October 15, 2012
Biz Books

Business, HR practices focus of two books

"It's Your Business: 183 Essential Tips that Will Transform Your Small Business" by JJ Ramberg with Lisa Everson & Frank Silverstein (Business Plus, $26.99).

The brains of MSNBC's "Your Business" tap the brains of successful entrepreneurs to show what builds a business from the ground up. Here are six key takeaways:

Tip 3: "Sell your company — not the product — to investors." Investors, while interested in product, need to know the costs involved with who's going to make it, the marketing plan, scalability, consumer outreach, etc. They also need to become confident and comfortable with the owner's ability to "make it happen."

Tip 13: "Focus on the why." While what you do and how you do it are important, why you do it tells others of your passion for the business. Why isn't about making money; it's about vision and character. Why engages other stakeholders — family, friends, employees, suppliers, investors, etc.

Tip 35: "Put yourself in your employees' shoes." Joining your team in its tasks helps you understand what it takes to get the job done. You'll pay attention when they suggest changes. Dirt under your fingernails also shows them how important you believe their jobs are.

Tip 52: "Hire staff that fits your target (customer) demographic." People having something in common with your customers relate to the why, what and how of your business. Commonality ensures you have an "in-house focus group and an ever-ready guerilla marketing team."

Tip 67: "Give feedback, good or bad, as it happens." Nothing boosts morale more than showing you appreciate employees' work on an ongoing basis. When mistakes are made, provide constructive feedback (not criticism) to ensure the one-time problem doesn't snowball.

Tip 84: "Don't decrease price; increase value." Every time you decrease your price, profit takes a hit. Adding value costs less and boosts sales. Fav's Treatery bundles a cup of coffee and a "Bruffin" for $5; separately the price would be closer to $6. An estate jeweler I know has a customer appreciation night; he mingles with customers over refreshments, obtains feedback and creates sales, too. Increasing value changes product perception.

The other 177 tips provide added-value, too.

• • •

"Stand Up for Yourself Without Getting Fired" by Donna Ballman (Career Press, $19.99).

Ballman's experience as an employment law attorney shows that employees don't know much about their employment rights. They rely on their employers to know and enforce the laws. Unfortunately, employers with limited HR staff can't keep up with the laws. Many small businesses don't even have employee handbooks that spell out conditions of employment and benefits. In some cases, there is no law — there are no federal laws addressing workplace bullying or work breaks.

Here are some of the things you'll learn about employee rights: Not all salaried employees are exempt from getting paid for overtime. Those making less than $23,600 ($455/week) must be paid overtime.

You can be fired for excessive absenteeism if you use all your "earned" sick time. Many employers also keep track of Monday and day-after-payday absences. Too many of these can get you fired, even if you haven't used all your allotted sick time. Employee handbooks typically spell out "excessive". If your employer doesn't have one, you need written clarification.

Most employees know that employers can monitor your Internet usage on company-furnished computers. While the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 may protect your privacy relative to email, it doesn't protect you from getting fired for excessive Internet usage for personal activities.

Think twice before shopping online and updating your social networking sites at work. Also, since social networking sites are public domain, comments you make about the employer, your boss or colleagues may come back to haunt you.

A key takeaway: If you're involved with any workplace conflict, you need written documentation of where, when, who, witnesses, etc. You also need to use the documentation to advise HR of the issues.

Jim Pawlak is a nationally syndicated book reviewer.

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