Small Business Owners: How to Terminate an Employee

small business

Termination of employment or “firing” an employee can be one of the trickiest parts of being a small business owner. While rarely pleasant, it is an integral component of maintaining a cohesive staff and ensuring smooth and productive operations. Understanding your rights, your employee’s rights, and the ramifications of a termination is extremely important to avoiding future legal problems.

Pre-Hire

  • Have an employee handbook and have each employee sign to prove that he received it. Include pertinent information such as absences, tardies, job performance, evaluations, phone use, and anything else that you can identify as a potential employee issue. For ideas and formats, do an Internet search for employee handbook templates specific to your industry.
  • Explain your expectations clearly during the final interview. Make sure potential employees know exactly what they need to do to succeed in your company and what will be grounds for termination.

New Hire

  • Establish a 90-day trial employment period. Let the employee know that his performance will be evaluated at the end of the 90 days and that employment will either be made permanent or terminated at that time.
  • Observe the employee daily in various work situations. Carefully document any issues that occur, especially absences, tardies, and disgruntled customers.

Termination

  • Type up a formal termination letter. Cite specific reasons for the termination, being as specific and objective as possible. Factual statements such as “did not complete Assignment A as scheduled” or “received multiple client complaints regarding poor customer service” is much more credible than “does not get along with other employees.” Remember, this letter may come into play again if an employee decides to claim unemployment benefits (which employers are financially responsible for) or pursues legal action against you. Employers are generally asked by state unemployment agencies to explain why an employee was terminated, and documentable facts showing that termination was due to employee misconduct or refusal to perform work can lead to denial of benefits for the employee.
  • Don’t take the terminated employee’s words or actions personally. Being let go is extremely upsetting for anyone, and there can be tears, rage, or a combination of both. Remain calm and professional and document any behavior that is extreme or threatening. Tell the employee that all of the information is in his termination letter and that you are unable to discuss the matter further. Listen compassionately for a few minutes, but let the employee know within a reasonable amount of time that the conversation is finished.

Post Termination

  • Keep past employment records easily available for employment references and unemployment claims. Be mindful that although an employee did not work out well in your company, he or she may flourish in a different environment. Be as factual as possible in job references.

Careful and detailed attention to both the hiring and termination process can save many headaches and unnecessary financial obligations for the small business owner. Professionalism, documentation, and preparation are the keys to successfully developing the right staff for your company.

Small Business Marketing Tips: Personalized, Targeted Marketing Strategies Are Always Best

Marketing Strategies

As the marketplace of every industry floods with businesses offering every imaginable service and product, having an arsenal of targeted marketing strategies is becoming critical for every small business owner in order to attract the best customers and clients. The Small Business Association (SBA) reports that as of 2015, there were 29.6 million small businesses – companies with 500 employees or less – in the United States, employing over half the nation’s workers. With competition increasing and the recession still lingering, every small business has to pay close attention to attracting and keeping the right kind of clientele.

Advertising and promotional opportunities have expanded exponentially with the rapid growth of the internet, and websites, social networking – the ultimate in relationship marketing – and online advertising has become a necessary part of every small business marketing portfolio. The intensely personal nature of social media and the increased possibility of instant gratification on the internet is raising expectations about customer service and business-customer interaction. Thanks to the internet, customers and clients can very easily research any company’s products and services with just a few mouse clicks and often find out personal information about the owner or employees.

The internet is definitely becoming an inexpensive and necessary evil for every business owner; but tried and true hands-on, tangible tactics like phone calls, face-to-face meetings and direct mail postcards are also still necessary for building important connections with prospective customers. A professional that is successful at small business marketing is one that can harness the power of personalized, focused relationship marketing in every form and use it to construct a diversified marketing portfolio that will attract customers and clients committed to making long-term investments in products or services.

The following four quick tips can help a small business owner develop targeted marketing strategies and make real connections with high-quality customers.

Small Business Owners Must Think about Target Clients’ Biggest Problems

Successful business plans and marketing strategies are those that are built around solving clients’ biggest problems. The copy of targeted marketing pieces, whether on or offline will address a big problem faced by customers and clearly show how the company’s products or services are the only real solution to this problem. For example, an IT company owner might conduct research through surveys of current steady clients and discover they are terrified about computer viruses destroying important data. A marketing piece that names this problem and succinctly explains how the IT firm can solve it will get more attention than one that brags of prices that are lower than competitors’ prices in the area.

The Headline is the First and Often Only Impression

In print ads, direct mail postcards or with any online small business marketing, the headline is the first impression prospects’ will get of a small business as well as the first and often only chance to grab attention. It is also a way to get the attention of the right people and weed out “the masses” that aren’t going to benefit from a specific product or service.

The headline should be specific and focus on benefits the company provides to its clients, rather than just features of a product or service offered. For example, a company selling “green” beauty supplies, including face cream would not want to lead with a headline such as, “Our Environmentally-Friendly Beauty Cream is the Cheapest in Town!” Instead of leading with this price-based feature and reducing products to cheap commodities, that small business should lead with a statement that captures the real benefit of the product to customers: “Let Your Love of the Earth Shine through with Healthier, Firmer Skin.”

A Tight Market Focus Means Less Money Spent on Marketing Strategies

A small business owner that narrows his/her market focus and zeroes in on one specific market area will get better results than one that throws out a wide, generic net to the hundreds of thousands or even millions of local consumers. For example, someone selling subscriptions to a new country-focused online music service can’t expect great return rates on non-targeted direct e-mail campaigns sent to every music lover, regardless of genre and run the risk of the e-mail being perceived as spam. A great direct mail response rate for even the most targeted marketing strategies is only 2%-3%. Small business owners should do careful research to find the best recipients of their unique marketing messages and target that group of people so they can get better results and save money by not embarking on wasteful, ineffectual marketing.

A Review of WebEx.com

review

WebEx
As my company is still very “virtual” with teams made up of programmers, artists, project managers, and other folks scattered around the USA, I have been researching online services that will help us collaborate, “meet,” and organise our files/links, etc… I tried WebEx first, mostly due to all the commercials and a lovely packet of paper info I got at a trade show in 1999.

So I set up my “office,” which allows people to leave messages and their “business card,” and a few other cute features. Please don’t leave me anything as I’m not looking there! I can also schedule meetings or set myself up to attend meetings. WebEx has three versions of their service: free, pay-per-use, and corporate solutions (or as their signup page says, “Corportate Solutions”). Free meetings can have up to 4 people for I believe no more than 1 hour, and you seem to get most of their features like file sharing, app sharing, desktop sharing, and video stream.

But before you get too excited, let me explain these. The file sharing uses a special printer driver to essentially print the document you’re looking at TO the WebEx interface. This lets other people see this document but not change it. The app sharing lets other people watch you use one of your open apps live, like changing a Word document. They can’t change anything, but they can watch from the edge of their seats. The desktop sharing lets someone use your computer as if they were sitting at it, like a remote access program. They say this can be good for tech support, but I’m not sure I’d let anybody, even a friendly and qualified Microsoft techie :), into my whole computer. The video stream shows whoever is set as the conference leader at what looked like 1 or 2 frames per second (unless that was just a poor camera used by the WebEx salesman himself, and you’d think he’s got the best equipment he could use to make the sale). And remember: all of these features are only controlled by the conf leader – so only the conf leader can post docs to see, drag you to a webpage, and share an open app. You can CHANGE who is the conf leader, but it’s not real collaboration in that when you open the whiteboard, only the conf leader can draw stuff. He/she’d have to change who the leader is for anyone to chime in. This seems ineffecient to me, and at least in NetMeeting, you can share on a more equal level.
Another thing that seemed wacky to me was that you couldn’t undock the text chat from the interface. That meant no matter where you were – in someone else’s computer, looking at a webpage you were dragged to, if you’re typing text in the text chat, there is a chance that NOBODY is seeing it since it may be buried underneath the real activity. The WebEx salesman’s explanation/solution was to use their integrated conference calling (which costs extra on any level), as in people on the telephone at the same time they are using WebEx. This struck me as odd. I then asked myself: what is the difference, then, between using WebEx as they expect you to (sharing stuff with one person in control/contributing at a time) and everyone on a telephone conference call, AND everyone “chatting” over AOL instant messenger, everyone looking at a webpage or doc we’ve posted to a private website for testing (say), and all of us on a telephone conference call? Yes we’d be missing document sharing, but I’m not in a business where I need to watch someone change their HTML code before they reload a changed file to the server. The bottom line was that we felt like we could do all of this stuff better using the tools we already had OR by using NetMeeting, which at least allows multiple video streams, multiple users collaborating as in we cal ALL draw on the whiteboard at the same time, and also allows application sharing for those who like to watch people use their apps. Hey not to mention the audio streaming so you don’t have to have everyone on a telephone too. And I think NetMeeting is still free.

But wait, there’s more.
The pay-per-view version of WebEx costs 20 cents per user per minute, and I think has all the same features – so you’d really only need it if you wanted to include more than 4 people or use it for more than an hour. I also looked into the corporate version, which allows you your own branding for your own entry page, as in it’ll wave the As Was flag and have other links and code you want it to, even including frames if you want. The salesman told me that it was $3,000 US to set up and then $200/month per license. So if I think I need 6 users per month, I would pay $1,200 per month. There was a slightly stripped down version for $100/month/license – I think it was missing the streaming video and I think the desktop sharing (maybe the app sharing too). So I was looking at $3,000 setup and $600/mo. Why don’t I know what it includes? Because I was looking at the pricing as a shared Excel file off the salesman’s computer and he was verbally telling me things over the phone; he never emailed me or gave me any documents detailing what we had discussed, and I didn’t make extensive notes (thinking I was going to get documents!).
I would pay $1,200 per month. There was a slightly stripped down version for $100/month/license – I think it was missing the streaming video and I think the desktop sharing (maybe the app sharing too). So I was looking at $3,000 setup and $600/mo. Why don’t I know what it includes? Because I was looking at the pricing as a shared Excel file off the salesman’s computer and he was verbally telling me things over the phone; he never emailed me or gave me any documents detailing what we had discussed, and I didn’t make extensive notes (thinking I was going to get documents!).

This is where it gets wacky. After researching eRoom and liking that better (coming soon in another episode!), I told my WebEx sales guy that I didn’t think WebEx was right for my needs. His response, was,

“The foundation of our company is data collaboration, more specific application, presentation, and desktop sharing. If the only need for you is to show people or associates web sites. Then, maybe just talking to them on the phone and telling them where to point their browser might work for you. If you need to work on applications together real-time then our service may be a good solution. I apologize that I didn’t differentiate ourselves from other companies clearly. We definitely are the leaders in data collaboration but I can’t speak for just web touring. We try to be a enterprise solution that can help with data collaboration, web touring, video, voip. and desktop control. we try to integrate all these into one.”

That’s as may be, but I still didn’t think WebEx was even doing these things particularly well. I mean, it seems their idea of “working on applications together” means you’re all watching me use a program off my computer and you’re telling me in the conference call what to do. But I didn’t want to pick a fight. I just told him it seemed eRoom was better for us, and especially at the price, which was quoted to me as NO setup fee and $100/mo for endless users. I told him that price. The WebEx salesguy’s response?

“Also, as far as pricing, that was the initial discussion of pricing. If we need to discuss it further, I can see if I can work on the numbers to make us more competitive.”

Hey this is just my opinion. For my needs, we will never use WebEx, and we certainly won’t be paying for it. And I’m sure some of you out there are thinking, hey if they can sell it to you at this price, then more power to them. And maybe that’s what the new economy is all about. But as a consumer, it’s that feeling like when you bought a certain fancy outfit for $500 and after a number of sales and markdowns, the outfit, still in style even and at the same store, is now $100. And you say to yourself and those you complain to, “MAN OH MAN I paid five times that! If they can sell it for $100 and still make a profit, why don’t they just sell it for $100 in the first place!” 🙂

The you-don’t-have-to-put-it-on-your-own-server version of eRoom is supposed to launch in early July. If that happens and it looks like it’s worth talking about, I’ll be back in August to let you know what eRoom is, what it costs, and why you may or may not want to use it. It’s looking good, so I’m hoping on the “you want to use it” side.

 

Tips for Business Web Design: Build a Website that Draws Visitors and Improves Sales and Revenue

 

Creating a personal website or blog is a project that supports creativity and interests. However, creating a business web design needs to promote the business and grab readers. With just the wrong navigation, poor color choices or no call-to-action, a bad business website design can lead to poor sales and revenue. Just a few simple changes to a website can make it more attractive for visitors and potential customers.

Provide a Call-to-Action Area

A call-to-action suggests to the reader what to do next. For instance, if the business provides an article on widgets and how beneficial widgets are, then the call-to-action suggests that the user “clicks here” to purchase these widgets. This type of action guides the user to a new location on the website that is usually the area where the reader can input information to purchase the product.

Ease of Navigation

When a reader accesses the business website, the navigation design should direct the visitor to the required information. Users quickly browse a business website looking for the information. For instance, if the reader entered “best widgets” into Google, the business web design should direct the user to the widget’s location and information. This draws the reader into the business website design to further increase interest in the product.

Keep Ads and Extra Navigation Subtle

If the business website is trying to sell widgets, having large, blinking ads on the web page distracts readers from the main content. This can lead users to navigate to other areas of the website. Keep the areas that contain buttons and images that have the call-to-action more noticeable than any kind of Adsense blocks. If there are promotional events on the website, make sure it stands out over simple ad click revenue sections.

Avoid Flashy Backgrounds

Flashy backgrounds are good for blogs and special interest websites, but a business web design should be simple and attractive. Color coordination should be easy to read for the visitor, and the background color or image should not distract from the text. The text needs to draw the reader to the product, so distracting the visitor with gaudy images increases the bounce rate.

Make Users Click Less

The more the user needs to click a link to find more info or purchase a product, the higher the bounce rate. Readers want the information available quickly and without clicking too many links on the web page. Provide all the information on a page without making it too difficult to find the content.

Ensure the Website Host Provides Fast Servers

One major cause for a high bounce rate is a slow business website host. A new business can choose a free website host, but larger businesses require faster service and more options. Provide readers with enough bandwidth to quickly navigate through each web page on your business website.

These few, simple business web design tips can increase the traffic to the domain and improve sales and revenue. Provide users with a good experience and quality content and the website will profit. Navigation, content and attractive layouts are part of the recipe for a winning website.

 

Writing Effective Email and Newsletters

email

Email or newsletter marketing is quickly becoming one of the most effective ways to promote a business using the Internet.

The number one rule of email or newsletter marketing is to avoid being Spam. This is easier said than done, but is incredibly important. If your audience gets your message and looks at it as Spam, your message will probably never even get read.

What’s Your Point?
Your email should focus on one thing. The first thing you should do is decide what this one thing is going to be. Once you decide the one point that you want to get across, take a look at your idea from the view of the people you’re sending it to. See if you can turn the idea into a hook.

A hook appeals to the interests of your audience, not yours. If it appeals to you, your message is Spam. If it appeals to your audience, your message has the potential to be an effective email.

This hook should do one of two things. It should either help cement your relationship with the receiver, or move them to act.

Everything else in the message should work to communicate this one point.

The Three Most Important Parts of Your Message
The three most important parts of your email, in order of importance, are: the subject, the first paragraph, and the last paragraph.

The subject line serves as the title of your email. It should introduce your hook. It doesn’t have to be a complete sentence or even state the point of your message. It should, however, lead into your point, and be short and catchy. People determine if they will read your email based off of your subject line, so it has to work like a title and work to catch your reader.

The first paragraph should introduce you idea in complete terms. If your goal is to get your audience to act, you should do it in the first paragraph. If you want them to go to an URL, put the URL in the first paragraph.

The last paragraph wraps things up. Users often will skip to the last paragraph to make

sure they don’t miss anything. Don’t save anything important for the last paragraph, but use it to reiterate your message and close.