NAVIGATION

How to Create an Inclusive Work Environment

How to Create an Inclusive Work Environment

Making a conscious effort to embrace inclusiveness and create a workplace in which people of all backgrounds feel safe and welcomed can help your business build a great reputation, leading to increased profitability and more opportunities for workers. Here’s how you can create an inclusive work environment.

  1. Reflect your passion for an inclusive work environment in your core/company values.

Incorporate a statement about the value of inclusiveness into your company’s core values, engaging current employees to share their input on how the core value should be phrased.

  1. Create an internal diversity and inclusion team.

Establish clear goals and assemble an internal team to establish inclusiveness guidelines. If you need additional help, the Department of Labor (DOL) has helpful resources available.

  1. Hire an HR professional/consultant that has experience in diversity and inclusion.

If you desire to create inclusion initiatives but don’t have the time to implement them, consider hiring a Human Resources professional or consultant. Ideally, this professional will have past experience in diversity and inclusion from strategy to execution.

  1. Host a diversity/inclusion workshop for your employees.

Don’t have the budget to hire a full-time HR professional or consultant? Consider hiring one for a project-based initiative for your team. This can vary by topic and format, but the goal should be to leave your employees with more awareness of inclusion.

For help creating an inclusive work environment for your business, contact the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County to schedule a no-charge appointment with a qualified business advisor. We’re here to help!

Source: sba.gov

Reimagining Your Customer Service

Reimagining Your Customer Service

Do your customer policies benefit you or the customer? What are your customer service objectives? Check out these tips to begin reimagining your business’ customer service experience.

Create a Customer Service Plan and Objectives.
Surveying your customers, vendors and employees is a good starting place for feedback on your customer service. Once you know customer expectations and perceptions, you can create customer standards for your business, document it, train your employees and commit to operating your business with exceptional service as its standard.

Review Your Customer Policies.
Collect all of your policies and cross check them with complaints as well as compliments to assess the role of the “problem policies” and either institute a better approach or remove the policy from your standards. For your most complimented policies, such as easy returns, find ways to promote them through your employees or on your marketing materials.

Ask, Listen, Be and Follow Up. Repeat.
When it comes to interacting with your customers, ask open-ended questions that provide you with information that will help you better assist the customer. Listen and provide solutions or alternatives if you cannot assist the customer. Be the expert – your team should be able to provide the client with the most information about your product/service, uses and alternatives. Follow up with your customers, personalize the experience and repeat the process.

Hire a Good Mix.
First, assess what is important to you and your business and then, refer back to your newly created/reviewed standards to help determine the right mix of employee strengths, personality, skills and experience appropriate for your business.

Train.
Train your employees to keep an eye out for experiences that help customers and encourage a culture of sharing that information with you and with other employees. Reward your employees for providing brilliant service with incentives and a “thank you.”

Evaluate Your Reach.
Are you meeting your customers “where they are?” Go to your customers and meet them where they’re searching, looking, reading and the like. Be sure your site is mobile friendly and includes basic information on location, hours and a click-to-call phone number.

Publish your Expertise.
As often as you can, try publishing your team’s expertise in your industry and products/services via newsletters, blogs or videos. This could include self-help guides, weekly or monthly tips and tricks, dialogues or interviews with other customers using your offerings, or publishing information on your site when new offerings are available.

Manage your Reputation.
The reputation of your business relies heavily on the service your team provides both in-store and online. Be sure to respond to appropriate feedback, both positive and negative, and address customer-related areas in your business.

Celebrate your Customers.
Show your customers you care by promoting special in-store events before or after hours to make your customers feel special and/or celebrate their life occasions. Thank your customers in person, send a note, or make a shout out via social media. Reward future customers by creating introductory promotions or free downloadable content.

For help creating your own customer service plan and reviewing your operations to provide your customers with the best experience, contact the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County to schedule a no-charge appointment with a qualified business advisor. We’re here to help!

Become Known as an Industry Expert

Become Known as an Industry Expert

Promoting your business experience and industry knowledge helps build your reputation as an expert in your industry and increases your business’s visibility. Here are 10 ways you can develop your area of authority.

GIVE A SPEECH.
Find organizations that your target customers belong to and offer to speak at their meetings. Bring relevant handouts, brochures and business cards to leave behind.

START A BLOG.
Adding a blog to your business website is a smart tactic for companies that provide information and expertise, such as accounting or consulting firms. Blog about industry news, timely advice for your customers, or new developments in your business.

COMMENT ON OTHER BLOGS.
If you don’t have the time or skill to blog, build your reputation by commenting on your industry’s leading blogs. Make sure your comments are thoughtful and add to the conversation.

USE TWITTER.
Use Twitter to share interesting links and retweet useful information. Focus on quality, not quantity. By consistently sharing good information, you’ll build a reputation as a knowledgeable source.

GET LINKEDIN.
LinkedIn Groups and Answers are great ways to share business-to-business expertise. Join Groups related to your industry and participate in discussions. Look for LinkedIn Questions related to your business and answer them.

WRITE ARTICLES.
Contact trade publications and local newspapers and ask if you can contribute articles related to your industry or even write a regular column.

BECOME A TRUSTED SOURCE.
Seek out journalists who cover your industry and make yourself a resource by commenting on their articles and sending them information related to their “beat.”

LEAD THE WAY.
Be active in your industry in a leadership role by offering to head committees, speak at events or develop programs.

NETWORK.
Be an active networker, both online and offline. By connecting with others and freely sharing valuable information, people will come to view you as a reliable and trustworthy resource.

GET INVOLVED IN YOUR COMMUNITY.
Keep a high profile in your community by participating and sponsoring local events. The more active you are in your community the more business will come your way.

For help growing your business and expanding your reach, contact the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County to schedule a no-charge appointment with a qualified business advisor. We’re here to help!

How Is Your Business Growing?

How Is Your Business Growing?

Managing growth in business can be challenging, but with strategy and discipline, you can position your business to respond when opportunity knocks.

PLANNING IS KEY.

Identifying new market opportunities and/or services will help you define a growth strategy for your business. As you target your goals, determine which resources are within reach, which goals require investment, the costs to your business and an appropriate timeline.

BUDGET.

Identify expenses that are specifically allocated for growing revenues and develop the necessary plan(s) to reach those revenue goals over the short- and long-term.

WAIT FOR THE RIGHT OPPORTUNITIES.

As new opportunities arise, examine whether the opportunity fits into your long-term strategy for steady growth, and avoid the temptation for a short-term surge. Asking the right questions and paying attention to your market is key.

DRIVE WITH TECHNOLOGY.

Having the appropriate technology and software in place to measure and maintain growth can help you forecast, plan launches and prepare for the future.

CROSS CHECK.

As your business grows, be sure to check in with your customers through use of a survey or a simple “how are we doing?” to monitor your performance and direct attention to any areas in need of maintenance to build up your strengths.

KEEP THE CORE VALUES ALIVE.

Stay close to the core values and culture that have allowed your business to grow thus far, especially when hiring new talent. 

FIND GREAT PEOPLE AND THEN DELEGATE.

Delegating is key to achieving your goals. Evaluate your budget and determine where it may be beneficial to hire talented individuals to help manage duties, then delegate the necessary tasks.

INVEST IN YOUR BRAND PROMISE.

Stay focused on your promise to your customers and what makes you different from your competitors. Implement a strategy to maintain consistency throughout the company from new employee training programs, to marketing materials and social media to ensure your brand’s promise is clear at every level.

IF NECESSARY, BRIDGE THE GAP.

If you need extra funding to bridge the gap during a growth phase, expansion capital may be an option. Before you seek financing, review and update your business plan and consult with an SBDC advisor to review the financing options available to you. The SBDC can also help you package your loan and shop it to network financial partners to assist you in securing the best rates and opportunities.

For help growing your business, contact the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County to schedule a no-charge appointment with a qualified business advisor. We’re here to help!

Hiring and Managing Employees

Hiring and Managing Employees

Finding the right person to fill a role in your company can be challenging. But before you start the search for that person, you should have an infrastructure, of sorts, in place. You’ll have to have a plan for paying those who work for you.

Employer Identification Number

You’ll have to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN), find out whether you need state or local tax IDs, decide whether you want to hire employees or use independent contractors, ensure you receive completed W-4 forms from new employees, schedule pay periods to coordinate tax withholding for IRS, create a compensation plan for holiday and vacation and leave, decide whether you want an in-house or external service for administering payroll, decide who will manage your payroll system, know which records must stay on file and for how long, and report payroll taxes as needed on quarterly and annual basis.

Employees Versus Independent Contractors

Distinguishing between employees and independent contractors can impact your bottom line, as this affects how you withhold taxes and avoid costly legal consequences. Learn the differences before hiring your first employee.

An independent contractor operates under a separate business name from your company and invoices for work completed. Independent contractors can sometimes qualify as employees in a legal sense. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) created a guide to help business owners make the determination.

That’s an important decision to make. If your contractor is discovered to meet the legal definition of employee, you may need to pay back taxes and penalties, provide benefits, and reimburse for wages stipulated under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Benefits

Next, you have to decide which benefits you’re going to offer. Some are required while others are at the discretion of the employer.

Among the required benefits are Social Security taxes, which employers must pay at the same rate as their employees, currently 7.65 percent from each in 2018. Workers’ compensation insurance is required across the country, and disability insurance is required in California as well as four other states and the territory of Puerto Rico. Outside of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), most leave benefits are optional, and unemployment insurance varies by state.

In a competitive market, other benefits such as an employer-sponsored 401K or pension plan and employee incentive programs can help attract the most desirable employees.

Labor Laws

In addition to providing the benefits required by the federal and state governments, employers must adhere to labor laws. Those include laws for hiring veterans, foreign workers, household employees, child labor and people with disabilities, among others groups. Employers must also comply when terminating an employee, laying off workers, or downsizing the company.

More guidance is available from the U.S. Department of Labor, which offers federal and state law resources, and from experts at the organizations including the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) and the EDC-VC.

For more information on hiring employees, contact the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County. Conveniently located in Camarillo, California, we’re here to help.

Source: SBA.gov

Want to Get Noticed on Social Media?

Want to Get Noticed on Social Media?

There are several reasons your business should be on social media. If you are just getting started or are ready to try something different, here are some tips.

Know where your audience is. 

When creating accounts, consider who the audience is and what social media they will be using. Different audiences are looking for different companies on different platforms, with the majority expecting companies to be present on Facebook, followed by Twitter then YouTube.

Let your audiences know you exist. 

It’s not enough to simply have accounts on social-media platforms. Update them regularly, post new content and interact with individuals. It’s better to be present on just a few platforms and use them well rather than to be on all platforms with sub-par offerings.

Give your audience a reason to follow. 

Consider what audiences are looking for in social media and give them a reason to connect with the company. Can they get questions answered? Can they see things others can’t? Use social media to make followers feel personally involved with the brand.

Vary your content from platform to platform. 

It’s often obvious when companies are copying and pasting the same content to multiple social-media platforms. However, what works well for Facebook may not translate well to Twitter, and audiences can usually tell when everything is the same. While branding should be consistent, it’s good practice to customize your posts for specific sites.

Be real. 

Let your company’s voice come through. Audiences relate best to content that comes across as real, human and relevant. Avoid content that is overly promotional, formal or feels robotic. One of the best aspects of social media is the ability to have fun with it.

Looking for guidance on social media marketing? Contact the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County. Conveniently located in Camarillo, California, we’re here to help.

Protecting Your Business

Protecting your business involves planning on multiple fronts. It means protecting your business from lawsuits, theft, cyberattacks and natural disasters. It also involves creating a succession plan so your business continues under new management should that become necessary.

While California is known as earthquake country, the more frequent threat comes from fires. In 2017, the state was struck by nearly 9,000 wildfires, which burned 1.2 million acres of land (an area the size of Delaware), destroyed more than 10,800 structures and claimed at least 46 lives.

Fires erupted as far north at the Klamath National Forest on the Oregon border, as far south as San Diego and as far east as the Sierra Nevada Mountains. No area seemed immune.

And then there are the earthquakes. From the famous magnitude 7.8 San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to the 6.9 Loma Prieta quake in 1989 to the 6.7 Northridge quake of 1993 and the 6.0 Napa Valley quake of 2014, they too can strike anywhere at any time.

What can you do to protect your business?

While specific steps can vary depending on the type of disaster, a prepared business owner should identify the steps to take before, during and after a disaster. They will need to identify their risks and know which disasters are most likely to affect their business.

Any business can be hit with a lawsuit; work to keep risks to a minimum and retain competent legal counsel to consult as necessary.

Although any business can fall victim to Internet viruses and other malicious software spread by bad actors, steps can be taken. At an absolute minimum, get anti-virus software installed on your computers and keep its protections up to date. Have a data policy that addresses opening email attachments and following links. Consider having an expert provide training on how to spot and avoid “phishing” attempts.

Other hazards can be as simple as a power outage or as serious as a fire or earthquake.

Business leaders should develop a workplace emergency plan and be sure employees know what that plan is. They will also need a crisis communications plan to keep in contact with customers, suppliers and employees during and after a disaster. Then, they need to test and practice those preparedness plans.

Have emergency supplies available at the workplace and be sure your employees know where to find them. A first aid kit may be the most critical but having a case of water per person as well as some energy bars or other non-perishable food is also a good idea.

Providing assistance and support for employees should also be a part of a business’s preparedness program. In many cases, disasters are widespread enough that they can affect the employees’ homes as well as your business.

Plan ahead to back up your data. Ideally, it should be backed up offsite, and be backed up automatically. A third-party provider with a robust back-up system of its own it preferable to backing up your data manually on a thumb drive or portable hard drive that you take home each night.

Check your insurance policies to ensure you have enough coverage before a disaster strikes. Speak with your insurance professional about specific hazard coverage. Coverages for earthquakes, hurricanes and other specific disasters are often excluded from standard plans and must be added as riders.

In the event of an actual emergency, listen to local officials and follow their instructions.

The EDC-VC has additional resources that can help business owners with preparedness. The Department of Homeland Security also has online resources at Ready.gov.

For more information on protecting your employees and your business, contact the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County. Conveniently located in Camarillo, California, we’re here to help.

Source: DHS/Ready.gov

Business Benefits to Going Green

Business Benefits to Going Green

Everyone and every business wants to present itself as “green.” Being environmentally conscious is important, but there’s a big difference between “greenwashing” your business – placing more emphasis on looking the part than taking actual steps – and adopting practices that actually make a difference.

Increase the environmental friendliness of your business

Increasing your business’s energy efficiency, whether an office-based business or a manufacturing operation, saves on utility costs. Reusing existing materials in creative ways can mean fewer dollars spent on new raw materials. Using bio-fuels for your transportation needs can reduce tailpipe pollution and is becoming more cost-competitive with petroleum fuels almost day by day.

Of course, a prudent business person will perform a cost-benefit analysis before retrofitting or replacing existing equipment, especially if it has not yet reached the end of its useful life, but don’t forget to include the value of the enhancements to your business’s reputation by making green choices.

According to a Nielsen survey of some 30,000 customers, 42 percent agreed they would pay more for products that came from sustainable sources, and businesses that promote their environmental awareness could also see a halo effect as consumers choose to do business with such firms.

Going green not only fosters positive feelings from customers; employees also often feel better working for green businesses, especially when they’re involved in company-wide green initiatives. It may be hard to quantify, but there’s intrinsic value to improved staff morale.

Take specific steps to help the environment

Look around your business (and encourage employees to look around their homes). Report or fix leaky faucets. According to the EPA, a leaky faucet that drips at the rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons per year, or more than the water needed for 180 showers.

Put recycling bins at or near every desk and encourage their use. Purchase paper products with at least 35 percent post-consumer content. Use the back side of paper for scratch paper before it is put in the recycling bin.

In your company kitchen, use washable cups, flatware and plates instead of disposable dinnerware. If you don’t already have washable kitchenware, look for products made with recycled material.

If you use a landscape company or lawn service, look for those that use electric equipment rather than gas.

Consider using online conference calls when practical instead of spending the energy (and time) to attend in-person meetings.

Encourage employees who use their car for lunch to park and go inside rather than idling in a drive-thru. To save even more fuel, encourage them to telecommute one day a week. If your business has the means, consider offering an incentive to employees who rides their bikes to work, use public transportation or purchase an energy-efficient vehicle.

The financial benefits to going green can extend well beyond the dollars saved through energy efficiency or the additional dollars earned by appealing to environmentally conscious customers. Grants and funding may be available to help further establish green businesses. Organizations such as The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development and the U.S. Department of Energy offer financial assistance in the form of grants and loans to small businesses and farms. Such programs provide money for individuals looking to start a green business, existing green businesses and business that are taking the necessary steps to go green.

For more information on greening your business, contact the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County. Conveniently located in Camarillo, California, we’re here to help.

Source: SBA.gov; Scientific American

Simple Leadership Habits to Empower People

Simple Leadership Habits to Empower People

Successful leaders recognize the value of empowering workers to perform to the best of their ability. Many leaders agree that by empowering others you get the best results but getting started can be challenging.

Leading by example

The empowering process begins with healthy and strong leaders who are willing to lessen their grip and trust their people. Each person on a team is an extension of your leadership; if they feel trusted and empowered by you, they will follow your example to lead.

Struggling to empower others

As you have navigated your way up the business ladder, you’ve been able to grow along with your business. But at some point, you need to start handing things off to others if you are to continue to keep pace with the business’s growth. Trusting your employees to take on new responsibilities helps motivate them to do their best and frees you up to take your business to the next level.

Provide clear expectations

Your picture of empowerment needs to match that of your people. Be specific in what they have authority to do. While it’s best explained when someone first joins your organization, it’s important to recognize that it’s an ever-changing process and should be regularly communicated to avoid confusion.

Get out of their way

In the end, once you give your trusted employees the tools they need to succeed, you don’t need to do much other than allow them to develop their own authority and leadership voice. By scheduling regular check-ins, you can provide advice and oversight but leave the day-to-day hands-on to them.

For help developing more effective leadership skills to enhance your business, contact the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County. Conveniently located in Camarillo, California, we’re here to help.


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