In the corporate world, employee handbooks are pretty ubiquitous. Nearly everyone who starts a position at a large company is given a booklet, packet, or online manual to peruse on their first day at the office.
However, when it comes to small businesses, employee handbooks may be completely absent — job parameters and company policies are simply conveyed through word-of-mouth. And that can lead to problems for both employees and employers down the road.
If your business is currently lacking a handbook, here are five reasons why you should seriously consider putting one together.
An employee handbook is NOT a viable substitute for a thorough, engaging orientation program. You shouldn’t just hand new hires an employee handbook, tell them to read it, and then hope that they commit the whole thing to memory.
That said, the handbook can catch details that may fall through the cracks, and compensate for different trainers inadvertently emphasizing one area or another. The handbook can also cover topics in far more detail than a training program might have time for, as well as empower new hires to seek out answers themselves instead of asking co-workers or supervisors every time they have a question.
If you’ve ever had to reprimand an employee for not fulfilling one of his or her duties and received a reply of, “I didn’t know I was responsible for that, nobody told me that ____ was my job, too,” then you’ll relate to this entry.
While you should always outline specific job expectations during a prospective hire’s interview(s) to prevent them from being caught off-guard during their first few months of work, the handbook can reinforce your company’s rules and expectations for all new (and existing) employees.
If an employee claims that something is not “part of their job description,” you’ll be able to clarify and point to something in writing. It may also give your employees a way to stand up for themselves against overbearing supervisors or coworkers who would take advantage of their generosity…or naiveté.
Say that your company’s handbook clearly states that employees are not allowed to do certain things: access social media websites on work computers, take/make personal calls while they’re on the clock, dress in an overly casual manner, mosey into work 30 minutes late, etc.
The handbook should also clearly state what the penalty is for breaking these rules, whether it be as minor as a verbal or written warning, or as severe as termination of employment. This helps ensure that all employees are held to the same standards of behavior and that company policies are applied evenly across the board. It can also help defend higher-ups against claims of favoritism or discrimination.
One of the keys to fostering a great work environment is to keep an ear open for employee comments or suggestions. If your employees know that their feedback is taken seriously, they’re far more likely to feel like valued members of the business.
The handbook can be a great jumping-off point for valuable conversations; don’t be afraid to ask an employee, “What do you think about the handbook? Are there any revisions to the text or formatting that you’d suggest?”
Make it clear that, while you’re not looking for comments on company policies at this moment, you want their opinion on how the handbook could better convey information (“Let’s put a map of the building in the disaster preparedness section so that evacuation routes are easier to visualize!”) or offer more detailed explanations (“Could the section on dress code actually define what we consider ‘business casual?’”). You may be surprised by the answers you receive.
In case the previous section didn’t make this obvious: Employee handbooks should not be considered sacred, irrefutable documents that must remain constant and unchanging for as long as the company exists.
In fact, you should closely review (and, if necessary, revise) the handbook at least once a year in order to keep up with current labor and tax laws, your company’s ideals and values, and any unforeseen issues that will inevitably crop up as you expand. The handbook and its previous editions can essentially serve as a reminder of what kind of business your company was when it started out and how it has evolved since then. It may even encourage you to “stick to your guns” in a fast-paced — often cutthroat — world.
Lastly, some employees may take pride—or at least see the humor—in pointing to a line of the handbook and saying to a new team member, “Yeah, I’m the reason we’re not allowed to bring in extra appliances to use in the kitchen. Remind me to tell you about the electric pancake griddle that set off our entire floor’s sprinkler system sometime.” That’s a unique way to facilitate camaraderie and a sense of togetherness for employees!
Company handbooks are great tools for bridging the gap between employees and employers, and they’re a way to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to policies and expectations. They’re also a living record of your company and how it has changed since its inception. Writing an employee manual can be a bit tricky if you’re starting from scratch, but hiring a certified PEO can help immensely in this regard.
The bottom line: An employee handbook is a bit like a compass. You and your employees probably won’t need one on a daily basis, but they can provide much-needed guidance in certain situations—and possibly save your bacon when you’re in a really tough spot!
Mark Sinatra is CEO of Staff One HR. Before joining Staff One HR, Mark co-founded Gordian Capital, a private investment company that focuses on making long-term investments in lower middle market companies. He has worked in the private equity, investment banking, consulting, and business process outsourcing industries for the following companies: Credit Suisse, Merrill Lynch, Andersen, RR Donnelley and The Parthenon Group.
Mark is actively involved in the PEO industry as a Board Director of NAPEO. Mark is also Chairperson of First3 Years and a Board Director with Social Venture Partners – Dallas. He is a member of Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) – Lone Star Chapter.
He is an MBA graduate of the Wharton School of Business, and holds a BA in Economics from Fordham University. Mark holds the SHRM-CP Certification, is a Certified Predictive Index analyst, and is a graduate of the Stagen Integral Leadership Academy.
When it comes to public speaking, your small business might seem like a safe zone. You feel very comfortable in the presence of your team, and whenever you have important news to share with your customers, you do it through email newsletters and other content marketing efforts. There’s no need to stand up in front of total strangers and endure those butterflies in the stomach and sweaty palms that affect so many of us, right?
In fact, there are many reasons to get out of your comfort zone and develop your skills as a public speaker—and that’s especially true for business owners. Here’s why public speaking can help you achieve your goals as a business owner, and how to start building confidence in your own speaking ability.
Let’s look at a TED talk as an example: “Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work” is one of the most popular talks among business owners. The speaker, Jason Fried, is a business owner himself. When you listen to him speaking, you get the impression that he is intelligent, charismatic, and most importantly, knowledgeable about his business speciality—workplace collaboration and productivity. This talk contributes towards Jason’s personal brand as a thought-leader on the nature of work, and as a result, it generates interest in his project management software company.
A good speech establishes you as a subject matter expert and raises your profile in your industry. It doesn’t need to be a widely-shared TED talk, but if people hear you speak at a local business conference and come away with a good impression, they’ll be more likely to seek out and trust your insights in the future.
Public speaking appearances open up a world of networking opportunities. Potential business partners will approach you after your speech to make connections, or suggest ways that your businesses can join forces. In short, public speaking helps you meet people you otherwise wouldn’t have, and gives you the confidence to make the most of those interactions.
Public speaking is not the most comfortable thing in the world. For most people, it’s a scary situation. For some, the mere thought of public speaking causes intense anxiety. There’s even a term for that state —glossophobia.
If you do work towards becoming a great speaker, however, you’ll notice a huge improvement in your self-confidence. That’s a transferable skill, which will help you become a better business negotiator, too.
When practicing for a speaking appearance, try recording a video of yourself delivering your speech or doing it in a mirror. You might pick up on distracting quirks and tendencies by watching yourself that you would never have seen otherwise.
The benefits of developing public speaking skills are evident. Every single small business owner has something to gain by becoming a confident, compelling speaker. The question is: How do you do it?
Here are a few simple tips that will help you become a great speaker.
Writing a public speech is completely different than writing something for print or online publication. A speech is not simply a piece of content that you read in front of an audience. It must trigger interaction between you and the audience. You will ask questions. You’ll tell jokes. You’ll wait for the audience’s response.
The foundation of a great speech is a topic that you’re an expert on and passionate about. What do you find yourself getting excited about when you’re having conversations at work? Your expertise on the subject matter will help you feel more comfortable when you get up in front of an audience, and your passion about the topic will keep listeners engaged during the speech.
The content itself has to be thought-provoking, clear, and attention-grabbing. If you have a great script for your speech, you’ll be more confident to get out there and perform.
Most business owners need help with this part. If you can’t get the script perfect on your own, it’s important to rely on a talented writer from your team. If that’s not an option, you can hire a professional writer or editor to do the heavy lifting.
Memorizing is an instinct for most people when they prepare for a speech. However, it’s not the right thing to do. When you memorize the content, forgetting a single word will throw you out of balance.
Do this instead: Write bullet points that summarize your speech and use them to practice. It’s important not to miss any of those points, but you can allow yourself to improvise along the way. That will add more character to your speech and will make you look and sound natural.
A speech without a great visual presentation may be boring. The audience needs something to grab their attention, and good-looking slides will do that perfectly.
The slides should clearly be related to the points you’re addressing. They should not be too elaborate; there’s no need to write the entire speech on the slides.
By the way, “visual aids” can incorporate so much more than Powerpoint slides. Visual presentation can mean props, gesturing with your hands and body, and moving across the entire stage. If you want to see a masterful example of a speaker using physical movement to create visual excitement, check out this video of Bobby McFerrin explaining the pentatonic scale at the 2009 World Science Festival.
People are afraid of public speaking because they constantly think about the way the audience will perceive them. “What will they think of me? What if I’m silly? What if they don’t like me?” That’s not the right mindset to have.
You should still focus on the audience, but in a different way: “What can I do to make this interesting for them? How can I give more value?” That’s the kind of mindset that makes the experience good for the audience.
You want to connect with the audience during the speech. Make eye contact with specific people and use your body language to emphasize important points. And be aware of your pacing: Novice public speakers almost always speak too quickly, which can convey nervousness and make the speech hard to follow. The trick is to speak slower than you naturally would, and include dramatic pauses to keep the audience on the edge of their seats and give them time to digest important concepts.
Take the communication further by inviting audience members to participate. You may ask a question that requires them to raise a hand if they agree. You may even include a member of the audience in the presentation (as long as they’re comfortable with it).
Are you ready to start presenting yourself in the best light? Working on your public speaking skills takes time and tons of effort, but the results are priceless.
Quality and price aren’t the only things customers consider when they choose who to do business with. They also care about what your business represents.
Your business’s story defines who you are, where your business came from, and why you do what you do. By crafting a winning story and incorporating it into the conversations you’re already having with buyers, you’ll build trust, differentiate yourself in the market, and (most importantly) build the emotional connection that will make customers choose you over similar competitors.
“Logic makes people think; emotion makes them act.” — Zig Ziglar
Let’s explore how honing your storytelling skills can increase customer loyalty and help boost your sales.
Storytelling has a long history of being used in the sales process. It works so well because it humanizes the product or service and appeals to people on an emotional level, giving them something powerful to connect to. When told a compelling, authentic story that resonates, customers are more likely to make a purchase.
While certain people are more gifted at storytelling, you certainly do not need to be an expert storyteller to use it to your advantage. Anyone can hone their communication skills to make their story tailored to their audience.
You may have come up with a mission statement in the process of writing out your business plan. If you haven’t, it isn’t too late to do so. Creating a mission statement can help guide you in every aspect of running your business.
Your mission statement gets to the very heart of why your business exists and focuses on what you hope your business will achieve for your customers, and the impact your business might have on the world. It can give you an even better understanding of why you started your company in the first place.
One of the key elements of your story is your “why.” It’s the purpose of your business — the reason that you started doing what you’re doing, and the reason you continue doing it today.
Nailing down your “why” is incredibly important these days, as consumers have made it clear that they prefer doing business with companies that stand for something. According to the Global Strategy Group and Nielsen:
– 83% of consumers consider brands’ values when considering a purchase,
– 89% are likely to switch to brands they associate with causes,
– and 66% of consumers would pay more for products from more socially responsible companies.
It’s a mistake to assume that you don’t have much of a story to tell, or that no one is really interested in hearing about it. No matter how humble your beginnings or how ordinary your experience may seem, your story does, in fact, have the power to connect you with your customers. You just have to identify what makes you different than everybody else.
What’s the “special sauce” of your product or service? Is it the quality of the materials you use? The level of in-store service or online customer experience? What do you offer that nobody else does, and why do you offer it? Your competitive advantage is a reflection of your company’s values, and incorporating it into your story can appeal to customers who share those same values.
For any story to be effective it has to be told to the right audience. As a business owner, your audience is your ideal customer. Spend some time figuring out just who that is, in demographic terms.
Not only will this help you spend your marketing dollars more wisely, but it can help you hone your story. You may have to tweak it, depending on the audience. As long as you aren’t making things up or embellishing details, you can always fine-tune it by focusing on the elements that would be the most appealing to your customer.
A compelling story can become a core part of a business’s identity. Once you develop your go-to story, you can use it in different ways. Promote it on your website and share it on social media.
Think about some larger companies that we’re all familiar with, and you can probably recall at least some part of their story that’s been built into their brand identity. You can take different elements of yours and use it strategically in a variety of ways in sales and marketing efforts.
That said, your story should be flexible. This isn’t a script you’ll be reading to customers. It’s a short synopsis of your value as a company. Own the core ideas and make it your own when speaking with each individual customer. It needs to be simple enough for each employee to understand and promote in their own way, but also concrete and thorough enough so that the message is consistent and does not leave out any valuable information.
Before you start integrating your story into your marketing materials and sales interactions, you have to test it to make sure it properly connects with people. Sharing your story with friends and family is a good start, but they can be biased, or they can hold back their criticism so as not to hurt your feelings. Even your own employees might be hesitant to share the full extent of their opinions.
Instead, share your story with strangers at first, or a small, select group of customers. Surveys can be very helpful to collect anonymous reactions, which will give you a clearer idea of which elements are the most interesting to customers. They may linger on a certain aspect of it and ask you more about a certain point. Let that be a guide to how you can improve your story and expand on the parts that are really connecting with your target audience.
Related: How to Use Surveys to Drive Success in Your Small Business
If you’re struggling to come up with an interesting hook for your story, you may be tempted to embellish or exaggerate details. Don’t do it. Even if you’re not trying to intentionally mislead people, adding in details to make yourself sound better is dishonest, and creates the wrong dynamic with your customers.
Authenticity is always more attractive to people. Be true to yourself when crafting your story, don’t be afraid to include the parts that show your vulnerability, and respect your customers by always telling them the truth.
A sharp, well-honed story only includes the most helpful and interesting parts of your business identity. If you’re unfocused when telling your story to potential customers, they’ll be confused about who you are and what you’re offering to them.
Keep in mind what your story is, and what it is not.
Your story is:
Your story is not:
The key to focus when it comes to storytelling is practice. You’ve probably been telling parts of your story to people for a while now without really realizing it. Don’t force it on your customers when you’re speaking face to face, but if it comes up naturally in the course of a sales process, open up. Eventually, telling your story will become second nature, and an intrinsic part of your business interactions.
Yes, your story is about you, but keep in mind that it should also speak to and involve your customers. Don’t forget about including them. There are a few easy ways to do this.
This is where the solution part of your story comes in. Ultimately, every business exists because it aims to provide a better answer to a common problem. You have to weave in how and why you are ideally suited to provide the best solution for the buyer’s needs. Customers are seeking an answer, and your story should include how and why yours is the one that will best meet their needs.
You may have started up your business without having any advanced skills in your industry. You may have had a career in an entirely different field. That’s okay, and it’s nothing to shy away from. You can and should still make it clear to customers that you’re an expert at what you do.
One way that you can do that is by demonstrating your passion for the services you provide. If you’re enthusiastic about it, you’ll show them that you really care about what you do. Experience is important, but it only comes with time. When you’re just starting out, you need to be passionate. There’s likely something in your background that can convince customers you’re well qualified to meet their needs, and hopefully even exceed their expectations.
When your customers can empathize with you, they’ll want to help you and see you succeed. Don’t strip out the elements of your story that will appeal to people on an emotional level. If you struggled at different points, those parts could be worth including. It may be one of the pivotal moments in the creation or continued success of your business. Sharing how you’ve overcome challenges demonstrates your commitment, and it can inspire customers, too.
As with anything, the more that you work on your storytelling skills, the more naturally they’ll come. Over time, your story will become a core element of your business identity, inspiring not only customers but also your employees and future hires. The benefits of being an effective storyteller extend beyond making a sale. It can be an incredible tool for growing your business and building your brand over the years.
Corey Philip is an 8 figure home service industry entrepreneur and founder of HomeProSuccess.com — an online resource focused on the growth and marketing of trades businesses.