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How Your Small Business Can Attract & Retain Top Talent, Part 2

In this first part of this series, we discussed the importance of interviewing and background checks in the quest to attract and retain top talent. In part two, we’ll take a look at some of the employment law issues that you need to consider before you make a hire.

From the Family Medical Leave Act to overtime exemption policies, there is a minefield of employment laws waiting to trap unsuspecting operators in today’s litigious environment.

A survey by the Chubb Group of Insurance companies found that 26 percent of privately-owned companies have been sued by an employee or former employee in the past few years. Employees at 22 percent of the companies have filed a discrimination or harassment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or state agencies. What’s worse, the survey estimates it costs more than $100,000 to settle an employee lawsuit.

How do you protect yourself?

“Make sure you are hiring the right person up front,” says Cathy Fyock, author of Hiring Source Book: A Collection of Practical Examples. “You can’t ask someone have they ever made legal claims against their organization or filed a workers’ comp claim, but you can establish what your culture is and make it very clear what are your expectations when you are dong the interview so that you are picking people who really do match the culture. Asking questions that will reveal their interpersonal skills and how they treat people will help.”

Of course, it’s not always a manager treating an employee or customer poorly. It could be a direct accusation against the owner’s treatment of the manager. Experts say these accusations often arise after an employee is terminated. Therefore, employment contracts and watertight documentation is the best defense.

Experts recommend a 90-day probation period for new hires. This gives the new employee adequate time to catch on to the system. If they can’t get with the program, then they are let go with no strings attached. Give underperforming employees a verbal warning, followed by a written warning before dropping the hammer.
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How Your Small Business Can Attract & Retain Top Talent, Part 1

Employees are vital to any small business. No longer will just any warm body sitting behind a desk or standing in front of a cash register (or whatever your employees’ job function happens to be) suffice in today’s more sophisticated industry.

No matter what industry your small business serves customer service skills, for example, become critical to guest satisfaction. And with more competition for customers, sales and marketing savvy is coveted.

Let’s face it. The most successful small businesses employ top-notch employees who run the business as if it was their own. They take the time to help the customer decide on the best products and services for them; they stay a few minutes after closing time to prepare for the next day; and they are ready to respond to emergencies—and opportunities—when they arise.

In a nutshell, it boils down to attracting and retaining the best and brightest employees to bolster bank accounts and at the same time avoiding legal liabilities that can break the bank. Indeed, human resources issues (HR) are a universal business challenge in today’s cutthroat business environment. The strategy is three-fold: conduct thorough interviews and background checks, follow the letter of employment law, and keep your faithful employees on the payroll.

Interviews can give you helpful clues about a candidate, but you have to ask the right questions. For example, you can’t simply ask the candidate if he has good customer service skills because you’ll get an automatic “yes” regardless of the truth. Experts agree that the best questions are “scenario” questions, like “Can you remember a time when you had to deal with a disagreeable customer? Please explain the circumstances and what you did to manage the situation.” These types of questions will give you more insight into whether or not the candidate’s personality fits into your company’s culture.

Since managers are living on site and have so much access to company assets, background checks are pretty-much the standard for screening applicants in self-storage today. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that this practice is also becoming standard in most industries today due to rising concerns of workplace safety in the wake of 9-11 and in the midst of the military actions in Iraq.

“While employers can’t protect employees from all of the world’s ills, they certainly can take important steps to increase both the actual security of their workplaces and the sense of security for employees,” says Susan Meisinger, SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer. “HR professionals are often at the forefront in leading efforts to develop disaster response plans, and implement precautionary procedures such as background checking to ensure the protection of employees and business recovery following a catastrophe.”

Check out this YouTube video on how to interview for tips on how to interview candidates:

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Small Business Tips for Surviving an NFL Lockout

NFL owners are meeting this week to discuss the status of negotiations with players. The goal is to ink a new collective bargaining agreement.

But for all the attention the lockout is getting from sports fans, it’s small business owners who could suffer the most if the professional football season doesn’t start on time. Indeed, many small businesses that rely on the NFL to keep their business running.

"We have a number of clients-from hotel operators to restaurateurs-that are concerned about defaulting on their loans if there were a lost NFL season," says Doug Long, president of Covendium. "Our clients have already seen a drop in revenue from the economic downturn, and the banks are not willing to bridge any gap caused by the lockout-for those clients we must go to private capital to line up emergency lines of credit."

So what can your small business to do minimize the impacts of an NFL lockout? Well, revert to what you would do in a bad economy, which shouldn’t be too hard since we’ve just survived one. Hopefully, the NFL will not strike and business will continue as usual. But if it does, here are seven things you can do to help make your business more resilient, now courtesy of American Express Open.

  1. Look to “low-hanging fruit” technology to become more efficient.

  2. Re-examine every one of your operational services.

  3. Cut existing staff only as a last resort.

  4. Don’t cut marketing.

  5. Focus on getting more sales from existing customers rather than new customers.

  6. For start-ups, start selling something ASAP.

  7. Don’t skimp on your bookkeeper or accountant.


Check out the latest update on the NFL lockout:

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Communication is the Key to a Great Career

Ever notice that your behavior changes when you are around either children or adults?

With children, we take time to explain things. With adults, we have little patience or we rush people through their sentences. With children, we ask them their opinion. With adults, we are either uninterested or interrupt them when they speak.

But then we ask ourselves why some of our relationships at work aren't satisfying. We see the same people every day, yet communication is difficult or strained. Or, why at interviews, conversations with recruiters or with attendees at networking functions, we are not getting our points across effectively? Many I speak to wonder why people don't get them. They want to be understood, but they are not. They tell me they feel isolated and alone. And, their career is hurting because of it.

Communication is not as hard as we believe it to be. My clients tell me they are afraid to speak up or be straight forward because it won't end well. True communication is individuals listening to one another and exchanging ideas. Mix in acceptance and patience, and you have the recipe for a great conversation.

So, how can you communicate better in your Career? Follow these three steps:

1. Tell The Truth About How You Communicate

This is your opportunity to be honest. Are you a person who wonders why no one listens to you, but you rarely listen to what people say to you? Do you wonder why people don't get you, but you don't get them? Get interrupted a lot? Do you interrupt? Ever feel judged? Are you a judge? You give what you get in your career. Usually, we don't like in others, is what we haven't discovered yet or admitted openly about ourselves. You can alter your communication style once you understand how you are interacting with others. Then, you can decide to change your approach.

2. Get Ready To Be A Better Communicator

Make a list of people you have trouble communicating with. Next to their name, write down what the problem is. Ask yourself how you contribute to the difficulty. Next, write down what you will do differently going forward. For example, next to John's name, you could say "I will listen to him more." Or, "I won't interrupt him when he speaks." Usually when something is not working, we look outward. "What is someone doing to me, and why won't they change their behavior? " That's not how it works. Want to change the people around you? Change yourself first.

3. Start Communicating Better

This is when you get to try out a new behavior. Expect to feel uncomfortable at first. You haven't owned your new communication style yet, and you haven't created your new habit or routine. The hardest part is getting started and being a better communicator will get easier over time. Also, expect weird looks or surprised faces at first. The people you are communicating with may look at you strangely in the beginning because you are doing something different. Don't worry. Over time, they will get to know and like the new you. Your career will begin to get better because your relationships are getting better. And, that's because of your hard work and effort. Good for you.

So, what do you say? You only have one life to live, so it might as well be a life you love!

Check out this video on communications skills:


Deborah Brown-Volkman, PCC, is the president of Surpass Your Dreams, a career, life, and mentor coaching company, and author of "Coach Yourself To A New Career," "Don't Blow It! The Right Words For The Right Job" and "How To Feel Great At Work Everyday."
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Are Phishers Targeting Your Small Business Web Site?

You’ve probably heard of all the hack attacks going on lately. From Sony PlayStation, Nintendo and Sega to Lockheed Martin and Citibank, large companies are seeing the wrath of hackers looking for monetary gain by stealing consumer information.

But it’s not just large companies getting hit. The Anti-Phishing Working Group is reporting that more than one-third of respondents to a new Web Vulnerabilities Survey were repeat victims of phishing attacks—and those attacks ended with success.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents reported that their Web sites had phishing or spoof sites planted on their Web servers two or more times before, a telling statistic that reflects both the persistence of phishers and the difficulties of keeping them at bay.

“Phishers value compromised web sites highly because they are much harder for interveners to take down. They’re confident that they’ll be able to identify and exploit sites, and do so repeatedly. Victims are not mitigating exploits entirely or are not implementing adequate measures to keep them away,” says APWG Research Fellow Dave Piscitello of ICANN.

“Keeping all components of a web site—OS, web server, applications, and content—patch current and applying the most secure configuration options possible could significantly reduce initial and repeat attacks.”

Some general takeaways from the report:

  • Web sites could do better implementing preventative measures

  • Organizations aren’t adequately monitoring for strange behavior or suspicious traffic patterns

  • 20% of victims say the attacks were discovered by their own staff

  • 52% percent were informed of the attack by third-party security companies


“You can’t publish active content in Internet time and verify that your protective measures against attacks remain effective. Vulnerability testing, if done at all, is done too infrequently,” says Piscitello. “That nearly 80 percent of incidents are being detected by third parties tells us that too few organizations take real time monitoring or examination of logs for suspicious activities seriously.”

When it comes to Internet security, a little common sense can go a long way. Here are four tips for protecting your small business from a phishing attack.

  1. Don’t open e-mails or attachments from people you don’t know.

  2. Pay attention to where links are actually taking you.

  3. If you are suspicious, close the browser immediately. Open a new window and type in the URL manually to the site you are trying to visit.

  4. Remain cautious and use safe e-mail and browsing habits consistently to avoid becoming aloof.


Check out this YouTube video with more practical advice:

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