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What You Should Include in Your Employee Manual and More of Your Questions for May

Including how to handle crazy online reviews and if the time is right to refinance.




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When somebody makes a crazy complaint online, is it still worth responding?

Yes, always respond and do it with love and respect, says small business consultant Andrea Hill of Hill Management Group. That doesn’t mean you can’t imply the person’s complaint is clearly baseless. Hill provides the following example: “I’m so sorry. We weren’t actually open last night when you were disrespected, but how can we help you?” The third time they complain it’s OK to close the thread, she says. “By demonstrating patience, you’ll also gain the sympathy and admiration of prospective customers. Bad reviews are one of the best ways to get new customers if you handle it right,” Hill says.

We’ve completed a remodel on our property and I’m going to sub-lease part of the building to an old friend. I was thinking of just using one of those off-the-store-shelf lease forms to save on legal costs.

Friend or not, it’s a bad idea, says Janet Portman, an attorney and co-author of Every Landlord’s Legal Guide. So-called “standard” forms that are sold everywhere probably aren’t compliant with the laws in your state. If you use a stationery-store lease that violates a tenant’s rights, you could find yourself at the losing end of a lawsuit because of an unenforceable lease clause. For example, some standard forms will require landlords to return security deposits within 10 days, something that no state demands.

What policies should I include in our employee manual?

Start by detailing all the stuff that could get you in trouble. Government websites will tell you what to look out for regarding harassment, discrimination and retaliatory policies. You will also want to set down your policy on the confidentiality of client information — in terms of HIPAA requirements, discussing sales outside the store, and access and ownership of client lists. For the latter, policy alone won’t do it — you need your staff to sign confidentiality agreements. To avoid confusion, include separate sections for full- and part-time employees outlining your store’s policies on overtime pay, vacation days, and other benefits. And mention — in writing — that just because a rule appears in writing, it doesn’t mean you can’t change it whenever you like. Remember to keep the language simple and where possible breezy. Don’t depress morale by loading up on officious language.

With interest rates likely to start heading up again sooner or later, should I try to refinance my business loans?

With most practices carrying business debts, even a 1 percentage point reduction (after subtracting any related costs) would provide big savings over time … But — and there is always a but — you need to remember that a business loan is not like a 30-year home mortgage that a lender can easily foreclose on if you default. With a business loan, the bank is betting on your ability to run your practice profitably. That means to change your lending agreement you’ll have to persuade the new bank — all over again — that you and your business are good for the money. It also means the new lender will scrutinize your payment record, look into the state of the eyecare business in your market and probably demand you come up with a personal guarantee. Finally, before making any decision, you should assess your relationship with your current banker. An understanding, streetwise and flexible banking relationship can be worth more than a point of interest.

I keep reading I should be working on the business, not in it. But just how do I make the change?

The secret is in attaching a value to your time and using this to guide your decisions. First work out what your time is worth. If your revenue target is $1.5 million a year then divide this number by 2,250 (assuming that you’ll be working 45 hours a week, 50 weeks a year). Now you know the only way to reach your sales target is if you’re involved in activities and/or decisions that generate $670 in sales per hour for the store. This figure alone should make you drop the squeegee and call your neighbor’s kid to see if he wants to make some extra money cleaning windows. Second, do a daily tracking report of all your activities in 30-minute increments for several weeks (there are now some great phone apps that make this easy). With this log you will be able to see what is sucking up most of your work hours. You may well find that more than 50 percent of your time is being consumed by trivial and unproductive work. Lastly, prioritize what’s important and start delegating a few tasks each month. Then it’s time for the fun stuff: focusing on marketing campaigns, big sales and the new products and relationships that generate the big bucks.



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