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Monday, August 19, 2013

Rules for When You Work for a Small Business

Congratulations! You just got a job working in a small business!

And by small business, I don't mean under $10 billion in assets, as we refer to it in the investment community, I mean a mom and pop place. Maybe it's the local dry cleaners, a plumbing supply store, a restaurant, an attorney or accountant's office-- a true small business where there's just a handful of employees. You didn't just get a job, you joined a family. And that's a good thing.

Small businesses are truly the backbone of the US. We are part of the community. We aren't going to close up shop and move overseas to save money because we work in the business, too. As a small business owner, however, I've noticed that one issue that I have had repeatedly with employees over the years is that they don't understand the differences between working for a large corporation and a small business. They are significant. There are pros and cons to each.

Before you accept that job as the receptionist at the local dentist, you might want to evaluate if it's a good fit.

#1- You Matter 
Small businesses can't afford to have back-ups to most jobs. If you're sick, you're missed. If you're lazy, it impacts everyone else. You truly matter. You aren't an employee ID number. You are an integral part to the business whether it be answering the phones or selling the product, your presence is far more important that it ever will be at a large corporation. You ARE the accounting department.

With that said, when times are tough, the business owner will more than likely do everything possible to make sure that you keep your job-- including taking on debt. Large corporations aren't going to do that. They like to do what I call "horizontal job enhancement"-- assign extra duties to others without increases in pay. Chances are in a small business, they are already running as lean as possible.

With that said, you absolutely cannot dial it in. You're going to have to work. We all have bad days, but when it's all up to you, you're going to have to pull it together and get the job done or you will be asked to leave.  Because I don't have 6 months to put you through a development program-- I could be out of business in 6 months if you don't pull it together. 

#2-Don't Complain About Your Pay 
Chances are the person who started this business did it on a shoestring. There are times that many of us don't take a draw or pay ourselves because we have to pay our employees first. We ate Ramen. Every dollar that goes into your pocket, came from ours. Truly. That is my child's college fund in your bank account so to speak. If it's going well now, it's because we worked hard. Very hard. If you are unhappy with your pay, leave. Or better yet, go start your own business.

 #3- Don't Tell Me How Things Should Be Done Unless You Actually Know 
A new, flashy sign would be great. It also costs $10,000. That may not be the top priority. Small business owners are usually looking for the best way to do things, without a doubt. But when these things cost money, the well is my wallet not a corporate coffer of billions. If it's a process thing, ask before you change something.

In my practice, for example, we make reminder calls the Wednesday the week before the meeting. We pre-schedule our appointments about 3 months in advance and people can forget or something comes up. I've had MANY assistants slack on this or try to convince me the day before is better. Then, when half my appointments cancel, I check and see when the calls were made. It is ALWAYS when this isn't done. And here's why-- most of my clients work. When they get home from work, they get their messages. I am more than likely already closed. I do my meeting prep work on Friday and Monday for my meetings the next week. If they call on Thursday or Friday, it saves everyone a lot of work from prepping for the meeting. It also frees up the time slot on my calendar if someone else needs to schedule. If they no-show or call the morning of because something came up at work, now I've wasted your time pulling reports, my time preparing and we have a dead spot on the calendar that someone else could have filled.

In other words, there's usually a reason for doing something- ask first. But don't be afraid to ask.

#4- If you are Assigned a Task, Do It 
This seems obvious, but it's been an issue in the past. Because it's a small business, people are often more polite. The business owner doesn't have time to watch you do something or to follow up three or four times. You were hired to do a job. Do it.

In a small business, the owner is often a "technician"-- they aren't just a figurehead in an office-- they are out in the streets drumming up business or doing the professional task (accounting, law, etc).  They don't have time be the manager and watch your every move. 

Also, there are no tasks too small.  I just had someone tell me "I'm not fulfilled by filing."  Seriously?  No one is.  I'm not fulfilled by refilling the coffee pot either, but if it's empty I do it.   I also used to vacuum. Get over it.

#5- Care
This seems silly, I know, but you need to care.  The owner started this business because they saw a need-- it was something he or she believed in.  If you don't believe in it, you should leave.  Our businesses are our children.  Don't talk smack about our children-- we can, you can't.

#6- And Speaking of Children...
There's a very good chance my children might be your boss some day.  It may not be especially fair, either.  All those hours that I spent away from my children were spent in my business.  They earned the right to inherit it.  If you WANT to run the business let the owner know.  I've seen a lot of a good people get pushed aside so Junior can run the company.  Know that that's a possibility going in.  There's a good shot Junior doesn't want it, but if he or she does, they often get first dibs.

#7-Don't Take Advantage
The owner is going to get to know you.  They are going to care about your well-being.  Don't take advantage of it.  Of course, they are going to let you go to the dentist.  I even had an employee have a near break down when she asked to leave early on a Friday and I said okay-- she added in a panicked voice- after I had said yes-- "It's to get my hair done!"  I started laughing and told her that was fine.  So once a month, she left early on Friday to get her hair done.  But she never scheduled anything else during work hours.  Doctors, dentists, hairdressers-- they are all hard to schedule.  A small business gives you more flexibility, so don't abuse it.  If your kid is sick and you need time off, a small business owner understands.

#8- Long Term Employees are Like Family
You may not know that Bob the salesman helped the owner through rehab or worked without pay those first few months.  If someone has been there a long time, assume there is a reason.  If they are slacking, find out why before you say anything.  Because, quite honestly, they wouldn't still be there (see #1).  And more importantly, some day you may be Bob and the same courtesy will be afforded to you.

Also, keep in mind that like families, you are going to get on each others' nerves.  There is no place to escape when there are only a few employees.  You're going to have to learn to work through it.  Those will also be the people that have your back, too.

#9- Don't Steal
Sounds silly again, I know.  Those pencils? I  bought them.  It's not some giant corporation that has millions assigned to office supplies.  Most small business owners don't care if you use the fax machine, the copier or need something.  Just ask first.  It's not yours.  Would you like the owner to show up at your house and start eating from the refrigerator?  Probably not.

#10- Go Easy on the Office Equipment
This is a pet peeve of mine.  I went through three shredders in one year.  I've had mine for 5 years.  I know they jam, but here's a thought-- don't put 15 pages in with staples.  I may have even pointed that out....or written it down. 

The feeder in my scanner is perpetually broken because people have yanked papers out mid-scan.  It's not commercial grade.  It costs money to fix or replace.  The stapler... the coffee maker... "Oh, by the way, that's broken..."  I just hear "Cha-ching."  Yes, things break, but over the years, I've learned that for some reason people don't treat the work equipment the same as if it were theirs.  In a small business, treat it like you own it-- or better.

So that's my list of things to know before taking that new, great job.  I've had employees stay for a long time and others that don't make it through the year.  A small business can provide you with many opportunities.  Some may even let you create your own career path.  I personally feel that the benefits far outweigh the items listed above.  For some people, however, they like having a lot of people around and the ability to blend into the woodwork.  You can't do that in a small business.

What you can do is stand out.  You can have a direct impact on something.  You can feel appreciated.  You are important no matter how small your job.

You will never be consider "just" an employee or overhead.  And in today's world, that's a good thing.

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