Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Holidays

"A lovely thing about Christmas is that it's compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together." ~Garrison Keillor

The holiday season is such a great time of year and it is one time when you can go overboard to make your staff feel good about their job and your company.

In many ways, your generosity makes the holiday season for your employees, however, I do not like giving monetary holiday bonuses as they tend to become something the staff learn to expect every year rather than as a genuine gift. I find, however, profit sharing bonuses to be a great option to be given out at this time of the year.

Over the years, I have tried many different things during the holiday season to help spread holiday spirit among my employees. My favorite activity is probably coming together as a staff to provide holiday presents for an impoverished family. After all, this season is really about giving and not receiving, and there is no better way to get in the holiday spirit than to reach out and help others. Every time we make one of these special deliveries, we all feel so good for the next week.

Sometimes at this time of year, I try to give gifts that meet some specific need of my staff. I try to find that thing that will really make a difference in their lives, and in years past, I have given "gifts" of time off and cash bonuses.

I have also given unique presents – gifts that have special meaning to the individual employee. On one occasion, the only thing one of my employees could talk about all year was wanting a karaoke machine for her parties. Guess what she got for Christmas that year! Giving gifts like these requires that you know your staff's needs, which means you have to be observant all year long.

Though most consider the holiday season a great time of year, many people suffer from severe depression, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. The important thing to note here is that some people have it very rough this time of year. If you notice someone struggling with depression, the best thing to do would be to kindly refer them to a mental health professional.

Now go out and make sure that you and your staff have a wonderful holiday season. Remember, your kindness and generosity help create and propagate holiday spirit in your workplace.

Sending you my sincerest wishes for a wonderful Holiday Season.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fairness and the Internet Sales Tax

Amazon supports "an even-handed federal framework for state sales tax collection." ~Paul Misener, Amazon Vice President for Global Public Policy

Generally, I try to steer away from political issues and, for that reason, I do not think I have ever written a column about taxation. However, I have reached my boiling point over the issue of imposing a tax on Internet sales.

Let me begin by saying that I do not like to pay taxes and wish the government could manage our money better. I have never recommended a tax increase before, but I am an advocate for a tax on Internet sales. Now I am not arguing that this is a necessary source of revenue – which it is – but rather, I am suggesting that levying a tax on Internet sales from out-of-state merchants can help level the playing field for small businesses.

Small businesses are the heart and soul of our country – retailers, in particular. Retailers have to compete with Internet companies in so many ways and they just cannot compete effectively if they are working with one hand tied behind their back.

By exempting out-of-state sellers from having to collect sales tax, you are giving these non-resident merchants a six to seven percent cost advantage. Now the government in Florida wants residents to voluntarily send the state taxes earned on Internet sales. You can guess how well that has worked out. Additionally, merchants who reside in Florida still have to pay sales taxes to residents on all goods sold via the Internet.

State governments should impose a tax on Internet sales of non-resident companies. California now collects taxes on large, out-of-state Internet providers and is expected to pull in over $300 million dollars in additional revenues. Seven other states have also closed the loophole and now collect sales tax from all Internet merchants serving their states.

The National Governors Association estimates that states are currently missing out on more than $22 billion each year in potential Internet sales tax revenue. Both the House and Senate have introduced bills to remedy this.

We need to do everything we can to promote small business retailers, especially since they do not have the luxury of being able to hire lobbyists to protect their interests like large retailers can. Imposing a tax on out-of-state Internet merchants will not give local small businesses an advantage but will just allow them to compete on a fairer playing field.

What can you do? Please write your state representatives and senators as well as their U.S. counterparts and request, not that they impose a new tax, but that they level the playing field between Internet businesses and small business retailers. We need small businesses to flourish in order for local economies to do well!

You can do this!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Making Your Business Unique

"Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even."~
Muhammad Ali

With so many businesses out there providing products and services similar to yours, it is critical to find that element that differentiates your company. In order to be successful, you must be able to stand out in the crowd. It is not always an easy thing to do, but it is immensely important, and each business owner should think about what makes their offering unique.

I recently attended a family function at The Peabody Hotel in Orlando. The hotel is a great property, and the famous Peabody ducks really make it special and unique.

In 1930, upon returning from a hunting trip, the general manager of The Peabody in Memphis had a tad too much to drink and decided to put some live ducks in the fountain of the hotel as a practical joke. It turned out, however, that the guests of the hotel loved the ducks, and they have been there ever since.

The five ducks now make their daily appearance at 11 a.m., arriving on a special elevator to be escorted down a red carpet by the official Duck Master to a John Phillips Sousa march. At 5 p.m., the processional is reversed as the ducks turn in for the night. A crowd of people is always there to observe this daily ritual.

Clearly, the processional of the ducks is unique in and of itself, but The Peabody has truly made the duck theme part of their identity. The theme appears everywhere, from the hotel’s logo to a large mural of three ducks painted on the roof of the hotel. Additionally, the gift shop is brimming with duck paraphernalia, everything from duck doorknockers to duck jewelry.

The ducks are one way The Peabody sets itself apart from countless other hotel franchises. What originally began as a practical joke has now become one of the most memorable elements of the guest experience.

Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is another example of a very unique business. In 1977, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield completed a correspondence course on making ice cream from Penn State and started their first store in Vermont in 1978. To celebrate their first anniversary, they had a free cone day, an event that still occurs to this day. They are, of course, known for their quirky flavors – Chubby Hubby and Late Night Snack, for example. Additionally, they take 7.5 percent of the company’s before-tax profits to support community-oriented projects.

Ritz-Carlton provides another example of uniqueness in a business. The guest experience at a Ritz-Carlton is, by far, one of the best and most unique experiences around. They are known for their superb customer care.

Take some time to consider what makes your business different and think about how you can call attention to that aspect. To get you started, following are just a few examples of how you can highlight your business’ uniqueness:

1. Locally owned for X years.
2. A three-generation family business that has been serving our customers for over 30 years.
3. Providing leading-edge technology to our customers since 2000.
4. The only store located in [an area] that can help you with [your product or service].
5. Have been in the same location for X number of years.
6. The only independent store that provides [a product or service] in [an area].

Now go out and make sure you know what makes your business unique and remember to emphasize that uniqueness in all your customer interactions.
You can do this.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dealing with Disruptive Personal Habits of Staff

"One ought to hold on to one''s heart; for if one lets it go, one soon loses control of the head too."~Friedrich Nietzsche

One of the most difficult conversations a manager will ever have with an employee is when they have to address personal habits like hygiene. Many managers think this is too personal to discuss, but you just do not have the luxury of looking the other way. Poor personal hygiene can negatively impact your business by making the environment distasteful, annoying co-workers and even affecting how your customers see your business. Ignoring the problem only rewards the behavior and undermines your credibility as a leader and a manager.

I just recently had to help two entrepreneurs address issues where an employee’s offensive body odor was causing problems for their businesses. In one case, the server/cook’s body odor was affecting the entire restaurant.

Although the whole staff knew about the problem, the employee just did not seem to be aware of it nor did he recognize the effect his hygiene was having on his co-workers and the restaurant patrons. Because the employee was unaware of the problem, the situation required that the manager use a certain amount of sensitivity when initially addressing the situation.

When handling situations like these, it is so important to talk about the behavior and not the person. It is easier for the employee to hear that a behavior must be changed rather than the person has to change. This approach is also much less threatening to the employee.

My suggestion would be to invite the employee to your office and ask them if it is a good time to give them some “feedback.” The employee will probably be anxious about the type of feedback you are about to share, so you will want to start by telling them how valuable they are to the company. Next, the employee needs to hear that you feel very, very uncomfortable giving this type of feedback.

During your discussion, you need to be as direct as possible. Getting straight to the point is critical. Dancing around the topic will just weaken the point that you are trying to make. You might say that their body odor is affecting the business and you feel sad bringing this up to them, but it is very important to them and the business. Do not mention the complaints you have gotten from their colleagues. Sharing that information serves no useful purpose. The employee will be embarrassed already and this would just pile it on unnecessarily.

Before ending the conversation, you need to talk about how changing this behavior will affect the entire organization and what the ramifications will be if they do not change. In some cases, an employee may have a medical condition that causes their body odor, but you should not assume this is the case. If it is within the employee’s control to correct, they should be held accountable for doing so. If the employee says that a medical condition is the cause, however, ADA may dictate how the situation can be handled.

With these types of conversations, it is sometimes helpful to write out your main points and practice making these points in advance of meeting with the employee. Again, this is going to be uncomfortable, but practicing what you are going to say will help make the situation more tolerable.

Now go out and make sure that you have a plan in place so you are prepared in the event you have to address a difficult hygiene problem.

You can do this!