Stop making it up! Get help with your hiring now. Download my Top 20 Interview questions to help you hire the perfect candidate.

I was coaching one of my clients recently and they were suffering from a very common problem as a small business owner.  They are responsible for everything in their business and everything is in their head so they often forget to get things done.

It was a simple request that I could tell by the way their employee said it to the manager that this was not the first time she had requested it.  “Can you order some more ________”.  The manager said, “Right, sorry…I forgot last time I placed our order”.  I asked if she thought of putting up a white board with the name of the various orders she placed as the headers then asked her employees to write it down on the board. On order day she could just go to the board and she wouldn’t ever have to try to remember what to order. I could see the light bulb go on.

She was a very intelligent person who could have easily thought of the white board idea.  So what happened?  We can often forget to look at our frustrations and pain points and really think about how we can solve them.  We tend to just do what we’ve been doing even if it is not working.  Many times we ignore or don’t ask the very people who have the best ideas: our staff.  As I pondered this I started thinking about how as small businesspeople we tend to “protect” our staff from the stresses of being the one in charge so we forget that they are our best resources to get it all done.  Far from needing to be protected most of the time they want to be included – they want to be part of the solution.

So how can you get your people more involved?  Here is one solution: for the next week carry a notebook or your have your smart phone ready.  Every time you start to get stressed write down the problem.   At the end of the week organize all of your pain points and then call a staff meeting.  I think you will be surprised at what great advice you get if you are ready to listen.

I was recently asked about how to deal with an under performing employee.  She had someone on her staff that starting out making a few small errors that she did not mention.  The employee continued to make them and then she coached her on it.  The employee is still doing it and now it’s gotten to the point where she just wants to fire her but she heard that she should start a three strikes process.

I see this a fair bit and while I am not a lawyer I know a few things about human resources from my experience.  Firstly, there is no legal requirement to have an employee go through a three strikes process.  If you have heard this before it was probably a company policy not a legal expectation.  Start by thinking of the severity of the infraction.  You can separate an employee after one infraction (think being drunk while on the job or stealing).  For something like lateness you would want to give them a few chances.  The key in all of these cases is to ensure that you let the employee know what will happen next if they do not change their behaviour.  For this I would have them sign an official performance write up.

Catch it quickly

For the future you want to make sure that you are dealing with these issues as quickly as possible.  One of the first things I would recommend is to start documenting sooner.  It doesn’t even have to be on an official performance documentation form.  Start by emailing yourself the quick specifics.  With minor infractions you want to give them some leeway to improve and not let it happen again.  By emailing yourself the details you give yourself the opportunity later (if the problem continues) to bring in the other infractions with specificity.  When the next infraction occurs document it on paper and then reference the previous conversations with dates and times.  Should it ever go to labour arbitration a judge likes specifics.

Everyone is watching

When you have a poor performing employee EVERYONE knows it.  As a manager your other employees are watching and waiting for your course of action.  If someone isn’t pulling their weight or making the job harder for everyone else they want you to deal with it.  By allowing this behaviour to go on too long you inadvertently give your staff the message that you are OK with it.  Once you deal with it however you also tell people by your actions what is not acceptable and gain a huge win with the people that do a great job!

I was at a play this summer and as most parents know if you feed the kids before the show starts they can last a litte longer.  It took us a while to decide what we all wanted (quite an ordeal with 3 kids under 7) but finally figured it all out.  When we got to the register however we were let down…cash only!

I can understand cash only at a high school play but this was a major production.  She mentioned something about the fees the banks charge and I can understand that too.  I can also understand the extra hassle – lineups move slower.  I can even get over my initial frustration and empathize with the person at the register – they don’t make the decisions.  What I can’t forgive, in this day and age of Arts funding being cut, is administrators ignoring the opportunity costs of NOT having every payment type available.

When people go out to a show they are treating themselves.  If they have spent a fair bit of money on the tickets that’s justification in itself – who wants to go to a nice show and cheap out when you are there!  Even parents don’t brown bag an event like that.  The world has changed over the last 20 years and fewer and fewer people carry cash on them.  You could say we are making the banks rich by paying all these fees and you would be right but that won’t change the reality.  Having a bank machine on premises is better but you are still putting up a barrier to a sale that you might not get back if they leave for the ATM.  The play we went to had a bank machine but there was not enough time to get the cash, come back in line, get everyone fed and make it into the our seats.

You know what we did – we bought a chocolate bar with the $2 I had and split it 5 ways.  If that sounds sad to you it not as sad as the $20 sale the venue gave up for a $2 one.  If every playhouse in Vancouver brought in a debit/credit machine they would double their revenues – I am sure of it.  If you are holding onto a cash only business, you should really take a second look.

I have written this with the assumption that you have already set up a website that has some basic information about your business.  Even if you have spent a fair bit of time planning and thinking about your website read through the list and do a self audit.  If you nailed them all give yourself a pat on the back!

Update your email

I am still surprised at how many businesses  I come across that are still using an email address with their businessname@gmail or hotmail.  If you have a serious business it is more professional to have an email address with yourname@businessname.  Call your techie right now and get them to set you up!

About me page

Even if you aren’t selling yourself (like a consultant or coach) you are a small business and that means that one of the reasons people will buy from you is to support a person in small business.  Tell them a little about yourself, why you started it, your history etc.  Put up a good picture of you – people love to know who they are buying from and can say hello if they meet you in your store.

More pictures

People love to look at photos so spend some time taking pictures of your office or store.  If you sell merchandise take photos of your displays as well as the items you sell. If the products you carry have their own website pull photos in from there. If you want to make a real impact hire a professional photographer to take shots of your store’s interior and exterior.

Contact page

This is a critical page to have filled out completely.  At the end of the day most people go to your website to get more information so they can come to your store to buy.  To facilitate this make sure you have the following: phone number, store hours of operation, business address.  If you are tech savvy enough it’s a great idea to use the Google Maps extension to include a tiny map.  While you’re at it include a photo of your storefront so they can recognize it when they pull up.

Finally go through your site and click on every link and ensure they all work.  Broken links are bad :( It goes without saying that you should have no spelling errors or grammatical mistakes too – guess I just said it.

This post is only on the very basics for your website but I will expand on it over the coming weeks.  For website 2.0 I will talk about newsletter sign up, social media links and blogs among other things.

Many small business owners are afraid to use Craigslist for fear of the dreaded “I got 500 applications and it took me a day just to get through them all”.  Most of us just don’t have that kind of time! The problem is that for a free site there is probably no better applicant pool than craigslist- everyone and their dog is on it.  The question is how to get only the good applicants and I have the answer – online forms.

First however let’s start with your ad page.  You are a professional business that probably spent time designing and choosing what your store/website/business cards etc. look like.  You need to pull all of that creativee into your ad.  Use logos, your company font, even pictures of you or your store/office (if you have one).  You want people to get excited about applying to work for you.

Once your ad looks good you want them to fill out a number of questions so you can weed out applicant spammers.  This is where a form creator comes in (Google forms is good but there are others).  Decide on 5 -10 questions you want them to answer related to the job.  The point here is that if they are willing to put in a bit of work to fill it out they are serious about getting a job and it also gives you an opportunity to find out a little more about them.  The questions should be pulled from your interview question list.  Don’t have an interview question list…make sure you enter your email and get my list of Top 20 interview questions here.  You can tailor my list to make it more relevant for the job you have available.  My wife also likes to ask them a “life” question like “what is the proudest moment in your whole life”.  You would be surprised at how much questions like that will give you an insight into who they are as a person.

This will probably whittle down your applicants to about 25 all of who have been pre-qualified by you without you even talking to them!  Now you just need to decide who you want to call for a telephone screen.  What’s that, you don’t do a telephone screen…watch this.

I was in a coffee shop the other day with a business colleague and as we left together we intended to go through the doors at the same time as we were still in mid-conversation.  As I leaned into my door I was stopped short and my coffee did a mild splash up and I had to recover quickly.  Arrrggg…one of my many retail pet peeves.  A front door should open when you are in business,when you have double doors they BOTH should be open.

Aside form the potential hazard it could have caused (had I not been quick enough the coffee would have splashed back on me as I tried to walk though the door) it comes down to expectations – a door is intended to be walked through.  Anything that is disruptive to a customer detracts from an amazing experience.  This goes for doors as well as things like having a sign in front of something that makes no sense.  At Christmas I saw a “great gifts for kids” sign on a basket filled with coffee and adult sized mugs.  I would also include in this category things in your store not working; POS machine, bathroom toilet plugged, product look ups stations, self serve machines – you get the idea.
Of course things are going to break, malfunction or just unexpectedly not work.  They key is communication to your customers.  If your debit terminals are down apologize to your customers when they reach the cash, if the door is broken, put up a great sign that let’s your customers know before they even try to open it (just make sure you follow basic signs rules, read my post here on it).
Remember, customer service isn’t just about anticipating needs, sometimes it’s about anticipating what they DON’T need.

Customer service is a long-term relationship.  When viewed through this lens giving your customer a break is just the right thing to do…good thing an employee at Rona knew this!

YouTube Preview Image