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Tip Sheet

Plan a Business-Building BBQ and More Tips for May

A successful bank holds one every week.

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Brainstorming

Alone Time

Not making any headway with your “brainstorming” sessions? Go it alone. In his book “Free Prize Inside”, Seth Godin cites a psychology study that shows that a team of four, each brainstorming alone, came up with twice as many ideas as the same team brainstorming together. Best approach? Assign team members to brainstorm alone, then bring everybody together to share — and critique — the ideas, he says.

COMMUNICATION

Talk the Talk

Jargon has a well-earned reputation for being confusing and annoying, but perhaps never more so than when it comes to insurance. Get rid of the words “covered,” “allowance,” “overage,” “add on,” “eligible,” and “out of pocket” from your patient communications, says industry consultant Mark Hinton, arguing these words cause “tension and anxiety.” “They don’t belong in retail,” he says.

MERCHANDISING

Let Light Shine

Edward Dean Butler travels the world as a consultant to the optical trade and just about everywhere he goes, he runs into a pet peeve – badly lit eyewear retailers. “Many, many optical stores are so badly lit that business actually suffers,” says Butler, who founded the Lenscrafters chain. Good lighting requires expertise, he wrote in a commentary on invisionmag.com. But here are three things to look out for:
1. Never light frames from the back. They look washed out and you can’t see the real colors. Instead, light them from the front using a tungsten filament color.
2. Use professional lighting colors, not high kelvin/blue-white. So-called warm white is not horrible, but professional lighting colors (salmon pink, believe it or not) are far better. “Go to the mall and look at the lighting colors in national chains,” he recommends.
3. Never use bright lights. “Surface imperfections and dust show up and turn off customers,” he says.

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RECRUITMENT

Outside the Box

It’s easy when recruiting to become so rigidly fixed on certain criteria that you overlook someone who could bring a whole new dimension to your business, says Betty Aretz, owner of The Eyecare Boutique in Wexford, PA. “Look outside the box,” she urges, citing the example of “someone with an accounting degree can calculate insurance quickly.” Take this great quote from Mark Twain, cited by Tom Peters in his book “Re-Imagine!”: “The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need to fear the second-best swordsman in the world. No, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the thing he ought to do. He does the thing he ought not to do, and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot.”

MARKETING

Barbecue Business

A bank in Seattle, WA, lets prospects know about its “hot” loan rates and friendly service by holding a barbecue every Friday in the bank’s parking lot. The bank manager cooks the hot dogs and hamburgers, folks come by to talk and eat, and all receive info on the bank’s services. Perhaps you might let your customers know about your “hot” sunglass deals in a similar manner?

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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Tip Sheet

Start Bold, Take Better Breaks and More Tips to Improve Your Business

Also, your neighbors are a captive audience have you gotten them in the door?

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EXECUTIONStart Bold

When trying a new business venture always try the wackier, quirkier stuff first, says Jason Fried, founder and CEO of Basecamp and author of the business bestseller Getting Real. “The deeper you get into a project, the more conservative it tends to get. Stranger ideas are more at home earlier in the process,” he recently wrote on his Twitter feed.

RECRUITMENTPrepare to Recruit

It’s hiring season. And store management consultant David Geller suggests that you get prepared to help attract the best candidates to your business. Buy a pack of non-perforated business cards. Print up some cards with the following words: “I was very impressed with your sales presentation and service level today when you waited on me. If you’ve considered changing employers, please give me a call. Sincerely, Your Name, Your Store, Your Phone.” If you go shopping or dining, and are served by someone you like, give them the card and walk away.

PSYCHOLOGYBreak Better

The most important thing to understand about breaks is that they are not a deviation from performance; they are part of performance, says Dan Pink in his latest business best seller, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. “And the most restorative breaks are social rather than solo, outside not inside, moving instead of stationary, and fully detached rather than semi-detached.”

MARKETINGGet Neighborly

If you are in an area rife with other small businesses, then you have a nice little captive audience to increase exams or sales. “Literally, walk into neighboring businesses and introduce myself to the other owners and say something like, “Not sure if you’re aware, but we offer a $50 gift card for any of your employees that come in for an eye exam…,’” says The EyeCoach, Robert Bell. “Do not say ‘and buy a pair of glasses.’ Get them in the door first! Then ‘capture’ them in the boutique,” he suggests.

MOTIVATION“How” Is the Enemy

Something all true entrepreneurs know: “How” is the enemy. “We always want to know how things will happen,” says Claudia Azula, a popular podcaster and co-author of the Power of No. “But how is the enemy because it blocks the possibilities that open up when we are willing to not know. When you don’t know about tomorrow, all you can do is focus on doing your best today.” Stop thinking, just go do it.

MANAGEMENTDot Plot

Everyone knows cleanliness is good. It indicates attention to detail, professionalism, and hygienic conditions. Yet it’s an area where most staff tend to take shortcuts. To enforce the deep cleaning habit, John Putzier, author of Get Weird!, suggests a game called Collect the Dots. Place tiny colored stickers around your store, focusing on the most obscure corners, nooks and crannies, say, in the dusty reaches of your contact lens room. Any employee who collects a sticker and brings it to you gets points. More points, bigger rewards.

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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?
INVISION Podcast

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
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: More Ways to Motivate Your Own Eyecare Business Team

Podcast: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

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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