Monday, July 29, 2013

Managing Employee Differences

imageThis article was written by Barry Mc Kinley, SCORE Orange County Business Mentor

It is human nature that when more than two people work together there will be conflicts and disagreements. This tends to happen more frequently in companies that lack accountability and where the management is not properly trained. These conflicts can also be caused by companies that are struggling or that are in industries that are in a state of turmoil or flux. The expense to the company can be high due to time wasted and “He Said-- She Said” arguments. These struggles can lead to employee’s resigning, customers discontinuing doing business with your company and lawsuits and legal action. Learning to work with difficult employees requires using proactive steps and the willingness to have challenging conversations. If you have that problem person you need to consider the following;

If the person is doing a good job for your company but does not work well with others, can they be placed on job assignments where they work on their own? At the same time you need to make the employee aware of why you are doing this. Be clear in your explanation that on the occasional interaction with fellow employees they won’t create problems. It would still be prudent to investigate the cause and possible solution for the disagreements.

If this is not possible you must determine the reason for these conflicts and how to resolve. Meet with the person that seems to be the main focus of all conflicts to hear their side and opinions. Listen closely to determine if the causes are created by company policy, other employees or the lack of the problem employee not willing to fit in. This type of conversation is very hard for many managers but must happen if the problem will ever be resolved. Using the ostrich strategy just produces worst results and additional turmoil.

The problem employee needs to be made aware of what the outcome might be if the situation is not resolved. For example you might choose the policy of the employee receiving two warnings with discussion and the third offense is termination. To make this effective and send a message to the other employees you MUST follow your policy.

In your discussions with the difficult employees you may want to ask some of the following questions;

· What would you like to see happen?

· What does that look like for you?

· What does it take to be able to move forward?

· What are your suggestions to obtain those goals?

· Are you willing to except part of the impact of the situation?

· Would you like to hear my opinion?

· What are your suggestions to meet both our needs?

· What has been the most disconcerting part of this situation?

· What is most important to you?

Continuing open communication with employees helps to eliminate staff problems. Making sure you have clear-cut concise job descriptions, with well-defined levels of responsibility and brief description of management responsibilities. Many times employee conflicts start over who is in charge and who supervises whom. Make sure that is clear to all employees.

Employee turnover is extremely costly to your business and its customers. Good management on your part of employee conflicts will keep your business running smoothly and profitable.

How to Build an Intellectual Property Portfolio When Starting Your New Business

imageThis article was written by John Rau, SCORE Orange County Business Mentor

Once you decide to establish a business, a primary consideration is the type of business entity to form. Tax and liability issues, director and ownership concerns, as well as state and federal obligations pertaining to the type of entity should be considered when making your determination. Various business structures for you to consider include: Corporation, Limited Liability Company, Limited Partnership, General Partnership, Limited Liability Partnership and Sole Proprietorship. Before you establish a business, you should consult with a private attorney or tax advisor for advice about what type of business entity will meet your business needs, and what your legal obligations will be.

Once you have decided on your business entity, the development of your intellectual property portfolio starts with your business name as it will identify who you are in the marketplace. In selecting your business name you need to be careful that you don’t infringe on someone else’s use of the same name. The consequences could be significant and lead to lawsuits as well as the payment of royalties and/or fines if you are not careful. The concern here is not so much that some other business in the city or county where you plan to establish your office already is using the same name, but whether or not there is some legal restriction on the use of the name such as protected under trademark or copyright laws. Of course, you should always check your local telephone book and use the Internet to see if the same, or very similar, name is being used by someone else. What you don’t want to do is to create any customer confusion as to who you are and what your business does.

When checking name availability at the state level, in California names are checked by the Secretary of State only against names of like entities registered with the California Secretary of State. Names are not checked against trademark or service mark registrations or against fictitious business names; however, the Secretary of State’s office maintains registration and all updates of California state trademarks and service marks, and this information is available to the public upon request. A corporation or limited liability company name may be adopted if the name is not the same as or too similar to an existing name on the records of the Secretary of State or if the name is not misleading to the public. A limited partnership name may be adopted if the name is distinguishable on the records of the Secretary of State.

At the Sole Proprietorship level, an individual can own and operate a business and has total control, receives all profits and is responsible for taxes and liabilities of the business. If a sole proprietorship is formed with a name other than the individual’s name, a Fictitious Business Name Statement must be filed with the county where the principal place of business is located. No formation documents such as required for other types of business entities are required to be filed with the Secretary of State. Other state filings may be required depending on the type of business.

Once you have your business name, you will need to focus on building other elements of your company’s intellectual property portfolio. The term “intellectual property” generally “includes the ideas, inventions, or processes that come from one’s mind or intellect” and “it extends the rights given a written work, or a physical device, and grants a person or company the rights to an idea or concept” (Source: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_intellectual_property). No doubt, in developing your new business you will develop products, ideas and processes that are perhaps unique to your business with the result being that these may give you a competitive advantage. You will, therefore, want to protect these elements of intellectual property as they will give “value” to your business.

There are generally four types of protection for intellectual property, namely:

· Patents

o Patents protect inventions and improvements to existing inventions. There are two types of patents: (1) a design patent which protects the ornamental design of a product, and (2) a utility patent which protects any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvements thereof. Patent applications are filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. A design patent lasts for 14 years and a utility patent lasts for 20 years. No one can manufacture and/or sell any of your patented items during these time periods without your approval.

· Copyrights

o A copyright protects artistic expression such as literary, dramatic, artistic and musical works. Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form of expression. The moment you write it, paint it, or put it on the Internet, your work is copyright protected; however, you should officially register it in order to have legal protection. The U.S. Copyright Office in the Library of Congress officially registers copyrights which last for the life of the author plus 70 years. A copyrighted work may not be copied, reproduced, distributed or publicly displayed without the consent of the author or copyright owner.

· Trademarks

o A trademark (TM) is any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof, used by a person to identify and distinguish the goods of that person, including a unique product, from those manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods, even if that source is unknown. Trademarks provide the trademark owner with exclusive rights to their brand names or “marks” in the marketplace. Trademarks can be renewed forever as long as they are being used in business.

· Service Marks

o A service mark (SM) is similar to a trademark in the sense that a service mark is any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof, used by a person to identify and distinguish the services of that person, including a unique service, from the services of others, and to indicate the source of the services, even if that source is unknown.

If a trademark or service mark is registered at the federal level, then it does not have to be registered at the state level; however it is recommended that the mark be registered at the state level as well to have a record of the mark. As mentioned above, the California Secretary of State Office maintains registration and all updates of California trademarks and service marks. As you develop your “company identifiers” such as trademarks and service marks it would be prudent to check at the state and federal levels to make sure you are not infringing on someone else’s marks.

You should think of patents, copyrights, trademarks and service marks as key “components” of your company’s valuation. Patents are considered as assets and potentially marketable should you desire to sell them or license them to other companies. Copyrights, trademarks and service marks are also potentially marketable, perhaps along with your company name, when you formulate and implement your eventual exit strategy. When intellectual property is included in your business plan, it will be generally easier to attract financing and additional investors if necessary.

Fewer Small Business For Sale Deals Completed During June Says BizBen.com Index

Dublin, CA (July 11, 2013), reprinted by permission

A total of 7,366 small and mid-sized California business for sale offerings were successfully matched up with buyers through the first half of the year, a slim increase of 1.47% over the 7,259 completed transactions over the first six months of 2012, according to the monthly report of the BizBen.com Index. The company also said last California sales total of 1,176 businesses, was down 14.2% from the 1,371 deal count recorded the same month last year.

"Last month a slowdown in the business sales rate was expected, as we sensed slightly reduced buyer pressure in the state's small business sales market," said Peter Siegel, MBA, Founder and President of BizBen.com, parent of the BizBen.com Index. A major factor in the slip in demand was encouraging news on the jobs front. Some prospective buyers have shifted their focus from buying a business to getting on someone's payroll.

"But that's a minor correction. Long term we can expect to see continued growth in the sale of small businesses throughout the state as the market responds to underlying pressures from both the demand and the supply sides."

Some of California's largest business sales markets showed substantial declines in the volume of escrows closed last month vs. June 2012. Only 247 businesses in Los Angeles County changed hands last month, a drop of 35.7% compared to the 384 deals concluded in the same period last year. Orange County business sales slipped 32.6% to 97 deals last month, from the 144 completed sales during June 2012. San Diego County also recorded a decline of 32.6% from 139 closed escrows in June 2012 to 97 for the month recently completed.

Gaining in sales figures were Alameda County, up almost 25% from 57 to 71 transactions last month. Growth in San Bernardino County business sales last month totaled 50%, from 44 to 66.

Siegel pointed out the two biggest factors needed to spur California small business sales confidence about the future of the economy and ready access to borrowed funds, "are slowly improving. Part of rising consumer confidence is a greater willingness on the part of both buyers and sellers to overcome the uncertainty that has plagued the market, and to move forward with their plans.

Take Pride in Your Work, Not Yourself

imageJuly 25, 2013, By Harvey Mackay, from his blog, reprinted by permission

Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees had a fierce pride about always doing his best.

The Yankees were on the road for a doubleheader against the St. Louis Browns.  The day was not only boiling hot, the Browns were last place in the league.  Despite this, DiMaggio made an off-hand comment that he was looking forward to playing that day.

“In this heat!” said an amazed sportswriter.  “How can you enjoy playing a doubleheader in stifling weather like this?”

Glancing toward the grandstand, DiMaggio said, “Maybe somebody out there has never seen me play before.”

DiMaggio, affectionately known as the Yankee Clipper, was a prideful player.  He was serious and genuine when he made those comments.  Unfortunately I know many people mistake pride for selfishness.  When I looked up pride in a thesaurus, I was shocked at the suggestions – arrogance, conceit, smugness, self-importance, egotism, vanity, immodesty, superiority and on and on.

Maybe there isn’t a good synonym.  But pride to me is being self-confident, but not egotistical.  Pride is having a positive, can-do attitude because you will settle for nothing less than your level best.

I want people like Joe DiMaggio who are proud of the work they perform.  Here are ways to build the pride that I look for:

  • Build your reputation.  Whatever you do for a living, your signature is on it.  You can’t buy a reputation for doing good work, you must earn it.  Reputation is one of the few assets that your competition cannot undersell or destroy.  Would you buy a product or service from someone who didn’t take pride in their work?
  • Play your role.  Everyone has a specific job to do, no matter how small it might seem to you.  Do it to the best of your ability.    Be a good team player.  The boat won’t go if we all don’t row.
  • Be confident, but not cocky.  There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your accomplishments, but you don’t have to tell the world.  Keep your ego in check.  A person who has the right to boast doesn’t have to.  Self-esteem is a must for a prideful person.
  • Stay positive.  Don’t let others bring you down, which is why I don’t hang around with negative people.  Be friendly to everyone, including the people you dislike.  As Michael Corleone said in “The Godfather,” “Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.”
  • Build trust.  The most important five-letter word in business is TRUST.  Trust is central to doing business with anyone.  People do not or cannot trust each other if they are easily suspicious of one another.  When we trust people, we are optimistic not only that they are competent to do what we trust them to do, but also that they are committed to doing it.
  • Be knowledgeable.  Learn as much as you can, and then keep on learning more. Knowledge is power.
  • Know that you don’t know everything.  The way I like to say it is – I know that you don’t know, but you don’t know that you don’t know.  You can’t know everything, but you can know people that do.  The best remedy for conceit is to sit down and make a list of all the things you don’t know but should know.
  • Do good.  Be a nice person and polite to everyone.  Help people who need help.  Try not to be judgmental.
  • Be kind.  The Golden Rule applies here – Treat others the way you want to be treated.  Smile and ignore anyone who wants to be mean to you.

As a professional photographer, Julie took a lot of pride in her work, and brought samples everywhere she went in hopes of getting new business.  One evening she was at a dinner party, and her host asked to see her portfolio.  She showed him over a dozen pictures, and the host was impressed.

“These are some really nice shots,” he told her.  “You must have a great camera.”

Julie was annoyed at the suggestion that it was her camera – not her talent – that allowed her to take great pictures.  But she said nothing until the meal was over.

“Thank you,” said the host, pleased.  “I prepared it myself.” “That dinner was excellent,” she said.

Julie smiled.  “You must have some great pots and pans.”