It’s anything but business as usual in today’s online meeting environment. Employers should keep in mind that the dynamic between you and your employees may be different when you use video conferencing.
A“business-as-usual” approach to the COVID-19 situation can make an employer look both unnecessarily cold and out of touch with reality, opined Rajshree Agarwal, who is a professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, in an April 20th, 2020 Forbes article, “Three Keys to Engaged, Productive Telework Teams.”
How you use telework and video conferencing is, in part, about developing the correct balance. On one hand, you’ll want to acknowledge that the situation is serious and must be addressed. But on the other hand, you don’t want to dwell on the pandemic. After all, not effectively handling the work at hand could undermine your business and cause other problems for both you and your employees.
It is in everyone’s best interest to be smart, safe, and acknowledge the bizarreness of the current situation while striving to achieve business goals. The keyword here is “balance.” Agarwal states that “The combination of empathy and purpose unifies individuals, allowing team members to channel their efforts towards shared objectives and values. This is the best antidote for anxiety.”
From Agarwal’s perspective, there are three keys to making telework effective: communication, socialization, and flexibility. First, there has to be good communication. For example, people can’t simply ignore one another’s emails because they are working virtually. She points out that real-time meetings via Zoom or Skype can eliminate some communication issues, but not all.
The second factor to consider is socialization. As Agarwal points out “Engaged, productive teams also take time to socialize.” Working from home alters the typical modes and methods of socialization, but virtual interactions can be used to help people form and develop their social networks.
In short, socialization doesn’t have to end once telework begins. Used judiciously, socializing, and the bonds it creates between co-workers can still continue.
Agarwal’s third key is flexibility. Flexibility is critical, as all team members must adjust to what, for some, may be a fairly radical restructuring of their day-to-day work experience. Those who haven’t worked virtually before may find adjusting to be quite a challenge. Management should strive to be more flexible during telework caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Trying to maintain the same top-down approach could prove to be problematic.
It goes without saying that telework presents challenges. However, the challenges it represents are not insurmountable. There are benefits to teleworking, and teams can use it to generate solutions that they might have not reached in the typical work environment.
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Failure is rarely fun. But it is also a key ingredient in success. While painful, there is no doubting the fact that the lessons that come from failure can be powerful teachers that provide life-long lessons and even life-trajectory altering results. But on occasion, not failing could hurt more, especially in the long run.
In her Inc. article, “Why Tons of Failure Is the Key to Success, According to Seth Godin,” author Sonia Thompson, CEO of Thompson Media Group, points out that most people “avoid failure like the plague.” Instead, they spend their time trying to achieve perfection. In the process of adopting this approach, people miss all kinds of opportunities because they are afraid of damaging their egos. Embracing failure is a way to experience many “transformational benefits,” which would never be experienced without the lessons of failure.
Thompson points to the work of best-selling author Seth Godin who has written about how entrepreneurs who fail more often perform at a higher level. According to Godin, “The rule is simple. The person who fails the most will win. If I fail more than you do, I will win. Because in order to keep failing, you’ve got to be good enough to keep playing.” Godin says failure imparts a gift of sorts in that it teaches us how to distinguish between a good idea and a bad idea.
Research supports the notion that if you want a breakthrough idea, you will need to “produce an enormous volume of ideas,” Thompson notes. Obviously, most ideas won’t work, but that isn’t the point. When you work your way through the bad ideas, you get to the winners. Sure, it would be great to have nothing but winners. But life and reality don’t work that way. Failure should be seen more as a path forward than the end of the road.
Getting comfortable with failure, in Thompson’s view, is critically important. She believes entrepreneurs should take steps that make them more comfortable with failure, such as detaching oneself from the results.
It is vital to remember that you are not the work. In contrast, the work is part of an ongoing process. Getting good at something takes time, and there will be failures. For this reason, entrepreneurs simply must embrace a “growth mindset.” Don’t think of failure as failure, but instead as part of a learning process. There is no denying that this approach will make you calmer and that, in turn, may help you make better decisions.
There will be failure in life. There will be problems and there will be obstacles. Much will happen that you can’t predict, manage or control, such as the COVID-19 outbreak. The trick is to focus on what you can control and move forward without a paralyzing fear of failure. Because in the end, failure may be one of your best tools.
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Small business owners are facing new challenges during this crisis. Communicating with customers requires more focus and depth than ever before. Mat Zucker, a PR guru with 25 years in creative and leadership positions at Ogilvy, R/GA, Razorfish and Agency.com, discussed the importance of communication in a recent article for Forbes Magazine. Jay Mandel, who runs The Collective NYC, a marketing consulting team focusing on a customer’s experience, emphasizes that companies must start with “a clear understanding of their mission and values so that their actions are not forgettable or un-ownable.”
There are three major kinds of content to guide your messages:
Informative. Each customer reading your business’s website needs to understand your hours of operation, any limitations to service and what is being done to ensure cleanliness. Providing this information establishes to your customer your seriousness of precautions which will be appreciated during this time.
If your financial situation allows, focus on your employees, donate to charities or offer discounted or free products. Emphasize what the customer needs in this scary time rather than sending another “we care about you” note. By marketing this information, your brand’s scope will bolster with the customer as well.
Useful. Most customers are adhering to social distancing guidelines put forth by their state and the federal government. Now, more than ever, it is important to exhibit to your customers how your brand can be utilized beyond your brick and mortar. Zucker notes how universities are offering free online classes and telecommunication companies are offering two months of free service to low-income families; King Arthur flour is promoting its library of comfort food recipes (yes, please!). Thinking beyond your storefront to put your service or product into your customer’s virtual hands is important.
Entertaining. By each passing day, customers are looking for new stimulation to help the time go by at home. Movie companies are sending theatrical releases to online streaming services. While it isn’t necessary to always make your customers laugh, it might be within your branding to aim for content geared towards warmth, humanity and empathy.
The metric for engaging your customers is changing; moving beyond views and shares to quality feedback or social impact on your community. Do not bite off more than you can chew. Cited in Zucker’s article, Social Media Today warns of virtue signaling or declaring a set of values but not following through on the actual deeds.
This is a fantastic opportunity to consider your marketing strategies for when this crisis ends. What will your business look like once you are able to open the doors? How are you able to stay relevant with your competitors? These are all questions needing answers, but today we must do our best to accomplish what is in front of us.
Read Mat Zucker’s full article here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/matzucker/2020/04/01/content-in-a-crisiswhat-brands-can-deliver/
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Owning a business and owning the right kind of business for you are, of course, two wildly different things. Owning the wrong kind of business can make you absolutely miserable. So if you are considering buying a business, it is prudent that you invest the time and effort into determining the best kind of business for your needs and your personality. In a recent Forbes article, “What is the Right Type of Business for You to Buy?” author Richard Parker explores how buyers should go about finding the right business fit.
Parker is definitely an expert when it comes to working with buyers as he has spoken with an estimated 100,000 buyers over his career. In that time, Parker has concluded that it is critical that you don’t “learn on your own time.”
His key piece of advice concerning what type of business to buy is as follows. “While there are many factors to be considered, the answer is simple: whatever it is you do best has to be the single most important driving factor of the revenues and profits of any business you consider purchasing.” And he also believes that expertise is more important than experience. Parker’s view is that it is critical for prospective buyers to perform an honest self-assessment in order to identify their single greatest business skill and area of expertise. The last thing you want to do is pretend to be something that you are not.
Parker makes one very astute point when he notes, “Small business owners generally wear many hats: this is usually why their businesses remain small. Remember that every big business was once a small business.” As Parker points out, whoever is in charge of the business will ultimately determine how the business will evolve, or not evolve. Selecting the right business for you and your skillsets is pivotal for the long-term success of your business.
All of this adds up to make the process of due diligence absolutely essential. Before buying a business, you must understand every aspect of that business and make certain that the business is indeed a good fit for you. According to Parker, if you don’t love your business, it will have trouble growing. This point is impossible to refute. Owning and growing a business requires a tremendous amount of time and effort. If you don’t enjoy owning and/or operating your business, success will be a much more difficult proposition.
Finding the right business for you is a complicated process even after you have performed a proper evaluation of your skills and interests. After all, do you really want a solid business with great potential for growth that you would hate owning? By working with brokers and M&A advisors, you can find the best business fit for your needs, personality, and goals. These professionals are invaluable allies in the process of discovering the right business for you.
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By Loren Marc Schmerler, President and Founder of Bottom Line Management, Inc., an Atlanta-based business brokerage, M & A and consulting firm.
1. Do You WANT to Sell? Make sure you really “want” to sell. Ask yourself if you are bored, burned out, ill, have a new child, have aging parents that need your assistance, etc. Or are you simply unhappy with how much money you are making? If this is the case, you do not “need” to sell. All you need is some guidance getting back on the right track.
An experienced business consultant can help you refocus and see the forest for the trees. You might find out that once you start making enough money, you do not want to sell after all. But if you conclude that selling is what you want to do regardless of how much money you are making, then you need to proceed to the next step.
2. Does Your Business Have Curb Appeal? After you positive that you want to sell your business, I suggest that you drive up to your business and review it objectively. Are there any holes in your parking lot? Fix them before a buyer shows up. Is any of the shrubbery dead or out of control? Replace dead landscape plants, weed where appropriate and get shrubs properly trimmed.
Clean any dirty windows. If the building exterior is dirty, get it pressure-washed. Paint the building. Get a new roof or replace bad shingles. In brief, make sure the “curb appeal” of your business has no obvious and easily correctible issues.
3. Is the Interior Appealing? Examine the interior of your business from top to bottom, starting with the ceilings. Are there any water stains from roof leaks? If so, fix the leaks and replace the tiles. Get on a ladder and replace burned-out lights with new and shiny bulbs. Does any of the furniture look ratty? If so, either repair it or replace it.
Repaint the walls to hide scrape marks on the walls. How about your employees’ desks? Do they look organized or out of control? Insist that your employees maintain neat and orderly working areas. How about the restrooms? If they’re an embarrassment, clean them up and keep them clean. Are they handicapped accessible? If not, make arrangements to bring them up to code. Look at your office with a keen eye. Remember that when the buyer tours your business, you want them to visualize becoming the owner and being proud to do so.
4. Job Descriptions Updated? Review your job descriptions, policies and procedures. First, draft your own job description that covers what you do daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually and annually. It should be very detailed. Make certain you have someone proofread the job description and correct any grammar or spelling errors.
After you are satisfied with your job description, ask all your employees to do the same. This process has several benefits. First, your employees will see how much they actually do. Second, it will give you a chance to see if they are doing what you think they are doing. Third, it will tell you whether they are doing what they should be doing. When all the job descriptions are complete and typed, place them in a binder labeled “Job Descriptions.” Then you will move on to policies and procedures.
5. Policies and Procedures? Now that you know what you do and what all your employees do, it’s time for policies, procedures and controls. With regard to employees, you need to cover hiring, evaluations, probations, vacation, sick days, holidays, etc. If your company has positions in which employees must have background checks, drug tests, reference checks, etc., you need to speak with a labor attorney to dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s.
When asking a prospective employee to complete an application, stay away from questions that deal with pregnancy, military status, race, national origin, etc. If you decide to hire an employee, make sure they complete a W-4 form, an I-9 form and the appropriate state form. Should your labor pool have a large number of Hispanics, you will need to consult with a labor attorney to ensure you do not hire illegal immigrants which could result in severe penalties. With regard to vacations and sick pay, it is best to let them accrue a day or less for each month worked.
6. Employee Evaluations? Employees are critical to the success of a business, so you must be current with all employee evaluations. Employee morale can be devastated if reviews are delayed or not given at all. Plus, it is grossly unfair to ask a new owner to review employees with whom they have never interacted. A prospective owner will most certainly ask about employee turnover and employee tenure. But one question that is rarely or ever asked is whether you have any “problem” employees.
That brings up the issue of probation. Probation can be a way to successfully rehabilitate a wayward employee, or it can be the final process to document a termination in such a manner that a legal challenge to the termination will not prevail. When an employee is put on probation, the leash should be very short. The employee must know exactly what behavior will be tolerated and what behavior will lead to immediate termination. Interestingly enough, putting a person on probation sometimes leads to an outstanding employee.
7. Are Financials Current? Nothing frustrates a prospective purchaser more than asking for current financial statements and tax returns and being told that they are not available. Worse yet is being told you cannot say when they will become available. Talk about red flags. How can you run a business without current and accurate financial statements? The short answer is that you cannot do so. As a business owner, you must anticipate the purchaser’s questions regarding all financial matters and have current statements to defend your answers.
When I say financial statements, most people think of a profit and loss statement (also called the income statement.) But the balance sheet is equally important. The combination of these statements tells you whether a business is losing money and gives you a picture of the company’s financial health. There are certain subtleties to keep in mind. For instance, a high level of inventory can indicate several different things. Maybe much of it is obsolete or slow-moving. It can be a purchasing mistake that will hurt a business or a brilliant purchase at a great cost. Only with thorough investigation will you determine the true answer.
8. Are Taxes Up-to-Date? Have you filed all your tax returns? Specifically, I mean monthly sales tax, monthly state withholding, quarterly payroll taxes, quarterly state unemployment insurance, annual unemployment insurance, annual ad valorem, annual corporate tax, annual state tax and any local, county, city or other special taxes. It is absolutely critical that you are current with all these returns to instill confidence in the prospective purchaser. If you have not filed and paid all sales tax returns, there are very negative consequences. The penalties and interest are exorbitant, but in addition, unpaid sales taxes become the responsibility of the new owner. I was once at the closing table waiting for the checks to be written when the Georgia Department of Revenue called and told the closing attorney that the seller had not paid sales tax for the last three years. Upon hearing this, the buyer stood up and left the closing. Needless to say, the company was not sold and eventually shut its doors.
Speaking of taxes, you need to have a heart-to-heart talk with your CPA regarding taxes when you sell your business. Should the sale be an asset sale? Should the sale be a stock sale? There are bonafide reasons for each type sale. An asset sale limits your exposure for past liabilities, errors and omissions. An example would be a product liability claim for a structure or machine that becomes faulty. A stock sale allows for ease of transferring contracts presently in force. A stock sale is also critical in the medical industry when a Medicare number might be involved. But there is another angle. The stock sale allows for the company to be sold for less money while still letting the owner realize the same or greater after-tax position.
9. Prepared for Due Diligence? What is due diligence, and how do you prepare for it? Due diligence is the process where the buyer tries to validate everything you have represented both verbally and in writing. The buyer will scrutinize your financial records, your legal records, your employment records, etc. With financial records, the process starts with the tax returns, goes backwards to the financial statements, then to the general ledger, then to all source documents that include bank statements, deposit slips, check stubs, canceled checks, vendor invoices, client/customer statements, etc.
To prepare for the financial scrutiny that accompanies due diligence you should assemble tax returns, financial statements, general ledgers, bank statements, deposit slips, check stubs, cancelled checks, vendor invoices, client/customer statements, etc. for the last three years. Tax returns, financial statements and related items should be in date order from the most current to the oldest. Vendor invoices and client/customer statements should be in alphabetical order first and then in date order for each vendor or client/customer. Employment records should be filed alphabetically, but you better make sure you have a W-4 form, an I-9 form and a state form (G-4 for Georgia) for every employee.
10. Are You a Legal Entity? There is a legal side to the due diligence process as well. Are you a valid legal entity such as a partnership, corporation or LLC? Is your annual filing of officers and registered agent current? Have you maintained your Corporate Minutes and held annual Board of Directors and Shareholders meetings? If you have outstanding liens for debts that have been paid off, you need to contact the creditor and ask them to remove them. If this is not done, the closing attorney will have to withhold funds in escrow until the actual status can be determined.
Have you paid all payroll taxes? If not, you may have undermined a possible sale. Have you paid all sales taxes that are due? If not, I can tell you from personal experience that this can demolish a probable sale. Is there any outstanding litigation that affects you as either a plaintiff or a defendant? Are all your employees legal, and do you have proof? Are there any patents, trademarks or service marks that need to be protected? If real estate is involved, do you have a deed to prove ownership? Do you have a plat that clearly shows boundaries of the property? Do you have any contracts with vendors or clients/customers? Is your company minority owned, and if so, how would a change in ownership affect your business?
An experienced business broker can guide you through answering all of these questions, which will help to speed the sale of your business.
Loren Marc Schmerler’s company, Bottom Line Management, Inc., (BLM) provides top quality, proven business brokerage services to buyers and sellers who want to control their own destiny and build future equity for themselves and their families. Since 1987, buyers and sellers have trusted Bottom Line Management, Inc., to provide ethical, professional and personalized business brokerage and consulting services based on the company’s in-depth knowledge of current market and industry conditions. BLM helps business owners successfully navigate one of the major financial business transactions of their lives, whether that transaction involves selling their own business or buying another business. The company’s headquarters are located in Atlanta, GA. Loren’s phone number is 470-990-0160