Ask INVISION: January 2016

Our Main Street is scheduled to undergo major roadwork for four months this spring. What can we do to limit the disruption?

Sound the trumpet. This is an issue that requires a united and well-organized front from local businesses to lessen the impact. Contractors are usually willing to work with small businesses — they just need lots of notice. Your local merchants association can try any or all of these tactics: Be sure there is a business-community representative at every planning meeting. Set up a communications system — a Facebook page, a regular email or SMS alert — to update everyone on the project’s progress. Start planning special events or awareness campaigns to let patients know what’s happening. Brainstorm ways to keep people visiting the downtown district: “A retailer/restaurant of the week” campaign or promotional “roadwork currency” that can be used at any local business. And think about extra outreach. Could you visit clients at their homes, start a repair pickup and delivery service, extend business hours or do a pop-up shop at the mall? Finally, in line with the thought that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em ... what about closing for a remodel yourself?

This article originally appeared in the January 2016 edition of INVISION.

How much vacation time do you think is appropriate for a full-time employee?

The liberal economist in us says as much as the market demands to allow you to attract capable workers who will come to your business each day feeling refreshed and engaged. For corporate America, that means about three weeks a year. In small businesses things are a bit tighter (the Labor Department says only 69 percent of small businesses offer paid leave). In terms of hard numbers, 10 days a year of paid vacation would keep you in line with peers. See the graphic at right for a look at how much vacation members of INVISION's Brain Squad offer.

I’m resolving to lift my staff’s customer service this year. What are some practical ways to achieve this?

First, make a commitment to look for instances of excellent service and to recognize and reward them. To build skills, send your staff to training courses, hire a coach to visit you, or bring in a mystery shopper/client to challenge your staff. Finally, make sure your staff is clear on why service is so important. People come to eyecare professionals at vulnerable moments and are looking for someone they like, respect and trust. Your employees owe it to them to bring their best game.

How can I get better at business writing?

Permission marketing expert Seth Godin did a blog post about this recently. Your question was his headline, and his answer was simple: “Don’t do business writing.” Godin asks, “Have you ever met someone in industry who talks like he writes? You visit a store and the person says, ‘Effective Jan. 1, 2016, we have ceased operations at this location. For further information, correspondence should be addressed to our headquarters.’” No one talks like that, so we shouldn’t write like that either. “Write like you talk, instead,” Godin adds. So before writing your next email blast, social media post or even window sign, try saying your message out loud — then write that down.

One of our staff members, a terrific young man, is leaving for the West Coast. How do I write him a reference?

Think about the references that have impressed you as a boss. Make it personal. Don’t just repeat his qualifications or you flub the chance to extol his character traits — something a résumé can’t convey. Think of a story when he went beyond the call of duty and how your business benefited. That’s really what a prospective employer is looking for. But don’t go on too long — a page should be enough. As with all writing, the shorter it is, the greater impact it will have.