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Why We Must Unlock the Power of AI for Small Businesses

For all the attention large enterprise organizations get, small businesses have a tremendous impact. According to U.S. census data, companies with fewer than 500 employees make up more than 99% of all businesses. They also account for more than half of all economic and employment activity. This means it is time to unlock the transformative power of AI for small businesses.

Many of the most exciting artificial intelligence (AI) tools available today are targeted at larger companies. Sometimes, much, much larger. While some of that is by design, it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, given the promise and potential of AI, companies that develop these tools should focus on how they can bring them to the small businesses that power such a significant portion of our economy.

We know it won’t be easy.

The Good (And Not So Good) Reasons Small Business Has Limited Access to AI

Unlocking the power of AI for smaller businesses isn’t just a matter of flipping a few switches in a tech solution. There are a variety of reasons why — some good and some bad — so much AI innovation has been focused on the top 1% of businesses.

Let’s start with one of the bad ones: the SaaS business model.

The economic and employment activity associated with large enterprise organizations is gigantic. Getting a big enterprise customer might be worth dozens or even hundreds of companies with fewer than 500 employees. For SaaS business models that depend on growing recurring revenue, often based on the number of employees or users, this model makes sense — at least for them. After all, think about how much easier it is for AI builders to target and service the Fortune 100 or 500 than it is to target millions of smaller businesses.

Although that may make sense from a pure business perspective, it keeps a growing class of buyers from benefiting from the innovation available to larger firms.

A second, less bad reason: Many AI tools are imagined as a way to solve big company challenges. For example, an AI chatbot that interacts with potential customers on your website and answers their questions sounds nice, right? But is it worth the large-scale investment for a company that sells $500,000 a month to a handful of customers? Probably not. Another example: Do organizations need an AI warehouse logistics solution if an employee can jog across their storehouse in 30 seconds? Again, probably not – or at least it isn’t worth the investment required.

While there’s obviously room for niche solutions, many of the limitations are driven by a lack of imagination. But there’s one area that’s ultimately challenging for smaller businesses to compete with…

The One Big Challenge for Small Business: Data

Larger organizations have one key advantage: data – usually, lots and lots of internal data, an incredibly relevant factor to AI.

Even more than just the sheer cost or the possible value AI could deliver to organizations, many tools simply aren’t a good fit if you don’t generate a lot of data from which to learn. For instance, it’s much easier to apply machine learning to a database with millions of customer orders across thousands of different product offerings. This large data set gives a recommendation engine a much richer data set to pull from.

It’s not just the initial setup, either. AI runs better when you are pulling in more real-time data. After all, how can a machine learn about predicted order flow if you’re not taking in hundreds or thousands of orders a day?

For small businesses, the lack of big data is a significant hurdle. But it doesn’t mean there aren’t solutions that can be applied to smaller organizations.

6 Ways Companies Can Cater AI to Smaller Businesses

Although there may never be an AI inventory solution for a small parts manufacturer, there are other areas where AI can serve smaller organizations well. It starts with solution providers and smaller organizations working together to consider their needs and then determine what’s truly possible. Here are just six ways AI companies can better serve small businesses:

1. Focus on finding solutions for more targeted needs

Instead of replacing a major part of the business, how can AI help streamline painful parts of your workflow? You may not be able to get a full AI assistant, but a tool that schedules meetings can be helpful even at smaller organizations.

2. Apply AI insights where internal data sources are not available

There’s an incredible amount of external data out there to drive AI insights. For example, it doesn’t require any internal data at all to leverage a recruiting process for small businesses that uses publicly available information to determine when a small business should reach out to a candidate.

3. Use AI to bring new expertise that a leaner team may not have

AI can also bring expertise that only an experienced team could deliver. For instance, an AI-driven programmatic ad-buying solution could supplement a team with more expertise on broader brand-building campaigns.

4. Be able to ramp up a solution quickly

Small businesses don’t have months to get up to speed. Instead, AI could help those businesses focus on consumer-friendly solutions that can get someone using their platform with very little ramp-up time.

5. Look for organizations that offer different pricing models

Traditional SaaS models are great for SaaS companies – but it’s not always the right model for smaller businesses that only see the top dollar amount on a long-term contract. A flat-rate or shorter-term contract – perhaps with on-off capability – can get people to opt-in to a more affordable, more practical AI solution much quicker.

6. Provide built-in support

You can’t support small businesses the same way you support large corporations. That means including tutorials and walk-throughs with the product is critical. Affordable, all-inclusive service and customization plans would also appeal to smaller businesses.

AI for Small Businesses: They Deserve the Power of AI

The next hire, sale, or customer experience touchpoints are all so important to small businesses. The impact of each on the budget of a small business, as a proportion of their expenditures, is enormous.

Enterprise organizations will always be able to make use of the latest and greatest AI technology. It’s time to apply that same energy to finding solutions for smaller businesses, the lifeblood of many communities across the U.S.

No, it won’t be easy. But by working together, we can help unlock the power of AI for small businesses.

 

Image by G-Stock Studios

How Small Companies Can Be Recruiting Contenders During COVID

Hiring during the prolonged COVID-19 crisis hasn’t gotten any easier. This is especially true for smaller companies struggling to be recruiting contenders without necessarily having access to all the latest and greatest HR technology.

As many small business leaders have learned over the last year or so, the ability to attract top talent takes more than just a posting on a job board. They also know that old-school approaches like a sign in a storefront window go largely ignored. So how do small businesses compete with larger companies for talented recruits without the luxury of high-end recruiting platforms? And without internal recruiters or head-hunters to conduct searches and interview candidates?

There are some cost-effective ways for small-business owners to compete. For example, here are some areas to focus on:

  • Entice candidates by making it easy to apply (think mobile)
  • Recruit the best for your unique business
  • Introduce other team members into the interview process
  • Interview with a goal in mind
  • Make great offers and hire people who compliment your business

Here are some other areas to focus on to help your small business be a recruiting contender.

Try New Technology

You may not have a huge software budget for hiring. But there are affordable recruiting software options designed for small businesses. And they are a better solution than relying on an email inbox and a spreadsheet. The appropriate technology can help you vet candidates and become better organized. HR Tech can also expedite the hiring process, so you don’t lose good candidates by moving too slowly. 

Many of the most recent HR tech entries are built for the little guys as much as they are enterprise-level organizations. This includes recruiting software, which can help any smaller business become recruiting contenders. 

Showcase Local

You may not have the recruiting power of being a large conglomerate. But you, most likely, have greater flexibility that comes with being a local business. So your hiring pitch, especially as the pandemic continues to be an issue, should be based on staying local with no need to relocate. The pitch to candidates should emphasize the availability of remote work, a focus on family, and flexible hours. Talk also about direct access to management and mentorship. Also, discuss opportunities for advancement, continuous learning opportunities, and community involvement. 

Another option many small businesses overlook is altering their hiring strategies. So rather than putting all your recruiting eggs in one job board basket, think local. For example, visit colleges in your area to get to know the guidance counselors. Then ask them to pass along your information to promising young graduates. Social media can also be beneficial; it’s a great tool to leverage employment options that benefit you and the community.

Go Where New Talent Goes

Members of Gen Z are the first true “digital natives” in society. They grew up with all the latest innovations, including smartphones, the internet, social media, and mobile real-time connections. So they expect to have a digital relationship with any potential employer. As members of Generation Z move into the workforce, the hiring mindset of smaller companies wishing to be recruiting contenders must move with them.

What is one of the most significant issues with small businesses when attempting to attract young talent? Failing to hang out where new talent hangs out. As Liz Frazier once wrote at Forbes, “22% of recruiters surveyed have already invested in new recruitment advertising techniques like Snapchat, and text message-based recruiting.” So jump out of your comfort zone. And learn how Snapchat and TikTok can help you recruit and hire new talent.

Becoming Recruiting Contenders: Expand Your Thinking

Look beyond the hard skills and experience of the people you interview. In addition to them having the right degree or technical skills, think about how they will complement your business. Broaden your thinking to include people who are a culture add in addition to being a culture fit

Being a culture-add means bringing something different to the position, whether it’s a new experience, a new vision, a new approach, or just a fresh perspective. An employee who is a culture add accentuates what already exists in your workplace culture; they also bring a different dimension that is sorely needed. Who knows, you might even find someone really good at Snapchat or TikTok!

As a small-business owner, competition has always been fierce when it comes to hiring top talent.

Now, during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, every small company must be at the top of its recruiting game.

4 Tips for Small Businesses to Retain Top Talent

While record-low unemployment numbers and continuing job growth are a net gain in anyone’s book, there is a downside: The tight labor market makes it that much more difficult for businesses of any size to hire the right employees, let alone keep them. This is especially true with brands that may not have the resources to attract high-quality applicants.

While a large company may continue unabated even while losing hundreds or thousands of employees, losing a single key individual could cripple your small business, so keeping your employees is crucial to your future. Offering a competitive salary is part of the picture, but money isn’t everything. The truth is that small businesses can use strategies and techniques that probably won’t work within large companies.

Are you concerned about keeping your valuable employees? Here are four employee retention strategies that make sense for small businesses.

Flexible Scheduling

One of the easiest perks you can offer to employees is a flexible schedule. Everyone is busy, and many of us struggle to fit school, family and other responsibilities around jobs. By allowing employees to fit their work schedule into their lives, you help them create a work-life balance that ultimately leads to increased job satisfaction and higher productivity.

Skill Building

Good employees already have the skills they need to do their jobs. The best employees continually build on their skills. These employees are well-positioned to step into leadership roles and ensure a healthy future for your business. Whether you subsidize your employees’ education or bring in experts for on-the-job training, the result will be a more capable, more productive workplace.

Make It Rain

Every employee is a crucial part of success in a small business. When your employees go above and beyond to take your business to the next level, they deserve a reward. A profit-sharing arrangement is a great way to accomplish this.

By tying employees’ bonuses to the performance of your business, you’re giving them the motivation they need to excel. You’ll also foster their sense of loyalty and improve your long-term prospects.

Everyone Is Different

Your employees are all individuals. They each have different motivations and priorities, so the approach that works for one employee may not work for another. As a small-business owner, you’re free to address every employee’s needs individually and come up with a plan that makes everyone happy.

These strategies can be summed up in one phrase: “Listen to the people who work for you.” No large business can match the individualized attention that small-business owners can give to their employees. If the requests are reasonable, you can accommodate them. If you want loyal, hard-working employees, show it by going the extra mile for them.

Small Companies Can Be Recruiting Contenders

The ability to attract top talent takes more than just a posting on a job board, a newspaper ad or a sign in a storefront window. Many small businesses must compete with larger companies for talented recruits, without the luxury of internal recruiters or head-hunters to conduct searches and interview candidates.

However, there are some cost-effective ways for small-business owners to compete. For example, here are some areas to focus on:

  • Entice candidates by making it easy to apply (think mobile).
  • Recruit the best for your unique business.
  • Introduce other team members into the interview process.
  • Interview with a goal in mind.
  • Make great offers and hire people who complement your business.

Here are some other areas to focus on to help your small business be a recruiting contender.

Try New Technology

You may not have a huge software budget, but there are affordable recruiting software options that are designed for small businesses. The appropriate technology can help you vet candidates, become better organized and expedite the hiring process so you don’t lose good candidates by being too slow. Moving away from relying on an email inbox or Excel spreadsheet helps you stay current and nimble in your hiring practices.

Recruiting software can definitely help level the playing field and allow your business to compete with larger companies.

Show Your Agility

Since you’re not a large conglomerate, you should have greater flexibility in your attempts to hire top talent. For example, your pitch to candidates should emphasize the availability of flexible hours, direct access to management, remote work, opportunities for advancement, continuous learning opportunities, community involvement and even the flexibility of paid time off. These elements help you show an openness to being flexible and accommodating.

Offering remote work also highlights your business’ embrace of innovation. The advantages to both employees and employer from remote work are endless.

Another option that many small businesses overlook is altering their hiring strategies. Visit colleges in your area to get to know the guidance counselors and ask them to pass along your information to promising young graduates. Social media can be very useful as well; it’s a great tool to leverage employment options that benefit you and the community as a whole.

Look for New Talent Entering the Workforce

As Liz Frazier writes at Forbes, “22% of recruiters surveyed have already invested in new recruitment advertising techniques like Snapchat, and text message-based recruiting. When it comes to the actual job postings, 65% of college seniors agree that the majority of the search results from job boards they’ve used are irrelevant or not a good fit for them.”

One of the most significant issues with small businesses is failing to plan for long-term opportunities that pertain to their employees. As members of Generation Z move into the workforce, the employment market must shift with the times.

Another highly important factor to remember: members of Gen Z are the first true “digital natives” in society. They grew up with all the latest innovations, including smartphones, the internet, social media and mobile real-time connections, so their expectation is to have a digital relationship with any potential employer.

Expand Your Thinking

Look beyond the potential of the people you interview. In addition to them having the right skill sets, think about how they will complement your business. Broaden your thinking to include people who are a “culture-add” in addition to being a culture fit.

Being a culture-add means bringing something different to the position, whether it’s a new design, a new experience, a new vision, a new approach, an innovative strategy or just a fresh perspective. An employee who is a culture-add accentuates what already exists in your workplace culture and also brings a different dimension that is sorely needed.

As a small-business owner, the competition is fierce when it comes to hiring top talent, but with some diligence, there’s no reason you can’t level the playing field and compete with larger companies.

How the Small-Business Community Is Becoming More Diverse

The small business community appears to be growing more diverse, according to a new survey by BizBuySell, an online marketplace for buying and selling small businesses. BizBuySell’s president, Bob House, says there are demographic shifts between the current generation of business owners and the next generation of owners (the would-be business buyers).

“Both groups (owners and buyers) skew white and male at pretty consistent levels, although there are more women in the buyer group,” House says. There are also more millennials in the buyer segment.

“There’s also more more ethnic diversity as well, with increases in the number of buyers who are Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, and African American – as well as naturalized citizens and permanent residents,” House says. While diversity seems to be increasing, he says there is still a long way to go.

Combining Necessity and Opportunity

American Express’ 2018 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report says that since 1972, the number of women-owned businesses is up nearly 3,000 percent. And women are staring an average of 1,821 net new U.S. businesses a day, the report says.

“The surge in women-owned businesses in 2018 is being driven by a combination of necessity and opportunity entrepreneurship,” American Express research adviser Geri Stengel says. She notes that during the recession, women who couldn’t find quality jobs, and some who couldn’t find any work, became entrepreneurs because they didn’t have other options. “While employment has improved, the wage gap for women of color has not, and these women are starting businesses to make ends meet,” Stengel says.

In fact, the report reveals that from 2007 to 2018, firms owned by women increased by 58 percent, but that number skyrocketed among minority groups. Firms owned by women who were African-American, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Asian American, and Native American/Alaskan increased by 163 percent, 146 percent, 105 percent, and 76 percent, respectively.

It’s also interesting to note the generational differences between the ethnic groups. “African-American women business owners tend to be millennials, Latina and Asian-American women-business owners tend to be Gen Xers, and non-minority women business owners tend to be baby boomers,” Stengel says.

“At the same time, the study reveals that opportunity entrepreneurship has returned, and these women are starting businesses because they see a need in the market.” Stengel says that businesses started by women tend to grow bigger and to have higher survival rates.

The View from 2 Entrepreneurs

Millennial entrepreneur Luvleen Sidhu is the co-founder, president and chief strategy officer of BankMobile, a digital bank. She views the news of diversity in the small-business community less optimistically than some. “Small-business owners may marginally be becoming more diverse, but the reality is that women, Hispanics and African-Americans are significantly underrepresented in this demographic,” Sidhu says. “This entrepreneur gap exists even when controlling for factors such as income, wealth and education.”

However, she says this is the best time to be an entrepreneur. “We have more capital and knowledge available to us than any time before,” Sidhu says. “The marginal cost for starting a business is also less than it has ever been historically, creating huge opportunities for entrepreneurs who are driven by passion to solve consumer pain points.”

Sidhu says there’s ample capital available to fund innovative ideas. “If you’re a minority, you should specifically look for venture capitalists that want to invest in both great ideas and minority founders.”

Entrepreneur Nichelle McCall also says this is a good time to start a business. “There aren’t as many barriers of entry into entrepreneurship since you don’t need as much capital upfront, and just being able to leverage technology and even create online businesses allows you to be able to break in and do your own marketing versus needing a lot of money up front for things like advertising,” she says. McCall has founded several companies, including Bold Startups, which helps entrepreneurs make and raise money. She was named one of nine black women tech founders to watch by Inc. magazine, and was included in Crain’s Cleveland Business magazine’s 2014 edition of 40 notable professionals under the age of 40.

“Less than 1 percent of African-American founders are receiving funding, but by the same token, only about 1 percent of venture capitalists are African-American,” McCall says. To increase diversity in the small-business community, she says, minorities have to be connected to the knowledge, information and resources needed to create an investment-ready company.

Finally, she has a message for investors: Be open to new ideas. “Organizations supporting various entrepreneurs have to understand that, often, these services or products are going to be geared toward people that they really identify with — but not necessarily a population that you readily identify with,” McCall says. “But understand that it can still be a very successful and sustainable company with the right resources and tools to help them make a solid plan and grow their company and their customer base.”

Photo courtesy of #WOCinTech.

Fixing Your Company’s Social Media Mistakes

If you are a small-to-medium business, chances are you are doing social media wrong. Your follower base is small, and there are only a few sporadic comments on posts. Let’s take a look at what you are doing, and how to increase followers and engagement.

Where’s the blog? 

“Social media” means Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and a dozen other platforms. But, when you post content on there, you occasionally want to link back to a longer blog post. If your company does not have a blog, there’s nothing to link to. This is the pillar holding up your social media, and creating or improving your blog is one of the most important steps in the process.

No matter the industry, show your expertise by writing articles both in general and in niche categories. For example, discuss recent news in your industry, and give your company’s expert opinion and analysis to prove you are the right company for potential clients.

Sporadic posting 

If you already have a blog, but the last post was from two months ago, your company isn’t much better off than not having a blog at all. The University of Alabama at Birmingham Collat School of Business cites that business owners being too busy is one of the top reasons they don’t post to social media. But not engaging means losing out on more prospective clients or customers, and easily spreading your company’s name.

About 69 percent of the American public uses social media, with 68 percent of adults using Facebook. If your demographic skews younger, 88 percent of Americans ages 18-29 use Facebook, while 59 percent of that demographic uses Instagram. In other words, posting to social media potentially means a large number of eyes on your content.

Vilfredo Pareto and the 80/20 Principle

Material wealth. Peas in pea pods. Products that make a company’s profit. How much of Italy was owned by a part of the population at the turn of the 20th century? These four things all have a ratio of 80/20. This principle was discovered by economist Vilfredo Pareto in the 1800s, but it still holds up. Today, it is most often used in a business setting.

In this context, it means not making promotional articles. In short, 80 percent of your content is not focused on being promotional. Instead, it simply engages your audience, inviting comments and shares. For example, discussing migration patterns in America or providing an infographic of entrepreneurial statistics. The key is to offer valuable information to readers — or at least post something interesting — rather than promoting your newest product or service repeatedly. SEO giant Moz refers to this as the “BuzzFeed Approach.” Here’s another example: Red Bull doesn’t just splash their energy drink and logo across every post; their audience wants to see extreme sports. Take a look at their Instagram videos: Downhill skateboarding with neither a can of Red Bull or the logo in the video has more than 618,000 views. The other 20 percent of what your company posts can be promotional content that showcases services you offer, a new product, or a sale. Even so, provide information that will benefit the consumer. This metal detector company explains what the best metal detectors for finding gold are while providing products that they sell that fulfill that role. It’s promotional but still informative. These posts can also point to a landing page, as well, acting as an ad that you don’t have to pay for.

Post at the Right Time

If you want to drive engagement on a specific post, there are a few key rules to follow, especially in considering the timing of the post. For instance, Facebook users respond most to posts made on Thursdays around 1 p.m., local time. Instagram users, on the other hand, respond well to posts on Monday, at 2 a.m., 8 a.m., and 5 p.m. Going for the professional look on LinkedIn? Post at noon or 5 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday,  when most workers are on lunch or just getting off work.

Don’t Avoid Comments 

Twitter’s community can heap praise or cut to the bone in just 140 characters. Because it is so easy and quick to craft a tweet, and because other major corporations will respond, Twitter has ushered in a new avenue for customer and client support. Microsoft’s @XboxSupport, for example, is well-known for quickly addressing issues of its customers. Use Twitter to your advantage, fielding a Q&A session, or just answered random questions throughout the day. Set aside an hour once a week, announce to your followers that you or your customer support team are available, and use a hashtag unique to your company to easily find questions.

Follow these tips, and your social media game will be strong. You’ll have plenty of followers eagerly awaiting your next quality post (and they don’t mind occasionally seeing your listings promoted). They’ll be happy with Q&A sessions, learning more about the real estate industry, and remember your name when they need a real estate agent to buy or sell a house.

Photo Credit: Recent Magazine Flickr via Compfight cc

What Small Business Can Learn About Recruiting From Big Business

It seems like it’s always the biggest companies that dominate our news feeds. Small businesses can push their way through, too, but how? How are we supposed to make a big impression to a large audience? Simple–social recruitment.

Here are a few of the best practices for social recruiting and why it’s important for your small business. And remember: Now’s the time to make your web presence mobile-optimized or you’re getting the boot from Google.

Consider Your Talent Pool

Who are you trying to attract? Mark Zuckerberg (@MarkZuckerbergF), creator of Facebook, said he only hires employees he would work for. Nearly half (49 percent) of recruiters who recruit online say the talent pool has immensely improved quality. Small business means you’re more likely to engage with everyone more often, which is why hiring for cultural fit is important to maintaining a team who works comfortably together. Happy employees tend to be 12 percent more productive than their unhappy coworkers.

Who Are You Reaching Out To?

If you’re hiring for specific positions, specify your posting accordingly. Mary Porter, Nordstrom’s director of talent acquisition, says companies need to engage their audiences through content. Porter suggests using motivational messages to attract your ideal candidates. Seventy-three percent of recruiters are recruiting candidates socially through creating engaging content. Start by:

  • Defining your audience
  • Locating them on social media
  • Looking into what favorite pages and trends they follow
  • Mimicking and creating based on those trends and pages

Think Outside The Box

Wow your audience by creating and placing content in unconventional areas. Taco Bell, for example, posts content on Pinterest one of the lesser used recruitment media. Taco Bell is known for their ahead-of-the-curve thinking on social platforms. You don’t need to be a tech company to create innovative content to reach your audiences.

Creativity and innovation are a big deal to today’s top recruits. Idea-driven work is more interesting and stimulating than routine work, and if your workplace doesn’t actively employ a culture of innovation, the chances are good that you’ll be passed over by excellent talent,” says the Switch and Shift team.

Improve Employer Branding

Even if your open positions may not seem exciting, market their best parts. Nordstrom ran into a similar issue: Porter said hiring for finance positions isn’t as fun as hiring for retail employees, but the positions must be filled. In creating a more attractive outreach procedure, the team produced video testimonials and featured current employees working the same positions on the company website. In two years, video will be 74 percent of internet traffic, so follow in Nordstrom’s footsteps and make video a part of your recruitment strategy.

As an alternative, write a bio feature on employees who work in departments and positions for the jobs you wish to fill. Not only is it an avenue for employers to explain daily activities to your prospective candidates, it also increases employee recognition. Only 46 percent of senior managers view employee recognition programs as a worthwhile investment. The number one reason employees leave their position is because they don’t feel appreciated and recognized. Two birds with one stone–appreciate existing employees while promoting a job opening!

Ninety percent of candidates are using mobile devices during the job search. Don’t be afraid to try new tactics to pull in the candidate pool of your dreams. Think outside the box, think like your audience and promote your organization through a true and positive light.

 

Photo credit: Bigstock

How To Encourage An Entrepreneurial Spirit At Work

What does Joe from accounting have in common with Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, or Beyonce? He might not have the dance moves down and he’s probably never seriously considered moving to Mars, but maybe he shares these leaders’ entrepreneurial spirit.

Take note next time an employee advocates implementing new software or starts questioning the current budget breakdown. Embracing change, taking initiative, and risking failure are all signs of an entrepreneurial spirit—and encouraging that mindset in your employees can result in huge benefits for your company.

Traditionally, we think of innovation coming from the top down. It’s the CEO who has the vision, right? Conversely, startups are commonly associated with a company-wide culture of entrepreneurial energy—a smaller organization means employees have more contact with the founders and so a kind of creative contagion takes place. But leaders at larger organizations can also inspire an entrepreneurial spirit in those they manage or supervise.

When every employee feels empowered to experiment with approaches, offer new ideas, and question the status quo, better ideas are borne—and productivity and profits margins naturally increase. So whether your focus is on creating a strong workplace culture or you have your eye trained on the bottom line, fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in your employees just makes good business sense. Here’s how to do it:

Hire Carefully

When it comes to growing your company, you’re looking for entrepreneurial spirit—not entrepreneurs. Hire the latter and, before you know it, you’ll be back to reviewing resumes. But if you choose your questions carefully, you can discern whether a potential employee’s passion can be harnessed for your company’s benefit, or if it will forever be directed towards his own projects. Consider asking what concerns a candidate has regarding your company. The answer will reveal how committed he is to making your business better, as well as how willing he might be to offer feedback that challenges the status quo—a sure sign of an entrepreneurial spirit.

Empower Employees To Take Risks

That means creating an environment where it’s safe to fail. Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, offers the example of an aerial trapeze artist: provide a net and your performer will attempt new, ever more challenging feats. To foster an entrepreneurial spirit in the workplace, you need to ensure a similar net is in place. Never reject an idea out of the gate—instead, thoughtfully discuss it. Even if the suggestion is eventually turned down, your employee will understand why and be more likely to provide additional feedback in the future.

Trust Employees To Rise To The Challenge

When a suggestion makes sense, ensure the initiating employee is involved in the follow-through. People feel a natural sense of ownership over their ideas and co-opting them will only result in a future reluctance to share. Connect your employee with the necessary resources to realize her suggestion and watch her entrepreneurial spirit take root.

Publicly Recognize Employees – Sometimes

Not everyone craves credit. It’s important to offer quieter employees a more suitable platform to share their ideas—maybe even anonymously. Consider leaving a suggestion box in a quiet corner of the office. While you’ll still want to acknowledge these contributions regularly, an anxious employee can take heart knowing his name will not be attached to any idea he offers. In time (and if you follow step two on this list!) quieter employees may become more comfortable letting their entrepreneurial spirit show.

Practice Transparency

Michael Kerr, president of Humour at Work, says it best: “If employees are being asked to think like owners, then they need the same level of information that owners receive.” An open and honest dialogue is key to letting an entrepreneurial spirit shine through. Hold nothing back, and your employees won’t either.

In Conclusion

For employees with an entrepreneurial spirit, work is more than just their nine-to-five. It’s something that provides real purpose, provided their contributions are supported and appreciated. By encouraging innovation in your own organization, you’ll keep these employees where you want them—on your team, and not the competition’s. In return, you’ll see higher productivity and profits—and more importantly, you’ll get to come to work every day with people as inspired, passionate, and creative as you are.

 

Image: bigstock

It's the Brave New World of Work: #TChat Recap

“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.” -James Matthew Barrie

Somehow I missed that memo the first time around. The one about making sure to underestimate your marketplace and overestimate your sales cycle when you’re starting a new business.

Or even a new career for that matter. New careers are self-contained yet interconnected businesses within themselves. Entrepreneurship has always included career management, business development, [personal] brand marketing, sales and sticky-sweet (but legitimate) customer service.

Because most, if not all entrepreneurs were employees with careers going anywhere but where they wanted to go. So they launch new careers, some of which eventually grow to make a few hires here and there, and a few others get really big by hiring tons of people, collecting tons of investment capital and riding sky-high (for now) with huge valuations (think social media firms of late).

But I did finally get the memo and read it thoroughly. You’ve heard the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” From careers, to start-ups, to small businesses to big businesses — American’s longing for success and trying again is hard-wired into our DNA.

This is National Small Business Week, and as Matt wrote yesterday in his #TChat preview:

As Obama (or proxy) observed, it turns out Mom & Pop and VC babies share more in common than size; they share spirit, ‘the idea that if you have a good idea and are willing to work hard enough, you can succeed in our country…’

…For many more millions of small business owners, and workers, who have dared to dream and injected so much sweat equity into their bottom line, that creation myth is still being created.   They might call themselves small businesses, or entrepreneurs, or start-ups, but our economy – and our jobs – depends on their growth. So we just wanted to say thank you.

Indeed. Thank you.

Most of the #TChat faithfuls preferred going from small companies to working in big companies. I concur. And even though I’ve always worked for smaller firms, I have worked “with” bigger companies and have always wondered what it would be like to pull the curtain back in Oz and give it a go…

Somebody slap me. Working for yourself, for a small company, launching your own start-up or firm — these activities are what continually breathes new life into the sometimes failing lungs of capitalism (long-time smoker, you know). And it’s this economic activity that sparks job creation as well. Brand name firms may still pull in the greater talent, and they’ve got the revenue to get creative with “total rewards,” but even big firms have struggled of late and now focus heavily on internal talent mobility — I know you’re in there and are just right for this position because I can’t find you out there. Plus, in this (yes, I know how many times you’ve heard it) global, virtual, contingent world where depending on the projects and the hourly rate, talent is fluid from small to big and back again.

It’s the brave new world of work. Just don’t forget to read the memos, even the stinky ones from the ditto machine. Hey, I kinda liked that smell growing up…

Here were the questions from teh #TChat last night:

  • Q1: How do you define ‘small business?’  Is this the term we should be using?
  • Q2: Would you prefer working for a small business or a big company?  Why?
  • Q3: What role does talent play in small business success?  How can small businesses successfully compete with bigger companies in the ‘war for talent?’
  • Q4: What are some of the biggest advantages of working for a small business employer?  Drawbacks?
  • Q5: Do you think employers and recruiters value small business and big company experience differently?
  • Q6: What should big business workers know about moving to a small company (and vice-versa)?
  • Q7: What’s your best advice for someone thinking about starting a small business? Any myths vs. realities?

Small Business the Bigger Picture: #TChat Preview

Originally posted by Matt Charneyone of #TChat’s moderators, on MonsterThinking Blog

It’s hard to overstate the impact of small business, even by presidential proclamation, as Barack Obama kicked off National Small Business Week, declaring:

“From the family businesses that anchor Main Street to the high-tech startups that keep America on the cutting edge, small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the cornerstones of America’s promise.”

As Obama (or proxy) observed, it turns out Mom & Pop and VC babies share more in common than size; they share spirit, “the idea that if you have a good idea and are willing to work hard enough, you can succeed in our country.”

Every big company, Monster Worldwide included, started out with no more than the courage to turn an idea into action, passion into profit.  Proctor & Gamble, Kellogg, Ford, and a multitude of other global corporations, have rewarded those visionaries by turning their founders into, quite literally, household names.

Look at the NASCAR-esque list of sponsors for National Small Business Week, which might seem ironic until you consider that topping Fortune takes, well, fortune.  From Google (Page & Brin) to Sam’s Club (Walton) to Microsoft (that guy), these familiar corporate creation myths each began as any small business.

For many more millions of small business owners, and workers, who have dared to dream and injected so much sweat equity into their bottom line, that creation myth is still being created.   They might call themselves small businesses, or entrepreneurs, or start-ups, but our economy – and our jobs – depends on their growth.

So we just wanted to say thank you.

For those who have made it, or those who are starting out, growing an idea isn’t always easy.  That’s why tonight’s special National Small Business Week #TChat wants to turn conversation into innovation.

Join us on Twitter tonight at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT as we discuss the challenges – and opportunities – faced by entrepreneurs and their employees today.  We’ll also be highlighting some of the biggest ideas and trends in small business all week here at MonsterThinking during our National Small Business Week salute.

Here are the questions we’ll be discussing, along with some recommended reading to help inform, and inspire, your participation in tonight’s #TChat conversation: click here for more from MonsterThinking or check out the Monster for Employers Small Business Resources site.

#TChat Questions & Recommended Reading (5.17.11)

1. How do you define ‘small business?’  Is this the term we should be using?

Read: How To Scale Your Business To Billions In Revenue by Alyson Shontell

2. Would you prefer working for a small business or a big company?  Why?

Read: How To Make Your Small Company Culture Stand Out by Eric Herrenkohl

3. What role does talent play in small business success?  How can small businesses successfully compete with bigger companies in the ‘war for talent?’

Read: Six Ways To Maximize Your Small Business Hiring Advantage by Connie Blaszczyk

4. What are some of the biggest advantages of working for a small business employer?  Drawbacks?

Read: Bright Bulb Workers Get the Benjamins by Sal Iannuzzi

5. Do you think employers and recruiters value small business and big company experience differently?

Read: Why Are Hiring Managers Scared of Entrepreneurs? by David Mesicek

6. What should big business workers know about moving to a small company (and vice-versa)?

Read: How To Evaluate A Job at A Start-Up by Monster.com Career Advice Experts

7. What’s your best advice for someone thinking about starting a small business?  Any myths vs. realities?

Read: Is Starting Your Own Business the Answer? by Susan Bryant

Visit www.talentculture.com for more great information on #TChat; for more resources and advice for small businesses from Monster, click here.

Our Monster social media team supports the effort behind #TChat and its mission of sharing “ideas to help your business and your career accelerate – the right people, the right ideas, at the right time.”

We’ll be joining the conversation live every Tuesday night as co-hosts with Kevin Grossman and Meghan M. Biro from 8-9 PM E.T. via @monster_works and @MonsterWW. Hope to see you tonight at 8 PM ET for #TChat!

Delve Into Phil Simon's "The New Small"

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with TalentCulture’s good friend, Phil Simon about his new book “The New Small”. Phil has written two other books: Why New Systems Fail and The Next Wave of Technologies. A recognized technology expert, he consults with companies on how to optimize technology use. His contributions have been featured in The Globe and MailComputerWorld, ZDNet, New York Times, ReadWriteWeb, and many other sites. Phil is also a popular speaker about emerging trends and technologies.

Why did you write this book?

  • As I mention in the Preface of the book, I saw a need. Many small business owners are awash in a sea of technological choices. They are too busy to research all of these technologies themselves. While my book is certainly no reference manual, it lays out options and provides advice that would take a long time—and a great deal of money—to learn on their own. There are many opportunities out there; many small business owners simply aren’t aware of them.

What’s the difference between how small businesses approach technology (especially collaboration tools) and the traditional enterprise approach?

  • In a nutshell, small businesses (SBs) tend to experiment more. They’ll try out a tool like Yammer, for example, on an individual basis. If it catches on, it will be adopted throughout the company. It’s less “top-down” than the traditional enterprise approach. What’s more, if something else comes along that offers superior functionality, SBs will experiment with that tool as well, utilizing what’s best from each. There’s no corporate edict that “all people must use X” even though X doesn’t have key functionality.

How can managers start with their own teams on the cheap/free to handle their communication needs?

  • I interviewed a lot of business owners and managers for The New Small. It’s given me great insight into what managers do—and how they do it. These managers aren’t sure about what’s best, so they don’t pretend to have all of the answers. They encourage employees to find the right tools. Once something reaches critical mass, they’ll give it a shot.  Today, so many products are based on the “freemium” model; it’s rare now that you have to sign a traditional contract with a vendor before you can kick the tires on collaborative tools. These companies embrace IM tools such as Meebo, calling tools like Skypeand GoogleVoice, and simple hardware like webcams, Smartphones, and digital cameras.

It reads on your website that you’re an independent technology consultant. There are lots of people out there that would love to get into consulting, but aren’t sure about the first steps. What are some essentials for anyone who wants to get into consulting?

  • As I write in The New Small, many people begin contracting almost involuntarily. They’d like a full-time job but can’t find one in this economy. As for requirements, I can tell you about the essentials: a website, errors and omissions insurance, financial and accounting software, a healthy network of recruiters and friends keeping an eye out for you, potential incorporation, and the like. More than that, however, one needs to know appropriate rates. It’s hard to know what your worth and, admittedly, it’s more art than science. Sometimes you take less than you can get. Most important, you need to have a personality that accepts high highs and low lows. You won’t get a steady paycheck. Be prepared for the feast or famine world of independent life.

Historically, big technology had the advantage because it was safe and reliable. “Nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM” is the old saying. But now, it seems like small tech has the edge. How can that be? What changed?

  • Many things changed:
  • Broadband exploded.
  • Storage costs plummeted.
  • Freemium took off as a business model.
  • A massive wave of innovation occurred.
  • Other tech events and trends made the New Small possible.
  • Factor in a drop in job security and a desire for people to do their own thing and suddenly it’s hip to start your own company.

How realistic is it to want to start your own business in today’s world? What are some things to consider before starting your own business?
  • It’s very realistic. It happens every day. As I point out in the book, technology has drastically changed in the last five years. There are viable ways to minimize up-front costs, always a good idea when you’re hanging your own shingle. What’s more, social media allows companies to reduce often ineffective marketing expenditures.
Are there certain things in today’s world that make starting you own business a good idea?

  • Sure. The founders of the companies profiled in the book all were searching for something different—an alternative to traditional corporate life. There’s more flexibility being your own boss. You get a fundamental sense of satisfaction from working for yourself, and you can pursue ventures that you find worthwhile. There’s always been a sense in this country that you can succeed on your own terms. Technology today has made that easier, although the challenges of the current economy cannot be understated.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who have just started or planning to start their own business?

  • Don’t be afraid to experiment or fail. Einsten said something along the lines of, “If you want to increase your success rate, fail more often.” This couldn’t be more true today–particularly with respect to small businesses.  Also, get away from technologies that no longer meet your needs. Whether it’s ERP, CRM, a content management system (CMS), or whatever, see if there’s something better out there. Then try it out!
Do you have any tips for managing projects in the New Small?

  • Yes. Go agile. These companies do not use Waterfall-based methods. They can’t wait a year to see if something is conceptually sound. Throw something against the wall and see what you like and what you don’t.  Also, don’t reinvent the wheel. See what open source and off-the-shelf tools exist. Use existing APIs and modules to extend functionalty.
Could you please tell us, what businesses have inspired you? Also, what’s exactly this “new breed”?

  • In short, the owners of these companies inspired me a great deal. They weren’t afraid to break away from old tools and techniques that have worked for them and taken them to a certain point.  This new breed is open, experimental, and curious. They are constantly pushing the envelope and refuse to manage by routine. You’ll never hear “that’s not the way we do things here.” They’re a dynamic bunch of companies that, as you see in the book, is doing some amazing things.
In the first chapter of the book, which is available for free preview at your Web site, you call the present situation “the era of constant technological change.” In your opinion is there a difference between the way large enterprises and smaller companies respond to it? If so, what are the main challenges that small businesses face?
  • For political, legal, and financial reasons, big companies often cannot get away from technologies that no longer work for them. Small companies don’t have that problem. The world is their oyster. Yet, that very freedom can easily become chaos. Fortunately, the New Small is able to strike a balance, getting the benefits of amazing new technologies in the process.
Why do you think the emerging technologies, such as social media or cloud computing, are a perfect match for the needs of small businesses?

  • Many reasons. For one, they scale quite easily. No longer does a business need to predict “just how much” technology it will need. Second, success begets success. You can dip your toe in the pool before you jump in. Finally, with the Freemium model, you can test-drive technologies before making the jump.
What do you hope to impart on the world with The New Small?

  • In short, that it’s better to be small. Progressive small businesses are doing some amazing things. The book tells their stories; it’s not a theoretical or abstract text by any stretch. Once you see what these companies are doing, you’ll want to experiment with some of the same methods and technologies.