Who's Liable? Maybe Not Who You Think

25. November 2015 05:05

wet floor sign

Let's play a game called "Who's Liable?" We'll give you a scenario, and then you guess which party is liable. Ready?

In July 2008, Patricia Thompson went grocery shopping at the Winn-Dixie store in New Iberia, Louisiana, and she slipped on a puddle in front of a meat case. She sued, and according to the details of the Thompson v. Winn-Dixie Montgomery, Inc. suit, parsing out liability was made harder by several facts:

  • KAP Cleaning Service, a small cleaning subcontractor, provided cleaning services at the Winn-Dixie store.
  • Rubber floor mats were typically placed in front of meat cases to catch any leaks or dripping.
  • The day of the incident, the mat had been rolled up and pushed underneath the meat case by a KAP worker intending to mop the floor.
  • The KAP employee failed to either place a wet floor sign in the area or remain at the scene, actions required by both the cleaning service and Winn-Dixie.

So who is liable – Winn-Dixie, KAP Cleaning Service, or Thompson? If you're not sure, you aren't alone.

Liability Roulette: Pointing Fingers and Court Decisions Reversed

According to an Insurance Journal report, the trial court ruled in favor of Thompson, assigning…

  • 30 percent of liability to Winn-Dixie for the injury.
  • 70 percent of liability to KAP Cleaning Service.
  • Zero percent of liability to Thompson. (We'll explain why this is relevant later on.)

But matters didn't end there. The report notes the Louisiana Third Circuit Appeals Court overruled the trial court, assigning 100 percent liability to Winn-Dixie. The court of appeals argued because Winn-Dixie ultimately had control over the duties of the KAP subcontractors while they work in the store, the grocer should be held responsible for the accident.

Okay, case closed, right? Nope.

The Louisiana Supreme Court had its say, too. The high court decided "the record shows that Winn-Dixie did not have complete supervisory control over the cleaning crew," the article notes, contradicting the appeals court. The Supreme Court reinstated the original trial court's judgment.

Liability can be fickle, and cases like this are a cautionary tale if you work with subcontractors. Their work can become your problem.

A Slice of the Liability Pie

At first blush, the lawsuit detailed above may seem like a typical slip-and-fall case that General Liability Insurance can easily cover. But whose policy is paying the damages? With accidents, more than one party is often at fault – in legal terms, that's called "shared blame."

To establish which party is negligent, or to what degree multiple parties are negligent, most states follow a variation of contributory negligence or comparative negligence. AllLaw.com offers some clarification:

  • Contributory negligence. If you contribute to your own injury, even minutely, you can't hold anyone else responsible.
  • Comparative negligence. Responsibility is determined based on the negligence of every party directly involved in an accident.

Louisiana adheres to a "pure" comparative negligence rule, meaning it reduces an injured person's recoverable damages by an amount equal to their share. So if someone was injured in a store but has 10 percent of the blame for the accident, their awarded damages would be cut by 10 percent.

However, in our example case, the injured person and plaintiff – Thompson – wasn't found at fault. Thompson is able to collect full damages awarded to her.

I'm Liable, You're Liable, We're All Liable!

What if your contracts assign liability to a third-party contractor or subcontractor (e.g., as Winn-Dixie did with KAP)? A contract doesn't automatically exempt your small business from liability. In fact, a court might dismiss it altogether. Assigning liability isn't always black and white – even the courts may disagree, as evidenced in this case.

And it isn't just General Liability cases you need to worry about. Shared blame can result in Professional Liability lawsuits. Say your interior decorating firm measures a client's kitchen for new cabinets. The contractor doesn't follow your exact measurements and the cabinetry is too large to fit. The client sues your firm and the contractor. A court could determine you're both to blame, arguing you should have followed up with the contractor and the contractor should have double-checked the measurements.

For another example of shared blame, read about a tragic gas leak explosion in "Business Interruption, General Liability, & Property Insurance: Oh, My."

Small Business Spotlight: Customer Appreciation with Artful Conceptions

23. November 2015 07:46

Artful Conceptions logo

Sara Chiarilli (@ACinteriors) is owner of Artful Conceptions, LLC. Based in Apollo Beach, Florida, Artful Conceptions has more than 10 years of design experience with the goal of creating beautiful and functional living spaces for its clients.

We talked with Sara Chiarilli about her design experience and how she shows clients appreciation for their patronage. Learn how small-business owners can boost customer appreciation efforts and incite customer loyalty. The transcript below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Tell us a bit about yourself. What's your background?

I started working in the design field after graduating from the University of South Florida. I previously worked at an art gallery and enjoyed finding the right piece of art for each home owner. This helped to develop my love of design, culminating in my thesis where I drew the blueprints and built a house inside a gallery.

After graduating, I worked for Norwalk the Furniture Idea, which became Norwalk Furniture and Design. I worked for corporate- and franchise-owned stores, running their showrooms, training designers, and setting the stores. My love for helping my clients create their dream homes is what eventually led me to start my own company.

When did Artful Conceptions get its start?

Artful Conceptions was formed in 2009. We work directly with our clients to create a dream space. This can be their home, office, or any indoor space they spend time in. We take their thoughts and ideas, listen to how they use the space and how it needs to function, and then create it for them.

This may mean putting together a plan for them such as a design board and letting them install the pieces, working with them to select the features and elements on a new construction project, designing a renovation, or completing a turn-key project while the client is out of the country or in another state. Our end goal is to delight the customer.

My work has been featured on HGTV, CBS, Design Bureau Magazine, and Florida Design Magazine. I have also been interviewed by Karen LeBlanc, The Design Tourist, for NBC's daytime TV show about personal style and by Marie Grace Berg for Today's Leading Women about women in business.

Who's your typical client?

My typical client is one that realizes the value of time. Designing is very time-consuming, and without the large resources and knowledge that we as designers have, it is a very large project to take on. The right client understands that their time is more valuable doing what they do best and giving us the direction they would like their project to go. In short, the busy professional is our ideal – they understand all of that, and we love to be able to do a project from start to finish.

How do you show your customers appreciation for their business?

We thank our customers in a few ways. Once a month, we hold a wine and cheese event. This originally started as a morning coffee, which was packed every time, but many of our clients were unable to attend because they were working. So we have graduated it to an evening event. This allows our clients to meet and network and enjoy a bit of down time in a friendly environment.

Our clients have also started to bring their friends and family members, adding new clients to our company. This has led us to do additional events such as wine glass decorating parties, and we have an upcoming ornament decorating party. We will have between 20 to 60 people show up for these events.

When a client refers a new client to us, we send a gift basket to thank them. Each gift basket that we send is designed specifically for that client. If they are into wine, we will send a basket with handpicked specialty wines. We have also sent relaxation baskets if it's a client that we know has been on-the-go quite a bit. These will include items like bath salts and bubbles, lotions, aromatherapy items, and sometimes a spa gift card. It is all about the personal touch.

How do referrals impact your business?

We do the majority of our business by referral. On average, we receive between 10 to 20 referrals a month. And because it is our customers and friends that are referring us, we usually close all of the referrals. We also give back out just as many as we get, sometimes more depending on the projects we are working on. I believe strongly in the givers gain mentality: if I am giving business to you, you will give business to me.

How do customers react to your efforts?

Our customers are extremely loyal. It is very rare for us to not continue working with a client for many years throughout many projects. We also usually end up working with their friends, family members, and business associates. It is extremely important to us to keep good open communication and great relationships with our clients.

How long have you implemented customer appreciation efforts? Has your approach changed at all?

I have always done something for our clients. It started with simple thank you notes and has now evolved to the events. I feel that it is vitally important to let people know that you appreciate their time and business. As the business has grown, we have been able to do more for our clients. But it is always the simple things like remembering a birthday or anniversary that brings the biggest smiles to our clients.

Why do you think customers like receiving acknowledgment from the businesses they frequent?

I think they like it because it validates that they made the right choice in selecting the business they did. There are many businesses out there that claim to do what we do; we need to give them a reason why selecting us was the right decision.

Tips from Artful Conceptions on Offering Customer Appreciation

  • Start small. The easiest way to start may be a simple note. Not an email, not a text message – a hand-written note card that shows you took the time to write it and send out.
  • Use a personal touch. Personalize your customer appreciation efforts. Customization demonstrates you're paying attention to each client individually and helps keep customers loyal.
  • Don't worry about cost. It's not about how much your efforts cost; it's about how you make the client feel. Your efforts don't need to cost a lot to be effective.

November Small Business Wins

20. November 2015 07:44


It can be especially challenging to be a small-business owner during the holidays, but fortunately, this month comes bearing good news. Here are some small business news items and tidbits from November, just in time to recharge your spirits.

Small Business Saturday Is Nigh

Last year, 88 million consumers spent $14.3 billion when they shopped small on Small Business Saturday, according to American Express (the mastermind behind SBS). This year, Small Business Saturday happens on November 28, and you don't want your business to miss out on all the local love.

American Express offers free marketing materials to help you make the most of the day. It suggests you plan ahead (see what your city is doing to support small business shopping!), take advantage of social media marketing, and create an in-store event for the day to attract shoppers.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Text Is Out

Medium released the Trans-Pacific Partnership text, and it's about as reader-friendly as a trade agreement is going to get (you've been warned). But the TPP is a bag of mixed feelings for small businesses. Fortune thinks it's a win, noting the TPP has a section that addresses trade barriers that disproportionately impede small businesses (e.g., complicated trade paperwork). That may help small businesses if they ever decide to go global.

Forbes offers another take, stating there's almost nothing in TPP relevant to the small business reality, namely because they don't really export to new markets. But if you work with clean energy or the patenting process, the article concedes the TPP may make your life incrementally easier.

The 2016 Economic Overview Looks Promising

Economic projections for 2016 in a nutshell, as reported by Bloomberg Business: the TPP will open up more trade, the Federal Reserve probably won't hike federal funds interest rates until the end of next year at the earliest, there's a thing called the "misery index" that combines the latest inflation rate and unemployment rate (and it's as good as it's been since the 1950s), and oil prices are perched to stay cheap. Champagne, anyone?

Women Mechanics Rock

Meet Patrice Banks (@girlsautoclinic), an engineer who owns the automotive education business Girls Auto Clinic. The Huffington Post reports Banks aims to empower women through education in the hopes they will stop seeing cars as strictly a man's domain and save money on repairs, too. She offers free monthly auto repair workshops for women (and does it while wearing red stilettos, no less), so if you're in Philadelphia, check out what Banks is up to.

Your Retirement Saving Just Got Easier

Saving for retirement may seem like a Sisyphean undertaking when you're in business for yourself. The Washington Post reports the government just rolled out the myRA program, which stands to make saving a little easier. Like a Roth IRA, the myRA program allows workers to save their after-tax dollars for retirement, and workers can contribute up to $5,500 a year or $6,500 a year for people ages 50 and up.

The best part? The report notes there are no fees and the accounts have no minimum balances. Contribute what you can – every little bit helps.

Lessons from a Vegan Thanksgiving that Can Make You a Better Business Owner

18. November 2015 07:19

vegan Thanksgiving meal

For the past 10 years or so, one of my best friends has been deemed the official Thanksgiving hostess for family and friends living close enough to attend. I’m always impressed not only by the amount of food she prepares, but also by how she accommodates taste preferences and dietary requirements for such a large crowd without uttering a grumpy word. In fact, she always seems excited by the challenge.

As a small-business owner, I’m used to the challenge of trying to please a lot of people with a lot of different idiosyncrasies. It’s the nature of business. But as I watch my friend prepare for her Thanksgiving feast this year, I’m reminded what I can learn to make me a better business owner.

  1. Flexibility. You might have started your business because you didn’t want a boss telling you what to do, but your clients are still in charge, so you need to be flexible enough to follow market trends. When my friend found out some of her guests keep kosher, she immediately did research on how to buy and prepare a kosher turkey. It’s the same with your customers. Give them what they want without a fuss and you’ll win their loyalty for years to come.
  2. Do your homework. I used to jump into a project head-on before thinking about it too much. Sometimes it turned out fine, but other times, it didn’t. Taking the time to learn all you can about a project before getting started can save a lot of back-and-forth and prevent costly mistakes. What do you know about your client? Has a previous vendor told you the client is never satisfied and requires a lot of handholding? That’s OK – I can handhold with the best of them – but it’s better to know in advance so you can allot an appropriate amount of time to the client and build in a cap on how many changes you’ll provide for the same fee.
  3. Try new things. The best part of being your own boss is the freedom to try new things. Keep the old favorites, of course, but also test new systems and products and see what sticks. I’m constantly thinking of new ways to improve or do more, and that’s what keeps my passion for my business alive.
  4. See and think from another person's point of view. Having a vegan turkey at your Thanksgiving table might seem like pure insanity, but once you find out how the vegan feels and why they feel that way, you might just learn a thing or two. Countless times as a business owner, I’ve been astonished at how much I learn when I take the time to really listen to other points of view.
  5. You can’t make everyone happy. No matter how much my friend finds about her guests’ dietary preferences, there’s inevitably at least one unhappy diner. It’s the same in business. I can do everything asked of me and still not get it right – but I can’t let it get to me. Either I’ll get it right the next time or I may have to decide whether or not a certain client is worth my time. As long as you can walk away from the relationship with a clear conscience, your business shouldn’t suffer from the loss.

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at rieva@smallbizdaily.com, follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website SmallBizDaily.com to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.

Falling Short This Year? Here's How Small Businesses Can Regroup

16. November 2015 11:57

stressed out woman in front of a computer

As the end of the quarter draws closer, chances are your budget is getting plenty of scrutiny. While assessing revenue and expenses, some small businesses may be in for a rotten dose of reality if they didn't meet their yearly projections.

If you fall into that camp, take a deep breath. Everyone misses the mark sometimes. But instead of hitting the eggnog hard, let's look at ways your business can use this rude news as a learning experience. We asked some financial experts and a small-business owner to share their advice on how to turn the ship around.

Get to the Bottom of the Problem

Joseph Camberato (@NatBusCap), president of business financing company National Business Capital, suggests investigating why you're missing your numbers before you make any tough calls. The idea is to treat the ailment, not the symptom.

Camberato offers an example. "If you have to cut servers in your restaurant, the core issue could be there is not enough foot traffic coming in or customers are having trouble making reservations on your website."

Sometimes, it can be hard to analyze these things on your own, so reach out for help. Camberato recommends finding a mentor who can give you some perspective. "Networking events, industry organizations, and chamber of commerce events are all great opportunities to find a business mentor," he offers.

Don't forget – working with an accountant can be a big help, too. A CPA can help you create financial forecasts that chart your cash flow, establishment costs, expenses, and sales. That insight can help you estimate your expenses and track your numbers throughout the year.

Once you know where your business needs to focus its efforts, you can make new goals and plans to reach them. Camberato suggests reviewing your goals on monthly and quarterly basis to see if you are on track or not. "Monitor all this throughout the year instead of waiting until the year's end to realize you didn't do what you wanted," he says.

Reevaluate Your Market

Heather Niziolek (@Goosie_Girl), owner of fashion label Goosie Girl Boutique, hit an unexpected roadblock several years ago. She'd been making little girl's tutus for the last 12 years, but thanks to the DIY craft movement and cheap imported goods, the market today is flooded with them. Whereas she used to sell her handmade tutus for $25 to $40 easy, she was suddenly struggling to get even $15 for her high-quality designs.

So Niziolek had more tutus than she could ever move and she was at a crossroads: keep eating the losses or adapt? Fortunately, she chose the latter.

"If I have a surplus of one product sitting around, I go back and analyze: were the products released at a bad time (economy-wise or season-wise)? Were they over-priced? Were the colors or styles not trending?" Niziolek says.

She then corrects course. In some cases, that means making up for those losses by doing a wholesale blowout, inventory sale, or another special promotion. With the tutus, that meant not selling them anymore – the market's demand no longer offset the cost of making them.

That can be a hard truth for many business owners, but it's one to remember. Markets change, and you have to adapt to those changes, whether that means altering your current offerings or branching out.

Look for the Silver Lining

Chris Bushong, a San Diego-based tax and business-planning attorney at Paretis Law, reminds small-business owners that it's not all doom and gloom if they miss their mark this year. If nothing else, you at least have the advantage of a lower tax burden going into the new year. Bushong notes the first chunk of income you earn in 2016 will be tax-free, more or less, if your business is in a no-profit position.

While other businesses are scrambling to make big expense write offs before the close of the year, you are better off holding onto your cash. Bushong suggests, "Wait until the new year to purchase equipment, make charitable donations, etc. The cost of supplies and assets may decrease after the holidays, thus giving businesses more bang for their buck."

To learn more about small business tax concerns, check out our post "5 Common Small-Business Misconceptions about Taxes." And if you think this post can help a business friend out, send it along.

Procrastinators, Rejoice! Insurance Prices Continue to Fall

11. November 2015 05:01

business people jumping for joy

Good news for small-business owners who are new on the scene or who have been putting off buying insurance for price-related reasons: commercial insurance rates continue to fall. Insurance Journal reports on a survey by the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers that shows prices dropped an average of 3.1 percent during the third quarter. Sure, that's not a staggering drop, but when every penny counts, the savings – however slight – add up.

The survey found the policies with the most declining rates were…

In short, if you've been on the fence about buying small business insurance, it's time to get moving. The buyers' market means carriers are competing for your account, and you may be surprised how affordable your coverage can be.

How Much Is Small Business Insurance, Anyway?

First, let's establish that the cost of business insurance is based on a medley of variables. Rates depend on where you buy your insurance, what your insurance covers, and what your risks are.

We compiled reports that give you a ballpark idea of possible rates based on what our small-business clients spent on coverage last year. Check out the full 2014 Business Insurance Cost Analysis for an overview, or scope out the following policy pricing reports:

Remember, the only way to get a real-time rate for your business insurance is to apply for a quote.

The Case to Get Insured Now, Not Later

Aside from the fact that insurance prices have been steadily declining over the year, there's another huge incentive to finally pull the trigger on your insurance purchase: if you already have a claim on your hands, it's too late for coverage.

We get it – even low prices can seem like a steep expenditure when you're working on a shoestring budget. But if things are tight right now, just imagine how impossible it's going to be to replace lost or damaged business equipment entirely out of pocket. Or worse – how would you handle legal fees if you ever got sued?

While it's tempting to assuage these worries by convincing yourself lawsuits are only a problem for big companies, the facts tell another story. So long as you sell goods or services and interact with the public, you are as open to lawsuits as the rest of the business world.

With that in mind, here are three additional ways you may be able to save money on your small business insurance:

  • Bundle your policies. A Business Owner's Policy bundles together General Liability and Property Insurance at a reduced rate. You may qualify for a BOP if you run a small business in a low-risk industry.
  • Ask your agent about risk-management discounts. Some carriers offer premium reductions when you manage your risks. For example, some providers may reduce your Property Insurance rate if you install a security system.
  • Use client contracts. While you may have to enlist an attorney's help to create boilerplate contracts, the upfront investment may be invaluable later on when a dispute crops up. Your contracts may curb lawsuits, which is why insurance carriers tend to favor businesses that use them.

For more ideas on how to cut down on insurance spending, check out our insurance savings blog series.

5 Ways to Maintain Small-Business Productivity During the Holidays

9. November 2015 07:37

small team meeting

The holidays mark a time of chaos for businesses of all stripes, and small businesses aren't immune. Even if you aren't in the retail industry, chances are the holidays mean accelerated marketing efforts and promotions to make the most of Q4.

While you may have automation in place to alert you when inventory is low or to push promotions to your marketing list, there are simply some things you can't program. So we've picked the brains of a few small-business experts and consultants for advice on how you can survive, thrive, and get more done during the holiday rush. Here's what they had to say.

1. Let your team explore their creative side.

It's no surprise that employee engagement tanks when the holidays are around the corner. With vacation time, holiday parties, and travel to look forward to, it can be difficult to get top-notch work out of your team.

Tim Elmore (@TimElmore), president of the leadership training organization Growing Leaders, suggests letting employees take on a creative project. "Progressive companies like 3M and Google have found success in offering employees time to work on a project of their choosing," Elmore says. "And as a result, it helps them feel more engaged."

As we note in "Why Small Businesses Shouldn't Hire 70% of Employees," engaged employees are productive employees. You can also help employees stay engaged by allowing flexible work schedules. Gallup's "State of the American Workplace" survey shows that telecommuting employees tend to be more engaged and productive than in-office employees, and it might be a nice perk to offer your staff during the holidays.

2. Plan ahead.

Author, speaker, and productivity consultant Helene Segura (@LivingOrderSA) suggests scheduling your family obligations well before the holidays hit. She says, "As social invitations roll in, you'll be able to take a look at your calendar and decide if you want to attend that function, put that time toward work, or maybe you just want to relax at home and recharge during the busy holiday season."

Segura also notes the only way to get ahead is to plan ahead. She suggests brainstorming a list of all projects that must be completed between now and January 10 and mapping out each step to tackle those projects. "Assign due dates for each step, and then share this project timeline with each party involved," Segura recommends.

3. Cut down distractions.

You and your team are distracted enough during the holidays, so rein in what you can. Maura Thomas (@mnthomas), founder of management and productivity training company Regain Your Time, suggests turning off the automatic download function on your email so that messages only come in when you manually retrieve them.

"Set aside time to click that retrieve button only two to three times per day, allowing yourself at least one full minute (or until you're done – whichever comes first) for each message," Thomas advises. "Take the same approach with your Twitter feeds and your other social media tools."

If you can't be trusted not to compulsively refresh your inbox (we've all been there), try an app like Inbox Pause, which does exactly what it promises: it pauses your inbox so you can focus on the tasks at hand.

4. Vacation like you mean it.

Dave Crenshaw (@DaveCrenshaw), a small business coach and author of The Myth of Multitasking: How 'Doing It All' Gets Nothing Done, reminds us that taking a break is part of the productivity cycle. (Need convincing? Check out our post "Could Your Business Use a Boost? Try Looking at Puppies, Says Science.") Crenshaw recommends you commit to taking some time off, which means putting down the smartphone and being present when you spend time with family.

Crenshaw also warns that you shouldn't try to juggle too much at once, whether you are at work or taking some hard-earned relaxation time. "Those who attempt to multitask during the holidays take longer to perform tasks, make more mistakes, and increase their stress levels," he says.

That's the last thing you need this time of year.

5. Consider your staffing needs and your staff's needs.

At this time of year, help around the office may be scarce, especially if several employees take the same days off. David Dourgarian (@TempWorks), CEO of staffing and payroll software company TempWorks, advises small-business owners to be "flexible and ask yourself what kind of staffing is truly needed." He suggests working with a staffing firm so you don't have to waste time creating job descriptions and building a candidate pool yourself.

"An outsourced hiring process is nothing to be squeamish about," Dourgarian says. "Remember – you still make the final call."

Outsourcing hiring work means you can focus on other things, such as taking care of end-of-the-year projects and your staff. Keep in mind that generosity can help motivate employees, too.

Dourgarian recommends rewarding employees, citing his own company's practice. "We've decided to get everyone tickets to see the new Star Wars movie on opening day. Though it doesn't happen until a week before Christmas, our staff is already buzzing with excitement. Some are even sharing the news on social media," he says. "They appreciate the fact that management 'gets' them."

Rewards for employees can reenergize your team and show your appreciation, too. Win-win.

For more ideas on ramping up productivity, check out our blog post "Home-Office Hacks for Higher Productivity." And if you like what you read here, share it with your employees and colleagues.

5 Ways to Look Back So You Can Move Forward

5. November 2015 08:32

brewery owner lost in thought

I have to admit: as independent-minded as I am, I tend to get caught up in the end-of-the-year hoopla when everyone starts talking about New Year’s resolutions and how they want to improve their businesses. When it comes to personal resolutions, such as exercising, I tend to put that off until January 2 (or never). But when it comes to business resolutions, I like to start early so I don’t have such a huge list when the New Year begins.

Usually I start by gathering the many lists and ideas I’ve accumulated over the past year and see what I have yet to do. Sometimes items on my list are no longer relevant and I can cross them off; sometimes the items have changed direction. In general, I can narrow my list to following five categories of things to evaluate in the past year and for the New Year:

  1. Money. When I look back over credit card spending and bills paid, I pay attention to where the bulk of the money went. Were my business travel expenses worth it? Did we really need a fax service (when is the last time someone asked you to fax something?)? Did I spend too much money trying to repair business equipment when I should have just bought something new? Should we have spent more on small business insurance so we’re covered if something goes wrong? What about personal financial issues? Did I put enough in my retirement fund?
  2. Community. What did my company do to give back to the community? Not only do I scrutinize our charitable donations, but I also want to make sure my partners and I have volunteered our time to make a difference in our industry either by speaking at important events or participating in discussions relevant to our business and personal passions.
  3. Marketing. I’m usually good about trying new avenues when it comes to marketing trends like social media, content, and paid shares, but it’s always good to analyze where we put our efforts and try to determine where we should spend less time and where to really pump up. It’s not easy to keep up with all the innovations in digital marketing, but this time of year is a good opportunity to read about what the experts think will be the “next big thing.”
  4. Clients. My partners and I like to make sure we have a handle on which clients we believe are happy and which need some TLC in the New Year so they’ll stick around. Year-end thank-yous show clients and customers how much you appreciate their loyalty. And what about all the vendors, business peers, and friends and family who have given you ideas, support, and insight throughout the year? They deserve thanks, too.
  5. Staff. Finally, although I believe my staff works well together with mutual respect and zero resentment, I like to look back at ways we could have solved issues quicker and with less frustration. Even a work marriage as long as ours needs to air out differences and disagreements once in a while. Whether we resolve to redistribute duties, keep better track of deadlines, or just get together without talking about work periodically, the end of the year is a great time to reflect on the continuous journey we’re on and how to improve the ride.

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at rieva@smallbizdaily.com, follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website SmallBizDaily.com to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.

Don't Try This at Work: The Dangers of On-Call Scheduling for Small Businesses

4. November 2015 07:42

worried woman on the phone

If you're not in the retail industry, the concept of on-call (also termed call-in) scheduling might be news to you. But thanks to a continuing labor investigation by New York attorney general and a high-profile lawsuit in California against Victoria's Secret over the practice, on-call scheduling is starting to trickle into mainstream awareness. And from the reports, it doesn't look pretty.

BuzzFeed News released a long-form report on call-in scheduling, which requires employees to:

  • Call in an hour before their shift to see if they are needed.
  • Keep their schedules open until the last minute, which prevents them from finding supplemental work.
  • Make due with last-minute cancellations that allow employers to sidestep paying for their time at all.
  • Show up on time when they are needed or be penalized as they would for missing a regularly scheduled shift.

The report notes the California lawsuit against Victoria's Secret claims call-in scheduling is a form of wage theft, and companies that require workers to be available on-call should pay them if their shifts are canceled. Essentially, the lawsuit aims for call-on shifts to be considered as reporting for work. In California, employees must be paid when they report for work (read more about reporting time pay on the CA Department of Industrial Relations website). However, the report states it's not clear whether an employee must physically be at work for that rule to apply.

You can see the appeal of the practice for big retailers – it cuts down on labor costs when done across multiple locations. However, the current legal debacle over call-in scheduling may mean bypassing this practice is the smarter decision for small-business owners who don't have as much to gain from it, even if every dollar saved feasibly helps.

Need more incentive? Check out these three reasons to keep staff on hand during slow days.

1. Employees want some semblance of stability.

While customer behaviors, buying patterns, and sales are always in flux, some things in your employees' lives aren't, such as their student loan repayments, rent, and bills. Most workers are in search of some form of consistent income so they can survive and plan for their futures.

You might be thinking, "Aren't millennials really into flexible work schedules?" According to research from Ernst & Young, millennial workers do want flexibility, but not at the expense of their career development and work-life balance. As you learned above, call-in scheduling actually makes employees' lives harder by requiring them to reserve time for the chance of a shift without the guarantee that they will be compensated.

So while call-in scheduling may save you some dollars in labor costs, ultimately, the practice may lead to more spending. You may have to invest more resources in hiring and recruitment to replace the employees who find more reliable gigs.

2. At a small business, there's always work to do.

With the holidays and the end of the quarter fast approaching, there's plenty of work to do. The extra hands on deck can help you plot out holiday marketing strategies (find tips to help you get started in "End of Summer Holiday Marketing Tips"), tidy up the office, or run errands.

Just make sure you don't ask employees to do anything too far outside their usual scope of work. For example, you wouldn't want an office assistant regularly playing the role of office handyman. That may alter their Workers' Compensation Insurance class coding, which determines your rates. Learn more about these codes in our article "How Proper Workers' Compensation Class Codes Can Save a Business Money."

3. Slow days can be training and development days.

Having employees around during slow times can be a great opportunity to brainstorm new ideas for business growth and train your staff on new skills. And if you're a real go-getter, you can even use downtime to give your employees risk management training on:

  • Workplace safety. This might include an overview on how to properly maintain business equipment and avoid common workplace injuries (e.g., thrown out backs from improper lifting).
  • Cyber security. You could teach employees about phishing emails, your business's BYOD policy, and the importance of software updates.

For financial incentive to do this training and ideas on how to get started, check out "How Workplace Safety Can Save A Business Money" and "Want to Cut Business Losses by Three-Quarters? Try Security Training."

Small Business Spotlight: Prepping for the Holidays with Ruffit Dog Carriers

3. November 2015 06:57

Ruffit logo

Adelaida Diaz-Roa is COO and co-owner of Ruffit Dog Carriers. Based in Texas, Ruffit Dog Carriers makes forward-facing dog backpacks with the goal to enrich the relationship between you and your pet.

We talked with Adelaida about her experience prepping Ruffit Dog Carriers for the upcoming holiday shopping season. Learn how small-business owners can prepare for the holiday rush and avoid unnecessary mayhem. The transcript below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Tell us a bit about yourself. What's your background?

I'm a 23-year-old Colombian that loves puppies and startups. Ruffit Dog Carriers is now my third startup. I started working with startups my freshman year at Southern Methodist University. I learned a lot through that experience and then started a dog hotel in Dallas called Pawliday Inn.

While working at Pawliday, I met Jonathan and joined the Ruffit team back in January. I truly love it; I use the product on a regular basis, and I know the market very well. My skills complemented the skills that Jonathan has, so it was a great match for us to work together.

When did Ruffit get its start?

Ruffit started two years ago when our founder, Jonathan Rivera, was biking with his small pup Mojo. Mojo cut his little paw pretty badly so Jonathan had to find a way to get him to the car as fast as possible. He pulled his shirt over his head and used it to carry Mojo on his back while biking back.

Since that day, he started researching ways to make daily activities – like biking – more safe, comfortable, and fun with your small pup. And that's how Ruffit Dog Carriers began.

Where did you recognize the need for a canine carrier?

We recognized the need for this product in bikers that had small dogs. It's very difficult to bike with your pup, even in a basket. From there, we started targeting other people based on what our clients were saying and doing with them.

Its second biggest use is during long hikes. Most small pups tire very quickly and taking them on a long hike can become very complicated. Our carriers allow customers to not only give the dog a break, but also allow the customer to keep going. Other great uses are travel, crowded events, and shopping.

What sets you apart from companies with a similar product?

Our carriers allow a 360-degree view for the pup to help them get rid of any anxiety. The dogs are also in the carriers in a very comfortable and natural position (sitting). It's also very safe no matter how you move.

What is your sales strategy for most of the year? How does it change around the holidays?

Most of the year, we do regular Facebook, Twitter, AdWords, and AdRoll ads.

For the holidays, we will be launching a discount campaign and pushing a more "Gift This" campaign instead of "Buy This for Yourself." We will also have contests and discounts building up for the holidays.

How has your approach adapted from past experience?

When we first started, we mainly relied on local Dallas events. Then we moved into national trade shows. From there, we started getting media attention, and we realized what a big difference that made, so we were spending less time on trade shows and more time on PR.

At this point, we don't do any more trade shows as we've discovered the return isn't as great as other efforts. We do sell at trade shows, but not enough to make the time and expenses worth it. Just recently, we began experimenting with online ads and those are paying off big time. So I would say just in the past few months our strategy has made a complete 90 percent change.

What continues to work?

Something that has worked wonders is every time we get a TV appearance. Our sales skyrocket. When our appearance is shared on a network's social media and websites, it trickles for months after. We still get sales from one of our local smaller segments from about 18 months ago.

Another positive has been Twitter and Facebook ads. Those are graphic, and graphics go a long way with our product. An amazing tool to help grow on Instagram is Instagress – I highly recommend it.

Setting up an affiliate network with LeadDyno has worked great. And lastly, setting up abandoned checkout emails has recovered quite a few sales for us.

How does your preparation for the holidays begin?

We begin by planning out the schedule of our posts and the sales/specials we want to have. From there, we work on the graphics for the marketing and the posts to promote the sales. We also set up a budget for each day and a performance matrix to decide if we should increase the budgets or not as we go.

How do you evaluate your inventory?

We look at all past orders and come up with a percentage of popularity for each size. Then we estimate an increase in regular orders based on the previous year and order ahead of time. We also let our manufacturers know we may need them to have a few extra units ready for us as we near the holidays.

How do you ease concerns for customers worried about online shopping security?

We use Shopify for our online store, which is very popular and lots of customers trust. It has all of its policies written out for our customers. Highly recommend the platform for small e-commerce businesses.

Tips from Ruffit Dog Carriers on Preparing for the Holidays

  • Prepare early. Prep all holiday promotions ahead of time. This includes graphics for the website, graphics for ads, and any social media posts.
  • Stock up. Carry as much inventory as possible; if you run out, keep selling but let people know how long they should expect to wait.
  • Get creative. Try different ways to reach customers beyond traditional means.
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