Small businesses succeed when their employees are self-motivated and operate with a sense of ownership. Things go well when your team is agile and willing to “wear multiple hats” to get the job done. But it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.
By Bob Cerone
In excess, these five important small-business habits can hurt your ability to succeed. Here’s a look at what to watch out for to make sure you’re not overdoing it.
1. Not Making Enough Time for Your Employees
As a small business owner, time is one of your most precious commodities, but if you let employee-related issues or decisions fall to the bottom of your priority list, you could be setting yourself up for trouble. Sure, your employees are probably self-motivated and good at problem solving – but that doesn’t mean they don’t need your time and attention.
If you don’t have a clear process in place for answering questions and addressing feedback, your employees will start to feel frustrated and possibly discouraged from providing that feedback. Over time, dysfunction can develop; some will get complacent and others may seek out other work environments that suit their needs.
Another important consideration: good employees want to continue to get better, which is why they want ongoing learning opportunities. If you’re not making time to provide training and development, your team may start looking for growth opportunities elsewhere.
2. Death by DIY
Small businesses and startups have to be scrappy. You expect everyone to pitch in and take on some non-core jobs. But if leadership doesn’t know where to draw the line, you could end up wasting time on work that would be more cost-effectively outsourced to an external resource or delegated to an employee.
For example, while it may make sense to handle things like managing payroll and setting up employee benefits when your team is only one or two people, that work quickly becomes too time-consuming as you hire more employees.
As a general rule of thumb, if you can automate something, do it. If you’re not an expert, outsource or delegate it. This leaves you free to focus on the big-picture projects that power the growth of the business as a whole. It also means the work gets done in an accurate and timely way. If it doesn’t, find another vendor!
3. Jumping Around Too Much
Jumping from one project to another throughout the day – also called “context switching” – is typical of life at a small business. But if you do it too much, you risk never seeing a project through to completion. There’s a balance to strike here: as a small business, you have to be nimble, but you also have to finish things; if you abandon something too early, you won’t see final results, which means you may never fully understand the problem you were trying to solve.
Another danger of context switching is losing momentum. When you’re moving from project to project, you spend too much time getting oriented rather than doing the deep-focus work required to solve problems.
To a certain extent, these are issues that can be addressed by planning. Creating roadmaps as you tackle new projects helps keep you on track. Another key element here is your team: employees with strong project management skills will be invaluable at making sure you stay focused and follow through.
4. Hiring a Homogeneous Team
In small business, hiring people whom your current employees refer can be great; it saves time and lowers the risk that the new hire will be a poor fit. But the risk of hiring from existing networks is that you end up with a team that’s too homogeneous.
The most successful businesses have people with complementary skill sets and diverse backgrounds. Research has shown that there’s a clear bottom-line advantage to having a team that’s diverse not only by race and gender but also by age. Building that kind of team will almost certainly take more time upfront – which can be hard to justify when you have an immediate hiring need – but the long-term benefits to your business will be significant.
5. Ignoring Compliance and the Legal Requirements of Running a Business
When you’re running a startup or growing a new business, it’s best to focus on the things that drive revenue and growth, but that shouldn’t mean losing sight of employment-related laws and requirements. Uber is famous for ignoring existing laws to successfully disrupt an industry. It’s also more recently become famous for workplace compliance violations. While Uber may be well-enough funded to cover the many legal fees and settlements it’s racked up, most businesses are not.
The reality is that very few entrepreneurs and small-business founders have a sense of the many laws and regulations that outline how they’re supposed to operate, classify workers, handle the state and federal payroll taxes, manage risk, and create policy.
As a business grows beyond its founder, it becomes responsible for taking care of its employees in ways outlined by federal, state, and local regulations. And each state has its own set of employment laws to follow. Ignoring these can lead to lawsuits and fines, both of which cost more time and money than compliance ever would. Which brings us back to point number two, it’s best to partner with an expert who can handle these aspects for your business.
Avoid Too Much of a Good Thing
Small-business owners often have to be able to move quickly, roll up their sleeves, and be willing to buck convention to succeed. But be mindful that you’re not over-indulging in some of these classic small-business behaviors. To make sure you’re on the right path, block off some time to review your operations, ask your team for feedback, and and consult with experts if necessary.
Bob Cerone is the President and CEO of CognosHR, a Chicago-based PEO and HR consulting firm that specializes in serving small and midsize businesses. He is an active mentor for leaders of early-stage companies and the Midwest Leadership Chair for the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations (NAPEO).