo. Hiring a web designer to create my web site. Allowing a social media specialist to handle my growing number of accounts. Contracting a part-time person to help identify new marketing opportunities and more modern apps and platforms the business should be utilizing.

Was I spending more money? Without a doubt, yes. A lot more money. Did it offer me additional benefits? Absolutely! I was no longer working round the clock. I was no longer doing things that weren’t really my forte. In the end I started making more money since my time was being spent strictly servicing my clients and seeking out new ones. And the ultimate benefit: my limited number of hats and I have a lot more time to enjoy ourselves and participate in life –  and THAT’S why I went into business for myself.

Networking Shouldn’t Be Work

By Jennifer E. Goldman, President 

Who doesn’t love a networking event? They typically include food and drinks, friends and colleagues. Very attractive.

But how do you network? I love to be a fly on the wall, a silent spectator…for a few minutes. It’s always interesting to me to watch how different professionals handle a room full of people at a networking event. Some of them are socializing, some of them are wallflowers, some of them are working hard, but some of them, a rare few, are actually networking like a pro.

The next time you walk into a networking event, take a look around and see if you can spot which people are really doing what networking is meant to do. It’s probably not difficult. They look confident and people are waiting in the wings to speak to them.

The point of networking is not to put a business card into the hands of each individual in the room. It’s not about telling everyone what you do. Nor is it about leaving the event with new clients all lined up.

Networking is a two way street like most communication; it’s about starting new professional relationships. Who wants to be in a relationship with someone who talks constantly and never listens, or with the person who’s interested in you only until the next person walks into the room?

It’s pretty easy to network properly, and it’s a lot of fun. The better you get at it, the more enjoyable it is. The next time you go to a networking event try this: plan to introduce yourself to 3 people you’ve never met, or whom you’ve met but don’t know what they do (when you get better, try 5). Do NOT hand them a card as you introduce yourself and DON’T launch into your elevator pitch. Shake their hand, look them in the eye as you tell them you’re name, ask for their name and immediately ask about what they do. Ask a couple of follow-up questions to better familiarize yourself with what their company is all about. During your part of the conversation relate what they’re telling you to something or someone you know. (Not about your business, but as a way to show that you’re listening, absorbing, engaged.)

If the person you’ve introduced yourself to is a good networker, the conversation won’t go on for too long before they ask about your company and what you do. I would still stay away from the elevator pitch – you’re not trying to make a sale. Just have a conversation. As you explain what you do, relate it back to how someone in their profession might use someone like you, or tell your new friend about a project you’re working on.

Another great way to start the conversation after introducing yourself is to ask, “So, if you could work with anyone in the world, who would be your dream client and why?”

Keep in mind that everyone’s time is precious and don’t monopolize it. Keep the conversations fairly brief – don’t rush people off as if you have someone better to talk to, but thank them for their time and tell them that you don’t want to keep them from meeting more people. At THIS point hand them a card and ask for theirs, if you think you might like to keep in touch.

At the end of the event you’ll have a few business cards from people you just met and hopefully a couple of them are people you can see yourself maintaining a professional relationship with. They won’t all turn into clients and you won’t turn into one for all of them, but that’s beside the point – you’ve made new contacts that you may be able to refer people to and who may be willing to send people your way as well.

But what will you do with the business cards? Attend a couple of these events a month and they start to stack up!  #1 on the No No list: do NOT go home and add them to your Constant Contact/eBlast list! The best thing I’ve found (and it wasn’t me – it was a man I met at an event who made my networking skills look pale by comparison) is to contact the professionals you’ve met that you would like to keep in your trusted circle of allies within 48 hours…on the phone. Call and tell them how great it was to meet them and set up a one-on-one casual meeting so you can find out in greater depth about their business and possible future opportunities that will mutually benefit both your businesses.

In the end, it isn’t about building a business card collection (unless you’ve got an office wallpaper craft project going), it’s about finding other professionals you trust, respect and are comfortable doing business with, or to whom you can refer other professionals who trust you.

 

Business: It Is Personal

By Jennifer E. Goldman, President

Have you ever heard someone say, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”? Typically what they mean is that the person they’re speaking with has put too much personal emotion into the workplace. Business is definitely a place where professionalism should be at the forefront, however without making business a “personal thing” it can become cold, hard, grueling and, in the end, repel both clients and employees.

A business with no heart will find itself with no support ere long. Too many business owners and top level managers believe that what makes them successful is doing just that – showing no heart. Truth be told, there may have been a time in this nation where that type of leadership had its place. I believe that time has long since passed.

In this day and age the general workforce has become much more conscientious; driven mostly, in my opinion, by Gen Y. They look for companies, whether it’s doing business with or for, who take a responsible, active role in the community. And it’s spreading. Think about how much more prevalent the idea of shop local is right now than it was 10 years ago, and how far corporate responsibility has come. People are now much more apt to take a deeper look at the companies they do business with and work for. The general population has attached earning and spending dollars with feeling good about the businesses who provide those opportunities.

Is your company one of those businesses? Do people feel good about giving you money for the goods or services you provide? Do your employees feel good about earning their paycheck from you?

Employee morale and turnover is one good measurement of this. If someone asked one of your staff members about their job, how would they answer?

The way a business treats their employees and the community surrounding them speaks volumes. One of the easiest ways to improve relations with both is to put more heart into your corporate structure. Make it personal. Most businesses give paid vacations and sick days, some even give a little paid time off in the name of ‘personal days’. What if you gave your employees four hours (one-half day) each month of paid time to go volunteer at a local organization of their choice?

Chances are, many of them would take advantage of this. Several of them probably already do volunteer work, whether it be for their children’s school, their church, a scouting or youth organization or some other local charity. This is a great way for you to show that you care about what your employees care about and also show that you’re a community-minded organization.

Sure, you’ll be spending money on salaries for time that offers your business zero productivity, but you have to look at what you gain instead:

  • Improved employee relations (which typically increases their rate of productivity on the job and decreases turnover),
  • Improved community relations; word will spread that your company offers this to its employees, which encourages and increases volunteerism in your community and helps gain consumer loyalty,
  • Sense of philanthropy and heart in your business ,
  • Multiple community organizations will be more familiar with your business and begin reaching out with offers to become more involved in the community.

The more you give, the more you will see in return. As a business owner, you’ll need to assess the cost to your business for any given program, offer or employee benefit. However, don’t overlook the long term benefits that will be reaped by your business as it gains awareness and loyalty by the community.

Flight Visibility

By Jennifer E. Goldman, President

Have you ever heard the term ‘flight visibility’? According to the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association it is determined by the pilot in the cockpit”. If you’re a small business owner, that’s you! You are the pilot in the cockpit; defining the visibility of your path forward. The heights you’re able to soar is completely up to you. It’s a very powerful feeling, but it can also be overwhelming.

One of the greatest gifts you can give your small business is visibility. People can’t hire your business if they don’t know it exists. The tricky part, though, is determining the best way for your business to be visible. It isn’t possible to participate in, attend or be a part of every opportunity that exists. So which ones should you choose?

Trial and error is probably your best bet. But when you try something that works really well you will know it right away. And it’s exciting.

One of my former clients was a winery. This particular winery is located on an old Army post that was so covert through the 1990’s that GPS and mapping systems still don’t have all the streets listed. Aside from getting bigger and more signs, I had to figure out how to make the winery more visible to the community.

I signed the winery up to participate in community events. What I found was that the winery didn’t make a lot of sales, had to pay for additional off-site staffing and it wasn’t getting more people to visit the winery.

My next attempt was signing up for a state-wide wine program. It cost the winery nothing to register and it put their name, logo and information on the Internet, along with dozens of others across Virginia, with a discount offer. The next day they got one phone call about it and one customer on-site. The next week a handful of customers came in to take advantage of the offer. That was a win!

My own business is very different from the winery, though. Right away I joined committees for two local nonprofits thinking that it would give my business visibility and me some great networking opportunities. It was definitely worthwhile giving my time to great causes and working with some great people, but it wasn’t really a visibility opportunity for my company and, because I had joined more than one, it was taking a lot of my time.

I then began attending professional networking socials. By joining groups close to home, and one or two not-so-close, I was able to spend a couple of hours every couple of weeks talking to dozens of professionals about my new business. It gave me an opportunity to flex my networking skills and develop a way of determining, more quickly, which professionals in a room are more apt to be prospective clients.

For me, this was the perfect flight visibility. It only cost me the price of admission to the socials, the price of a drink, and a couple hours of my time. What I gained, however, were numerous introductions to professionals in a wider circle and time to foster existing business relationships in my own community.

Alternative visibility opportunities include things like sponsoring events, donating goods or services to local causes (a good one I’ve found is funding the printing services for community theatres or school art and music programs with your name/ad on the back), social media marketing, hosting an appreciation event or coordinating a free workshop or seminar.

Visibility is important and there is no shortage of approaches to getting there. Keep trying new and creative ideas. The sky’s the limit.

Narrow Your Focus: Expand Your Possibilities

By Jennifer E. Goldman, President

 

I began 2017 with fewer clients than I had at any given point the previous year. And, obviously, less income. Not exactly the bolster to my business mind that I was hoping for. I was sure I was on the brink of expansion; this would be my year for having so much work I would have to hire, partner, bring in contractors to be able to handle all the projects being handed (hand-over-fist, I was sure) to my company. It was a little disheartening. Instead of forging forward, anyway, I decided instead to take a step back. What was I doing wrong? Or, more likely, what was I neglecting to do? Why wasn’t I where I thought I’d be at the turn of the calendar?

 

Resonating in my head were the all-too-common comments I’d heard over the past year when describing my business to people: “Government and Community Relations? What IS that? Exactly what do you do?”

 

People had a fuzzy notion of my business because, even after two years in business, I was trying really hard not to be too narrowly focused. The last thing you want to do in business is not gain clients because you won’t do certain things. I wanted everyone to have the vague notion that I could handle anything they needed. And that’s exactly what happened – it was all too vague, for everyone.

 

It hit me like a ton of bricks, as well it should have; I know these things, I have a marketing background. I tell other people the same thing that I was ignoring in my own head: NOT EVERYONE IS YOUR CUSTOMER. NOT EVERY SERVICE IS YOUR SPECIALTY.

 

While it seems counter-intuitive to look for a smaller set of clients, to offer a smaller set of services, it’s exactly what will help define your company. Narrowing your focus allows you to market and engage more effectively with the people and businesses more likely to hire you; to offer a smaller set of services that you are most effective and expert in delivering. Being a well-defined business with a narrower scope is how you find your niche, your target market…your people, your tribe.

 

All it really takes is a shift in your mind, which allows you to speak more directly and confidently. Once I tightened my focus in my mind, conversations I had with colleagues and local business people become more productive. In the past two weeks every single meeting, networking event, or other business function I’ve attended has resulted in at least one person asking if we could set up a private meeting to talk about a project they’d like to hire my company to work on.

 

Never be afraid to say what you do, what you excel at, what your preferred projects are, who your ideal clients will be. While you may be turning some people away because they don’t fit your description, what you’ll be left with are all the right clients who have all the best projects. And, hopefully, a lifetime of fulfilling work, a strong business and a lasting legacy.

Good Vibrations

By Jennifer E. Goldman, President      

Have you ever approached a business from the outside and immediately felt a sense of sadness, stress or doom? Maybe it wasn’t until you reached the interior. You may not have known what it was, and most likely ignored it; continuing on with your meeting, appointment or shopping…but you didn’t feel great about it. These things happen and so many of us never really know why, we just know on some level it was dreadful.

Some people, however, are more sensitive to feelings like this will turn and leave promptly.

The owners of these buildings and businesses, are rarely (if ever) aware that this is happening. For some reason they have become desensitized or accustomed to their surroundings and unfortunately it’s affecting the level of success of their business. It’s one thing to have not-so-great curb appeal. It’s quite another to suffer, for lack of a better term, a case of bad juju!

A good example was a stop I made last week to a local business. I was coming unannounced, but during their normal hours of operation. There was a cute little garden and a welcome mat next to their door but as I approached I noticed a sign sticking out the garden that read “No Trespassing”. I found this odd not only because the plot was only about four foot by four foot in size, but also because this business is one focused on health and healing. As I passed the garden and headed for the door there was a sign on the door that read “Please Use the Other Entrance”.

At this point I was a little put off; I’m feeling like a trespasser and the entrance that, on first glance, seemed the most welcoming is off-limits.

I walked back out to the sidewalk and down to the other entrance. Feeling more confident, I strode up to the door and turned the knob. Nothing. Locked. Then I noticed the Post-it note. “Out to Lunch”. It was 2PM.

“Boy, are you ever,” I thought.

Truth is, I was there to conduct an impromptu interview and snap a few photos for a Mother’s Day gift guide I was putting together – it was free publicity for them. Or it would have been. Even though I realized I would probably never become a customer I decided to make all my other stops and cycle back to this business later.

An hour and a half later: same story. Door locked. Post-it note. Still “Out to Lunch”. I decided I wouldn’t use them ever and I would also not be including them in my article or referring people to them. As I walked back to my car, a couple approached the “wrong” door and then the other door and then left as well.

Bad juju and bad business practices can be so damaging to your business and you may never even know it.

What can you do to find out if your business has bad juju? Try taking a walk-through, from the front entrance, all the way through the building and look at it as if you’ve never seen the place before. If possible, bring your employees, or friends, or hire an outside consultant who will give you unbiased feedback and make positive professional suggestions. Ask them to be honest with you and be honest with yourself. What things look or feel negative?

The good news is, it’s really easy to turn your bad juju into good vibrations. Here are some easy tips:

  • Take away any signs that have the word “no” in them
  • Don’t use paper signs, but if you must, at least frame them
  • Additional lighting can do tremendous things, sometimes it’s needed outside, too
  • Pick up any litter around your walkways, entrance and parking lot
  • Add plants and flowers and maintain them

 

 

Business Shards

By Jennifer E. Goldman, President

 

It just hit me the other day: I hate business cards. I don’t mind the expense of them or making sure I have enough with me when I am networking. What I detest is receiving them; not the act of someone handing them to me, but the fact that I stash them away, or worse carry them in my work bag and never look at them again.

They are clutter, and I’m one of those people who can’t think straight when there is clutter around me. Just as I realized my strong dislike of having these cards cluttering my desk drawers, my purse pockets or the bottom of my work bag, I realized I don’t have to keep them! They are little shards of other people’s businesses and they have become a negative in my mind, keeping me from the ultimate purpose of why I received those cards in the first place: to build a stronger network of professionals.

I couldn’t bear to just toss them. People paid good money to have them made. They went out of their way (at least a tiny bit) to introduce themselves to me and tell me about their work and why it’s important to them.

If I was really going to take my networking to the next level, those cards were a reminder that continual interaction and connection was the key. I quickly gathered all the business cards I had collected, from every corner of my office, and sat with clear intentions in front of my laptop, LinkedIn on screen.

I diligently went through the entire stack of cards, searched for the person who gave it to me on LinkedIn, requested they connect with me there and sent each one a personal note mentioning where I had met them (or being honest and asking where we’d met, apologizing for taking so long to connect) and expressing well wishes for their business.

What I realized is that we are all fairly easy to find in this age of technology and information. If I really need to contact any of the professionals I’ve met, I don’t need their business card. What I need is to feel more connected to them than a 2”x3” piece of paper will offer.

Within a few days my LinkedIn network grew by more than 30 connections. But more importantly, I became a better, more connected business owner to the professionals in my area. It did wonders for my previously fractured mind.

….and then I threw all the shards away.