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Firing a Bad Apple and More Questions for April

Trust your gut, and let them go.

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What advice do you have for dealing with bad apples and the guilt you feel about possibly firing them?

Other than to look past the short-term mental anguish and focus on the ultimate benefits that will accrue to your bottom line, staff morale, to that unhappy misplaced worker, and to your own sense of mental being, not much. Average performers make for an average business. Bad employees make for even worse. When we’ve asked about this in the past, your peers all agree: Read up on your legal responsibilities and pull the trigger. No more delaying. No sugar coating the speech (that invites trouble). “We got rid of two full time employees that had bad attitudes. Best move ever,” says Kristina Swartz, owner of the The Eye Site in Mishawaka, IN. “Trust your gut when it comes to employees,” adds Paula Hornbeck, of Eye Candy & Eye Candy Kids in Delafield, WI. “Over the years, I’ve had an uneasy feeling about an employee several times but hesitated to make a decision. Looking back, I should have let them go sooner and not drawn it out.” This applies even if it leaves you short-handed. “We made the decision to let someone go, and not replace them for several months,” recalls Stacey Harlander of CNY Eye Care in Syracuse, NY. “This left me as the sole optician, and it really forced me to see where I could improve patient flow, and learn to manage my own time and tasks more efficiently than in the past.” Don’t let another day pass. Go do it.

Should I use a paper or email newsletter?

Email newsletters are easy to assemble and distribute. They are cheap and trackable. And … they are easy to ignore. This is not to say you shouldn’t use them — there’s lots of evidence email marketing is more effective than the much more hyped social media options. But it also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t occasionally experiment with good old ink and paper. At a time when the average email user gets more than 100 messages in their inbox every day, it’s hard to get noticed, whereas a nicely produced flier in their real mail box might just tweak interest in a special offer or your regular services. And it’s not that much more expensive. A mail service provider will typically design and distribute your newsletter for less than 50 cents apiece and perhaps best of all, using an option like the U.S. Postal Service’s Every Door Direct Mail you can affordably target an audience by mail audience by age, income, or household size. It’s guaranteed in-the-hand delivery a spam message could only dream of. Even with a response rate of only two to three on 2,500 newsletters, that’s 75 potentially new customers or patients. A viable return!  

I’d like to capture some of the feeling of spring with flowers. What kinds do you recommend?

Daffodils are the traditional flower symbolizing spring but really, just about any variety will work. Color authority Pantone has named ultraviolet as its color of the year, which suggests opting for lavender, orchids, violet tulips, and African violets to send a signal that your optical is in touch with fashion trends. If a broader spectrum appeals, white roses or chrysanthemums always add a touch of elegance, blues and greens calm shoppers and encourage contemplation, while yellows and oranges will signal the coming summer. Roses (but not red ones, which are closely associated with Valentine’s Day) are still among the most popular flowers in the U.S., but be aware that they don’t fare well under hot lighting. Just be sure to go with fresh flowers. True, the silk copies have lasting power, but they tend to bring to mind grandma’s sofa-side arrangements rather than the excitement of the new season.

As I start thinking about doing my first trunk show, is there anything people don’t tell you?

Oh, just that it’s a TON of work. There’s the prep — figuring out the theme, the discounts, coordinating with your vendors to ensure they can be there, plotting decorations, food, and getting started on the marketing (creating ads, emailing your patient base, handing out flyers, building a “selfie wall,” and probably more important than anything else, working your phone contact list. If you’re offering medical services, it’s crucial you nail the appointments), and, finally, the day itself. If you’ve never done a trunk show, see what help your vendors might be able to provide. ZEISS for example, offers its Event in a Box, which it promises brings a Blue Apron-like ethos to holding an event.  

I’ve heard the late fees and extra interest we pay to vendors are tax-deductible expenses? What about the IRS’s late filing penalty?

It’s true that interest, late fees, and penalties are all considered legitimate business expenses. But not IRS penalties. But why are you paying delinquency penalties in the first place? If you can’t get an extension and don’t have the cash, you should still submit a return by the deadline — then you’ll only have to pay the 0.5 percent per month rate for being late. Late filing is a symptom of a financial carelessness that doesn’t augur well for your company.

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Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 21 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at editor@invisionmag.com.

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Ask INVISION

How Much Community Work is Too Much Community Work and and More Questions for June

Also how to deal with (or with being) a helicopter manager.

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I appreciate giving back is a smart way to run a business, and it feels good personally, but community work can also be a distraction. Are there guidelines for ensuring we get the balance right?

In terms of the personal benefits, different studies done in the U.S. and Australia over the last two decades have concluded that about 100 hours of volunteering a year, or two hours a week, yields the optimum return in terms of happiness, satisfaction and self-esteem. The studies found there were no benefits — for the volunteer at least — of doing more than that. As for your business, coming up with a similarly strict “cut-off point” is prudent. The Internet software provider Salesforce.com, for example, uses what it calls its “one percent” formula: one percent of company profits, one percent of company equity, and one percent of employee hours all go to the communities it serves. The clarity of such a cap not only provides a guideline for this expenditure of energy, but makes it easier for you to deal with requests from your community for your time or money: “We wish we could help but for now we are concentrating all our community efforts through …XYZ.” When it comes to helping others, a soft heart and a hard head are often the best combination.

I’ll admit I’m a helicopter manager, but if I didn’t keep a close eye on everything and intervene constantly nothing would get done properly. How can I get my staff to show more initiative and responsibility?

It sounds as if you’ve micromanaged your staff into drones. Basically, you’ve got two options: Go big picture, where you give them ownership of their responsibilities on a day-to-day basis, or go small, where every procedure and system is mapped out in detail. The first requires employees with the right personality and experience who will know what do when you say, “OK, our goal is to wow every person who comes in the store. Go to it!” The second requires a lot of work from you in putting systems in place and providing the necessary training. In such cases, one approach is to imagine that you’re planning to open another business 3,000 miles away and putting in writing everything you’d want the remote employees to know about managing the practice, from how to run the point-of-sale system to how to make deposits to who to call if there’s a problem with the building. With such a reference, you’d be able to step aside and in theory, be confident your staff would be equipped to tackle most situations. Keep in mind though that these situations often reflect as much about the manager as the staff. Taking action is how micromanagers deal with anxiety – just as surrendering control is how under-functioning staff deal with challenges. Breaking the pattern is tough, because the manager needs to step back and do less, which means potentially letting bad things happen and tolerating the resulting anxiety. Can you handle that?

I know I should focus on my business, but I get a warped glee out of competing with the unethical rival up the road. There’s nothing wrong with having such an enemy, is there?

Research testifies to the fact that humans partly enjoy having enemies; they clarify the world for us and bolster our sense of righteousness. So, sure, why not channel this sometimes less-than-admirable truth to good ends? And it’s certainly easier to keep an eye on what your rivals are up to in the Internet era. The only thing we’d say is that you don’t lose sight of who your real enemy is. Is it the guy so bad at business he’s cutting legal corners, or is it Amazon, or something else — like your own complacency, inertia, or fear of change that poses an existential threat to your business? Enjoy your day-to-day skirmishes with the schmuck around the corner, use it to motivate yourself, but channel your energies into evolving and growing your business.

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Ask INVISION

How to Get the Best Employees and More Questions for May

Plus, how to get that chatty, great employee to actually close the sale.

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What’s a good way to sell our company to prospective employees — particularly top salespeople?

Just about the most valuable skill a businessperson can have is the ability to recruit and retain good people and yes, it all starts with that job posting. “When the right people read your ad, their hearts will whisper, ‘These people are like me, and I am like them,’ says Roy H. Williams, author of the business bestseller The Wizard of Ads. Bullet point what the job entails, what kind of inventory they will be handling, and the benefits, but the core message should be about who you are as a company, your reputation and your goals. The best salespeople often don’t have a sales background so go easy on the requirements. Your message should be more about culture than qualifications.

Podcast: What the Heck is Marketing? And What Should ECPs Focus on to Attract New Clients?
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Podcast: What the Heck is Marketing? And What Should ECPs Focus on to Attract New Clients?

Podcast: More Ways to Motivate Your Own Eyecare Business Team
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Podcast: More Ways to Motivate Your Own Eyecare Business Team

Podcast: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?
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Is it legal for retailers to say they are selling at wholesale prices?

In short, no — unless they really are. Many states including Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Texas, California, New York, and Michigan have strict laws prohibiting the use of the word “wholesale” in retail advertisements. In some states, this is a criminal offense, due to the word’s ability to mislead consumers. Basically, if you advertise you are selling at wholesale prices it must be “the real wholesale price.” Some states define this as the price paid for the item from the supplier. Other states and the federal government say the price must be lower than the average price retailers would pay in the area.

We have a small store that is growing quite nicely. In fact, juggling rosters to avoid paying overtime is increasingly becoming an issue. I understand it can be tricky, but can we just move several employees to salaried positions? No more messy rosters. No more overtime. Right?

Likely very wrong. This is a strategy that “has been used so often to avoid paying rightful overtime, that it is written into the law through the Fair Labor Standards Act,” says Scott Clark, a lawyer and founder of the HTC Group. Yes, there are salaried positions for which there are exemptions from overtime rules, but they tend to be “true” management roles and jobs that require a college degree or technical training. They must also pay more than a minimum of $455 per week, and the salary must be the same every week (so if your employee wants time off to see the doctor you still have to pay his full weekly salary — no more docking wages for hours not worked). If it seems that the government is uncharacteristically protective of lower-income workers in this instance, never fear, it really isn’t. On the contrary, the government is very particular about all the taxes and Social Security that get paid on overtime. We’d say a better approach is to view your employees as an asset who make you money, not as an expense. Invest in your employees to make them more efficient, and they’ll make you even more money. Or hire the staff you actually need.

Where can I get hold of a good employee evaluation form?

As you’ve no doubt discovered, there are scores you can download to use as a model or template. Some, like those from educational institutions, are really quite detailed and cover every possible aspect of a job, while others are very basic. Our only advice when it comes to employee evaluations is that you not spend too much time on the whole process. While you may want the paper trail to protect yourself against lawsuits from former employees, there’s a growing view that reviews don’t really achieve much. Mary Jenkins, a co-author of Abolishing Performance Appraisals: Why They Backfire and What to Do Instead, advocates designing a system in which employees can seek feedback from people they work with, then draw up a skills-development plan with their manager — or you.

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How to Attract Top Salespeople and More Questions for April

Also, how to structure their compensation to remain competitive.

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We have a very young-looking salesperson who worries people don’t take her seriously. We’ve styled her in planos but what more can we do to make her look more professional?

“Professionalism is really about projecting confidence,” says Anne Sowden, managing director of image consultancy Here’s Looking at You. “And confidence is reflected in clothing and body language. As a general guideline, dark colors — black, navy and charcoal — convey authority.

A jacket automatically makes someone appear more professional. Pair it with a light-colored blouse (conservative neckline), knee-length skirt and she’ll look professional but approachable. And ensure the clothing fits properly, is not wrinkled and she will feel comfortable in it.

“If you’re comfortable, you’ll automatically be more confident,” Sowden notes.

When it comes to greeting customers, remind her of Mom’s dictum: Stand up straight and don’t slouch. “This will indicate that confidence and approachability. Add to that eye contact and most importantly, a smile and she’ll make a dynamite first impression,” Sowden says.

I have an employee at my high-end eyewear store who makes $16 an hour and commission based on gross profit. She earns close to $60,000 a year but feels underpaid and that paying commission on gross profit is contrary to the industry standard. How can I convince her she has it pretty good?

She does indeed have it pretty good, says industry consultant Andrea Hill, owner of Hill Management Group, noting that her hourly rate is almost 50 percent higher than the average for retail sales people of $11.50 and even more than the average of $15 paid by very high-end luxury retailers.

As for the commission, Hill says you are very much on the right track and your employee will probably have to get used to it wherever she decides to work; “wise” businesses are increasingly moving away from a commission based on the retail price to a portion of the gross margin. “In this way, sales professionals are challenged to balance the need to get the highest price possible with the need to close the sale,” Hill says.

“When commissions are paid out on total sales only, then it becomes very easy for the salesperson to sacrifice profits for the easy close,” she says.

While exposure to such numbers should mollify your associate, what you really want to do is excite her about the potential of earning as much as $100,000 a year — which is what top luxury salespeople make — although that requires building a “strong book” of customers through active networking, clienteling and prospecting work.

Keep in mind, however, that even the most generous commission rate won’t help if you’re not on top of your game, meaning advertising intelligently, keeping up with changing retail trends, providing the right technology for how consumers today want to shop, and maintaining an exciting inventory that reflects current tastes, says Hill.

“If the retail business owner does not ensure that they are running a strong merchandising and marketing operation, then even the best sales person in the world will not be able to turn the promise of commission into actual earnings.”

I still can’t get my head around kelvins and color temperatures. Can you help?

It probably helps to think of the original theoretical model that underlies the index — that of a black metal radiator, whose color changes as it is heated, from black to orange to red to blue to white hot.

Similar to Celsius and Fahrenheit, the Kelvin scale marks different degrees of thermodynamic temperature, but it is the association with color change that makes it useful as a way to designate light bulbs.

Where it gets confusing is how at the lower end of the scale, from 2000K to 3000K, the light produced is called “warm white” and ranges from orange to yellow-white in appearance. Meanwhile, color temperatures further up the scale, between 3100K and 4500K, are referred to as “cool white” but the bulbs are emitting a brighter, hotter light.

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