Archive for the ‘JoAnn M. Laing’ Category

Flex, Remote Workers — Should Your Business Be Using Them

July 17, 2016

When JetBlue Airways Corporation first launched, many if not most of its reservation personnel operated from their own homes.

This highly successful approach reduced start-up costs and worked until more centralized operations were installed as it grew much larger.

For years the typical worker sat at a desk under the watchful eyes of a manager. But much like Jet Blue’s initial workforce, tomorrow’s employee may be miles away working in their home and/or not the standard Monday through Friday 9 am to 5 pm schedule.

While the jury is still out as to the overall effectiveness from such an approach, there are compelling reasons companies are considering flex and/or remote workers.

  • Bigger, more diverse pool of talent for a larger geographic area to choose from
  • No need to relocate employee
  • Less time commuting leads to fuller work days
  • Happier workers, reduces attrition and enhances quality of work
  • Accommodating a worker’s schedule nurtures loyalty and increase productivity
  • May not have to pay benefits, if not full-time jobs
  • Provides ability to adapt to seasonal, cyclical, and growth needs of the business
  • Workers spend more time working, less time commuting
  • Save money: real estate, parking, capital to run the business, etc.

Employees benefit in some of the following ways:

  • Flexible schedule: not everyone is productive during the same time of day, this allows them to work the hours they prefer and/or what fits their lifestyle
  • Saving money: commuting expenses, out-of-home meals, work wardrobe, child- and/or elder-care
  • Feel more in control of work life
  • Way to keep working while balancing other commitments
  • Less exposure to others’ illnesses and sick days off
  • Fewer days off for personal reasons such as errands, deliveries, appointments
  • Fewer office politics to deal with
  • Limiting in-person contact causes employees to make the most of their time on conference calls and in meetings
  • Inspiration to others seeking work

No matter how one feels about these matters, some clear trends are emerging that should be considered by leaders of all sizes.  They include:

  • Job sharing and telecommuting is on the rise
  • At-home employees continue to rise
  • Most organizations are not monitoring their ROI when it comes to flexible work
  • Moving full-time positions to non-full-time workers (contingent workers)
  • Online communities developing to support these types of workers
  • Millennials are the largest generation in the work force; they prefer to telecommute ad flexible work options
  • Flexible work positively impacts health, providing more time to exercise

Mitigating against these trends are:

  • Not all employees adjust well to remote or flexible work
  • It is harder to mentor and train remote and flexible workers
  • Company culture may weaken because personal relationships and contact between staff members is limited
  • Harder to schedule in-person meetings with a group
  • Communication becomes primarily digital, losing the body language communication can lead to communication being strained and miss-communications via email and text
  • Workers may feel more isolated
  • People who tend to overwork may struggle with work/life balance if working at home
  • Need for worker to have at-home dedicated work space suitable for their personal productivity
  • Technological issues are more detrimental and can isolate remote employees
  • Workers’ comp and other liability issues can be associate with remote work
  • Remote work can also be a way to avoid third-party child- or elder-care costs, causing less productivity
  • Lack of interactive feedback may lead to less creative ideas and brainstorming


Company leaders should consider all of these factors when thinking about future employment practices for their organizations.

There may be different answers for different companies. Find the best answer for your company.

Warning Signals Abound; Are Small Business Leaders Listening?

May 22, 2015

When Staples opened its first store, stationary establishments were amongst the most profitable retail operations in America.

Within 15 years they were losing money and have almost disappeared from most shopping areas.

For those owners who did not heed the warnings blared at them by their fellow owners and trade press at the time they lost everything.

It is no different in today’s rapidly changing world.

As consumers and business purchasers change their buying habits, many small-and medium-size businesses are getting left behind.

Therefore it is important that even the most successful small business leader should take lessons from birds.

A recent study of wild birds found that different species learn the warning calls of other forest creatures.

Moreover, they learn what the calls mean and if the predator can be targeting them.

The landscape is evolving quickly and even the most mundane small business will be affected.

There are many venues preaching the need for change.

They are the distant drumbeats warning of danger to profits that can’t be ignored.

However, for many managers buried in day-to-day activities these warning signals are not being heard.

Only when the threat of a new technology approach becomes immediate is action taken.

By then it may be too late.

Warning calls are all about us, it is important to hear, heed them.

In business there is a need to be familiar not only with one’s industry and competitors but other sectors.

Then too, economic, social, and financial trends also affect any small businesses.

When the economy shrinks, some small businesses are affected to a greater extent than others.

Likewise, as the economy expands, some small businesses are negatively impacted.

For an individual small business the first warnings signs come when customers stop reordering; phone calls are ignored; products are returned; store traffic slows; etc.

When this happens, it is important to listen to:

* Customers

* Suppliers

* Employees

* Other industry participants

* Trade press

* Family/friends

What is heard may shock, but it is the key to learning.

Today, small business leaders need to learn quickly or get left behind.

Are You Running On Empty?

February 9, 2015

Many small business leaders started the new year with a burst of renewed energy and purpose.

As the economy has recovered, there is strong evidence this year’s activities have been particularly active. And it is borne out this year by some respected surveys.

But the downside of this is that these efforts can negatively affect management later in the year.

While a year of activity is not long, it can be exhausting, especially after five years of difficult struggles.

Therefore it important that senior managers pace themselves.

Let’s look at the broader picture.

Two studies conducted by Information Strategies, Inc., done 10 years apart, found small businesses:

* Tend to hire most in the first and fourth quarters.

* Start new campaigns, products, equipment purchasing, IT upgrades in the first quarter.

* Ignore, put off solving minor problems that become big situations later in the year.

Like their corporate brethren, in the first months of the year small business management is involved as new staff is added, marketing campaigns debuted, equipment purchased as well as other activities initiated.

These efforts are all to the good but there are reasons to pace new activities.

The most important reason may be that small business leaders get too busy and wear themselves out, according to experts.

In the rush to be proactive early in the year the following happens:

* Vital issues are sometimes not addressed properly;

* Management is distracted; and

* Problems are overlooked; and

* Most importantly, managers quickly become overworked.

This trend also sometimes lead to poor follow-through which affect the entire organization.

These include:

* Staff can’t absorb all the changes.

* Not all of the crucial elements are in place.

* Management has not spent enough time evaluating needs, applicants, etc.

* The desire “to just do something” takes hold within the organization.

Because management is a long-distance race, small business leaders should pace themselves.

Unfortunately, many small business leaders don’t.

One key element necessary to smart pacing is to carve out a work/life plan.

Experts in this area see as a tell-tale when coaching small business leaders.

One recent survey by leading travel card found that 93% of small business leaders had no set plans to vacation in 2015. The most frequent answer given “when there is a lull time for the company.” This compares with 51% of corporate managers have vacation periods already set.

Another example is the antidotal evidence of coaches that more admitted management mistakes are made in the fourth quarter than at any other time.

The lesson to be learned: small business managers need to look at the entire year and learn it is a marathon and not just a day-to-day race.

Many Pluses For Small Businesses In 2015

January 10, 2015

Unlike the previous five year turns, 2015 promises significant pluses for small businesses.
Perhaps the most important is reduced energy costs. With oil trading at half the cost just six months ago two trends are already apparent.
While the energy component varies by industrial sector, economists expect a significant energy cost savings for most enterprises. Information Strategies, Inc. (ISI) estimates an average 7% cost reduction for most small businesses in all sectors.
The second trend comes from lower fuel costs for consumers. Economists predict the average American family will save $430 in the first six months of 2015. These savings will most likely be spent on non-basic items in the form of consumer goods and personal services which are purchased although smaller enterprises.
Adding to the plus side of year, interest rates are expected to remain low while the ability to borrow is expanding for small businesses. Increasingly, alternative lending sources for small businesses are coming online and ISI predicts this year will see a 15% gain in market share for these lenders. Large banks are expected to increase their lending to small businesses but not reach pre-recession levels in 2015.
Contributing to the brightening picture are signs of returning consumer confidence in the future which usually results in increased spending. However. this is not expected to have a significant impact until later in the year. Next year’s holiday shopping may be the most robust in six years.
As cloud services and smarter use of the Internet drive down costs and expands their sales opportunities, small businesses are expected to further benefit from the online revolution. This trend could fundamentally change how even the smallest enterprise conducts day-to-day operations.
At the least, it means average organizational management costs will decline in 2015 adding to profits.
After seven years of federal gridlock and despite media fears, Washington may at last be focusing on some of the key issues facing smaller enterprises. Legislation to ease some of the more egregious regulatory and tax impediments for small businesses may be addressed in the new Congress.
The average cost of regulatory compliance has gone up each of last five years. The coming year may see a decline in these costs.
In particular, some of the tax uncertainty for small business owners may be eased, if Republicans fulfill their post-election promises.
Finally, new business start-ups are expected to increase over 2014, which bodes well for the B2B marketplace, a prime driver for many smaller businesses.
There are clouds on the horizon but trends seem to be in place for a good year for small businesses.

Creative Ways Of Adding To Your Small Business’s Marketing Efforts

October 17, 2014

Adding A Company-Wide Approach To Grow Your Enterprise

In today’s difficult economic world, small business leaders can’t ignore the importance of a unified, integrated marketing effort that goes beyond direct sales and media efforts

While smaller enterprises are aligning their traditional marketing efforts, they often ignore every day company communications as channels to added sales, profits.

Encouraging employees to repeat the company mantra; act as brand ambassadors; identifying new communication channels; and building a unified persona will drive added sales.

At Information Strategies, Inc. (ISI) our surveys and reader feedback indicate a majority of small businesses concentrate on insuring the “look” and “feel” of online and offline marketing are complementary.

In these efforts the logo, type, message, and response mechanisms are often in sync and carefully match their targeted audiences.

Once they have aligned these efforts, we found many small businesses think of their marketing efforts as “totally integrated”. In short, they assume their marketing begins and ends with their online and offline efforts.

That is really not true!

An effective branding effort just starts there. By not extending the sales effort to other parts of the company that touches the public they are wasting precious resources and opportunities that can add to the profit picture.

Here are some ways of making these resources be part of the marketing solution:

  1. Customer service: Every day, employees are communicating with current or potential customers. In instance after instance, smaller enterprises who have turn these workers into an auxiliary sales force. To do this companies who have implemented training programs designed to make them aware of their role in the sales effort, What’s more, they have seen dramatic profit increases.
    Small businesses in particular can benefit from this approach because studies have shown their employees are more committed to the company’s immediate and long term success than counterparts in large corporations. Therefore, they are more willing to speak highly of the company and its offerings to the customers they interact with. Highlighting the need for this effort often falls on willing ears. Consider implementing some form of program to encourage these efforts. The results may astonish management.
  2. Bills and other forms of communication: Many small companies ignore the potential marketing inherent in the bills they send out. Credit card companies, banks, department stores include promotional materials in their monthly statements. Why can’t a small business do the same? Announce a forthcoming sale, new product, coupon in every bill. Once a year have a letter from the president about the state of the company and how appreciative it is of the customer’s business.
    Offer an incentive for referrals as well. By carefully weighing the package being sent to customers, there should be no additional mailing costs. Smaller companies who have taken this suggestion to heart have seen improved sales.
    Another often neglected sell channel is the company’s business card. Use it creatively to tell more about the company’s offerings.
  3. Be creative: We often run into unusual ways of gaining new customers. One local dry cleaner bought space on pizza boxes used by three local pizzerias. They were pleasantly surprised by the number of tomato sauce stained coupons they redeemed. To spur this creativity review every day interactions of a personal and/or business nature. The channels to reach potential new or departed customers will appear.

Social media is becoming more and more prevalent as a marketing tool. Take advantage of it but also remember it is as two-edge sword. Read negative comments carefully. They will tell management more than they might want to know. However, it will give it a gauge on how successfully its message is getting heard.

Above all, do not be satisfied with the marketing effort unless it includes the whole company’s efforts to sell and communicate with your customer.

Listen Actively to Your Customer: Hear and Respond to What They Are Saying

July 10, 2014

There is an old sales adage: “The more the customer talks, the surer the sale.”
This approach should be continued after the sale is made.
Too often, large and small companies fail to take the most elementary efforts to find out why customers buy their product/service.
This trait is especially true of smaller enterprises who often blame lack of resources as the primary reason.
Yet, there are considerable rewards to be had for truly understanding why consumers/clients are buying a company’s goods/services.
More importantly, the company may learn that what they believe the reason their product is selling is not why customers are buying.
In talking with groups specializing in “listening” for companies, this is the case in many instances.
Many entrepreneurs fall in love with their product, as do technical and engineering based developers. They look at their product as something people will appreciate and adopt as they conceived it. Sometimes success and failure results from customers seeing the product differently.
Knowing how others see offerings can lead to success.
That’s why listening is so important for smaller enterprises.
It can be way of insuring success at a relatively low cost.
In this world today, the cost of learning what and why customers are buying is relatively low.
Moreover, social media and other avenues make the listening part easier.
Smaller enterprises need to make a concerted effort to reach out to current customers and ask them such open ended questions as:
• What most appealed to them about their purchase?
• Why their choice of the company’s offering over another?
• How did they reach their decision?
• Where did they make their choice?
• When was the choices made?
• Who consumes the offering?
• How do they use the offering?
There are many avenues for soliciting this information. Here are several:
• With many purchases done online today, it is easy to ask purchasers to take a short survey after their purchase, perhaps with an incentive coupon on their next purchase.
• In establishment, purchasers can be asked to fill out a quick five question response card, again with a coupon attached.
• Monitoring chatrooms and other social media venues can lead to a treasure trove of information. This includes competitors’ accounts as well.
• Hiring a professional “listening” company is more expensive but the results may provide not only a roadmap for the success of current offerings but new products/services as well.
• If the purchaser or consumer contacts you directly, listen carefully to what is being said.
Small businesses are more nimble than their corporate competitors. Finding and identifying what customers want and fulfilling that desire or need is an advantage not to be overlook.
If not being done today, small business leaders should start listening to their customers. They have a lot to say.

Trouble Ahead For Smaller Businesses: Higher Healthcare Costs

June 10, 2013

If pundits from all sides of the question are right small businesses face higher healthcare insurance rates and employee dissatisfaction because of the Affordable Care Act.
While the most onerous provisions directly affect companies with 50 or more employees, there are still enough in the new law to raise concerns for those managers under that threshold.
The most glaring obstacle is the lack of knowledge about the law’s provisions.
Three years after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, a majority of Americans and two-thirds of the uninsured say they still don’t know how it will affect them, according to the latest Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
What is perhaps more frightening is the statistic put out by Daniel P. Kessler: “In total, it appears that there will be 30 million to 40 million people damaged in some fashion by the Affordable Care Act—more than one in 10 Americans.” Kessler is a professor of business and law at Stanford University and quoted in The Wall Street Journal.
Add to this the uncertainty many small business leaders have about the law and what it means to them and there is the real chance of chaos this fall when yearly healthcare insurance contracts are renewed.
Data from a variety of sources, including Information Strategies, Inc. the company I am Executive Chairman of, indicate many smaller firms are already experiencing double digit premium increases.
Hardest hit on premium increases are expected to be companies under 50 employees. That is where insurance companies have the greatest pricing flexibility under the new law to increase premiums to smaller businesses.
Inevitably, workers will share the pain as employers ask them to pick-up costs or no longer offer the healthcare benefit.
That means higher morale issues, greater employee disgruntlement and less working hours for many as small businesses move to keep their full-time employee count below 50.
While surveys show many smaller companies intend to keep their present healthcare plans, there is no rush to add these as an employee inducement by those enterprises who currently do not offer such plans.
Pundits also say the costs of individually purchased plans are rising as The Affordable Care Act mandates higher levels of services, community rating, and acceptance with previous conditions.
If employees are expected to purchase their own insurance even with subsidies no one expects the final costs to be lower.
Whenever there is change of the magnitude of the Affordable Care Act there is dislocation and small enterprises already have enough on their plate just keeping afloat.
Explaining the new law to employees will also be a headache for many smaller firms with less HR resources and little help expected from insurance agents, because their commissions have been cut to less than two percent.
In short, a perfect storm is gathering which will in the end hurt owners and employees.