Q. I've reached the difficult decision that I need to terminate one of my employees. What is the best way to handle this?
A. Terminating an employee is a big decision and never easy for either party. When making a decision to dismiss an employee, we suggest the following three steps:
Make sure that you gave the employee the opportunity to succeed. Ask yourself . . .
1. Did I carefully and specifically explain my expectations to the employee and check that the expectations were understood?
2. Did I remove any roadblocks, internal to the company, which might have kept the employee from succeeding?
3. Did I give the employee sufficient training and enough time to acquire and practice necessary skills?
4. Did I motivate the employee to succeed including giving positive and negative feedback as appropriate?
If you can answer yes to these questions and the employee is still underperforming, it may be time to make a change.
Make sure that you protect your organization. Virginia, like many states is “at will.” This means that you can terminate an employee for any reason or no reason at all. However, there are exceptions to this doctrine. Most of these have to do with terminations for discriminatory reasons. If you are not sure, speak to a qualified attorney or HR specialist.Read more ...
Q. A friend asked me to buy 20% of his small business for $100,000. I’m sure that 20% of the company is worth that much today. Still, I’m worried. Are there things I should think about when it comes to making an investment like this one?
A. You are right to be concerned. Making a minority investment in a privately held company is risky, but we’ve done it successfully. We’ll share what we’ve learned about how to mitigate the risk. You’ve said that based on the company’s current value, it’s a sound financial investment. That’s a good first step. Still, the pitfalls are numerous. Before investing, follow these four tips:
o Why should a prospective customer buy my product or service rather than a competitor’s?Read more ...
Q. I need some money for my small business. I have been approached by a company that will lend me the $50,000 I need. They only want to charge me 3%. I have to pay them back in one month, but as long as I pay my 3% interest on time, there will be no problem extending the loan for additional months. Do you think that accepting this loan is a good idea?
A. Probably not, but let’s explore the situation further. First, you say that they want to charge you only 3%, but that may be a bit deceptive. We suspect it’s actually 3% per month. In other words, if you borrow $50,000 for one month, you must repay $51,500 ($50,000 of principal plus $1,500 of interest). $1,500 divided by $50,000 equals 3%.
You say that it is no problem to get your loan extended for an additional month. If you do that for a year (12 times), you would pay $18,000 in interest (12 times $1,500). However, $18,000 divided by $50,000 is 36%. Therefore, even if you only keep the loan for one month, you are paying an interest rate that is 36% per year. Of course, you’ll never hear one of these lenders say that they are charging you 36%. That rate doesn’t sound good, does it? Nevertheless, that’s what it is. You wouldn’t dream of paying that interest rate for a home loan or a car loan. In fact, most credit cards offer better rates.Read more ...
Q. There's often an assumption that growth is almost always good for small businesses. If revenue is at $500 thousand, $1 million would be better. Once you're at $1 million, $2 million is better. Does that assumption hold up? Is growth always good?
A. There is an oft-repeated mantra in business, “Grow or die!” Many people subscribe to it. The problem is―it’s wrong. In conducting research for our book, Let Go to Grow; why some businesses thrive and others fail to reach their potential, we encountered numerous business owners who debunk this myth. They have successfully operated very lucrative businesses for decades, but have made conscious decisions not to grow their enterprises.Read more ...
Q. My husband and I are in the process of launching our new business. A marketing company wants us to spend more than $20,000 on a host of marketing services (e.g., developing a company name and logo, business cards, letterhead, brochures, graphics standards manual, website, social media campaign, etc.). We could do this, but we would have to dip into our limited savings. Do you think this is a good idea?
A. Probably not, but let’s explore the issue before jumping to a conclusion. Decisions about how to market your business are some of the most important you will make. Obviously, you will have to market your company to succeed. Whoever said, “If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door,” was lying. If the world doesn’t know you have a better mousetrap, no one will be knocking on your door. Building a better mouse trap, by itself, is not enough. To succeed, you have to tell the world about your offering—you’ll have to market.
On the other hand, marketing can become a black hole into which you throw your life savings with no return. Too many marketing and advertising companies have a suite of things they offer. They then try to sell this same suite of products to every prospective customer, without regard for whether or not you will benefit from them. Because the only tool they have is a hammer, everything’s a nail. Be wary of such firms. They are happy to take your money but have little to no concern for whether or not your business grows. In our opinion, it’s unethical.
Dollars spent on marketing are an investment, but like any investment, there are good ones and bad ones. To be a good investment marketing dollars must have a positive return. That is a dollar spent on marketing must return more than a dollar. In our experience, few marketing and advertising firms are willing to hold themselves to this standard—find one that is.
Here’s a way to think about your marketing investment. First, you are going to need a few basics:
· Business name – It may be a good idea to hire someone who knows what they are doing, but don’t pay for an exhaustive study. A few hours of a professional’s time and a couple of brainstorming sessions should be sufficient. If not, you hired the wrong person.
· Business cards – In most businesses, without cards, you won’t be credible. You may want to get some help designing your cards, but don’t spend thousands of dollars. Shop around for a fair deal.
· Letterhead and printed envelopes – Our advice is to get printed envelopes, but insist that your letterhead be electronic so that you can print it on your color printer. We let a marketing company sell us printed letterhead and have probably used about one sheet per year. By the way, make sure that whoever develops the electronic version of your letterhead sets things up so that pages of your communication beyond the first one look good.
· Website – These days, every business needs a website. Most people will check out your website before doing business with you. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does have to explain your business proposition clearly and concisely. It also needs to contain your contact information so that people can get in touch with you.
· Email address – Your business email address should be your name @ your company’s URL.com. When deciding on a company name, make sure that the URL is available. Don’t use a yahoo, gmail or hotmail account. It will hurt your credibility.
Beyond these basics, don’t spend money on marketing until you know the segment of the market you are targeting and the best way to reach them. Answer the three questions every business must answer:
1. Why should a prospective customer buy my product or service rather than a competitor’s?
2. Is there a segment of the market that values the thing that differentiates my offering and is it large enough to support my business?
3. How will I reach this customer segment with my marketing message?
Only after you have clear answers to these questions can you put together a marketing plan that will have a positive return on your investment. Marketing is necessary. It can be costly. After you have the basics described above, make sure you have a clear plan for generating a return on your marketing investment before spending more money.Read more ...