Small Business Minute: Find a mentor and learn from their mistakes
By Brian Leaf
Trial and error is a painful way to learn how to run a business. So wouldnít it be great if you could learn from someone elseís mistakes?
You can learn from the mistakes of others by finding a mentor.
Business mentors are people who share their experience running companies. The right mentor can be a gold mine of information on the dos and doníts of running a company.
The Small Business Administrationís On-line Womenís Business Center says mentors are especially valuable when youíre launching a new business or product, or planning to expand.
Counseling, problem-solving, constructive criticism and stories on the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship are all part of a mentorís role.
Groups such as SCORE or the 80 Womenís Business Centers around the country link entrepreneurs with mentors. Wisconsin has centers in Milwaukee, Madison, Independence and Eau Claire.
What makes a good mentor? The SBA says find someone with knowledge and experience in your weak areas. Make sure the relationship works, personally and professionally, for both parties.
Be honest with would-be mentors. If there are conflicts, find someone else. Mentors have needs and limitations, too. While they may take great joy in helping someone else succeed, they are often busy with their own interests.
Be sure youíre ready to accept an outsiderís advice. Asking for a mentorís help when you arenít ready for it is a waste of time for everyone.
Oct. 6, 2004
Improving your meetings can help your bottom line
Meetings are essential. Why, then do employees think theyíre a waste of time?
The biggest beef about meetings is that they last too long. Thatís what a quarter of the respondents to an Office Team survey said.
Small talk, interruptions, poor organization and topics unrelated to the meetings eat up time that might be used more productively in the office.
Sales and Marketing Management magazine says there are simple ways to shorten meetings.
Appoint a facilitator to keep time and keep the agenda on track. Good ideas that come up at the meeting should be recorded and dealt with later.
Eliminate chairs from the meeting room. People will be motivated to get through more quickly.
Give everyone a bell to ring when someone goes off on a tangent.
Replace regular meetings with team huddles Ė 15-minute sessions where attendees rotate in and out of the room as they are needed.
Other suggestions: Limit the number of people in a meeting. Assign times to agenda topics. When time is up, move on to the next topic.
For more suggestions on how to run a better meeting, check out The 3M Meeting Network on the web: http://www.3m.com/meetingnetwork/index.html
The site is full of tips on how to run a great meeting.
Meetings are essential. But spending time talking about things unrelated to business costs you money you donít need to spend.
Make your meetings efficient. Your bottom line will thank you.
Sept. 20, 2004
Retain key employees by keeping them happy
As the economy picks up, keeping key employees happy may take more than just money.
If your employee retention plan is just a paycheck, you may be in trouble. While money is important, paychecks arenít the top reason for job happiness. According to a survey of 150 executives by Accountemps, itís a relationship with the boss that matters most.
Accountemps says 43 percent of respondents say employee-manager relationships have the greatest impact on job satisfaction. Workload and responsibilities ranked second with 24 percent. Compensation and benefits ranked third.
Max Messmer, Accountemps chairman and author of Motivating Employees for Dummies, offers these tips to building better relationships.
The Cincinnati-based Sasha Corp., a human resources firm, reviewed 15 turnover cost studies, threw out the five most expensive reports and averaged the rest. It found that replacing an $8 an hour employee costs a company $5,500. Those costs include recruitment, interviewing, training, productivity decreases and other direct and indirect expenses.
So if youíve got a staff of 20 and an annual 10 percent turnover rate, conservatively it will cost you $55,000 over five years in employee turnover costs.
Thatís expensive, and a reason to get serious about building relationships with key employees happy. After all, motivated and productive employees are in demand. If you canít give them what they need, theyíll go out and find it somewhere else.
Sept. 14, 2004
Mom and pops have the edge in down times
Who says bigger is better? When it comes to growing in iffy times, mom and pops have the edge.
The economy has been showing sings of life between periods of malaise. But through it all, family-owned firms have been a bright economic spot.
A survey last year by Mass Mutual Financial Group and the Raymond Family Business Institute found strength among small companies despite a lousy economy. Revenues at two-thirds of respondent firms grew more than 11 percent over the past three years.
Mom and pops flourish when much of the business world falters for several reasons.
For one thing, small companies take a long-term approach to business. For another, theyíll take smaller returns on their investments. And most reinvest in their companies, even in down times.
Culture also plays a role in survival. Many small companies are paternalistic. Owners believe they exist to take care of their employees Ė not to payback shareholders.
So is not surprising that few respondents reported laying people off the past several years, despite the worst downturn in a decade.
Family businesses are survivor businesses. The typical family business was founded just after World War II. Seven out of 10 are controlled by the founders or a second generation.
With that kind of longevity, itís no wonder that mom and pops are at the top of their game when times are tough.
Sept. 6, 2004
Aug. 31, 2004
Balancing work and family
Raising a family and pursuing a career can be like working two full-time jobs. What comes first Ė work or the kids?
But many small business owners believe employees are their most valuable assets. They often say they are willing to help employees find balance in their lives.
Workoptions.com says there are solutions that keep both bosses and families happy. Here are some options:
So employees, don't despair. Your out of control life may be flexed back into shape with a scheduling change.
Aug. 25, 2004
Colleges can help take your company to the next level
This is the age of lifelong learning. And for a company that needs help, a good college or university can do more than just find you employees.
Universities and colleges are great resources when it comes to training employees, too. According to SCORE Ė the Service Corps of Retired Executives Ė institutions of higher learning can help small business owners learn about their companies, too.
Experts abound at colleges and universities. With the right approach your business can benefit from their knowledge. SCORE offers the following tips:
If you aren't taking advantage of your proximity to a college or university, you're missing an inexpensive way to help your bottom line.