Small scale businesses, you can compete with the big chains
Small scale business are often run by one or two people, typically the founders, and they are wearing many hats – too many hats. They’re busy creating, building, cooking, serving, and servicing to really focus on any type of business culture or consumer appeal, and for those who operate a brick and mortar store, they are too busy to notice their curb appeal and front counter appeal. That’s really who we’re focusing on here, but the lessons are applicable to any business.
Company culture isn’t just about having a half-pipe skateboard ramp in the office for creative staff, or a rock climbing wall, or big puffy bean bags to lounge in, no, company culture begins and ends with the treatment of the consumer that engages our products, no matter where. Typical small scale businesses cannot afford the luxuries of a seeded tech start up, or probably many luxuries at all. It’s hard work cooking the burger knowing that six tables need to be cleared during lunch, or that the sales line is ringing off the hook as you work with an existing customer on another line. These are business realities that all small businesses face at one time or another.
Top ways to compete that can be implemented immediately
If you operate a retail front or a restaurant, you’ve probably spent your budget on hiring at least some staff to merchandise the store or bus tables and run a cash register, expecting all the while that you will act as the manager, you will delegate, and you will help operate the business at peak times – this is a mistake.
1) Hire yourself. Even if the manager you hire does not have the qualifications of managing a P&L and balancing the books, look for someone trainable in that arena, but more importantly, hire a manager with an eye for detail, and a vision to present your product in the most appealing way possible, and trust me, your store front is part of the product.
2) Never ever allow yourself to be trapped behind a counter or in an office – you’re a business owner, be inside your business. Work the floor, experience your consumer, and moreover, experience your own product.
3) Stay late or come in early if you’re a business that handles foot traffic, come to work after hours bearing a cup of pure unground coffee beans. Before you unlock that front door, inhale the aroma of the beans (no, not the french vanilla kind, just ordinary coffee beans). Clear your palette of all smells, unlock your front door, and enter. What do you smell? Does it smell like foot traffic? I bet it does. This is an experience we forget way too often, whether we operate an insurance brokerage or a restaurant, and smell is often a killer for even the most specialized niche restaurants and bistros. That greasy smell may be a sign of a great lunch, but early morning and late evenings, it’s a turn off to the palettes of hungry patrons.
4) Always remove merchandisers you cannot merchandise. Empty shelves mean going out of business – get rid of them, move them to the back, or find an clever use for them. Seasonal decor is always a great way to mask low stock, or useless corners of your brick and mortar. Think like the Novogratz – is there a blank wall screaming for something funky and vintage? Keep it clean and beautiful.
5) While your nose is clear, and now full of how your beautiful bistro or vintage clothing store really smells, back up a minute, and look at the entrance to your store. Is the parking lot clear of trash and any debris, do your windows and doors shine, are your lights fully working, and is your storefront in good repair? Are your welcome mats tattered, and are all door fixtures polished? Make repairs and updates right away.
6) Go to your website. Many small scale businesses have invested quite a bit of money in their web presence, many have even brought on high quality designers to make their online presence jaw-dropping, and that is not a bad idea. That said, make sure the ambiance set online matches your presence offline – do customers want to share photos of your merchandising or products on Instagram and Facebook? Is your website 2013-esque, but your storefront or offices reek of 1980, or vice versa? Make sure your online efforts match your offline reality to meet the highest quality standards you can.
Minding the details
No national chain in the world begins a walk-through of their establishment with a managerial chat, no, their eyes and minds are on whether the landscaping at the entrance is impeccable and inviting, on whether or not exterior trash is overflowing, the stripes in the lot are freshly painted, that the sidewalks have been scrubbed and your windows sparkle. They’ve looked at the attire of the staff upon entering, they’ve taken note of missing name tags, piercings that may violate policy, empty shelving, or unfronted, dusty, and neglected product that to you has become part of the scenery.
They’re smelling the store, they’re hearing that the music is too loud or not on at all, they’re looking for the ambiance that as a national chain they have devised for their units – and these are just some of the basics. Additionally, as I mentioned, they’re looking to see if you’re out on the floor experiencing the experience as well. Is your espresso service being served with a demitasse spoon (four for $1 at Sur La Table, by the way), or with a soup spoon, and what is the temperature of the half and half you’re serving? Has it been out all day?
In an office environment, are the pamphlets in your waiting room out of date? Do all of the chairs work properly, without any wobbling? Are there any bent blinds anywhere in your office? Are all desks tidy and orderly, or are they disheveled, telling consumers your company is not detail oriented? At your coffee station in the office, is there more than one kind of sugar, and has anyone checked to see if there are even any cups left for clients? If there is a sofa in the lobby, are all pillows clean and straightened? For customer files, are all papers neatly bound inside of all files, or are they loose? Do you have pens with your company name being used by all employees, or at least generic pens, or are freebies from competitors loose in your ranks and being seen by clients in the hands of your employees?
Now, back to that manager you should hire…
Details, details, details – remember that manager I said to invest in? If you’re wearing a million hats, and want to compete with the established medium or large businesses, then you’d better hire the manager that has the eye for details and the ability to smoothly and swiftly delegate as they take the key position as the server clears those six tables I mentioned. You can’t do it all yourself, so why not hire a few more of yourself, or better yet, a smarter one trained by one of those national chains? If you can’t afford to hire anyone, consider bringing on a business intern from the nearest university’s business school. You need a go-getter.
Some national chains you might want to check out that are consistently on the mark are Anthropologie, Chico’s, Mighty Fine, Williams & Sonoma, Apple, Microsoft Stores, Cole Hahn, Lacoste, Madewell, BJ’s Restaurants, W Hotels, and Aloft Hotels. Just like with your company, service may not always be 100 percent every time, but these brands are good examples of consistent service and experience standards that can be emulated. Every venue can serve as positive and/or negative inspiration for your quest to compete in today’s market.
Last but not least, if you do not have a comment card box near your front door, you are missing an epic opportunity. Always survey your consumer.
You can compete as a small scale business by minding the details.
Had to take career gaps? LinkedIn’s latest feature helps you explain
(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) LinkedIn has added a new profile feature, which will let you address any career gaps, opening doors for parents and those affected by COVID furloughs.
For some employers, career gaps can be a sign of a red flag. Years or even months of unemployment can be questionable because new technologies and methodologies are constantly advancing and changing. Someone out of the workforce might be viewed as out of practice and not up-to-date with the skills needed today.
However, employment gaps aren’t necessarily “bad”. They offer people time to explore new opportunities or interests. Someone might use that time to go back to school and pursue their passions. Someone else might use it to finally start a family, or they might just have had the misfortune of being let go. According to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.5 million women left the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nonetheless, unless you’re in the middle of an interview or asked straight out, there isn’t an easy way to justify the reason for your time spent away. Well, at least there wasn’t, until now.
According to LinkedIn, “79% of hiring managers today would hire a candidate with a career gap on their resume.” But, that doesn’t mean these employers don’t want to know why. So, to help answer the question before it’s even asked, LinkedIn has added a new feature that allows users address their career gap on their LinkedIn profile.
The social media platform for professionals now offers new job titles that can better reflect your title status. For parents who’ve left the workforce to focus on childcare responsibilities, “stay-at-home mom,” “stay-at-home dad”, and “stay-at-home parent” titles are all available job title options now.
“We’ve heard from our members, particularly women and mothers who have temporarily stopped working, that they need more ways to reflect career gaps on their Profile due to parenting and other life responsibilities,” the company said. “To make it easier for moms, and all parents, we’re making some important changes to the Profile.”
In addition to the new job titles, LinkedIn will also soon stop requiring people who use one of the titles above to specify a company or employer name. When a user sets the “Employment type” field to “Self-employed”, that field will become optional.
To further address a person’s type of employment gap, the company is planning on adding an employment gap section later on. In this new field, someone can specify the reason for their gap, such as “parental leave,” “family care”, or “sabbatical.”
For the most part, LinkedIn’s gap feature seems beneficial in that it will help fill in the holes you might not want left blank. For sure, self-employed people and freelancers will benefit from this new feature because they don’t need to be attached to a company to add in their work experience.
On the other hand, what is considered too much information? Your information is public so everyone will see what you decide to share about your career gaps. And, how will this information be beneficial in helping you grow your professional network and further develop your career?
Only you can decide what’s best for you. In the meantime, LinkedIn is providing you with options that weren’t available before. And, they say they will roll out more in the future.
“Every person’s career journey is different and we’re working hard to make sure LinkedIn provides an inclusive experience for everyone,” the company blog post read.
15 tips to spot a toxic work environment when interviewing
(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Interviewing can be tricky, but this new infographic will help you look for signs of toxicity before, during, and after the interview.
When we’re in the process of job hunting, we’re typically looking because we need a change, for multiple reasons. Any interview sparks hope. Because we’re sometimes so willing to make that change, we often put our blinders on in the hopes that whatever comes is the perfect opportunity for us.
With those blinders, however, it can be common to miss some red flags that tell you what you really need to know about the job you may be applying or interviewing for. Luckily, Resume.io is here to help.
They have developed 15 warning signs in their infographic: How to Spot a Toxic Work Environment Before You Take the Job. Let’s dive in and take a look at these.
First, the preparation before the interview. Red flags can shop up from the get-go. Here’s what to look out for before you even meet face-to-face (or over the phone/Zoom).
- Vague job description: If there is nothing substantial about the description of the job itself and only buzzwords like “team player,” be on alert.
- Negative Glassdoor reviews: These reviews on company culture are worth taking into account. If multiple people have a recurring issue, it’s something to be aware of.
- Arranging an interview is taking forever: If they keep you waiting, it’s typically a sign of disorganization. This may not always be the case, but pay attention to how they’re respecting you and your time.
- Your arrival comes as a surprise to them: Again, disorganization. This is also displaying a lack of communication in the company.
- The interview starts late: See the last sentence of #3. Not only are they disrespecting your time, but they’re displaying a lack of time management.
Now, for the high-pressure situation: During the interview. Here’s what you need to be keeping an eye on (while simultaneously listing your strengths and weaknesses, of course)
- Unpreparedness: If the interviewer is scattered and not prepared for your conversation, this may be a sign that they don’t fully understand the tasks and expectations for the job.
- Doesn’t get into your skill set: If they don’t ask about your skills, how can they know what you’re bringing to the table?
- Rudeness: If the interviewer is rude throughout the interview or is authoritative (either to you or to a panel who may be present,) be on alert. This is just a sign of what’s to come.
- Uncommunicative about company values: If it’s different from what’s on their website or they seem spacey about company values, this is a red flag.
- Your questions aren’t being answered: If they’re avoiding answering your questions, they may be hiding an aspect of the job – or the company – that they don’t want to reveal.
Finally, the waiting game. Once the interview is complete, here are some less-than-good things to be on the lookout for. Keep in mind that some of these may be hard to gauge seeing that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and many companies haven’t returned to their offices yet:
- Brief interview: If the interview was too short, they are either desperate or have already filled the position. Either way, bad.
- Quiet workplace: This may be a sign of a lack of teamwork or a tense environment.
- No tour: If you don’t get to see the office, again, they may be hiding something.
- Offer on the day of interview: Not giving you time to think may be a sign of desperation.
- Leaving you waiting: Again, if they leave you waiting on an answer like they did with scheduling, it’s a sign of disorganization and disrespect.
While one of these 15 things happening doesn’t necessarily mean the job is a bust, a few of these things happening may be an indicator to look elsewhere.
This startup makes managing remote internships easier for all
(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Internships during COVID are tough to manage for many employers, but Symba aims to present a unique solution.
Internships are among the innumerable practices disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some might argue that the loss of the corporate version of hazing that defines many internships is not something to be mourned. But the fact remains that internships are crucial for both employers and employees. Fortunately, a company called Symba might have a solution: Remote internships.
It’s a simple, intuitive solution for the times. That’s why big-name industries like Robinhood and Genentech are turning to Symba for help in constructing their own digital internship platforms.
Symba is, in and of itself, akin to any employee management system. Prospective employees sign into their Symba account via the landing page of the company for whom they are interning, after which point they are able to review their workload for the day. They can also see communications, feedback, other profiles, group projects, and more; they can even access onboarding resources and tutorials for the company in case they get lost along the way.
The key difference between Symba and other management tools—such as Slack—is that Symba was built from the ground up to facilitate actionable experience for interns at little to no detriment to the company in question. This means that interns have a consistent onboarding, collaborative, and working experience across the board—regardless of which company they’re representing at the time.
Symba even has a five-star ranking system that allows employers to create and quantify areas of proficiency at their discretion. For example, if an intern’s roles include following up with clients via email or scheduling meetings, an employer could quickly create categories for these tasks and rate the intern’s work on the aforementioned scale. Interns are also able to ask for feedback if they aren’t receiving it.
While Symba doesn’t facilitate communications between interns, it does include Slack integration for the purposes of collaboration and correspondence as needed.
On the managerial side, employers can do everything from the previously mentioned rating to delegating tasks and reviewing reports. All data is saved in Symba’s interface so that employers have equal access to information that might inspire a hiring.
While it’s possible that Symba will struggle to maintain relevance during non-internship months, the fact remains that it is an exceptionally viable solution to an otherwise finicky problem during these trying times—and some employers may even find it viable enough to continue using it post-pandemic.
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