The Small Business Professor: Growing your Business with the right people

Q: I am the owner of a small, but growing company. I need to find a few good people to add to my staff. It’s really hard finding the right people who can do the job the way I want.  What advice can you give me so I can hire a new employee who will stay with me?

A: While there are many people looking for work, finding the right person for your job is so important in keeping your current growth going in the right direction. Doug Duncan, President of TalentValue has some excellent advice.

Hire for skill and fire for behavior. The first step in selecting the right person is to clearly define the job, both in terms of the task, what you want them to do, and also the behaviors or how you want them to act.

Locate qualified candidates. Today people will search on job boards that list the all the jobs available. Write a compelling job ad that tells the candidate why they would want to work for you.

A good applicant tracking system can be very helpful to collect all the resumes that you receive rather than flooding your email.

Review your resumes with care. Look for activities they did that match what you need. And     also any accomplishments that demonstrate they can achieve not just take up space

Interview the candidate using this approach.  Ask the same questions, in exactly the same order, to everyone you meet. Write down the questions based on the tasks and behaviors in your job description.

Do behavioral assessments on the candidate. These on-line tests look at the behaviors this person is likely to exhibit when they do show up to work. They can’t hide who they are.

Do background checks after you make the offer?  The laws are changing so you must be very careful not to move too quickly.

Train the new hire very carefully to do their job right.  Most people who quit early do so because no one taught them how to do the job right and they get discouraged.

Talk to the new hire every week to see how they are doing.

Conduct a performance discussion after 90 days to be sure they are on the right track.

You will have a far better chance of finding and retaining great employees if you follow these steps.


Bruce Freeman is president of ProLine Communications and is co-author of “Birthing the Elephant” (Random House). He is an adjunct professor at Seton Hall and Kean universities. Please send questions to Follow Bruce on Twitter @smallbizprof and Facebook

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The Small Business Professor: Mid life crisis or new opportunity

Question: I am an attorney in private practice. I am currently licensed in NY.  As such, my credentials are not easily portable. After 25 years my wife and I are seeking to relocate.  I would like to try my hand at another business. Please give me some advice.

Answer: You are not alone.  For many state licensed professionals the idea of moving from one jurisdiction to another can play havoc with one’s ability to practice and earn a living.  After so many years away from their licensing exam, the idea of becoming qualified in a new jurisdiction can be daunting. 

Ira Sessler Esq., a business attorney and current President at American Business & Management Consultants, Inc., has some excellent advice:

First, does your new lifestyle permit you to change, usually downward for a period of time, your income?  After twenty-five years or more of practice in one profession, we can assume you are in your peak earning years.  A change in profession, particularly until you establish yourself, will likely result in a reduction of income.  Although temporary, this must be considered.  Additionally, you must decide if you would like to be an employee or an independent consultant/small business owner.

Second, carefully examine your skill set.  Write down everything you do on a daily basis as if you were explaining your current profession to someone who has never heard of an attorney.  Don’t leave anything out.  The idea of this exercise is to break down your daily routine into an identifiably set of skills.  Do you solicit clients (sales)? Do you prepare documents for court or government agencies (professional writing)?  This exercise should go on for some time.  Your experiences are very personal, as are your interests, likes and dislikes.  Take your time and soon you will be able to combine the skills, which you enjoy and excel, a new career should begin to emerge.

Last, now that you know what skills you bring to the table, it is now important to mesh all this with your new location.  If you are moving from a major metropolis to a rural environment, some of your skills may not be as useful as you originally had hoped.  Don’t worry, take your time and something positive will emerge.

For further information, please visit


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The Small Business Professor: Sales Tips for the New Entrepreneur

Q: I was recently was let go from the Information Technology (IT) department of a major company. Tired of the corporate bureaucracy, I decided to start my own business. I have great computer skills but I never sold anything in my career. What do you suggest?

A: Getting started is the toughest part of building a new business. Knowing what you don’t know can be even more important that what you do know. If you have worked for a company and have never sold products or services, you need to develop this skill.

Business coach and sales trainer Al Turrisi has some great tips:

1-Write a description of your prospect. Include in the description the geographic area you will prospect in which can be a city, county, state or states, the industries in that area you believe can use your expertise, the sizes of the companies in those industries measured by dollars, employees, or both and the types of problems they may have which you can fix.

2- Go to google and look up each industry in your chosen geography and make a list of the companies you will target. Then, go to each of their websites to gather information of who the executives are. You can usually find that information in the about us section, our company, testimonials. If you can’t find names google “who is talking about company xyz.”

3-Join local chambers and business associations you believe your prospects would join within the geography you have chosen and join committees. You will be with the movers and shakers. Work to make the committee successful and develop a reputation of being a giver and helper

4-Build a website and blog, blog blog. Create check lists, reports, tips you can give away. Each time you meet someone, get their business card and start to build a data base. I suggest you get some inbound marketing training ie Hubspot .

5- Book all events from the association and chamber and go to every event with the goal of arriving early at by a half hour and book yourself to be there at least a half hour after the event. Have a goal of speaking with ten people or more and book three or more appointments with intention of learning about the person you will be meeting with so you can refer each other.

For further information, please visit

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The Small Business Professor: Community Involvement

Question: As an independent pharmacy owner, I realize my business will benefit if I get more involved in my local community. But, I spend most days and many evenings behind my store’s counter. Any suggestions on what I can do to become more locally active, given the time constraints operating my business puts on my schedule?


Answer: Many independent pharmacy owners face this challenge, in terms of finding opportunities for community outreach when they spend so many hours each day running their business. Even with time at a premium, there are ways to be more involved and ensure you and your business are familiar to potential customers in your local area.

Martin Miller, head of Garden State Pharmacy Owners, Inc., has some excellent suggestions:

Community involvement can bolster your business. Along with taking care of their customers, independent pharmacy owners are focused on inventory, finances, and all other tangible assets involved in running a business. However, it’s vital to understand that professional and personal networks should also be at the top of your list of essential assets, since contacts you can call on have value that’s difficult to overestimate.

Try to set aside some time each week within your schedule — perhaps during one weekday evening, and on the weekend as well — to focus on becoming better known locally. Most entrepreneurs are extremely busy, but the ones who succeed are often those who most efficiently utilize their time.

Once you’ve set a few hours aside, consider joining local organizations that attract community leaders. Your chamber-of-commerce certainly makes sense, as do various service organizations, including Rotary, the Lions, and others. Be sure to attend meetings regularly (most are monthly) and participate in outreach initiatives. You’ll be amazed at how many people you meet, and how quickly people get to know you.

Finally, in terms of the groups you join and the initiatives you participate in, try and pick ones that align with the interests of your customers and your business. For instance, as an independent pharmacist, you might benefit from involvement in a local effort involving an element of healthcare — from collecting expired medications to raising funds to provide canes or reading glasses to the elderly.

All in all, establishing connections and becoming more familiar to people who reside in your local area is a potent strategy for helping your small business grow.

For further information, please visit



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The Small Business Professor – Improve Your Standing in Review Sites

Rating and review sites like Yelp, Google Local and Angie’s List have become the first places consumers turn for advice on local businesses. Yelp alone attracts more than 142 million unique visits a month. In fact, numerous studies indicate that the vast majority of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Responding appropriately as a business owner is part art, part science.

Question:  I have a small medical practice in the Boston area and wondered what to do about a couple of negative Yelp reviews. Not many of my patients have reviewed my practice, but two very outspoken and dissatisfied patients have.  What can I do to preserve my online reputation?

Answer: First, don’t panic. The presence of a bad review is not itself a business killer. In fact, research shows that bad reviews actually help to bolster the validity of the good reviews that surround it.

This is what you need to know about the mechanics of responding to reviews.

Respond to ALL reviews, good or bad: According to Daniel Lemin, author of ManipuRATED, it’s good general practice to respond to reviews from customers. It may also be counter-intuitive that responding to bad reviews can benefit the business, but it’s true: most customers read between two and 10 reviews. Seeing a business owner’s presence, even on negative reviews, demonstrates good customer service. It will benefit the business at the beginning of the customer relationship and may likely end up in a great review down the road, too.

Whatever you do, do not make it personal. Focus on the comment, not the reviewer and candidly outline some things your business has or will do to rectify the complaint.  If you fixed something that was at the heart of the complaint, let the customer know.

Acknowledge the reviewer’s feelings with neutral terms like “disappointed” or “not as expected.”

 Get creative about generating more reviews. You want to encourage your satisfied customers to write good reviews to help keep your profile updated and fresh. While many online review sites prohibit direct solicitations, you can do a number of things increase your visibility on their sites, from putting a Yelp sign on your site or storefront to setting up free Yelp check-in offers.

Once you build up your positive reviews, invest some time each day to monitor and respond to online reviews. That’s the best way to make online ratings and reviews into a marketing asset to reach new customers and build your business.

For more information, visit


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The Small Business Professor: Tips

Q: I have a small brokerage firm and we are getting more and more suspicious email. How can I tell if an email is legit or not? How can I prevent my employees from getting duped? Can this cause harm to my business’s computers or damage data?

A: Over 90% of data breaches are caused by malicious emails targeting employees or executives. There are entire criminal organizations who are devoted to researching high value targets such as CEOs, CFOs, brokers, and employees. They will watch your social media posts, sneak into your network and watch the email conversations and routines – and then impersonate someone you trust. It is very important to stop them at the front door by learning what to look for and staying aware of tactics as they evolve.

There are several ways to tell if an email is legitimate or not, which require you to pay close attention to often overlooked details.

1) Is the email from someone you expected it from? In other words, is this a normal type of email from someone your regularly get email from? It is OK to question it and chances are, if it looks a bit “off” or weird, it is. When in doubt, throw it out.

2) Was the email generated during normal business hours? If not, treat it as suspicious.

3) Does it ask you to click on a link or open an attachment? If so, hover over the link without opening it to see if it is coming from the same place it is supposedly being sent from. As an example, the email might appear to come from a bank or other brokerage firm yet when hovering over the link, it does not mention the bank or firm and has some trumped up domain or address. The likelihood of this being a dangerous link is high.

4) Does the email have transposed letters or typos in the “from” address, subject line, message or links? Read carefully.

Stu Sjouwerman, CEO of KnowBe4 and author of Cyberheist offers the following tips:

When in doubt, throw it out. You can always call the sender to verify the email was sent from them, especially where wire instructions or financial information is concerned.  Emails can easily be faked as coming from a known address (this is called spoofing).

Don’t open any links or attachments you did not ask for. It is much easier to have an Information Technology (IT) pro check it for you than to lose money or confidential personal information. But the best insurance is to enroll your employees in Security Awareness Training. A good program will also test employees frequently using simulated phishing attacks to keep them on their toes. For more tips and information, visit

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The Small Business Professor: A Professional Phone Presence

Question:  I’m a tax consultant to small businesses in a variety of sectors. I work from a desk in my home office most days, but don’t want my customers to know that. I have a great website and nice looking business cards, but how do I make my phone presence sound more professional?  Answer: Even though you work in jeans and a t-shirt doesn’t mean you can’t sound like you’re wearing a suit. With a good business phone service, you can hand pick the features that showcase your services well and meet your callers’ needs. Your goal is to create a killer phone recording. Here are a few pointers from

Ari Rabban, CEO of Build a phone menu that starts with an upbeat greeting, telling callers briefly what you do and who you serve.  Then route customers based on their needs, letting them choose the outcome they want—to leave a message for you, transfer to your mobile number if you’re out of the office, or to hear more detailed information. If you want to provide recorded info on tax deadlines, requirements or FAQs in an automated message, you can easily make that part of your menu.  You can also direct callers to different extensions, with programs for their type of business, even if each of those “departments” rings through to the same desk or mobile phone. This is a way to make your business sound more diversified and Main Street than it is. To make your message sound flawless, consider paying for a professional recording. Some phone providers offer this service for a small fee, making it easy to convert your phone script into a polished message. Also, use professional hold music that you know will appeal to your callers.

Finally, if your provider offers it, use a voicemail-to-text service to deliver phone messages immediately to your cell phone or email inbox. This will save time and help you respond quicker to your clients, even when you’re away from your home desk.  Your business phone service should offer all of the recording tools and menu options that make this kind of customization easy, even on a small-biz budget!

For further information, please visit

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The Small Business Professor: Public Relations

Most entrepreneurs know that good public relations are needed to sell products or services. Public relations, and the narrower focus of media relations, contribute to the environment of your overall marketplace. By that, I mean the specific reputation of your products, customer service, personnel and competition. Why does anyone do business with one company or another? There are many reasons and factors, but part of it depends upon your company’s name recognition and reputation.

Get the names and contact information of the business editors of the regional and major publications. Call the editors to introduce yourself and your business and offer your expertise to them if they are ever doing a story which relates to your particular area. Editors always need sources especially when a big story is going down. Even if you own the local plumbing franchise, you may be called by an editor to comment when the county sewage system backs up. Get to know the editors in your field. If you have a small Widget store, get to know the editors of Widget World, Widget Today or whatever the publication that speaks to your particular market.

Join local business groups, contact people you’ve worked with in the past for recommendations and take advantage of your LinkedIn account,, and other social media sites to find new clients. Also, consider giving presentations to targeted groups. This way, you can share your expertise, provide valuable information and meet potential new customers in person

Publishing an article is one of the greatest public relations tools. It positions you to look like an expert and gets you free publicity . Get a website or get it in order by linking to other sites. Websites are a wonderful public relations tool.

Video is rapidly becoming an essential feature on Web sites. Web video is particularly important for small and mid-sized businesses as they represent the largest percentage of online businesses in the US.

When your business gets to a certain size, you’ll need to hire a professional firm because you will want exposure in larger markets. You also won’t have time to use these strategies; you’ll need someone who has specific expertise and relationships with the media that you don’t have time to form. You’ll know you need a professional firm when the time comes, because it will be worth more to you to pay someone else to do it than to do it yourself.

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The Small Business Professor: Investing in Technology

Q: I am a small video production company and my budget is tight, but I’m considering investing in new technology to “keep me in the game.” What do you suggest?

A: According to Tony Nygen, CEO and program director at UMii Corp., you don’t have to go “high-end” to get the job done.

Nygen says that many small businesses are considering new technology that is already available. Instead of purchasing high-end camera, a small film company can use a smartphone.

Video equipment quickly becomes obsolete, so small businesses can save money by using something they already have for a fraction of the investment and operational cost of purchasing new equipment.

Plenty of amateur videos have been shot using smartphones. Plus, there is inexpensive software available that can update your videos to 4K or ultra-high definition (UHD).

Many companies are offering add-ons to increase smartphone memory, which increases the record time. Add to this a good video app, and your smartphone will perform like any $10,000 camera.

Elliot Grove, the founder of Raindance, believes that feature length films can be made on a “catering budget,” if you follow a few simple steps.

  1. Find a good story or screenplay. According to Grove, you need to weave together four elements to achieve this: a specific goal for your characters, a setting, actions of the main characters and strong dialogue.
  2. Eliminate or reduce the number of location moves.
  3. All digital cameras generate the same signal, which means your budget should focus more on the quality of the lenses than spending big bucks on a digital rig.
  4. Good sound can make even the most low-end video images look great.
  5. Get cheap or free film scores or write the music yourself.
  6. Make sure everything you need is within reach.
  7. Hire actors from local theater companies or acting schools. Avoid using friends that can’t act.
  8. Use social media to promote your film and build exposure by commenting on relevant articles on various websites.
  9. Register your domain name for your production company or the title of the film.

For more information please visit ,

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The Small Business Professor: Positioning Your Small Business for Future Success

Q:  As a small business owner, there never seems to be enough time to accomplish everything. Can you advise me on how to organize my time? A. No matter how hard you try, you can’t be in two places at the same time. There never seem to be enough hours in a day to accomplish everything you know you should be doing for your business,


  • To get an overall picture of your business requirements; make a list and prioritize all of the tasks that need doing for your business to prosper which occur within a three month period. In addition to serving current customers, make sure you include publicizing and prospecting for new business, billing and collections, payroll and taxes, and management/human resource issues.
  • Categorize both easy and tough tasks according to which must be accomplished daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly. Place the highest priority on items which contribute to your bottom line or keep you in business (i.e. paying the telephone bill).
  • As much as possible, analyze your business day. Determine busy and slow times during each day and week. Many businesses experience lulls at different days or times. Try scheduling easy tasks for slower times.
  • Schedule all tasks which must be accomplished in a planner. Make a time commitment for tough tasks and defer regular business until the tough tasks are completed. If possible, put the same task on the same day or time each week or month so that you develop a routine. This also helps you keep from putting off things you know you should be doing and others (clients, suppliers and employees) will come to know, in time, that you are not available during this period, except for emergencies. When you are finished with the tough tasks, you can relax and enjoy your business for the majority of the time.
  • Hard as it may be for you to accept, it may not be possible for you, personally, to do everything that needs to be done well. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. If tasks that are vital to the growth and success of your business are not in your strength column, consider hiring someone else to accomplish them. For example, if you dislike cold calling or bill collections and just can’t seem to make yourself do it, hire someone part-time just to do those tasks.

Finally, give yourself a break from time to time.

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