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November 2013

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Correct a Problem Employee

By November 19, 2013 No Comments

It’s the part of our jobs every small business owner hates: dealing with problem employees. Whatever the reason (whether you dislike confrontation or worry about getting sued) you can’t ignore employee problems, or they will just get bigger and potentially threaten your entire business. Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to protect your business legally, while also correcting the employee’s poor behavior.

The moment you hire your first employee you need to create a written employee policy that documents your rules and expectations for the workplace. It should also state what actions (such as theft) would be grounds for dismissal. Have all employees read and sign a copy.

When a problem does arise, start by getting the facts. Talk to other employees to see what’s going on and document the issues as objectively as possible.

Then it’s time to talk to the person. To stay on the right side of the law when it comes to discipline, you should have a progressive discipline policy that gives employees opportunities to correct their behaviors. Start with a discussion of the issue and a verbal warning, and set a date by which the behavior needs to be corrected.

The goal is to work out problems and hopefully keep the employee on board. Work with him or her to create a plan for how to improve. Getting the employee’s input makes him or her more invested in the outcome.

If the behavior still doesn’t improve, escalate your discipline to a written warning, which documents the problem and its duration, specifies how long the employee has to correct the problem and details what will happen if it’s still not fixed. You and the employee should both sign this.

Depending on your employee policies, how severe the issue is and whether the employee is really trying to improve or not, you may do multiple written warnings before (in the worst case) terminating an employee. However, by implementing progressive discipline early and correctly, hopefully you never come to that point.

If you have any doubts or questions about discipline and termination, be sure to consult with an attorney who is familiar with your state’s employment laws.



How to Take Advantage of Small Business Saturday

By November 18, 2013 No Comments

Black Friday is always a difficult day for small business owners to compete with the hoopla around early morning discounts at big box retailers. The day after Black Friday has become a day to focus on shopping at small businesses. American Express started Small Business Saturday in 2010.

Here is how to take advantage this year on November 30, 2013 to drive customers to your company:

  1. Give $10 gift to each customer. Promote that American Express is offering a $10 credit to card members who register and use their card to shop at small businesses on that Saturday. Multiply this $10 when they use it at your company.
  2. Build a specific campaign leveraging this day and American Express’ brand. There are few times when a small business can tie their company directly to a national brand and promotion. This gives them the leverage of a large big box retailer. Build marketing offer specifically for this day. This can be exclusive pricing, bundles, free add ons or availability.
  3. Customized marketing material. Use free customized online ad cards, logos and other recognizable images provided by American Express.
  4. Social media starters. Use Twitter and Facebook templates available to help spread the word about your company leading up to this day. Use the #SmallBusinessSaturday hashtag on Twitter. If your business has never used social media, these templates are an excellent way to easily get started.
  5. Welcome mats. Free Small Business Saturday Welcome mats (literally) are available from American Express.  If you do not have a physical retail location, use the mats in creative pictures on Facebook or Pinterest.    
  6. Join a neighborhood circle. Get involved with local merchants to drive traffic to each others retail locations (or online sites). American Express will help you form this relationships. This is an excellent way to work with other local businesses that can extend well beyond this promotional day.
  7. Get on the map. American Express has built an interactive map to help their cardholders find and shop at small businesses. They are also giving their members an exclusive offer redeemable only at merchants that appear on the Small Business Saturday Map. Get found!

How will your business be promoting Small Business Saturday? 


How to Get to the Top of the Search Rankings

By November 15, 2013 No Comments

Every small business owner wants to be number one. This remains the same when it comes to being listed in organic search engine rankings. They not only want to be on the first page, but they want to be listed in the #1 position. Most search engine experts believe that being listed first is important. Studies from online ad network Chitika show that the top listing in Google's organic search results receives 33% of the traffic. Number 2 gets 18%. The top 5 spots get 75% of all the traffic. In fact, according to this study, 91% of Google’s traffic is on page one of the search results.

For every business, search rankings are all about relevant content and strong authority on a given subject area for targeted visitors. Here is how to come out on top when it comes to organic search results:

  1. Use lists. People and search engines love lists. For example, “7 Ways To…” should list relevant content that ties to the company’s brand and has many links to relevant sources. Sharing the “link love” to highly respected sites will give the company’s web site a boost.
  2. Interview industry experts. This will get their well searched name in a ranked result from the company’s site. As a result, this will make the site more findable.
  3. Make it easy to share. Include a share widget on each page of the website. It’s an ideal way to increase traffic and relevant links. Share content from the company’s website through all active social media platforms.
  4. Check web analytics. Through Google Analytics, find out how unique visitors find the company’s site and where they come from. Test new content and recheck.
  5. Ask for links. Email reputable industry sources and ask to exchange links. Focus on the company’s competition. This can easily be found by searching for link: within the search box.
  6. Write a guest post. Select sites that have relevant content and similar visitors to what the company needs. is an excellent resource to get started. Write an expert piece and link back to the company’s site.
  7. Tag the content.  Use standard tags such a meta description, title, and header. Grant Simmons, Director of SEO & Social Product at The Search Agency also recommends adding “new and necessary tags, OG for Facebook, Twitter Cards, and microdata formats…” 

How did your company get to the top?



15 Social Media Mistakes You Are Making

By November 14, 2013 No Comments

Every small business knows that they need to utilize social media as part of their marketing plan. But in the process, they are making a lot of mistakes. Here are the most common ones and what to do about them:

  1. You are only selling your “stuff”. You communicate only your product offers on social media. You are constantly asking people to buy instead of establishing a relationship with them first.
  2. You are talking at people, not with them. You are not having two way conversations with people, but only broadcasting your message. A good indication that this is happening is no one ever responds to what you post.
  3. You are talking to the wrong people. You have no strategy for your social media. You talk to anyone that will talk to you. This is because you may have outsourced it to any GenY-er you can find instead of someone with specific experience.
  4. You ask others to retweet or share your content, but never talk to them any other times. The only time you communicate with potential partners is to ask them to share your stuff. You should always ask how you can help them before asking for favor.
  5. You broadcast the same message across all the channels. You need to tailor your message for each specific social media channel. For example, the form of any marketing message needs to be different on Facebook vs. Twitter.
  6. You focus on numbers not quality. You are obsessed with the number of followers instead of the quality of their interaction with your company.
  7. Posting infrequently or irregularly. No one knows when you will show up on social media. You need to have a regular schedule to show dependability and consistency of your message.
  8. Not posting the same things multiple times during the day or week. Most social media posts have a short shelf life (Twitter -15 minutes, Facebook- 60 minutes). Everyone is not always on social media so things need to be posted multiple times.
  9. Not monitoring what people are saying about your company. Reputation is your biggest marketing weapon. Customers now place more trust in online reviews than advertisements. You need to know what everyone is saying about you!
  10. You have no company social media policy.  Can employees check their social media accounts at work? Can they post on behalf of the company? There is no right or wrong answer, but there should be a specific policy.
  11. A photo that does not reflect your brand. Many companies just use there logo, but what could be a better representation of your brand?
  12. You delete negative comments. On social media, this is a big mistake. Instead, respond with empathy and provide a solution.
  13. You send automated direct messages to followers. Another big mistake since most social media users consider this spam. Only send direct messages that are customized for the person you are connecting with.
  14. Using too many hashtags. This is a good tool to become part of a conversation, but not every tweet or Facebook post needs to have a #newhashtag on it! #OMGsocialmediamistakes
  15. Not leaving enough space for other people to retweet you. Make it easy for people to retweet you by leaving room for their Twitter handle and the letters RT. Don’t use the full 140 characters in your original tweet since this will force them to delete some of your message.



Business Owners: 5 Questions You Should Never Ask in an Interview

By November 13, 2013 No Comments

crop380w_istock_000003401233xsmall-question-marksHiring can be one of the most difficult parts of being a business owner. You look for the best people for your company and you ultimately end up making your decision based on one event: the interview.

So, how can you conduct an interview that will reveal your next employee of the month? According to Kathleen Lapekas, founder of Lapekas HR Consulting in Evansville, Ind., it all comes down to how you phrase your questions.

“The best types of questions are directly job related and behavior-based,” she says. “Ask someone to explain a time when they had a co-worker that drove them nuts and how they handled it. Keep them talking about real scenarios to learn more about your candidate.”

Lapekas recommends staying away from the following questions:

Question #1: When did you graduate from high school?

While this question may seem benign, it can be perceived as trying to find out a candidate’s age, which is discriminatory.

“You can ask someone when they graduated from college because people graduate from college at different ages, but you can’t say anything about high school because it is assumed that most people graduated when they were around 18 years old,” says Lapekas. 

Question #2: What do you do for fun?

Be careful with this one. Unless your candidate offers, keep the conversation focused on the role at hand. Why?

“By asking someone what they do for fun, they may tell you that they are an active member in the National Rifle Association or that they just marched in the local Gay Pride parade,” she says. “You don’t want find out anything in the interview that later—especially if you don’t hire the person—can be perceived as ammo for discrimination.”

Questions #3: When are you due?

It is never acceptable to ask a female candidate if she is pregnant. If, though, she mentions that she is expecting, leave it at that. Do not ask her when she is due. As Lapekas explains, pregnancy is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits any employer discrimination.

Question #4: Are there any medical issues or medications that we need to know about?

“This is hard because obviously you want to know if you are buying a future heart attack,” she says. “But employers can no longer do pre-employment physicals (note: pre-employment drug screenings are allowed by law). In some states you can’t even ask if someone is a smoker.”

Question #5: Where do you go to church?

Race, sex, age, gender, ethnicity and religion are all protected under law and cannot be mentioned in an interview.

“Even if you live in a small town where everyone goes to the same church, keep it out of the interview,” advises Lapekas. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Do You Know Your Independent Contractors From Your Employees?

By November 12, 2013 No Comments

independent_contractor_or_employeeStates are cracking down on companies that misclassify their employees as independent contractors, Bloomberg reports. Labeling someone an independent contractor means companies don’t have to withhold or pay income taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes, or unemployment taxes. But revenue-hungry states are looking more closely into worker classification in an effort to get tax payments from employers.

Of course, many misclassifications happen due to honest error, because the line dividing employee from independent contractor is often hazy. Here are the guidelines you need to know.

In general, the IRS considers someone an independent contractor if your business has the right to control or direct only the result of the work you hire them to do, but not what will be done and how it will be done. The IRS bases the determination on three criteria:

  1. Behavioral. Is the work actually done on your premises? Do you provide the equipment or tools needed to do the work? Do you instruct the person on a daily basis? If so, they are more likely an employee. On the other hand, if the person works at his or her office, using his or her equipment and deciding how the work will be done, they’re more likely an independent contractor.
  2. Financial. Does the person buy the equipment or tools to do the work? Does he or she handle the expenses involved (such as buying supplies or paying a phone bill), or do you reimburse the person? Do you pay the person a salary or do you pay per project? Are you the person’s sole source of income or does he or she do the same type of work for other clients?
  3. Relationship. Do you have a contract with the person? If so, does it specify a beginning and ending date for the relationship, or focus on a specific project to be delivered? If so, the person is more likely to be an independent contractor. Do you provide benefits to the person, such as life or health insurance or paid time off? If so, the person is more likely to be an employee.

Clearly, there are lots of gray areas here. If you have doubts about how to classify someone, talk to your accountant and if you are still uncertain, file Form SS-8, Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding, with the IRS. They’ll determine the worker’s status, which can take up to six months, but will put your mind at ease.