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A Few Facts on Small Business Loans and More of Your Questions for June

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Is it true that SBA loans take longer than regular bank loans to be approved? I’d expect as much from a government agency.

Actually, the Small Business Administration doesn’t extend loans, it just guarantees them. As for a protracted approval process, that’s another widely held misconception, says Kate Lister, author of Finding Money, The Small Business Guide To Financing. “The information an SBA lender requires, save for a few extra details, is the same as for regular loans,” she says. Keep in mind that if one SBA lender is not interested in doing business with you, that shouldn’t preclude you from visiting others. “Each lender has their own approval criteria,” Lister says. To find an authorized lender, visit sba.gov or visit your local SBA office.

At what point should I cut out of sales?

Working out the value of your time to the business is a fairly straightforward sum, and if your financial goals are bigger than any sales you could close in the dispensary, then you are right to be looking to spend more time strategizing, working on marketing campaigns, meeting with potential partners, taking advanced business courses or whatever. But it’s a mistake to think you can or should ever stop selling. Your staff needs to see you constantly looking to bring in new business. That can be with regular stints on the sales floor, playing a support role, making the odd old-fashioned sales call or by trying to sell the company at a higher level. Once it stops with you, it’s over (from the top to the bottom).

I’m about to promote a staff member to manager. What’s the best way of preparing her for the challenges she’ll face? 

Be sure to give her “The Talk” — the one about how it will be hard to maintain close friendships with her former peers and that while you don’t prohibit fraternizing (at least we hope you don’t) you do recommend she maintain some professional distance from the rest of the staff. Let her know your door is always open to discuss issues because there will be times she’ll need someone to talk to. INVISION’s Real Deal columns (the full archive is available at invmag.us/knowhow) are a great resource to show her the kinds of situations that she is likely to face. Another is George Fuller’s The First-Time Supervisor’s Survival Guide. 

I’m thinking of going open book with my finances as a way of getting staff to understand what’s involved in running a successful business. What do you think?

We’ve read about businesses that do this with great success. But this level of transparency is not for everyone, given the financial literacy required to understand whether a business is healthy. You may just want to reveal your sales figures, though profit margin is a much better indicator of performance. Tell your staff that if net profit margin is under 5 percent, the business is barely surviving. Otherwise, discretion may be wiser. “Know what numbers you can share and defend, or just keep your books closed,” says Greg Crabtree, a CPA and author of Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits.

I’m moving my optical store to a new location about 25 miles away. What are some ways to get my customers to follow me? 

Have no fear — this is actually a great marketing opportunity because it gives you a valid reason to communicate with your existing clientele, as well as prospective customers. Start getting out the news months before the move. “It is important to communicate why you are moving — a better location, a bigger location, a more convenient location, you purchased a building,” says James Porte of the Porte Marketing Group. Place a notice in your existing store announcing the move. You can also mention it on your business cards, invoices, and via other media. A direct mail-out is critical, says Porte, adding the more memorable it is, the better. “I once saw a pack of cards imprinted with a business’ name that was packaged in a die-cut paper moving truck as a self-mailer. It was awesome!” Next, get in touch with the local newspaper and tell them about the move, and in particular what you’re bringing to the market. Finally, hit the phones to make personal contact with every one of your customers. Then start planning that grand opening party. 

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This article originally appeared in the June 2017 edition of INVISION.

This article is an online extra for INVISION Online.

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Promoting Healthy Competition and More Questions for Year’s End

Also, proper staff gift-giving etiquette and getting the most out of staff trainers.

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How do I tease out a prospective hire’s innate strengths and weaknesses during an interview?

Marcus Buckingham, a leader of the strengths-based school of business management, suggests asking this question (and revisiting it periodically if you do hire the person): What was the best day at work you’ve had in the past three months? “Find out what the person was doing and why he or she enjoyed it so much,” he says, adding it’s key to keep in mind that a strength is not merely something someone is good at. “It might be something they aren’t good at yet. It might be just a predilection, something they find so intrinsically satisfying that they look forward to doing it again and again and getting better at it over time.” The theory is that the best businesses are those that fully leverage the strengths (unbridled upside) of their employees as opposed to trying to fix up their weaknesses (never more than incremental gains).

Podcast: Is Eyecare in Canada Really More Like the US Than We Think?
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Podcast: Is Eyecare in Canada Really More Like the US Than We Think?

Podcast: What Exactly Does it Take to Become America’s Finest Optical Retailer?
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Podcast: What Exactly Does it Take to Become America’s Finest Optical Retailer?

Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries
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Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries

How can I promote competition among staff without it turning my store into the setting of Lord Of The Flies?

The key to fostering healthy competition, according to new research done by a team at Harvard Business School, lies in how you communicate the competition. When employees feel excited, they’re more likely to come up with creative solutions and new ways to better serve customers. When they feel anxious or worried they might lose their job or be publicly humiliated, they’re more likely to cut corners or sabotage one another. Leaders can generate excitement by highlighting the potential positive outcomes of competition (such as the recognition and rewards that await outstanding performers) rather than creating anxiety by singling out low performers (think of the steak knives scene in Glengarry Glen Ross).

What is proper etiquette for gift-giving in the workplace?

Your watchwords should be considerate, fair, and inclusive. Aim for gifts that can be shared and enjoyed by everyone such as food. (If people have diet restrictions, they can simply pass on the offering without making a big fuss.) If you do decide to give gifts to every staff member, steer clear of knick-knacks. Most people can barely see their desks as it is. The last thing they need is another coffee mug or pen-and-pencil set. Keep it clean. Do not consider gag gifts that rely on sexual innuendo or ethnic stereotypes to be funny. Do not give anything that could remotely be considered intimate. And be generous down the chain. Give your assistant or intern at least as nice a gift as the one you give your manager.

I’d like to hire a trainer for my staff, but I’m worried about the return on investment?

Our reason for existing at INVISION is to make ECPs better ECPs, and we believe professional trainers can help you enormously. To get your money’s worth, focus on two things: 1.) Hard skills. Overinvest in training that helps to increase ability versus motivation. Yes, it’s nice to have your staff leave a training session all fired up, but for lasting results that will give you that return on your investment, focus on small but vital aspects of your staff’s sales skills. It could be when to pause in a presentation or how many features to stress. Break tasks into discrete actions, practice within a low-risk environment and build in recovery strategies. 2.) This is just as important. Follow up. Bring in a trainer, but only if you yourself are willing to buy into their lessons and do ongoing training and reviews.

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When to Let That Questionable New Employee Go and More Questions for October

Plus its all fun and games until someone gets drunk at the company holiday party … how to protect your business from potential trouble.

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How do you know when a new employee can’t be saved? How much time should you give someone?

When you have coached someone carefully and repeatedly, invested large amounts of energy and they show no signs of improvement, that’s a solid signal you probably need to act. The clincher comes when their co-workers start showing their frustration and stop trying to help the person. This is often at about the three- or four-month mark. A lot of bosses will let it drag on past that, but it’s really in everyone’s interest for both parties to pursue new opportunities.

Podcast: Is Eyecare in Canada Really More Like the US Than We Think?
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: Is Eyecare in Canada Really More Like the US Than We Think?

Podcast: What Exactly Does it Take to Become America’s Finest Optical Retailer?
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: What Exactly Does it Take to Become America’s Finest Optical Retailer?

Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries

I’m planning an end-of-year company party, but one concern is that somebody could get drunk, have a car accident, and I might get sued. Got any advice on protecting myself?

These days, the Grinch must be a lawyer. Concerns about liability for alcohol-related incidents, sexual harassment, and workers’ compensation claims have led many companies to forgo holiday galas entirely. You don’t have to. But if you’re really afraid, lawyer Anil Khosla, writing in Inc. Magazine, suggests the following steps to reduce your liability: “1. To distance the business from the party, make it an entirely social event, don’t invite clients or vendors, and make sure employees know that attendance is voluntary. 2. Plan accordingly. Hold your gathering off-site, if possible. That may shift some of the potential liability to the hotel, restaurant, or caterer. If you must have an on-site party, hire an independent caterer. Don’t permit anyone from the company to serve alcohol and instruct bartenders to stop serving anyone who seems inebriated. Lawyers advise avoiding an open bar — or, at the very least, limiting it to the first hour. Also, close the bar at least one hour before the party ends. 3. Consider providing transportation to and from the event. Make sure that cabs will be available and appoint someone to suggest cab rides home for people who have had a few too many.”

I haven’t got around to writing a will yet. What would happen to my business if I died unexpectedly?

When there’s no will, state law (“interstate succession” statutes) usually takes charge of your estate. “Each state has precise laws about who gets what when there is no will, and there are differences among the states,” says Norman M. Boone, MBA, CFP, a nationally renowned financial adviser. “In California, for example, the spouse inherits all the deceased spouse’s community property, but the separate property is shared with the children. In New Jersey, your spouse gets the first $50,000 of your estate and one-half of the rest; your children get everything else. If the children are minors in either state, then the court appoints someone to manage their property (including your business), and then supervises their activities, which involves more intrusion and more expense. The children receive their inheritance at age 18. For singles, the assets are parceled out to relatives in an order determined by state law. Usually, children, parents and then siblings are first in line. Friends, lovers (even domestic partners) or charities are left out.” Without a will, there is always a chance the estate will be fought over by the above claimants, a process which can drag out and potentially ruin a business. Don’t like those prospects? What are you waiting for? Write that will!

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How to Get a Staff Member to Close a Sale and More Questions for September

And your return policy may not be as ironclad as you think when it comes to minors.

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I got really angry at a customer the other day and left a nasty message on their voicemail. So, OK, I’ve lost that client. But how can I keep this from happening again?

We fully recommend business author Tony Schwartz’s Golden Rule of Triggers, which is “Whatever you feel compelled to do, don’t.” Instead, he says, take a deep breath, and “feel your feet” — a distraction tactic that allows you to pull your head out of the red mist.

I have a no-return stipulation on all my eyewear. But somebody told me that if a minor buys, for example, a pair of fancy sunglasses from me, they have the right to return it for a full refund and I can’t do anything about it. Is this true?

It is, in most states. And it’s something many merchants are unaware of. Basically, it comes down to what the law regards as “capacity to contract,” something minors are considered to lack but which is an essential element of any valid commercial agreement. The law doesn’t state, however, you must return the money immediately. You can insist Mom or Dad enforce the big-spending youngster’s right to disaffirmance in a court of law. Faced with such a prospect, the child or his parents are likely to come to an arrangement.

My store is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Am I leaving sales on the table by not being open?

Not necessarily. In fact, you may actually be improving business by giving your team some regular time off. Roger Beahm, professor of marketing at Wake Forest University School of Business, told radio station WFDD that you should first consider the “personal values” of your business. “We know that there’s a lot of businesses, for personal reasons, that like to keep their doors closed on Sunday, give their employees a day off for family, to go to church, and those kinds of things.” Employee happiness can translate into “efficiency, a high-quality product, and a loyal customer who keeps coming back.” Beahm says that work/life balance should lead to profit. “While they may be leaving money on the table in the short run, it’s probably assured that in the long run, they’re continuing to generate revenue because of the satisfaction level of both their employees and their customers.”

I’ve got a woman on staff who adores eyewear and never fails to engage a customer in a lively discussion, but for the life of me I can’t teach her how to close the sale! Help!

Failure to close is most often a combination of lack of basic skill and fear of being ‘pushy,’” says Kate Peterson of retail consultancy Performance Concepts. You can’t effectively teach ‘closing’ as a separate and disassociated thing, she says, but if your associate is good at engaging the customer, focus on teaching her how to make emotional connections between what they want and what the merchandise provides and to listen for signals that indicate it’s time to close. When it comes to more expensive fashion wear, remind her that most customers are often looking for permission to buy. “Providing good service means giving it to them by asking for the sale,” says Peterson. Finally, consider your commission structures. A motivated staff will use their time in the store as efficiently as they can, because it’s in their interest to make as many sales as possible.

When people look in your window displays, how do you approach them without scaring them off?

Open the conversation by asking their opinion on the display itself, says selling expert Dave Richardson. From there, you should be able to find out what they are specifically looking at and extend an invitation for them to come in and see it more closely (as well as a business card). Such boldness is well worth your effort, says Richardson. “Best-case scenario, you make a sale … worst-case scenario, someone new has your card.”

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