Here’s what  I’ve learned

Here’s what I’ve learned

Balance, breath, belief and backing all come into play when owning a small business. I am closing down one successful business after 12 years, Oldham Innovative Research, and starting a new business, Local Flames, this spring. The first was an educational research business and the new one an off-line matchmaking and small-events business. What they have in common are clients at their core expecting a high-quality product. Let me share what I have learned:

Hire good people.

And when you hire them, make them do the work. First step after the resume is to ask them to fill out an online survey answering my interview questions. Ask them explicitly about schedule, attitude, challenges and experience. You instantly find out about their work ethic and attitudes and save time from having to interview applicants who don’t match your needs. Once you have the good people, nurture them. A $150 monthly budget for fresh fruit, high-quality chocolate and occasional presents for staff is completely worth it.

Fire not-so-good people.

Seriously, fire them, in a straightforward manner. Successful business people make smart business decisions. Once I had my core team of trusted people, any additional staff get a three-month contract, after which they get a performance check-in to determine whether they are a good fit for the business or not (in which case, I don’t renew the contract and give them a recommendation to help them on their way). With a small, five-person business, everyone has to fit in with the team, making letting people go necessary.

Offer quality.

You can’t control whether clients decide to hire you or buy your product. What you can control is the quality of your staff and the quality of your product. Train and empower your staff, clearly articulate your vision, involve them in business decisions or directions where possible. Put in place quality control measures (all products need to be reviewed by another staff member, client feedback forms reviewed with full team) and advertise those measures to your clients.

Be transparent.

We were very successful winning contracts and clients through clear, simple pricing and offering a clear value. We charged clients by the hour, promising to only use the portion of the contract that we needed to produce a high-quality product. When additional resources were needed because a client was asking for additional services, I asked directly for more money and most times, people had another thousand or two to contribute to the product. I was very open with my staff about our financial position, clearly articulating targets for the team (and compensated them through profit sharing).

Be open.

Small businesses thrive on flexibility and adaptability. I advertised that I was a generalist – with expertise in many different areas, rather than a specialist. A flexible biography and multi-talented staff add to your ability to be flexible in accepting work.

And then, do lots of yoga and meditation to help calm the body and clear the mind to make hard business decisions easier.

March-April 2014

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