Post-Pandemic Optimism

May 11, 2020

Should a small business leader be preparing for a post-pandemic boom or bust?

While many experts are predicting months if not years of recession when the nation returns to a semblance of economic activity, we are expecting a robust rebound.

There are several reasons to think prosperity will return.

Not the least is the pent up demand created by these recent months of stalled activity.

Let’s list just a few changes in the Pandemic fostered. Consumers stayed home in late winter and early spring. They spent more on comfort foods; board games; and other home centered products.  Billions of dollars in Spring, Summer fashions are left unbought.  Easter, Passover, Mothers’ Day celebrations not tendered as usual, with upcoming graduations, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Fathers’ Day, Fourth of July celebrations expected to be altered.  Many spring fix-up, gardening, and vacation trips were put off or abandoned.

Add to these factors the $1,200 credit sent by the U.S. government to most eligible individuals along with hefty unemployment checks and it is possible to see an avalanche of dollars opening up during the remainder of the year.

However, this view is tempered by experts concerned many small businesses will not reopen as restrictions are eased.

That well may be the case, but for those enterprises able to survive the Pandemic, opportunities abound.  Their problem will be finding the materials to supply the demand.

Interestingly, there is a precedent for this optimism.  In the aftermath of the 1918-1920 Spanish Flu crisis there was also a surge in economic activity.  As the nation returned to what President Warren G. Harding said was “normalcy” America entered into the Jazz Age marked by higher stock markets; vast material lifestyle improvement; and economic growth.  True, a fierce depression followed but the number of small businesses quadrupled in the next eight years during the roaring 20’s.

There are many reasons to believe, such a major expansion could also occur after this latest health crisis.

Not the least is the innate optimism of American small business leaders.  This is a factor not to be ignored in the days ahead.

Perhaps it is better to plan for growth rather than live in fear.  Also, plan now how to get needed supplies for business continuance.

Planning For Post Coronavirus

April 1, 2020

Even in the depths of these dark times, planning for a positive tomorrow is important.

While the coronavirus pandemic spreads, it is affecting us individually, our families, our small businesses and our employees, plus our customers, suppliers and partners.

As we see every day, many things are happening to help us weather these tribulations.  Not the least is the CARES Act provides some relief.

Perhaps most importantly, as a small business leader, it is a priority for you to try to stay safe and healthy.  There are people depending on you to lead them forward after this pandemic is contain.

While focusing on today, it is also a time to start planning and positioning for what you as a small business Owner/President/Manager will be doing Post Coronavirus.

Consider your business, is it a viable on-going entity that needs to be repositioned and/or galvanized?  Or, should it be shuttered, sold, merged, or something else.

If you are going to soldier forward, craft a vision to focus and unify your business.  Importantly, share it with your employees, customers, suppliers and partners. 

Note: your resources (capital and personnel) might be limited so prioritize those projects that will give you the highest return.

Some things to consider:

Will you be a physical, online or combination business?

Answering that question, leads to a whole series of decisions about physical space, where workers will reside, enablement technology, etc.

If you decide to maintain a physical presence, your Local Community will play a role in your business not only surviving, but thriving. 

  • Letting your community know that you are open for business and your hours.
  • People will be hyper aware of cleanliness standards, so post measures taken to clean and keep your business clean are critical.
  • Donate to and support local causes.
  • Thank your local first-line-of-support people.

Your Staff is a critical success factor of your business. 

  • Acknowledge any personnel losses and have a plan for recognizing those who have passed either with a single donation or some other memorial.
  • Look at necessary roles going forward and determine who to keep, move to another position, let go, and hire.  Having the right people in each position is important to achieving your vision.
  • Thank those staying with you; ensure they have the tools and training needed to fulfill the job and your vision for the business.
  • Provide a reference for those being separated.
  • Put together an enticing company pitch and employment package for new hires.
  • Consider which staff you need on premises and those you want to work remotely.
  • Provide the remote workers with the support they need to succeed; set standards for measurement.
  • Consider a making portion of employee compensation based on the success of the business.
  • Decide whether staff be employees or via a PEO (see All About Small Business blog from May, 2018).
  • Being able to engage the team is essential; find ways to motivate people and make your unifying vision something that will engage your team and get them on board.
  • Be relentless at pursuing the task of building an unstoppable team (you cannot do everything on your own); having one will enable your business will thrive and the unifying vision will come to fruition.

In addition, Suppliers and Partners can help you fulfill your business vision.  Find collaborative ways to work together to meet the needs of your customers and business in today’s changing world. 

  • If you contract for a length of time and/or volume amount with your suppliers; ask for longer payment terms, volume discount, and/or additional services/products.
  • Should you get a partner or add partner(s) to help you fulfill non-core activities such as delivery, technology, marketing, staffing, among others.
  • Consider whether you should partner up to expand your offerings, reach a wider audience/customer base, and add capabilities.

Some Marketing and Sales activities might help rev your business.

  • Conduct customer and employee online surveys to learn strengths, weaknesses and areas of opportunities.
  • Your messaging should reflect your vision; consider adding data in messaging.
  • Consider having a Back-To-Business special.
  • If your had customers during the coronavirus outbreak, contact them to thank and offer them something special such as a free item/service.
  • During the pandemic, communicate with current and past customers on a regular basis.
    • Keep asking them how they are doing and is there anything you can do for them.  Remember, help in a time of crisis is most remembered.
    • Keep customers informed of your company’s plans and when they can expect a return of your business to ‘normal’.
  • If your business was completely shuttered during the pandemic, consider sending out a “we’re back” message along with notice of your hours, cleaning activities and any specials.
  • For past customers, reach out to re-engage through am email, snail mail, or personal visit as well as through attaching a communication to your services/products. Start by asking how they are doing and what your company can do for them.
  • For new customers, consider what is going to give you the highest level of engagement across all of your digital channels and how to avoid them second-guessing your messaging.

Examine your business’ use of Technology.

  • Should you be realigning, increasing your in house tech staff or outsourcing much of it?
  • Consider your user experience; assure ease of use and performance when using applications/systems and accessing business critical data.
  • Look at how well you are protecting your customers’ and your own proprietary data; make sure you are in compliance with GDPR, CCPA and other protection requirements that are applicable.
  • Do a benefits analysis of Cloud versus Traditional VPN.
  • Review your disaster recovery program; evaluate existing systems and determine if anything needs to be changed.
  • Check your security measures and consider (re)training staff.  Protect your documents and applications; guarding against COVID-related Phishing attacks and Ransomware.
  • Enhance communications with your workforce, which may be increasingly distributed: standardize collaboration platforms; set BYOD (bring your own device) policies, if you don’t already have; and establish Telework Best Practices.
  • Explore advanced technologies such as chatbots, virtual reality, robots, etc. to supplement your staff and provide a competitive advantage to your business.

Think about how you run and manage your Operations.

  • Should you be handling it all yourself, or should you bring on a partner to share the workload.
  • Select key performance measures (KPIs) to measure your business effectiveness.
  • Look at your schedule of operations and customer service.  Adjust to your new vision of business.

Look at your Property, Plant and Equipment; those are your long-term assets that typically have a life of more than a year.  Do they align with your go-forward business?

  • Examine what are your future needs for vehicles, furniture, machinery, etc.
  • If you own your business property, consider whether you should refinance (mortgage rates are lower), sell, or rent out part of it. 

Another possible long-term obligation is rent.  Think about if this is the location you want to be and how much space you will require; perhaps you can get a discount on rent and/or a new lease.

Your business’ Finances are the fuel to move your business forward.

  • Do you have the free cash flow to move forward with your plans?  Otherwise consider taking out a loan or getting a grant to help you.
  • Again, the CARES Act may help your business; let this Guide inform you.
  • Keep careful records of all expenditures, not only for repayment but also for filing 2020 taxes.
  • Be diligent on collecting receivables, but remember your customers are in recovery mode as well.
  • Ask suppliers for extended term for the remainder of the year.

It may seem dark now, but there is a light at the end of this pandemic tunnel.  Strive for it by preparing now, while staying healthy.  Your business, customers and employees, as well as suppliers and partners are depending on you.

SMBs Face Decisions Forced By Coronavirus

March 13, 2020

From rattled stock indexes to empty sports stadiums, Americans face disruptions from coronavirus virus (Covid-19).  No one, least of all the leaders of the nation’s small businesses, foresaw the challenges in January that are affecting SMBs this spring.

From the high optimism expressed in survey after survey before Covid-19, SMBs now are staring at struggles to maintain supply lines and fill orders.  According to Cheryl Druehl, Associate Dean for Faculty and Professor of Operations Management, George Mason University, “the outbreak is already disrupting production and transportation for manufacturers, which threatens broader economic fallout. There will be wide-reaching influence on the supply chain. We could see serious impacts in every kind of manufacturing.”

By the end of March, the world will know if the feared Pan-epidemic is containable or further actions will be needed.  For SMBs short term decisions will center on obtaining critical goods to satisfy even reduced industrial and consumer demands.

Many leaders are considering cutting operations, reducing staff, hoarding funds.  These may be the prudent actions should the epidemic continue.

Before they do anything drastic, there are avenues open to them to improve customer relations and upgrade staff.  

For clients or customers:

  • Open broader lines of communications with customers to stay in touch with your customers.  Tell them the company stands ready to help.
  • Prepare a customer service plan.  If your store is staying open, inform as many customers as possible the business is remaining open and ready to serve them.
  • Have alternative means of delivering goods and services.  Retain new or expanded delivery options. Identify alternative products, services, or channels.
  • Host online events.
  • Review payment terms, options, and financing sources.
  • Service industries aimed at home, offices need to be doubly vigilant and proactive.
  • Above all keep everyone customers, and staff in-the-loop, on any changes.
  • Provide a list of FAQs.

For you and your staff:

  • Stay safe and informed.  Encourage good prevention habits and urge seeking medical help at the slightest signs of illness.
  • Take the time for you and your staff to attend online webinars and classes for learning new skills and perhaps obtaining certifications.
  • Offer new tools to ease work-at-home efforts.
  • Build online sharing tools to encourage better communications, along with answers to their FAQs.
  • Make financial assistance available where appropriate.

If you are expanding your online capabilities, these are the strategies developed to provide excellent customer service, sales and marketing through messaging apps:

Whether you operate with your customers face-to-face or online, how do you lessen the impact and even thrive if possible? 

  • Learn of any IRS Update on any deadline extensions
  • Check status of SBA Loans for affected businesses
  • Review handling cash flow demands with decreased sales
  • Publish disease Prevention Policies in the office without getting sued and keeping the doors opened
  • Consider asset preservation
  • Explore tax deductions unique to this situation
  • Move if possible employees to home based stations

However, many SMBs may not have the cash to wait out the downturn.  Nor, do they have the comfort of knowing what their competitors are doing.

The Chinese have a saying: May you live in interesting times.  For SMBs today, we are indeed living in interesting times.  They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they can be also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind.  And, as with many crises, there will be an end point.

SMBs need also be looking further down into the future.  Perhaps, this calamity is a wake-up call?

According to a recent study by consulting specialist CAMELOT Management Consultants, the majority of the companies questioned see agility combined with improved delivery capacity as the biggest challenge in the management of supply chains over the next three years.

Given that many SMBs depend on China-based companies to fill their supply chains, the coronavirus could be seen as a sign to encourage supply diversification.  Despite its demonstrated efficiency and reliability, keeping China as a sole source locus may not be an easy decision in the future.  Already, the rise of a Chinese middle class has led to wage growth making many products too expensive to produce on the mainland.

Further, political issues may lead to other hiccups in the supply chain.  Many of these issues are outside SMBs’ control.  Diversifying sourcing localities may be one way of mitigating these vulnerabilities.  Another solution is to bring some industries within the country’s borders.

Altogether, the coronavirus and the measures taken to fight it have given SMBs much to ponder and do.

There are both short and long term decisions to be made, which will determine their future business success.

Hiring Talent in a Tight Labor Market

February 12, 2020

Lagging behind in hiring while still enjoying similar growth reported by larger domestic and foreign companies small businesses are also finding it hard retain top talent. The tight labor market makes the competition even more frustrating as the boom cycle continues with little signs of ending. Indeed, 73% of surveyed small businesses indicated they thought 2020 would be a better year than 2019.

To ease the recruitment strain, here are some ideas for hiring in a tight labor market:

  • Ask current employees for recommendations and consider incentivizing referrals.  Current employees know the company culture and more or less what is entailed to succeed.  You are likely to get a better hire as employees are advocating for someone they know.
  • Consider job sharing.  It appeals to qualified workers that want to work part-time.  This pool of talent might include young or returning to work mothers, retirees, gig workers, among others.

Some alternatives:

  • If the position is not critical to your business, the slot is only needed for a project, and/or the expertise is hard to recruit for consider outsourcing to a professional services group or having a trusted partner fulfill the need.
  • Consider deploying the ‘temporary to hire’ tactic to test out the skills, performance and fit of an individual before making the employee full-time.

To promote the work opportunity:

  • Make a clear job description outline the position responsibilities as well as the skills and experience required.
  • Use your own online resources, such as your business website and social media to promote job opportunities.  Remember to always to show your business in a positive light and show the advantages of working with your company; this will also build your online profile.
  • Utilize free listings on job boards with schools, religious organizations, associations, plus job sites such as Indeed, Glassdoor, Google for Jobs, among others.

When recruiting, remember:

  • Follow-up with everyone, to leave the best impression; this will build your brand.
  • Plan the interviews you make and remember the interaction is two-way discourse to determine whether the candidate is right for the position available.  Usually the first call is for screening. The second is a more detailed discussion, again over the telephone or via video call.  Finally, bring in the finalist candidates to spend time with the hiring manager and colleagues.
  • Don’t settle.  A bad hire is worse than leaving the position open and/or continuing to recruit.  You can always resort to one of the above alternatives.

Hiring and starting:

  • Put your offer in writing.  Include expectations with measures.  Consider putting in a trial period.
  • Onboard and develop your hire to ensure s/he succeeds.  Send information additional information in advance of the start date.  Welcome the first day.  Have regularly scheduled review meetings.

Hiring employees is critical to the ongoing success of your small business.  It may be harder in a tight labor market, so put your best foot forward, hire critical employees, and build your brand in the process.

Small Businesses Challenged by Online Sales Taxes

January 10, 2020

With the New Year comes an added headache for small businesses engaged in eCommerce.

Given permission to levy local taxes on goods bought on the Internet, many cities and towns across the nation are now requiring merchants to collect and remit those monies.

Although the decision was made 18+ months ago, many smaller companies are just now waking up to the fact they will be liable for levies.  Prior to the ruling, companies relied on the fact they were not domiciled in the various states and therefore did not need to add state and local taxes.

That all went away in June 2018, the five-to-four Supreme Court decision in the South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc. case, states were given authority to order online retailers collect sales tax even if the companies didn’t have a physical presence within a state, such as a store or a warehouse. 

So if your company does business across state lines, it’s a good idea to reexamine your sale tax collection.

There are exceptions.

The Supreme Court said in an issued statement at the time of the decision:  “a business with one salesperson in each state must collect sales taxes in every jurisdiction in which goods are delivered; but a business with 500 salespersons in one central location and a website accessible in every state need not collect sales taxes on otherwise identical nationwide sales”.

Complicating the process for smaller businesses, the items that get taxed and the frequency each is taxed varies from state to state. Some states allow city and local administrations to apply additional taxes.

Certain states have enacted economic nexus standards, which requires businesses that have a selling connection to that state other than a physical presence to collect sales tax on remote commerce. These states include:

  • Alabama
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • New Jersey
  • Nevada
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Also states that have enacted economic nexus standards, you should be conscious of the different states’ thresholds for economic nexus.  TaxJar offers insight into the gross revenue thresholds, which, if retailers hit, make them subject to sales tax collection laws.

Small businesses are definitely the ones that are really adversely affected, bigger businesses typically have more robust sales-tax software to manage tax collection.

Verenda Smith, a deputy director of the Federation of Tax Administrators said that state taxes weren’t meant to impact small businesses. Though, she noted that “the fairness issue is equally on the table, and it can be at odds with the burden issue.”

Some states are jumping in to alleviate the burden and address fairness.  In South Dakota, where the case took place, small businesses that make less than $100,000 in sales or have fewer than 200 transactions are exempt from out-of-state taxing. Other states such as California have followed suit, but have differing monetary thresholds.

Additionally, 38 states and the District of Columbia have enacted the Marketplace Fairness Act, which requires e-commerce giants such as Amazon and eBay to collect and remit sales tax for its third-party sellers.

“These bills require out-of-state retailers that have contracts with “affiliates”— independent entities within the state who link to an out-of-state business on their website and get a share of revenues from the business—to collect the state’s sales and use tax.

But, despite moves to alleviate tax burdens from small businesses, some online retailers are hurt when customers abandon carts after sales tax is applied to their total – a behavior that has become commonplace due to many consumers not having to pay out-of-state sales tax for over two decades of online shopping.

Prepare For 2020

December 2, 2019

December 2019 SMB’s yearend activity should focus on preparations for 2020.

The story of 2019 has been written.  For most, the year was a success. 

Information Strategies Inc. surveys show that 2019 was more successful for most SMBs than any other year in this decade.

While many economists see storm clouds approaching, most small business soundings are still upbeat.

According to the Q4 2019 CNBC/SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey Small Business Confidence moves higher on trade optimism with a surprise spike in tech optimism.

The number of small business owners who expect technological change will have positive effects on their business jumped to 48% in Q4, up from 41% in Q3.

With the year coming to a close, there are several avenues open to SMBs to lock in revenue growth and profits during the next 12 months.

Among them are:

  • Banks are offering more generous terms for loans and lines of credit.  One reason is that more credit unions have started to process business credit programs.  Take advantage of available credit for expansion.
  • While importing goods from China and other Asian nations may be more costly due to President Trump’s ongoing tariff negotiations, other countries have tried to offer alternative sourcing venues, at favorable rates.  Also, freight rates are still in declining mode and transportation costs have plummeted for even small SMBs.
  • Energy costs in most states have declined and alternative providers are still offering lower cost power packages.  While subsides for solar projects are becoming scarcer, there are still available in many states.
  • Labor costs are expected to take a major jump in 2020 and some economists say they should be factored into any planning effort.  Many states have enacted higher minimum wage floors to take effect in 2020.  Automation can be added, often with a 6 month payback.
  • Along with labor costs, healthcare and retirement benefits will be in higher focus in 2020 as the election cycle plays out.  Average per employee healthcare insurance is expected to jump 7% in 2020.  Consider using gig workers and/or joining a benefits management firm to minimize labor labors.
  • Many SMBs are reluctant to raise prices while inflation and interest rates remain low.  However, announcing rate increases for spring or summer can be an effective tool to encourage buyers to purchase early in the year, a normal slack time for many SMBs.
  • The shift to more online selling, whether to consumers, businesses, governments, means greater investments will be needed in 2020 to increase sales.  One scary statistic, 25% of smaller businesses still do not have a website.  Consider getting outsource help to have a favorable online presence and the ability to transact.
  • SMBs will need to devote more funding to onboarding, training, retaining staff in 2020 as the labor market continues to be very tight for qualified employees.  Ask employees, vendors and local education institutes for hiring recommendations.  Consider also asking retirees to work part time as well as stay-at-home mothers and gig workers.
  • Finally, with the aging out of older leaders, many SMBs are facing the problem of what to do with their successful companies.  Many owners have found their children and grandchildren do not want to go into the family enterprise.  Experts expect this dilemma to become a major factor for many SMBs in 2020.  Consider finding experts in this area to begin planning for the orderly sale of the business.

December is a good month along with the holiday cheer to spend time thinking about next year and the opportunities those 366 days represent.

Promote Your Business

November 12, 2019

Publicity and public relations are cost effective promotion tools for SMBs.

Yet, these channels are the least use by a majority of cases surveyed by Information Strategies, Inc. (ISI) and others.

There are many reasons for this under utilization but first let’s look at specific channel efforts and why they are effective.

Publicity comes in many forms:

  • Personal appearances on local, state, national media
  • Press releases
  • Product demonstrations
  • Civic, organization partnership
  • Trade group leadership
  • Op-ed editorial contributions

Every effort in these areas need to be accompanied by the company’s name and a way for audiences to respond. The best part of these efforts are they usually cost little or no money.

Often requiring a donation either cash or product, SMBs must demonstrate a commitment to its sales footprint, whether local, state, or national.  Among the ways local businesses demonstrate involvement are:

  • Little league sponsorships
  • Food, clothing distribution
  • School scholarships
  • Product donations
  • In-store internships
  • Charity participation

On a larger scale, SMBs need to find activities that parallel their expanding sales footprint and through the communication channels their prime customers utilize.

As more and more SMBs turn to social media as a key promotion channel, they are neglecting the publicity, public relation efforts which can be cost effective way to reach existing and targeted customers.

That is why we suggest as the New Year approaches SMBs begin to devote part of their marketing budget to these sectors.

While it will take months to truly demonstrate their effectiveness, there is no doubt they can add profit dollars.

Innovating for Growth

October 8, 2019

Fueled by fierce competition, shifting customer requirements and other forces create rapidly changing markets where innovation is critical for business growth.

To generate growth business need to embrace the future with new ideas, strategies, tools, and/or processes.  Smaller businesses, being closer to individual sectors and capable of extra agility, are often initially more successful than larger companies.  Larger companies have longer runways to enable new ideas to succeed.

However, innovation may come with unforeseen costs: the first fire tamer was probably consumed by the created flames; and corporate innovators sometimes destroyed their own organizations.

Nonetheless innovative growth is the key to long term success.

Someone asked recently why Walmart, Amazon, Apple continue to grow.  The answer while complex is rooted in their management being relentlessly focused on improving their performance through innovation.

Whether this business improvement is aimed at accelerating processes, tightening workflows, clarifying communications or other enhancements, the key is innovation.

Being innovative means creating a culture that encourages exploration and experimentation, facilitates open communication with customers, partners and employees, and drives innovation from both the top-down and bottom-up plus influences from the outside.

At the highest level, the company’s senior team recognizes innovation as a key source of competitive advantage.  And, workers see it as a way to become involved in the business, which leads to greater loyalty.

Radical innovation is not necessarily required.

To build an innovative company, managers should focus on smaller activities as well as larger canvases.

Ask the following questions to your business:

  • Are you taking advantage of changes in the external environment?
  • Can you revamp your business model regularly to achieve competitive advantage?
  • Are you innovating to achieve specific business outcomes?
  • What steps can you take?

Businesses typically innovate in three areas: products and services, processes, and business model.

By looking at growing into a new market, launching a new product, or implementing a new process, new growth concepts appear and opportunities become more apparent.

Data can enhance efforts to predict the future. In fact, according to McKinsey, extensive and best practice users of customer analytics outperform their competitors.

Consider optimizing or changing the game of your business through:

  • Leveraging business and market intelligence
  • Developing a growth strategy
  • Refining your business model
  • Innovating a product and service
  • Creating a marketing strategy
  • Building your brand
  • Maximizing your intellectual property

What makes an innovation “radical” has nothing to do with size and everything to do with impact.

Causing large or small scale disruptions generates significant rewards but demands tough, sometime counter intuitive decisions and strong leadership willing to stay-the-course.

Also, at some time, something is going to break in your company.  Why not fix it using innovation?  Your business will be higher-performing if it deals positively with the challenge: assess the situation and develop an innovative solution.

New challenges can’t be met with outdated solutions or finding who to blame.  Rather overcoming challenges is the mark of innovative growth companies.

An activity is developing worst-case scenarios; an exercise best suited to off-site confabs.  Prepare for these worst-case scenarios by working through them in advance with your team.  Set up a one-day offsite exercise where you proactively address these scenarios and brainstorm innovative solutions. But be aware, these alternative plans might not survive a competitor’s effort. 

In summary, it’s difficult to be innovative in a world where competition comes at you from all sides.  But it can and does pay to be innovative.

The following tactics help businesses progress from generating ideas to implementing them quickly:

  • Get ideas from everywhere
  • Learn to fail, fast
  • Go to market even if you are not ready

The companies that grow through innovation thrive on collaboration, a free exchange of ideas and regular interactions with customers and other stakeholders.  In the end, it is the willingness to boldly face the future that is the key to corporate innovation.  Embrace it!

Remember, innovation is the successful development of an idea that generates business value for sustainable growth. Innovation is not a strategy, it’s a way of being.

Recognizing, Dealing With Burnout; or Preventing It

September 15, 2019

Burnout is a more frequently used word mouthed by small business leaders according to a recent Information Strategies, Inc. (ISI) poll.  Yet, small business leaders are mostly overlooked as typical candidates for burnout syndrome.

Fatigue brought about by the work demands creeps up on them almost unnoticed.  Then too, it is often ignored because entrepreneurs are self-sustaining, tend to depend on their own resources, and fearful of displaying weakness.  Equally as important, most usually do not have the same physical, emotional and financial support as someone would have in a corporate environment. 

Vacations are a rare happening for most small business leaders.  They are rarer for new business owners, who on average does not take a vacation for the first five years, according to another ISI study.  So burnout is highly likely early on as well as after many years.

This being said, what are some of the more obvious symptoms of burnout?

You are exhausted all the time.
You feel more anxious about your business than before.
You feel overwhelmed and indecisive.
You struggle to focus.
You are eating poorly and getting little/no exercise.
You sleep is restless, disrupted, or perhaps you suffer insomnia.
You anger quickly and lash out at people.
Further, unrealistic expectations, misguided passion, guilt, boredom and control issues are some of the main culprits that drive small business owners into burnout.

And, these often used ‘stress-relievers’ are actually making your burnout worse:

Avoiding confrontation often leads blowing up at an inopportune time, and creating a more stressful environment for both yourself and others.
Desktop dining or skipping lunch (and/or dinner deprives you of one especially critical stress quelling nutrient– social interaction.
Complaining exasperates stress and rewires your brain for negativity.
Avoiding confrontation often leads to blowing up at inopportune times and creates a more stressful environment for both yourself and others.

There is a hidden cause of burnout, which is physical and emotional:  it is feeling a lack of control or powerlessness, even though you are the boss/owner. 

Here are three ways feeling a lack of control may be contributing to your burnout or the burnout of your employees — and what to do about it:

Recognize you are suffering from entrepreneur burnout and acknowledge that you need help and support to deal with it.
Focus on what you can control and call for help and support for things that are out of your control.
Re-ignite your passion for your business. Remember why you started your own business and re-visit the goals you set yourself; readjust if necessary.

In summary, to deal with burnout: make your goals and expectations more realistic; set a sustainable daily workload; and take time each day to reflect on what was achieved, rather than focus on what was not.  Plus remember how grateful you are for what you have and for the wonderful people in your life.

Or better yet, here are a few ways to prevent burnout.

Allow yourself to take breaks; even a short walk can provide meaningful mental relaxation and clarity.
Find meaning in your work; it will help you keep going even in difficult times.
Learn continually to spur creativity; as you continue to learn your brain will be better equipped to deal with problems that arise at work.
Maintain important relationships; they can offer much-needed relief from work-related stress.

Further,

Delegate; learn to assign work to others.
Rest, exercise, and learn to say ‘no’.
Begin your day proactively; eat energizing foods, work out (even if it is just a walk outside), and grab 10 minutes just to breathe and be intentional about your work.
Free yourself from interruptions and distractions; turn off email and social media notifications, also create a schedule and try to follow it.
Be clear and focused on your vision, purpose, and life goals.
Stop working and take a break whenever you are too hungry, tired, angry, or even lonely.
Change your mindset and expectations to positive and achievable.

Improve your physical and emotional well-being by recognizing and dealing with burnout, or preventing it.  And remember, recognizing burnout is the first step to avoiding its effects.

Changing SEO Demands Requires SMB Vigilance, Action

August 11, 2019

Key to a successful SEO plan is following the rules and being smart while undertaking various techniques. The rules and ranking factors have regularly changed over time, and many techniques which worked just a few years ago are now obsolete.

In today’s SEO world, outline below are some things you should Do and Not Do.

Things you should Do:

  • Website Content -frequently updated website content offers search engines fresh content and sources of new information for their search requests.  All of the content on your website should be unique and provide high-quality information that your audience is looking for.  Major search engines will devalue a page if the content is not relevant, or if it is not unique and appears on other websites first.
    This ensures that unique content creators gain the credit they deserve.
    One way of providing regular unique content is by using a blog.  Focus on creating posts around a keyword topic that is relevant to your industry.  These posts can help you increase your organic traffic plus provide search engines with high-quality content to offer to searchers.
  • Great User Experience (UX)- is all about providing the best possible experience to the customer.  As the use of machine learning increases, user signals will factor more prominently into search engine rankings.
    A positive UX (quality & relevant content, innovative design with a clear, structured navigation, etc.) provides an indirect, but consistent, benefit on where a website will ultimately rank.
    A negative UX (hard to find or irrelevant information, broken links, etc.) can prevent a business from reaching their potential in the organic search results and can also stifle your conversion rate.
    If users come to your website and browse through multiple pages, spend time engaging with your content and return to your website, all of these metrics will be taken into consideration within search an engine’s ranking algorithm.
  • Local Search – focus on local search, especially if you are a business that provides a local service.  If you adopt a more locally-focused SEO strategy, you are much more likely to appear higher in mobile search results when users are searching in your service area.
    By undertaking various optimization techniques, such as building citations, verifying your Google My Business page and optimizing your website for geo-focused keywords, you can ensure that your Local SEO will be at the top of its game.

Things you should Not Do:

  • Black Hat SEO – can lead to ranking penalties.  Search engines have cracked down on the strategies used to “cheat” algorithms and removed spammers out of the search results.  Instead they have focused on quality content, UX and relevance to provide searchers with better results.
  • Spammy Tricks – if you are caught using it, this means you could hurt your rankings.  For example, you should never ‘stuff’ keywords into any piece of content on your website; instead your keywords need to fit naturally into headings and copy on your site.  Also, do not use doorway pages (creating low-quality websites solely for a link through to your own site), invisible text (using the same color font as the background color), or duplicate content (copying content from another source or having pages on your website which use the exact same content).
  • Shady Link Building – that directs traffic to your website or external links leaving your website to manipulate its ranking in search results.  These types of links include: comment spam in blogs, article directory links, hidden links (similar to invisible text, using the same color font as the background), buying expiring domains, and link farms.

In summary

Some people argue for shortcuts in SEO practices.  The best course is to remain ethical toward SEO algorithms.  Smart SMBs stay up to speed with the latest developments in ranking algorithms as the best way to ensure avoiding any SEO penalties.  This approach has the best chance to gain high ranking for your top keywords.  In turn, this will grow your business.