Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Small Businesses Create 55,000 Jobs in November

(Reuters) - U.S. small businesses created 55,000 jobs in November but employees worked fewer hours and earned less money, according to a survey on Tuesday that highlighted the still weak labor market conditions.
Intuit, a payrolls processing company, said the increase in small business employment compared to October's upwardly revised 60,000 count, previously reported as a 30,000 gain.

The survey is based on responses from about 71,000 small businesses with fewer than 20 employees that use the Intuit Online Payroll system.

It covered the period from October 24 to November 23.

The average work week for small business employees fell 0.3 percent to 24.9 hours, while the average monthly salary slipped 0.18 percent to $2,637.

"Total compensation is down, part-time workers aren't getting as many hours, and there are fewer hourly employees who are working full time," said Susan Woodward, the economist who helped to develop the survey.

"Overall, this data is the best we could hope for given the uncertainty of the situation in Europe."
The government will release its closely watched employment report for November on Friday. Nonfarm payrolls likely increased 122,000, according to a Reuters survey, after rising 80,000 in October.

post published Nov 30 2011- Reuters News Agency

Monday, November 28, 2011

Creating a Strategic (Emergency) Contingency Plan

None of us likes to think of the worst case scenario, but if the bizarre weather the East Coast has faced haven't taught us the need to plan, nothing will. Hurricane and floods affecting the ENTIRE state of NJ? Pre-Halloween blizzards taking out power? The following is a cross-post from Bolts of Lightening in OED's Community site. Read on and prepare BEFORE winter settles in with its snow, winds, ice, HVAC system chaos, and inevitable electrical issues that often ensue.

It's the kind of situation that none of us like to think about--a fire burns the headquarters or a flood damages inventory and closes Main Street. But it's the kind of situation every small business needs to be prepared for. We only need turn on the evening news on television to be reminded of the devastating consequences of fires, tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes.

The best way to prepare is to create a strategic contingency plan that will keep the business operating, even if only on a reduced basis, until the damage can be repaired or the business otherwise restored. Such a contingency plan need not be very complicated or involved. But it should answer certain key questions, among them the following:

· What are the most important elements to keeping this business operating?
For some businesses, like food or hardware stores, it is a matter of having inventory available as quickly as possible. For other businesses, like professional service firms, it is a matter of being able to get the professionals together to service clients. Whatever the most important elements are for your business, figure out what you would do if a natural disaster interrupted operations. Talk to your suppliers about what they would do, and with your key employees for their car phone numbers or addresses of close relatives.

· Where would we operate?
If your store or office were damaged, you need another place to set up operations. This might be in the owner's house, or it could be in a warehouse the company owns. The important thing here is to consider the options, and prioritize them if you have more than one choice.

·How would we communicate with each other?
In a flood or hurricane, especially, electricity and even telephone communication can be knocked out. Make sure you know everyone's home phone number and all employees' current addresses. Involve several people in the company in drawing up the contingency plan so that they are alert to the importance of communicating information about new location and hours of operation during an emergency.

· Do we have backup copies of important records?
In order for the business to be able to carry on in an alternative location, it should have access to its records. Consider what would happen if the records were destroyed or damaged by fire or flood. In today's age of computers, it is reasonably easy to have backup records of customer and supplier lists, provided someone is charged with regularly updating files. Old paper records should be regularly moved to an offsite location; this increases the odds they will be available in an emergency.

· Do we have all the insurance we require?
As just one example, you may want to be sure you have insurance covering you for loss of business time. This could provide critical cash to enable you to re-start operations.

The key issue in putting together such a strategic plan is anticipation. The key questions raised boil down to this: What do you need to continue operations, and how would you ensure that what you need is readily available?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Are you an Asset or Liability to your client?

We operate by the credo that benefits sell consultancy. If the benefits are not there, then the consultant should not be there. But who defines the term 'benefits'? Rather than engage in a theoretical debate about benefits and who defines them, let's take a practical approach to client benefits by examining the Balance Sheet of the client, shall we?

The development of a business relationship goes through 5 stages. Your ability as a consultant to become a fixture in your client's asset column in each of these 5 stages will determine the benefits you are providing and whether or not you have earned the right to remain as the consultant for that client. If you reside in the liability column in ANY of these 5 stages, you run the risk of creating a very short-lived relationship. Are you ready to take the test? Great! Score yourself in each of the 5 stages; A for asset and L for liability. Be honest and good luck!

5 Stages of a Successful Business Relationship

Stage 1: Initiating the Business Relationship. When initiating the relationship, you need to create a personal relationship and build rapport. In order to build trust, our client needs to feel that you are there to serve them and their needs. Are you effective in building rapport and trust? If Yes, score A for Asset. If you feel you need to improve in this area, score yourself an L for Liability.

Stage 2:  Developing the Business Relationship.

Stage 2 is about creating a strategic plan or vision for the long term. In your strategic plan, you set long-term priorities, list specific and time-targeted outcomes. Finally, you make a total commitment to the achievement of those specified outcomes. Your ability to convey your vision for yourself, the client AND the client company builds confidence and respect within the client that you can handle the engagement for the long term. Are you effective in conveying this long-term vision to your client? If Yes, score A for Asset. If you feel you need to improve in this area, score yourself an L for Liability.

Stage 3: Testing the Business Relationship.

This stage confirms and validates in the client's mind if the engagement is in fact a viable and beneficial relationship. How quickly are you making a noticeable impact on your client? Do you routinely ask the tough questions and probe the points of pain with your clients? Are you delivering measurable results within the first 30 days of the engagement? If Yes, score A for Asset. If you feel you need to improve in this area, score yourself an L for Liability.

Stage 4: Rolling Out the Relationship.
So, you've picked the low hanging fruit and created some short-term results. You have gotten your client out of their short-term pain. Now what? Your ability to create ongoing, incremental, positive improvement at your client company will determine your ability to remain in the asset column. Are you delivering consistent results to your client month in and month out? Be honest! If Yes, score A for Asset. If you feel you need to improve in this area, score yourself an L for Liability.

Stage 5: Feedback and Review of the Relationship.
How often do you hold a mirror up to yourself and honestly assess your own performance? Do you hold regular performance evaluation meetings with your client to ensure that your client is feeling supported? When performing this outcome review, does your client give you the feedback that you are making positive, measurable impact?  If Yes, score A for Asset. If you feel you need to improve in this area, score yourself an L for Liability.

So, how did you fare? Here is what your scores mean:

If you scored an L in Stages 1 and/or 2:

You may be having difficulty signing new clients because you are not effectively conveying your true value and the benefits to your prospects. Ask and answer this question, "How will engaging in the client and engaging with you specifically positively transform this business? Also,"Why should this prospect engage with you over ALL else?"

If you scored A's in Stages 1 and 2 but you scored L's in Stages 3 and/or 4:

Well done! You are signing new clients and creating short-term impact, but you may be experiencing short-term client engagements. Now what? You need to dig deeper. Dig deeper into your commitment to this client and deeper into the challenges that your client company faces. What consistent daily actions does this company need to take in order to achieve the long-term specified outcomes?

If you scored A's in Stages 1 through 4, but an L in Stage 5:

Excellent! Short-term impact combined with consistent results has yielded a happy client. To take this relationship to the next level, you must solicit feedback from your client. "Are you happy with the direction of the engagement thus far? How can I support you best going forward? What specifically needs to happen in order to make this a level 10 (on a scale from 1-10) experience for you and your enterprise?"  The answers to those two questions transition you from Stage 5 back around to Stage 1 as if in a clockwise rotation. By asking those feedback questions, you have placed yourself in the Asset column of Stage 5 and just initiated the next level of the relationship. Nice work!

If you scored A's in all 5 Stages:

Congratulations, you are providing ongoing positive benefits to the client company! According to your client, you are residing in the Asset column by building rapport, creating an environment of trust and respect, and holding your client AND yourself accountable to a higher standard by asking the tough questions necessary when growing a business.

Fellow colleagues, remaining a fixture in the Asset Column of your client's balance sheet is an ongoing process and a key to the long-term profitability to both your and your client's businesses. I wish you the best of luck in your quest to score all A's on the balance sheets of your clients!

This article and excellent client service tips like it may be found in the OED Community. The access is complimentary. The knowledge base is invaluable. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Assessing Personnel Needs - Tips

As payrolls have been trimmed and companies have been forced to run lean, many have tried to increase productivity to nearly unrealistic levels. As things start to emerge in what may be a "new normal" rather than lightening-quick recovery, we look at this cross-post from Bolts of Lightening in OED's Community site.

The small business owner should base the firm's personnel policies on explicit, well-proven principles. Small businesses that follow these principles have higher performance and growth rates than those that do not follow them. The most important of these principles are

  • All positions should be filled with people who are both willing and able to do the job.
  • The more accurate and realistic the specifications of and skill requirements for each job, the more likely it is that workers will be matched to the right job and, therefore, be more competent in that job.
  • A written job description and definition are the keys to communicating job expectations to people. Do the best job you can! is terrible job guidance.
  • Employees chosen on the basis of the best person available are more effective than those chosen on the basis of friendship or expediency.
  • If specific job expectations are clearly spelled out, and if performance appraisals are based on these expectations, performance is higher. Also, employee training results in higher performance if it is based on measurable learning objectives.

The first step in assessing personnel needs for the small business is to conduct an audit of future personnel needs. Ask yourself:

  • Can the workload you visualize be accomplished by the present work force? 
  • Will more or fewer employees be needed? Consider seasonal patterns of demand and probable turnover rates.
  • Can any jobs be eliminated to free people for other work?
  • What balance of full-time or part-time, temporary or permanent, hourly or salaried personnel do you need?
  • What does the labor supply look like in the future?
  • Will you be able to fill some of the jobs you've identified? How easily?
  • What qualifications are needed in your personnel?
Develop a method to forecast labor demand based on your answers to these questions. Once your needs are estimated, determine strategies to meet them. Be wary of tightening payroll to the point you eliminate any chance for growth.

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Your Client Service Skills - A Quickie Quiz

How "wise" are you willing to be with yourself? And how honest? 

Feeling brave? Then take this quiz....

Rate yourself on your New Client Presentation on a scale from 1-10 (1=lowest and 10=highest).
Be brutally honest with yourself to get maximum value from this exercise.

If you score less than 10 on any of the points, then I invite you to answer the question that immediately follows your score.

Here we go...

1) The Opening
  ~Building Rapport (Icebreaker).......................Score_____

Q: (If your score was less than 10): What specifically needs to happen in order for
your Icebreaker to be a '10'?

~ Command of the Script.............................Score______
Q: (If your score was less than 10): What specifically needs to happen in order for
your Command of the Script to be a '10'?

~Quality of Welcome Pack...........................Score______
Q: (If your score was less than 10): What specifically needs to happen in order for
your Welcome Pack to be a '10'?

2) The Middle
 ~Eliciting Challenges/Issues of Enterprise.........Score_______
Q: (If your score was less than 10): What specifically needs to happen in order for
you to elicit the Challenges/Issues of the Enterprise at a Level '10'?

 ~Probing the Pain.....................................Score________
Q: (If your score was less than 10): What specifically needs to happen in order for
you to "Probe the Pain" at a Level '10'?

3) The Close
 ~Getting the CEO's 3 Wishes...............................Score_________
Q: (If your score was less than 10): What specifically needs to happen in order for
you to make "Getting the MD's 3 Wishes' a '10'?

 ~Getting the CEO to decide and sign on the 1st appt.....Score_________
Q: (If your score was less than 10): What specifically needs to happen in order for
you to convince the CEO to sign the Application on the 1st Appt. a '10'?

Total Score......................................................................______________

Scoring Key. If you scored.....

60-70   Outstanding! You are maximizing the script. More importantly, you are NOT
acting like your clients. You are putting hard-earned advice to good use.

55-59   Excellent! You are on your way to mastery. 

45-55   Very Good! Hang in there. Peak performers go that extra mile that makes
all the difference in the world. 

Less than 45  Kudos to you for being honest with yourself. The first step in any
                     transformation is the awareness that there is a problem and
                     acknowledgement that you can change. Reach out to your mentor;
                     seek out another colleague who is getting the results you desire and
                     work on the areas that need improvement.
What action(s) will you commit to TODAY to raise your score?

This article and excellent client service tips like it may be found in the OED Community. The access is complimentary. The knowledge base is invaluable. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Secrets of Top Closers

What distinguishes someone who has a high ratio to someone that has a low closing ratio?

Are they smarter? Are they a more 'natural' communicator than you?
Did they happen to get better leads or more qualified appointments than you?
Are they luckier than you?

The answer to these is NO. There is a distinct difference between the MINDSET of the top-performing closers and the low-performing closers.

When an appointment is unsuccessful, the lower -performing closers blame the following:
~How the prospect was qualified.
~Length of the appointment (too short / too long).
~Business was too small, too big, didn't make enough, or made too much.
~Distance needed to travel to the prospect was excessive.

This article and excellent sales tips like it may be found in the OED Community. The access is complimentary. The knowledge base is invaluable. 

When an appointment is successful, the lower-performing closer credits the following:
~Luck (Or some other external force).

When an appointment is unsuccessful, the top performing closers blame the following:
~Themselves. They assume 100% responsibility for the outcome of that appointment.
~They then ask themselves...
1.      What did I do well?
2.      What could I do to improve myself / my performance for the next appointment?
3.      What was the defining moment of that appointment (i.e. What was the event that changed
        the appointment for the better/worse?)

When an appointment is successful, the top performing closers ask the following:
1.      What did I do well?
2.      What could I do to improve myself / my performance for the next appointment?
3.      What was the defining moment of that appointment    (i.e. What was the event that changed the  
      appointment for better/worse?)

The difference between the top performers and the lower performers is their belief system. The top performers believe that if the prospect did not buy; it was because they did not build enough value into the appointment so the prospect was compelled to engage them.

Which mindset do you employ? I invite you to ask yourself these 3 questions before and after each appointment and develop the MINDSET and RESULTS of a top performer!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Spotlight on: Family Owned Business

Over 25% of the businesses in  2011 U.S. Census Bureau's Survey of Business Owners are family owned businesses. When the traditional employee is taking a vacation, a business owner may be vacationing with a full complement of work tasks and telecom devices. A family-owned business member, however, has the extra burden of being accessible and mingling with your partners, colleagues, supervisors or subordinates at intimate social occassions like weddings or holiday dinners.

Knowing when to "turn it off" can be a source of tension, as can judgements of uses of personal finances. When it's good, it's great. When times are not so good, it can be inescapable. The reversion to childhood roles and reactions can destroy the morale of non-related employees.

We came across an article filled with some great tips via Fortune & CNN Business that spotlights what it takes to make a family business work, like leverage outside advisors for insight from an independent view. Check out the article and watch OED's Online Community for info. As always, OED's Local Business Assistance Program is available to bring a skilled, seasoned, OED Certified Advisor in for impartial views and guidance.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ways to Leverage Small Business Saturday

We posted info regarding Small Business Saturday and you may be wondering what it can mean for YOUR business. Here are just a samplig of ideas and offers by the organizers. Get involved and take advantage of the advance promotion and PR opportunities that are out there for Amex merchants as well as non-customers in some cases.

Create a YouTube Video of Your Story!Online videos are a compelling way to engage customers and to share the powerful story behind your business. Now, with American Express and Google's free My Business Story tool, you can create personalized, professional-quality videos that can be featured on YouTube, your business website, Facebook, and more. My Business Story features:
•An easy, step-by-step guide to help you shoot your video
•Sample templates and a selection of royalty-free music
•Script outlines and video examples

Create an Offer That Gets Buzz!Create social media offers that American Express Cardmembers can access on their mobile devices with Go social.  These offers are:
•Couponless, and can be redeemed without offer codes or staff training
•Distributed through Facebook and Foursquare
•Tracked to see the impact to your business

Build Buzz with YourBuzz!
What can you do with YourBuzz?

•Manage your business accounts across 10 online networks including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yelp, and more with one simple dashboard
•Access marketing solutions, including $100 of LinkedIn Ads credits, to help you create targeted advertising that fits your budget
•Easily respond to customers online and create new conversations about your business
•Get tools that can help you identify influencers, and track how you match up with your competitors

(This is a great benefit for companies with a B2B market especially! Check out the LinkedIn ad credit!!!)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Veterans Day!

A huge thank you to all who have served our country! Your efforts have ensured the rights we hold dear.

A series of federally-funded programs have been implemented to recognize your service and provide transition support for veterans seeking to launch a business. Incentives are also available to current business owners who have served. Another huge highlight is taht many of these programs are available to dependents of current and fomer service members. A quick summary of programs is below. We encourage veterans to bookmark the departmental links to keep abreast of funding or tax incentive announcements.

Office of Veterans Business Development:
The Office of Veterans Business Development's mission is to maximize the availability, applicability and usability of all administration small business programs for Veterans, Service-Disabled Veterans, Reserve Component Members, and their Dependents or Survivors
The principal purposes of this site are to provide information about the VIP verification process; to assist Veteran business owners in registering their business in the Secretary's Database of Veteran-owned small businesses and to enable VA contracting officers to easily identify service-disabled Veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSBs) and VOSBs eligible for procurement opportunities. This site is maintained by the Center for Veterans Enterprise (CVE), a program office within the Department's Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU).

Department of Veterans Affairs:
In addition to administering health benefits and educational benefits, the VA's vocational training support can provide you access to key training, licensing, or certifications you may need for your business.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Online Reputation Management

So many businesses successfully leverage the buzz that can be efficiently built online. Press links, frequent updates and insightful posts can position yor business as a leader.

The down side to the speed of info publishing is that it's not often vetted. In a lot of cases, it's outright false. And time and again, courts have sided with the internet service provider so posts are not removed.

There are many different paths that cyber-slammers take, from identity theft using false accounts which appear to be you, to SEO-based techniques that propogate their negative feedback through social networks, to the toughest to refute, so-called rip off and fraud sites.  Turn down a person in a job interview for solid grounds and you may face their wrath via online and anonymous rants. It can be scary, and costly to counter. ran a piece last month with tactics you can use when an irrational (ex)customer or disgruntled employee hits the online world.

Three which we highly recommend:
Build positive presence online. This way, when people search you and your domain, they will come upon the things about your business you want them to know.
Stop clicking back to the bad news every two minutes. Not only are you driving yourself nuts, but you're increasing hit rates which makes the post more appealing to search engines
Watch your own name AND alternate spellings and domain extensions. There are services and utlities you can use for this as well listed in the complete post linked below.

Once on the web, always on the web is the harsh reality of bad PR. The good news though is that works for positive messages and client feedback. Focus your energy on a strategy that increases visibility of the positive, rather than one suppresses the negative. It will put you in a better frame of mind and be a lot more productive in the end.

The full article can be found on Additional PR strategies can be found in the OED Online Community.

Monday, November 7, 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different. And Really Uncomfortable.

Oooh, here's a possibly sticky topic that anyone with employees may face:

How do you tell an employee to stop dressing so provocatively?

Maybe this strikes a chord because Halloween with all its goofy/quirky/doesn't need to be so sexy costumes stormed all the businesses near us. Whatever the chord, more than one OED Advisor has stepped into a small business to find "juicy" across a young woman's sweatpants, or someone looking more like some "naughty librarian" than bookkeeper.

We love this post from on Business Week for it's suggestions! The first thing that may stop you is the question of whether YOUR employee handbook covers dress code. You DO have an employee manual, right? Even if you'd like to maintain a casual atmosphere, you are running a business.

Before updating (or writing) yours, check out Karen Klein's feedback to one highly concerned law firm partner.