July 2012
W-2 & 1099 Information

Small Business Blog

Brought to you by Steve Strauss

July 2012

Your Big Break

Summertime is a time for daydreaming, and who better to daydream than an entrepreneur, or would-be entrepreneur? After all, businesses are the stuff dreams are made of. People don't start a business without a dream, but in my estimation, that is too often where the vision ends, even though it should probably be where it begins.

If you don't dream big, if you don't Think Big, your business very likely won't get big. It is as simple as that. Big dreams set the table for big breaks.

Example: Steve was a 21-year-old kid who loved movies. The trouble was, he had no contacts at all in Hollywood. Although he tried to set up meetings and start his career, he had no luck whatsoever. Undeterred, one day, Steve sneaked onto a major studio's back lot, walked into the office tower, and found an empty office. Call it what you will – brash, bold, chutzpah, whatever – but young Steve decided to make that empty office his own. He had a nameplate made, set up some files, and went to "work" there everyday.

No one ever said a thing.

Each day, Steve would call studio executives and talk to them about this sharp new kid they had on the lot. Each day he got rejected. Undeterred, Steve finally got a television producer interested enough to want to meet him. Steve met and impressed the man and was offered a chance to direct a half-hour episode of Night Gallery, which, two years later, led to a motion picture offer.

Summer would never be the same again after Steven Spielberg invented the summer blockbuster with that movie, Jaws, and ended up changing movie-making history in the process.

In my life, my big break came the day when, while unhappily slaving away in the big law firm, I received the following letter:

"Dear Mr. Strauss,

A while back, you wrote to us proposing a series of small legal guides for the layman. Have you done anything with that idea? We might be interested. Please call me at your earliest convenience.

Very truly yours,
Starling Lawrence

Now, mind you that I had never had a single thing published at that point, but that had not stopped me from thinking and dreaming big and trying to get a book deal.

I had no idea who Starling Lawrence was, but with a name like that, he had to be important. I called him the next day and we ended up having a great chat and he turned out to be a wonderful man. Here I was, a thoroughly unpublished, second year lawyer and this big New York publisher was interested in having me write not one, but four books. That letter, and that daydream, changed my life.

So this summer, amid all of your to-do lists, your ever-burgeoning inbox, and family plans, let's not forget to slow down, look at some big billowing clouds, and daydream a bit about what could be.

Because the evidence is, it is what can be.

Summer Fun

I bet the thing most of us miss most about school is summer vacation. I know that for me, even now, 20 years after my last bit of formal education, I still have a little pang of jealousy when I see kids riding their bikes freely down the street as I drive off to the office.

Of course there still are ways to juggle the work, fun, vacation, and dress issues that routinely come up this time of year while still enjoying the warmer weather. But it is definitely a balancing act.

For instance, now that casual Friday seems to have become casual everyday, the question arises: How casual is too casual? And that is a dilemma that seems to become especially acute in the summer months. Are flip-flops OK? What about shorts? Yes, it is true that the casual look is becoming more and more acceptable in the work place, but it is also true that work is called 'work' for a reason. It's not called play.

But that doesn't mean that everyone can't have a good time too. I have a friend who is one of the hardest working guys I know. From September through May, he takes no vacation at all. But come June, he has accumulated plenty of vacation time and he uses it wisely. He takes a lot of three-day weekends, for example. And instead of taking three weeks off in a row, he takes a week off each month for three months in a row. By September, he is refreshed and ready to sue again.

I think his is a smart plan. If you can allow staff some extra time off, maybe some three-day weekends here or there, do so. They will appreciate it and usually make it worth your while. The important thing to remember is that as long as their job gets done and they remain a valuable commodity to the business, a little extra time off should be no problem. If you are willing to work around their schedules a bit, they will surely be willing to work around yours.

Another way to make the summer more enjoyable is to organize some extra-curricular work activities. For example:

  • If you have never had a group picnic, it might behoove you to organize one, and invite the families along
  • Have a girls-night-and/or boys-night out once a month
  • Go to the ballgame together
  • Close the office down for a day here and there and have everyone do a volunteer project together

The idea is to break things up a little bit. It's good for morale, its good for employees, and its good for you. Soon enough, we will all be cocooning again around the fireplace, so now is a great time to change the pace.

Wellness In the Workplace

Even though the Supreme Court has ruled on Obamacare, it is still very difficult to say whether the law really is going to begin to curb healthcare costs, and even if so, when. And yet, of all the various issues that small businesses deal with, the high cost of health care has to rank among the most important. So that then begs the question: What, if anything, can you do?

Well, here is an idea that I would like to suggest that really makes a lot of sense, especially in these warmer summer months: Wellness programs. These innovative programs are a great way to both keep healthcare costs down and also bring morale up.

Wellness programs are on the increase throughout the country. According to a recent survey I saw, more than 80% of businesses with 50 or more employees have some form of health/wellness programs. The most popular types are:

  • Exercise and weight loss
  • Stress reduction
  • Stopping-smoking, and
  • Back care

Needless to say, these programs are popular among employees for obvious reasons, but that such wellness programs positively affect the bottom line has made them maybe even more popular with small business owners and management.

Businesses that have adopted such programs especially like the savings in insurance premiums and time lost due to sickness. For example, at Berk-Tec, a manufacturing plant employing 1,000 people, a wellness program reduced health care costs in one year by 18%. Or consider the city in California that offered back health classes and fitness training. Worker's comp claims went down, and so did medical costs and sick days related to back injuries.

So the medical cost savings to your business resulting from having health and wellness programs are quite real. And yet even so, the benefits go beyond money savings and include higher productivity, reduced absenteeism, less injuries, and greater morale.

So, how would you implement a wellness program in your workplace?

Start by picking someone to coordinate the program. This obviously needs to be someone enthusiastic about health and exercise. If your business is big enough, you may even want to create a wellness committee. They then need to come up with a sensible budget for the program. But remember, every dollar spent should save you more than that down the road.

Next: the person or people in charge need to decide upon the goals of the program and which types of classes might be the most popular. Summer hikes are great, as are other outdoor activities. Consider also offering healthier food and snacks, bringing in speakers, and having health-oriented contests.

Some employees may be resistant to your new efforts, while others will be excited. That's OK. The important thing is to make the program fun, educational, and flexible. Do that, and watch your workplace - and healthcare budget - change in a variety of healthy ways.

In Praise of Spouses

Early summer is the traditional time when we as a nation honor moms with Mother's Day and dads with Father's Day. But we in the small business world know that if we were creating holidays, there would be one more person we would want to acknowledge: Spouses. Husbands. Wives. Girlfriends and boyfriends. Partners.

Long-time readers of this blog know that I like to refer to my dad now and then, as he was the first and best entrepreneur I ever knew. But dad didn't do it alone, just like you don't and just like I don't. Dad had a great, if to all outwards appearances silent, partner: Mom.

But I didn't know it at the time. Back then, when I was growing up, I remember my mom saying how she and my dad had created that businesses and grew it together. Being young and arrogant, I always humored mom when she said that, but in my heart I figured that it was really my dad who built that business.

That is, of course, until I grew up.

I have started and run several businesses over the past twenty years or so, and if it wasn't for my sweet wife, I could not have done it, or at least not nearly as well.

I have this pet theory: I think every great cuisine has a 'secret ingredient' that gives that food its unique flavor. For Chinese food, it is sesame oil. Mexican food? Cilantro. What I now know, what I didn't know when I was a young boy listening to my mom, is that a spouse, be it a husband, wife, partner, or significant other, is often the secret ingredient in the recipe that makes for a great small business.

This is true for all sorts of reasons.

First of all, the vast majority of small businesses are run by intrepid solopreneur, self-employed people. These may be sole proprietors or freelancers or even LLCs, but whatever the case, it is usually a situation where one-person wears a lot of hats, and that is where a mate comes in. If the good news about working alone is that there is no one to report to or to bug you, the bad news is that you end up in a vacuum where it is hard to get perspective. For many people, it is their spouse who becomes their trusted advisor and sounding board.

Another reason a partner is so important to any small businessperson is that they can be more frank with you than probably anyone else. Is that idea as great as you think? Maybe, but maybe not, and certainly your spouse will tell you why.

Additionally, the advice you get from them will likely be unique: While mates usually do not know our businesses as well as we do, that can also be a blessing. By discussing business issues with a 'layman', you get a perspective that can at times be invaluable.

And of course, your spouse keeps the home fires burning. We all know that starting and running a small business is a major commitment. Having a supportive partner can make things easier by taking care of some extra household duties, especially in the first few years of the business when the time commitment to the business is usually the worst.

Finally, a great mate can help boost morale when it is needed, and cheer you on when things are going well.

So, although my dear, sweet mom is no longer with us, I would still like to say, "You were right, mom. You did help build that business." And to all of the great spouses out there (including mine) who help we entrepreneurs live the dream, I would like to say thank you very, very much.

We couldn't do it without you.