In the past, managers were called bosses and did their jobs by telling people what to do, watching over them to ensure they did it, and reprimanding those who did not. While some managers still behave this way, the role has evolved. Most managers today are more collaborative, emphasizing teams and team building. They tend to guide, train, support, motivate and coach employees rather than tell them what to do. They use cooperation rather than order giving and discipline. They give their employees enough independence to make their own informed decisions about how best to get the job done.
Managers must practice the art of getting things done through organizational resources, including workers, financial resources and equipment. They communicate strategy, help employees prioritize projects, facilitate cooperation and ensure that processes and systems align with company goals. Managers have evolved from years past. They are skilled communicators, team players, planners, organizers, motivators and leaders.
Management is the process used to accomplish organizational goals through planning, organizing, leading and controlling people and other organizational resources. These four functions are the heart of management.
Planning includes anticipating trends and determining the best strategies and tactics to achieve organizational goals and objectives. Planning is a key management function because accomplishing the other functions depends heavily on having a good plan. Organizing is a management function that includes designing the structure of the organization and creating conditions and systems in which everyone and everything work together to achieve the organization’s goals and objectives. Organizations must remain flexible and adaptable to meet changing customer needs, and it is the manager’s job to follow these trends and shift accordingly. Leading means creating a vision for the organization and communicating, guiding, training, coaching and motivating others to achieve goals and objectives in a timely manner. The trend is to empower employees by giving them freedom to become self-directed and self-motivated. Controlling is a management function that establishes clear standards to determine whether an organization is progressing toward its goals and objectives, rewarding people for a job well done and taking corrective action as appropriate.
We are living in difficult times – the coronavirus pandemic, wildfires, global warming, racism, and a lot of rancor, political and otherwise. This year, 2020, can’t be over soon enough. Please know that what is important to you is important to us. We are here for you.
The Small Business Administration advises that one of the major causes of failure of small businesses is poor management. This could mean poor planning, cash flow management, recordkeeping, inventory control, promotion or employee relations, among others. It likely also includes poor capitalization. There are several key steps for starting and managing a small business, as follows:
You may come up with an idea and begin discussing it with your friends, family, professors, and other business people. At this stage you need a business plan, which is a detailed written statement describing the nature of the business, the target market, the advantages the business will have over its competition, and your (the owner’s) resources and qualifications. The business plan forces you to be quite specific about the products or services you intend to offer. It requires that you analyze the competition, calculate how much money you will need to start, and cover other details of the operation. It is also a must document for talking with banks and other investors.
A good business plan takes time to write, but you’ve got just five minutes, in the executive summary, to convince your readers not to throw it away. Next comes an outline of the comprehensive business plan. Remember, there’s no such thing as a perfect business plan, it will and should change as the business changes and grows. Getting the business plan into the right hands, finding funding sources, requires research. The time and effort you invest before starting your business will pay off many times later. Remember, the big pay off is survival.
The next step is financing your business. After your personal savings, friends and family are often the next source. Additional sources of funding can include banks and other financial institutions, angels, crowdfunding and venture capitalists, the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) Program, and a Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Once you have planned and financed your business, it’s time to get it up and running.
Step three is knowing your customers/market, which consists of people with unsatisfied wants and needs who have both the resources and willingness to buy. After identifying the market and its needs, fill those needs. Offer top quality at fair prices with great service. Not only do you want to get customers, but to keep them as well. Small businesses have the ability to know their customers better and adapt quickly to their ever changing needs. To best know your customers, LISTEN. Don’t let yourself get in the way of changing to meet the wants and needs of the customers.
As your business grows it becomes more difficult to oversee every detail, thus you must hire, train and motivate employees. Yet it is difficult to find good employees when you offer less money, skimpier benefits and less room for advancement than larger companies do. This is one of the reasons that good employee relations are a key to small business management. Employees of small companies tend to be more satisfied with their jobs than their counterparts in big companies because they find their jobs more challenging, their ideas more accepted, and their bosses more respectful. Employees who feel they are part of the team work to make that team, and thus the company, successful. Don’t fall into the trap of promoting employees simply because they have been with you the longest, or are family members, but aren’t qualified to serve as managers. You need to delegate to the most qualified individual(s). You may be best served to fire those who don’t meet your requirements, regardless of their tenure and regardless of family relations, so that you can recruit and groom employees for management positions who you can rely on as you delegate more of your responsibilities.
Small business owners often say the most important step in starting and managing their business was in accounting. Setting up an effective accounting system early will save you a lot of headaches later. Accurate record-keeping allows you to follow daily sales, expenses and profits, and also helps with inventory control, customer records and payroll.
Many businesses fail as a result of poor accounting practices leading to costly mistakes. A good accountant can help you with tax planning, financial forecasting, choosing sources of financing, and writing requests for funds. The key is to find an accountant experienced with small businesses. This critical advisor can help you to not only survive, but also to thrive.
Small business owners have learned, often the hard way, that they need outside advisors, especially early in the process. This includes legal, tax and accounting advice, and also marketing, finance and other areas. A necessary and invaluable advisor is a competent, experienced attorney who knows and understands small businesses. We can help with leases, contracts, operating agreements and protection against liabilities. A marketing advisor is also key and should help you make your marketing decisions long before you introduce your product or open your store. Market research can help you determine where to locate, who to select as your target market, and an effective strategy to reach it. Experience with small business marketing can be enhanced if this advisor also has experience with building websites and using social media. Two more critical advisors are a finance expert and an insurance agent. The finance guru can help you design a business plan and provide valuable financial advice, and an insurance agent will explain the risks associated with a small business, and in your industry, and how to cover them most efficiently with insurance and other means. And finally, don’t forget to seek out other small business owners and discuss and exchange ideas.
A merger is when two companies combine into one, whereas an acquisition is one company purchasing the assets, or assets and liabilities, of another company.
A merger might be of two companies operating in different parts of related businesses, putting their businesses together for an increased percentage of the supply chain. Or it might be two companies in the same industry combining in order to achieve economies of scale, or dominance in the market. Or it might be two companies in unrelated industries combining to diversify their business operations and investments.
Sometimes, with or without the owners’ approval, employees, management or a group of private investors will attempt to buy out the stockholders of a company, typically by borrowing the funds needed for such purchase. This is known as a leveraged buyout and, if successful, the employees, managers or investors, as applicable, become the new owners of the company.
The franchise is a specialized type of business operation. Some people are uncomfortable starting a business from scratch, preferring to join a business with a proven track record. A franchise agreement is an arrangement whereby someone with a good idea for a business, the franchisor, sells the rights to use the business’s name and sell its products or services to another, the franchisee, in a given territory. The franchisee can structure her business in any of the ways discussed previously, a sole proprietorship, a partnership or a corporation.
Advantages of a franchise include management and marketing assistance, personal ownership, nationally recognized name, financial advice and assistance, and lower failure rate. A franchisee usually has a greater chance of succeeding than a non-franchise start-up because she has an established product or service to sell, help choosing her phsyical location, and assistance in all phases of promotion and operation. Franchisors typically provide extensive training to their franchisees, so it is like having your own store but with consultants whenever you need them. Some franchisors also help with local marketing efforts rather than having its franchisees rely solely on national advertising. In addition, franchisees have a built in network of other franchisees with whom they can share their experiences and discuss similar problems they may be facing.
A franchise business is still your business , you are still your own boss, but you must follow more rules, regulations and procedures as required by the franchisor. With an established franchise, you get instant recognition and support from a product group with established customers nationally, or even internationally. Franchisees often get valuable assistance and advice from their franchisor, including in two of the most problematic areas for small business owners – arranging financing and learning to keep good records.
There are also disadvantages to the franchise model, including large start-up costs, shared profit, management regulation, coattail effects, restrictions on selling, and fraudulent franchisors.
Most franchisors require a fee for rights to the franchise, which might be as low as a few thousand dollars up to over a million dollars. In addition to purchasing the franchise rights, the franchisee typically pays a royalty either as a large share of the profits, or a percentage commission based on sales, not profit. Management assistance often has a way of becoming managerial orders, directives and limitations. Franchisees feeling burdened by the franchisor’s rules and regulations may lose the drive to run their own businesses. However, franchisees will often band together to resolve their grievances with the franchisor rather than wage their battles alone.
Unlike independent businesses, the actions of other franchisees impact each franchisee’s future growth and profitability. If fellow franchisees fail, this coattail effect could force the franchisee out of business even if her franchise has been profitable. In addition, unlike the owner of an independent businesses, who can sell her company to whomever she chooses and on whatever terms, many franchisees face restrictions on the resale of their franchises. Franchisors often insist on approving a new owner to ensure he meets its standards and as a measure of quality control. Many franchisors are small, even obscure companies that prospective franchisees know little about. Although most are honest, beware of franchisors that deliver little to nothing of what they promise.
You don’t have to be a big business to form a corporation. A corporation, sometimes known as a C corp., is chartered with the secretary of state, and is a unique “person” with separate liability from its owners, known as stockholders. The biggest advantage of forming a corporation is that it limits the stockholders’ liability to the amount they’ve invested; they do not have personal liability for the debts or other problems of the company. A corporation also allows multiple people to share in the ownership, and hopefully the profits, of a business without the necessity of working there or other commitments to the company. Corporations choose whether to offer ownership to outside investors or to remain proviately held.
As previously stated, a corporation offers limited liability for its owners. Additional advantages include the ability to sell stock to raise money from investors; to borrow money from banks or investors; perpetual life, i.e. the company does not terminate with the death of its owner(s); ease of ownership change; ability to offer stock options to attract valuable employees; and to raise money separate from getting investors involved in management of the business.
The corporate heirarchy, from the top down, begins with the owners/stockholders who elect the board of directors, the board hires officers, the officers set the corporate objectives and hire management, the managers supervise the employees, and the employees perform the functions of the business. Thus the owners help dictate who runs the company, but not its day to day operations.
There are also disadvantages to corporate entities, including the initial set up costs; paperwork, both initially and ongoing; double taxation – first the corporation pays tax on its income before any is distributed to stockholders as dividends, then the stockholders pay income taxes on the dividends they receive; two tax returns, a corporate return and individual return; once started a corporation is hard to end; and finally the potential for conflict between directors and management.
While we are all aware of many large corporations, IBM, AT&T, Apple, many corporations are small business owners who typically do not issue stock to outsiders, focusing more on limited liability and possible tax benefits.
An S corp. is a regular corporation that elects to be taxed like a partnership, thus avoiding double taxation. Profits of an S corp. are taxed only as the personal income of the shareholders. In order to qualify to make this election, the company cannot have more than 100 shareholders, must have shareholders that are individuals or estates, and who are citizens or permanent residents of the United States, must have only one class of stock, and must derive no more than 25% of its income from passive sources. If an S corp. loses its status as such, it must wait five years to make another S election.
Finally, there’s an interesting hybrid known as a limited liability company. This entity does not have the formal requirements of a C corp. and has the tax advantages of an S corp. It offers limited liability to its members; is taxed as a partnership, though it can choose to be taxed as a corporation; does not have the same ownership restrictions as an S corp.; has flexible distribution of profits and losses, which do not have to be distributed in proportion to the money each person invests, but is by agreement of the members; anddoes not have to comply with the ongoing operating requirements of a corporation, such as annual meetings, minutes and written resolutions, though an operating agreement is a good document to put in place.
LLCs have disadvantages as well, including limitations on transferabiity of membership interests; a limited life span, which could be triggered by the death of a member; inability to deduct fringe benefits, thus few incentives available for employees; although less paperwork than a corporation, more than a sole proprietorship; and members must pay self employment taxes on their profits.
Determining the appropriate form for your business typically involves input from both a lawyer and an accountant to ensure you create the best opportunity for you and your company.
Part 1 – How to Form a Business, Sole Proprietorship and Partnership
The form of your business can have a tremendous impact on its long-term success. The three major forms of business ownership are sole proprietorships, partnerships and corporations. Each has pros and cons.
A sole proprietorship is a business owned and usually managed by one person. When two or more people legally agree to become co-owners of a business, it’s called a partnership. While these two forms of organization are relatively easy to form, there are advantages to creating an entity that is distinct from its owners. A corporation is a separate legal entity with authority to act and have liability apart from its owners. There are several options for a corporate entity, the most popular being the limited liability company, or LLC.
This is the easiest to start and end, all you need to do is just start or stop, as the case may be. You may need a license from your local government, but this is typically a simple task. All of the sole proprietorship’s profits are taxed as personal income of the owner, and the owner pays normal income tax on that money. However, the owners do have to pay the self-employment tax (social security and medicare), and have to estimate their taxes and make quarterly payments to the government to avoid penalties.
On the down side, a sole proprietorship offers no protection to its owner in terms of liability. In fact, the sole proprietor has unlimited liability, including the risk of personal losses. The sole proprietor and business are treated as one, so any debts or damages incurred by the business are those of the owner. This is a serious risk to be discussed with a lawyer, accountant, insurance agent and others.
A partnership is a legal form of business with two or more owners. It can be a general partnership, a limited partnership or a limited liability partnership, and while not always required, it is wise to put the relationship in writing. In a general partnership, all owners share in operating the business and assuming liability for the business’s debts. A limited partnership has one or more general partners and one or more limited partners. The general partner is an owner with unlimited liabiity and is active in managing the company. Every general partnership has to have at least one general partner. A limited partner is an owner who invests money in the business but does not have any management responsibility or liability for losses beyond her investment. Limited liability means that her liability for the company’s debts is limited to the amount she put into the company, and her personal assets are not at risk. The limited liability partnership (LLP) was created to limit the disadvantage of unlimited liability. It limits the partners’ risk of losing their personal assets to the outcomes of their own acts and omissions as well as those they supervise. A limited partner in an LLP can operate without fear that one of his partners might commit an act of malpractice resulting in a judgment that relieves him of his personal assets. Many states, however, do not extend this personal protection to contractual liabilities such as bank loans, leases or business debt of the LLP.
It may be easier to own and mange a business with one or more partner. While you might excel at marketing, your partner might be skilled at accounting. When two or more people pool their money and credit, paying the rent, utilities and other bills becomes easier. It is also easier to manage the day-to-day affairs of the business when you have partners. Having one or more partner can free up time for you away from the business, as well as provide different skills and perspectives. Partnerships tend to survive longer than sole proprietorships, and like a sole prop, the profits of parnerships are taxed as personal income of the owners.
On the flip side, conflict and tension are always possible when two or more people are involved. In addition, sharing risk also means sharing profits. Plus, each general partner is liable for the debts of the business, regardless of who caused the problem. A general partner is liable for her partner’s mistakes as well as her own so, like a sole prop, her personal assets are at risk. A partnership is also more difficult to terminate than the sole prop. Although you can quit, questions remain about who gets what and what happens next.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) refers to companies as good citizens, concerned with the welfare of society and not just the owners. CSR is based on fairness, integrity and respect. While a company’s loyalty and obligation is to its owners, being a good corporate citizen can increase profitability in the long run. Companies with a good CSR reputation are cosidered ethical and often attract and retain better employees, enjoy greater employee loyalty, and draw more customers.
There are a variety of methods for CSR, including corporate philanthropy, corporate social initiatives, corporate responsibility and corporate policy. In addition to money, many companies allow their employees to volunteer during company time.
We know that companies have a responsibility to customers, pleasing them by offering real value. All things being equal, customers tend to favor the socially conscious company over its less socially conscious competitors. In fact, customers are often willing to pay more for goods from the socially responsible company. Thus CSR is also a tool to attract new customers. The question then becomes, how to make customers aware. Social media has become a low-cost, efficient way of conveying a company’s CSR efforts, allowing companies to reach and interact with a broad and diverse audience. However the company must live up to its hype or face dire consequences. If a company does not follow through on its CSR as claimed, it loses customers’ trust; customers do not want to do business with a company they don’t trust.
Many investors also believe that it makes financial sense to invest in companies engaged in CSR , and that ethical behavior adds to the bottom line.
Companies that treat their employees with respect usually earn the respect of their employees. This mutual respect can have a significant impact on the company’s profit. Retaining good employees saves money, is good for business and also good for morale. A disgruntled employee can wreak havoc on a business, thus loss of employee commitment, confidence and trust in the company can be extremely costly.
CSR has many benefits, each of which can increase a company’s profitability while also doing good for society as a whole.
Part 2 – Management’s role in setting ethical standards
Ethics isn’t so much taught as it is picked up vicariously. We tend to learn our standards and values based on observing what others do, not what they say. Organizational ethics begins at the top, with leadership and strong managers helping to instill corporate values in employees.
Intra-company relationships should be based on fairness, honesty, openness and moral integrity. Trust and cooperation between workers and managers is built on these foundational structures. The same applies to business-to-business relations as well. Businesses managed ethically often enjoy many benefits, such as maintaining a good reputation, keeping existing customers and attracting new ones, avoiding lawsuits, reducing employee turnover, pleasing customers and employees, and simply doing the right thing.
While some managers think ethics is a personal matter, having nothing to do with management, and that they are not responsible for their employee’s misdeeds, the business environment has moved the other way, that ethics has everything to do with management. There is recognition that individuals typically don’t act alone, they need the direct, or even implied, cooperation of others to behave unethically within a corporation. For example, poorly designed incentive programs might reward employees for meeting certain goals, and in order to meet these goals they need to act in their own best interests rather than the best interests of the customers. Here the message is clear, while their managers don’t directly say to deceive customers, overly ambitious goals and incentives can create an environment in which unethical actions are likely to occur.
A popular trend is that companies are adopting written codes of ethics. While these codes vary greatly, they fall within two broad categories: compliance-based and integrity-based. Compliance-based codes emphasize preventing unlawful behavior by increasing control and penalizing wrongdoers, while integrity-based codes define the organization’s guiding values, create an environment supportive of ethically sound behavior, and stress shared accountability. Stated differently, integrity-based codes of ethics go beyond legal compliance and create an environment emphasizing core values such as honesty, fair play, good customer service, a commitment to diversity and community involvement.
Business ethics should include the following: 1. Top management should adopt and unconditionally support a written code of conduct. 2. Employees must understand expectations for ethical behavior, that it comes from the top, and that senior management expects all employees to act accordingly. 3. Managers and other key personnel must receive training on the ethical implications of business decisions. 4. The company should create an ethics office, where employees can communicate freely. Make it clear to employees that whistleblowers are protected from retaliation. 5. Pressure to ignore ethics programs often comes from the outside. Help employees to resist such pressure by ensuring outsiders such as suppliers, subcontractors, distributors, customers, etc. are aware of the company’s ethical standards. 6. The code of ethics must be timely enforced if violated.
Enforcement might be the most critical component, it communicates to employees that the code is serious; a company’s code of ethics is worthless if not enforced. Select an effective ethics officer to set a positive tone, communicate effectively, and relate well with all levels of employees. The ethics officer should be comfortable in the roles of counselor and investigator, should be trusted to maintain confidentiality, conduct objective investigations, and ensure fairness. This demonstrates to stakeholders that ethics is important in eveything the company does.
COVID-19 has caused us to take a deeper look at many of our business practices, including the physical workplace, business plans, and emergency contingency plans. Business contracts are another area that need review.
Business agreements routinely include boiler plate language, such as a force majeure clause. This language protects the parties in the event of an unlikely circumstance that would significantly impair either or both parties’ ability to perform, such as fire, war, flooding, earthquake and the like. While these clauses have rarely been relevant, the pandemic requires us to take another look.
One of the benefits of force majeure clauses is that they protect a party that is unable to perform from claims of breach of contract and related damages resulting from non-performance. The events listed in force majeure clauses differ from a breach of contract scenario because the party did not choose to not perform, rather circumstances beyond its control caused its inability and thus failure to perform.
If your business cannot perform under a contract due to COVID-19, either because of the virus itself or the government’s response to it (shelter in place orders, quarantine or other governmental restraints), look at your existing contracts to determine whether each has a force majeure clause and, if so, whether it is broad enough to include the current pandemic, and how the parties agreed to proceed in the event the clause is triggered. If there is no force majeure clause, or if it is not broad enough to cover COVID-19, there are other legal defenses that can help you, such as frustration of purpose and impracticability.
And while force majeure clauses and other defenses may be available, the best first strategy is to communicate with the other party to the agreement. Using common sense, issues related to non-performance or inability to perfom can hopefully be resolved without resorting to legal action.
Until now, virus, pandemic, quarantine and the like have not typically been listed in force majeure clauses. Many businesses are taking the time now to update their contracts to include such circumstances as a hedge against future unknowns.