Advice for small business owners: Your 4-point checklist for managing your team
Starting a business is tough. But growing a company can be even more of a challenge. You might have the perfect product or killer service, but if your team is not working well together your efforts will fall short.
Every company has to begin somewhere. While some businesses may kick off with a sizeable investment, the vast majority of companies start small and scale slowly.
The data bears it out. According to the Office for National Statistics, 5.5 million people were employed in 2017 in UK companies of no more than nine employees. In these microbusinesses, the normal rules of corporate management don’t readily apply.
This doesn’t mean you should view your business as the Wild West. As you begin to take on staff, it’s important to take your transition from sole trader to boss seriously. Failure to do so will not only hinder company productivity, but may even get you into HR hot water.
Management is never easy, but if you apply these four best practices you will stand yourself in good stead to maximise your business success.
Your four-point management checklist
At the heart of all good management is strong and clear communication. This means proactively identifying problems, and conveying them to your team. It also means clearly stating expectations: What are the non-negotiables you need your staff members to deliver against?
Good communication doesn’t happen by itself. Communication requires effort and consistency. Make sure you have weekly check-ins with each of your immediate staff, and that you are running team meetings regularly to ensure everyone is on the same page.
When preparing for a team meeting, circulate a clear agenda of discussion points in advance. Action items arising from the meeting should be documented and shared with participants. If it isn’t written down, assume it didn’t happen or wasn’t said.
Remember that as a business leader there is a time for you to speak and a time for you to listen. When you are looking for the opinion of others, make a point of not giving your opinion first. Otherwise it will influence what everyone else wants to say.
At the same time, do not let the meeting become a complaining shop. If someone raises a constructive criticism, the onus should be on how the business will solve the problem. Persistent complaining will get you nowhere fast.
Finally, remind yourself and your team that your business only exists because of your customers. Make what your clients and prospective customers feel about your products and services a centrepoint of every meeting.
Strong communication is great provided everyone on the team is shooting for the same goal. And it is your job as small business leader to set out exactly what that goal is.
The goal can be broken down into several components across varying timeframes.
Maybe you have a target for the month, which is to close a certain number of new deals. Explain to everyone on your team—regardless of function—that they all have a role to play in enabling new business.
In a small business where functions easily overlap, your web designer and copywriter will need to help your sales person polish up marketing collateral. Your account manager will need to jump on calls with prospective clients to give credibility to your business. It’s all hands on deck.
It is also healthy to share longer-term objectives with your team. Perhaps you have an overall revenue number you wish to hit, or a client retention figure that you want to maintain over a 12-month period.
Figure out exactly what these high-level targets are, and share them with you team in a way that makes sense to everyone. Offer group incentives if you meet your goals. It may be a monetary reward or a night out on the company. Regardless, get everyone motivated around the prize, and then strive as a team to achieve it.
As a small business owner, always invest in your work environment. This does not have to mean ping pong tables and bean bags, though that might be part of the plan.
What is more important is that your team see that you are committed to creating a safe, productive, and stimulating work environment. It may not be as fancy as the Ritz but it demonstrates that you care.
This isn’t only about the physical look of your office space—nowadays, startups are increasingly nomadic, making it tricky to clearly brand your environment. It’s more about giving operational structure to your business so that things don’t feel like a free-for-all.
For example, make sure you set up a clear expenses process by investing in one of the many online tools that make it easy for your staff to submit their reports. Be proactive in understanding what your legal requirements as an employer are around maternity and paternity leave, as well as antenatal care.
Nobody expects you to be an expert from day one in each of these fields, but learning a little about HR-related matters before you actually have to handle one will give you confidence and reassure your team that you care and are sensitive to their needs.
Even establishing a system for central record keeping—hardly the most scintillating of business items—is worth paying attention to before the masses of documentation that you and your staff create on a daily basis get out of hand.
Finally, nip office politics in the bud. Interpersonal strife will sour the work environment for everyone if left unchecked.
Proactively identify the issue, recognise that it is not helping your business, and raise the matter with the people concerned in a direct but non-accusatory way.
The more you invest in your staff, the more they will give back to the business.
It brings to mind the classic scenario of the CEO and the CFO as they discuss the costs of training. CFO turns to the CEO and asks, “What if we train up all our people and they leave?” To which the CEO replies, “What happens if we don’t train them and they stay?”
Creating a healthy, upbeat attitude towards training will maximise the likelihood of long-term retention that is mutually beneficial to the employee and the business.
At the same time, you need to be realistic about what you can afford. Certain conferences and events might look good on paper, but when you review the price tag it’s a different story.
Creating a positive environment for training and career advancement is great, but individuals will still need detailed feedback about their performance.
Make giving and receiving feedback a key component of your weekly meetings. Although you don’t want to be constantly micromanaging your team, remember that everyone has blind spots that need pointing out on a real-time basis in order to get corrected.
Document all of these conversations in simple but precise notes delivered after each meeting. While annual performance reviews work for some companies, best practice nowadays favours more frequent feedback.
As a small business owner, you will need to accept that not every staff member is going to work out in spite of everyone’s best intentions.
If someone is failing, actively coach them until such time it is clear that they are not going to make it. Then talk with them openly about supporting them through their next steps outside of your company.
Keep an eye out for external talent that you think might benefit your business. Solicit and review CVs, and invite people to meet with you even if there is no definite vacancy. Be clear with them on this point so you are appropriately setting expectations.
Developing a solid talent pipeline is one of the smartest things you can do for your business so you are not left scrambling when the inevitable happens and someone leaves your employment.
Keeping it in perspective
Nobody said that starting up and running a small business is easy. Just remind yourself that once you start taking on staff, you have a responsibility to each individual to be the best possible manager for them that you can.
It’s hard work but with the right levels of commitment, you and your company will prosper for it.