Staffing and Customer Care
Small businesses almost always find it difficult to compete with large retailers on price. The inability to order en masse from suppliers makes it very difficult for low-volume businesses to sell products as inexpensively. However, this needn’t be a bad thing.
The modern consumer is looking for a retail and restaurant experience that feels distinctive and original. That’s why consumers are shifting their purchasing power towards small businesses in huge numbers. They’re looking for something that doesn’t feel like a cookie-cutter, “I could get this anywhere” experience. Consumers are turning to stores and restaurants that they feel reflect their local area and offer a personal touch. All of which goes to say that hiring and training the right employees in the right way is now more important than ever.
Everything from the way the customer is greeted as they walk through the door to the way your products are presented following a sale matters. The smallest details can make the biggest difference. Early on in the lifecycle of a small business, you, as an owner, will be able to exert a lot of direct control over these details, but as you grow, you will come to recognize the value of a well-trained and motivated staff.
Employees = Administrative Fun with Paperwork!
As with many aspects of small business, there is no small amount of paperwork involved in taking on staff. The first step involved is usually registering for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.
Once you’ve got that, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with your tax obligations as a employer, including providing required employee benefits such as social security and workers’ compensation. As an employer you are also responsible for withholding federal and state taxes from your employees’ paychecks. What’s more, you are obliged to ensure all withheld tax is forwarded to the government within a defined time frame (usually a matter of days after the paycheck was issued). Failure to do so can result in a fine.
You are also obliged to file a quarterly tax return which must detail, amongst other things, your employee pay and withholdings. Once again, failure to do this can result in, you guessed it, a fine! As you can see, it’s important to be up to speed on the rules and regulations around taking on employees, including, of course, provisions around hiring foreign workers. The good news is that there are a number of affordable payroll software providers that automate this process very effectively.
Each employee must fill out a W-4 form when joining your business. This will provide the information required to calculate tax withholding. Again, good payroll software will automate this process. There are also excellent third-party companies that will take on the responsibility for this process, which can be a huge time-saver.
At a Glance:
- Small businesses live and die by competing on value, not price. Consumers choose to shop at small businesses because they want something distinctive, local, and personal. Your staff are a big part of how you can service this desire.
- There is a big administrative hurdle involved in employing people. You’ll need to research your tax obligations thoroughly.
- Finding, training, and empowering the right staff isn’t easy. You can get new employees up to speed quickly by being clear on how your business operates day-to-day.
- It’s critical to make sure that your staff understands your mission statement. When you’re away from your business, you want staff that can “own” your brand and act as you would.
“How much should you pay your staff? It’s always difficult to pin down the ‘right’ number, but when it came to my first store in NYC, I just spent a lot of time researching other nearby stores. Once I had that benchmark, I made a conscious decision to pay a few dollars more per hour. I wanted staff that were experienced, motivated, and who would go the extra mile for our customers. I never regretted paying that little bit more.”
- Jason Richelson, Founder and CEO of ShopKeep and Experienced Small Business Owner
Staff Onboarding: Practical Training
Small business owners, time-pressed as they often are, sometimes struggle to provide the most structured environment for new employees. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have an employee handbook available as a resource to provide an overview of all the key details you’d like a new employee to know about how you operate.
This information can range from detailed instructions about operating your point of sale system to a simple list laying out the routine each employee should go through when closing down the store at night.
Plus, taking the time to put pen to paper should benefit you as the small business owner as much as any potential new employee. Creating this kind of central resource about best operating practices will force yourself to formulate your thoughts and be especially clear about exactly what you want. Whether that means codifying sales procedures or deciding who can take cash from the cash drawer, you’ll have a clear, consistent company policy, something to which most employees will respond very favorably.
Technology can be a huge help in this area also. There are a range of easy-to-learn online tools that make it simple to carry out previously time-consuming tasks, such as employee scheduling, time clock tracking, and payroll.
Staff Onboarding: Introduction to the Brand
Hiring, training, and paying employees can quickly become one of the biggest operating costs for a small business, so it is vital that you make the most of this expensive resource.
As your business grows, your ability to deal directly with every customer diminishes, and your reliance on your staff increases. Indeed, for many businesses, such as full service restaurants, hiring staff is an absolutely essential part of their operations. It is therefore very important that you choose the right kind of employees and then take the time to fully introduce them to your mission statement. A really great employee should learn about your values and seek to embody them in the way they interact with your customers.
Every employee should be able to deliver your “elevator pitch”, and what’s more, believe in it themselves.
Small Business Guide to Social Media
Read the next section of Small Business 101, Marketing >>