Making life easier for you and new staff with Procedures (3)

We’ve been suggesting how Procedures for your business can help you and staff – even if you only have one other team member –  and giving you ideas for how you to set the bar for your staff.

Once you’ve secured the basics, (see last two blogs or ask us for copies) always introduce your brand and what it stands for. For example, ‘Our customers and our brand are our top priorities.’

Some small businesses say, “I’m too small to be a brand” Not so, everyone is a brand, David Beckham, my cat etc. Your brand is how your business is perceived.

First, what kind of impression do we want to create?

You may wish to communicate the following ideas to staff to set the working environment within your business:

‘It has cost a lot of money to find and cultivate our customers, therefore, we will do everything we can to keep them. The phone ringing is good news! We want our clients to ring us. That’s in response to our marketing and sales efforts. We pride ourselves on picking up the phone quickly and always sounding positive.

The brand cannot have a bad hair day or take a day off!

Therefore, phones must be answered in three rings. Sound unrushed and give a clear message of the business name and who you are. Take note of the client name and time of the call, the issue, and who should deal with it. Make sure the client knows what will happen next and check that they’re ok with that. ‘I need to speak with….and I’ll call you.’  Make sure that all their questions are answered, if not, agree to call them back when it’s convenient for them. ‘Will tomorrow morning be ok?’ ‘Fine, what time is best for you?’  Always thank them for their call. We want them to feel good when they call us, not as if they feel they’ve been a nuisance or that they’ve interrupted us.’

Agreements with clients – ‘We always respond to messages within the hour. Immediately is better.  ‘If client Y or Z phones, always let me know. Leave message.’

For trades, ‘All customers are informed that we will arrive onsite (eg) between 8.30am & 9.30am, however, if you are running late it is your responsibility to contact the customer directly to give them an eta.’

‘We do not let down clients. If your deadline for work completion slips find out when we can do it and tell the client straight away. We never blame each other or look for excuses.’

‘Getting too friendly and confiding in customers, ‘doing them favours’ never works. ‘We do the right thing and do things right.’

‘If customers come to our unit, showroom, office, shop, please notice them immediately. Look up from what you’re doing, stand up, smile and welcome them. Offer hot or cold drinks. Would you like to be treated any differently?’

Ask staff to think about what would make the best impression on our customers?

Does your business sound as if it’s under control?  In what may seem to be a relaxed workplace, simple things like machinery, background noises, music or laughter do not help. It’s your business, of course, but just think of the things that irritate you, then ask yourself if you walk your own talk!

‘We always want to improve our customer service.’ A bold, flat statement and a bit of a cliché. ‘Within our procedures, we always look at how we can improve. Add notes to (a whiteboard) about customers’ comments and to the list for the next procedures discussion.  Schedule and hold brief meetings on the procedures, not lengthy meetings but quick-fire catch ups for you to gauge staff performance and gain valuable feedback. Ideas to get staff talking in meetings might be:

  • Who had a chance to implement a new procedure/practice a difficult one?
  • What happened, does the process work smoothly?
  • What did you learn? What could you do better next time?
  • What could we improve that process?

No matter how good we think we are, Customer Perception is all that matters. If we think we’re doing the right thing and they do not, it means we’re either not explaining things properly or we must improve how we do things. Never take it personally if a customer comments about our processes, let’s just work on putting the processes right. If we don’t, we don’t have a business!’

I’m sure you are keen to protect your Check-a-Trade or Trip Advisor-type average scores or comments on Social Media. As a marker as to where you set the bar for your business, assume every detectable glitch or slip will be spotted by a client or prospect. They are the best judge as to where they expect your bar to be set! Why lose marks – visible to the Public – by making avoidable mistakes?

To be continued next week.


Making life easier for you and new staff with Procedures (2)

Setting your standards and protecting your brand

Don’t just leave your Procedures on the shelf or forgotten on a hard drive. Make it your point of reference and always reference it in 121s or team meetings. Then everyone will become familiar with it and its purpose. Or the bar will drop.

Michael Gerber in E-Myth tells the story of how a business owner delegates all his company procedures to his number 2. The number 2, with a completely free hand and no help from the boss, went ahead and wrote all the rules – which turned out to be unrecognisable from how the business owner wanted things! It’s your company, it’s your shout. So how do you want things run?


We mentioned your duty of care last week – staff safety and security.

Consider also, keys, security alarms, access. Note where cash and valuable equipment is kept and how it must be secured. Don’t just tell employees, have a procedure for them to refer to so that you don’t have to repeat yourself when they can’t remember what you said.

The job role – show what the final result of the individual’s work should look like. New starters will often puzzle and take too much time getting things just right and avoiding shortcuts. By showing a finished piece, a complete example written by you, it will speed them up.  The FROM …TO…element is essential. Then a suggested timescale: ‘Our target is to achieve this in X time.’

By having these items in your procedures file, it will save so many questions, often several times! It lets people get on with their work – including you – and will make your staff so much more productive.

Try the following steps to get there…….

This is why we’re here – I don’t mean some clumsy “Mission Statement” but an outline of the reason for the business. You’d be surprised how many employees still only vaguely know.

How to …. Each element of their job. Really clearly, point by point. Check with each person who has done that piece of work.

Where to find …(essentials – day to day materials, order forms, etc).

What do I do if ………..? (we only have 1 pot of gloss white left and you need it for a job, a customer asks you to do x,y,z etc.)

You must secure your IT and leave nothing to chance. Company logins and passwords, where to find shared material. How the database is divided. E.g. Internal data only. If there’s a shared drive, ‘please put all office docs, orders, etc on the shared drive, not on your computer’s hard drive.’

Back-ups If stand-alone computers, ‘please back up your data every evening to the remote hard-drive/ cloud using the following process…..’

Leave any of your own passwords with (name) in case you’re on holiday, sick and we need to access your account.’

Team MeetingsEven if only 1-2-1s. Ideas are shared at X meetings, every week. Everyone shares ideas for improvements.  What should they think about prior to a team meeting?

Mobile phones at work – You may want to add ‘please switch off your personal mobile. Remind your family of the office/ shop etc number direct line. Unless there’s a family crisis or illness, please avoid personal calls at the office.’

Private social media is not permitted until your lunch break.

Dental, doctor /other visits. Wherever possible please always give (name) 2-3 days notice.

Holidays – avoid your peak season, year-end, etc if possible. Make that clear at interview stage.

(e)Mail – look out for mail from these (high priority) clients or suppliers. If I’m not around, text me at any time you feel they’re dissatisfied and you cannot give them an answer.

Your email account – is a discrete company account only.

Email protocols. Always use the company signature box, the company font and typeface is (eg) Arial, 12. With email content never become over-friendly or make personal observations about a client’s company or ours. Sign off with: Regards, Name. Always use Grammarly as a speck check. If the client is angry, don’t respond in haste and never argue in a mail.

Clear desk/clean tools policy – at the end of the day, please make sure your desk or tools are cleared of all paperwork or put away clean.

Breaks and lunch – lunch breaks are 40 minutes, please take snap breaks each hour.

More next week…

Making life easier for you and new staff with Procedures (Part 1)

We mentioned in a previous blog that having a written set of procedures for your business is a valuable tool for many reasons, not only to offer new-starters joining your company.

When you think about it, unless you can offer a set of procedures in plain English, you’ll certainly have to explain everything from scratch or you’re asking your new staff to be mind-readers. If not explained, they’ll make errors which could be exasperating for you and them.

So, we recommend you consider these examples and write your business procedure and ‘policy’ if that’s not too grand a word.

Some seem worried about ‘policy’, but it’s your company and you can set your values and standards as long as they’re reasonable. Your staff will soon tell you if they don’t agree!

We recommend that you never let new staff ‘just get on with it’ or let them ‘pick things up as they go along’. That kind of expression fills most new starters with nervousness and uncertainty. Here are some suggestions.

A book of procedures can be just a few pages but list each procedure as it’s familiarly known not with an obscure title.

Set out steps that need to be followed and illustrate with images or diagrams wherever possible. Use the MS Snipping Tool to cut and paste visuals. For smaller documents, you may prefer it in hard copy format with a plastic spine bind or, better still, try something like Evernote. Online it will certainly be easier to add illustrations and images and it’s far more easily updated and shared. By adding an Evernote new notebook and sharing it with your staff it’s easily distributed. Whenever you’ve got a few moments, just keep it updated. If you’re a plumber, builder, technician and have a lot of procedures that new staff may not be familiar with, Evernote for staff working out of the office is ideal.

(Evernote costs: Add up to 60mb monthly and the maximum note size 25 mg – free.  The first paid premium version at 200 mg files @ 10 GB per month is only £3.75, billed annually.  Decide if it works for you in the free version first.)

So, over the next few weeks, we’re giving you some ideas for your procedures: ‘How We do Things’ at X Company. Or ‘The way we work.’

Before you hire, just make sure you have a set of terms and conditions of employment established. The ACAS website can help you. Your solicitor will also advise. That document is the foundation for a clear understanding. You must go through this contract line by line and check that the new staff member does so, too.

First things first for your Procedures. You have a duty of care to make sure your staff are safe. Therefore, start with security, health and safety, first aid, fire escapes and even if there’s only two of you, note the fire drill process.

Code of conduct. This may be in your terms and conditions but if not, given the latest publicity about behaviour at work, you may want to add a note to the code of conduct about racism, homophobism, gender, boundaries, rights, personal comments, and respect for individuals, clients, suppliers, etc.

Please consider how you will agree with staff in advance on things such as appropriate clothing: low necklines, short skirts, shorts, open-neck shirts, jeans, dubious or even offensive slogan-T-shirts, jewellery and company-branded clothing. If there’s disagreement, ask them what a customer would think.

Then, what kind of language is acceptable? Even banter can get personal, offensive to one but maybe not to another, but it can get out of control. Is it right that staff can use bad language even amongst themselves? These days, I’d suggest not.

‘This is how we work’ is designed to take out any ambiguity and to cover these aspects of your business.

This is where you make your brand mark, too. It’s your business. You must decide and agree with all new staff members what is acceptable and unacceptable to you, to them and for the benefit of your customers and brand.

More next week.

Growing your business? Get the right people!  – Part Four

Do I hire them or not?  Next Steps

  1. For good candidates, consider a few things – for example, is their journey to work an easy one? (if not, they may change their mind when the weather gets bad.)
  2. Make sure you don’t feel they’re too over-qualified. (Because they may always be looking around).
  3. If a good candidate, check references and hire them as soon as possible. Ask, “How quickly could you start?” Or would you really risk them walking away?
  4. Can they give you a referee that you can call? (Written references can take a while). Establish they are who their c.v. says they are.
  5. Can you be flexible with hours? e.g. for working mums, semi-retired. Check for special needs, any disability, etc.
  6. If you already have staff, introduce them to the candidate(s) who must get a good vibe around the place rather than a sense of curiosity or distrust. Even better, something you may like to try at interview stage: get your staff to interview the candidate, too. Even just to ask them a couple questions, like, ‘We all muck in and help each other when it’s really busy, does that work for you?’ If you’re currently a sole trader, ask a friend to join you for the interview. Other people will see different character.
  7. Show them a training plan at the interview. That’s a game-changer for fast learners or those who have other job options.
  8. Your staff are a fundamental part of your brand. More on this next week.
  9. If you have “Millennials”, generally the under 30s, or you’re thinking of employing them, there are a couple of pointers. They are often notoriously poor at long-term planning and thinking things through; life is more spontaneous. ‘Job satisfaction’ is critical and certainly something you need to consider, or they’ll drift. Millennials are prone to job-hopping because they just can. Therefore, job satisfaction is gained from how much time you invest in them. This will harness their energy and get the best from them. Millennials are often the best source of sparky fun, new ideas and teaching us tricks online; most are very switched on to fast routes to information. By capturing that energy, learn shortcuts from them and new stuff!

Energise and encourage new ideas for your business.

Killing off ideas from new or younger members of staff to assert your position will kill off other input from them. If they don’t feel included and valued, they may start to look around for another job. (By repeating that process, how much time and effort has that cost you?)

Sharing ideas with others, especially when they’ve recently joined, just bouncing even ridiculous ideas off each other can be very productive and give you the embryo of an idea to develop, or just appreciate another angle. If you have a team meeting – even if it’s just two of you – ask new starters what can be improved.

  • Show that their job has a real purpose, that they’re needed, they’ll be able to learn, develop skills and to ‘grow’.
  • After they’ve been with you for 3-6 months, perhaps offer support for college/ FE, that will benefit you
  • Have you looked recently at the going rate? For an exceptional candidate, do you have a bit of wiggle-room in your salary setting? Could you offer bonuses if targets are met? Around Christmas or their holiday time is best.
  • You need to invest time in your new staff to make sure they stay and feel welcomed.
  • Show them that they are trusted.
  • You don’t often hear a business owner saying, “Well done.” I’m sure it’s seen as a sign of weakness. Job satisfaction certainly involves staff feeling appreciated so look for any opportunity to say, ‘thank you’ or ‘good job’. So often we hear of staff leaving and the business owner has no idea why or didn’t even know their team member was restless, unhappy or looking around. You’ve invested your knowledge and coaching time so make it count!

Call us if you’re hiring and want to kick around ideas. Over the next few weeks, we’ll touch on writing procedures for staff that set your standard and will definitely save you time, effort and repeating yourself.

Growing your business? Get the right people!  – Part Three

Interview questions – you need to uncover skills and experience and any failings.  You cannot risk your business on hunches, so you need good people around you, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Following on from last week’s blog, here are a few questions and styles you may choose to use.

  1. It’s best not to trap your candidate with questions like, “Tell me something you did that you’re rather ashamed of.” Embarrassment doesn’t get the best from them.
  2. “Why are you leaving (or did you leave) this / current job?” If they bad-mouth their previous industry, company, board, boss, team members or customers, or they’re negative, be wary. They may reveal too much! But if they use words like “personality clash”, “didn’t get along”, or others which cast a shadow on their competence, integrity, or temperament, then what does that tell you?*
  3. “Describe your ideal company, location and job.” Clearly, if it’s too far remote from your business, you may have the answer you need!*
  4. “What do you find particularly interesting about this job and this company?” (This is a check to see if they’ve read your website, or have made an effort to understand your genre).
  5. Candidates who stay on top of the news or read widely are generally those who will contribute more to your business. Asking them, “What sort of books do you read?” and then asking them what they thought of them will open more about themselves and their capacity to understand your working procedures. And that makes this question worthwhile.
  6. Situation Questions“Tell me a situation when your work was criticised.” This is a more clever and subtle way to get them to admit to a weakness. It cannot be dodged by pretending they’ve never been criticized. So what kind of answer is best? If they emphasise the extremely positive feedback they’ve had throughout their career and that they’re always ready to be taught new methods, then it’s a person who turns negatives into positives.
  7. You will certainly prefer someone who enjoys life, so ask about their lifestyle – “What are your outside interests?” Be sure that ‘social life and telly’, etc do not predominate!
  8. The “Fatal Flaw” question. You should have read their c.v. carefully, so try to home-in on a ‘fatal flaw’ of their candidacy, perhaps that they aren’t remotely qualified or they’ve been out of the job market for some time. See how honest they are and they may say that without a formal qualification they have worked harder to learn the subject. Then ask you’re ‘trade’ subject questions to test that.
  9. Whether it’s bricklaying, hairdressing or consultancy work, you will need someone who can concentrate and work against deadlines. So, ask the question, “Can you work under pressure?” The answer you’re looking for should be something like, “Absolutely…” then they should prove it with a vivid example of a piece of work accomplished under pressure.
  10. “Have you been absent from work more than a few days in any previous position?” always check, but hear their answer first. If they look fit and well and they respond quickly and positively, still check!
  11. “What makes you angry?” They won’t want to come across either as a hothead or a wimp. Hopefully, they’ll give an answer that’s suited to their personality.
  12. “Why have you had so many jobs?” There may be a good reason, but you don’t want a job-hopper or a ‘problem person’ who can’t get along with others.*

*If you feel that the candidate is stumbling, or having you on, or they’re really not the right person, I would stop the interview at any stage, with: “I sense that ….. do you still think this is the kind of job for you?” Then politely offer them the door!

Next week, in the last of this four-part series, we’re looking at: Do I hire them or not?  Next Steps.

Growing your business? Get the right people!  – Part Two

Last week we said that it’s getting tougher to find the right people.

Here’s part two: Interviewing

  1. Always, always set the stage for interviews. Clear your desk so that they don’t feel they’re interrupting your schedule.
  2. If you have other staff, tell them that there’s someone coming for interview. Encourage their interest and if they walk past a probably highly nervous candidate, to stop and say hello, offer tea/coffee/ water.
  3. If you look flustered when they arrive, it will be noticed. They may even think that you’re too busy to give them your time. All the wrong messages. Ask yourself in advance, what is the best possible impression we can give?
  4. When they arrive, show them around. Ask them if they’ve read your website. Why? Because it will demonstrate their level of interest and that they showed some
  5. Sit in front of your desk, not behind; it will relax them.
  6. It’s highly likely that there will be written work to do, so ask them to write something about themselves. Test imagination, spontaneity, wit and writing skills. In most jobs, if they cannot write, it generally means they cannot communicate, so they’re not much good to you! Find out now rather than later!
  7. You’ll no doubt explain the work you need doing but consistently look at the signs – their body language – what is their level of interest or are they just going through the motions?

Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Blink” points out that people spend 94% of their time thinking about themselves. So, play to that! This isn’t an exercise in how well you can bleat on about your business. It must interest them. Make sure that at each stage you’re keeping their interest, not spouting a script about your hobby!

  1. Make it clear that they won’t be overloaded and there’s a set of written procedures for them to understand how things work. Explain that you’ve been in the business for X years, the company is growing, they can play a part in it.
  2. Too many business owners use the expression ‘working as a team’ then, from week 2, when the initial interest has died down, they can see that there is no teamwork.
  3. Tell them you’ll coach them and help them to understand the business and the way you like things done.
  4. Reassurance: let them know that their performance will be reviewed every 3 months to make sure they’re growing in the business.

Great questions to ask at an interview: PART ONE

First, ask yourself and list what you absolutely need to find out. Without a structured list, you may be none the wiser after the interview. Discreetly tick boxes yes/no for assessment later.

Start with a warm-up question to settle the candidate: e.g.

  1. “Tell me about yourself” – Watch their reaction to your question. See if it’s made them shuffle or feel uncomfortable. Everyone should be able to tell their story. If they cannot, how will they articulate your business story on the phone to a prospect? Listen attentively. You’re interested, say nothing, just nod slowly. That tells the candidate that you’re listening.

Are they interesting? What jobs have they had before? Do they talk about their career aspirations, or family and social life, sport, etc? (what are you looking for? – does this candidate seems he/she is interested in anything at all?)

  1. What are your strengths? We suggest you’re looking for some of these: – proven track record, honesty, integrity, a bit of a spark, good fit, likeable, good communications skills, dedication, clear goals, enthusiasm, willingness to learn, quick learner, confident, healthy.
  2. What are your weaknesses? – They may disguise a strength as a weakness.

Example: “I like to work with a sense of urgency but not everyone is not always on the same wavelength.”  Drawback: This strategy is better than admitting a flaw, but it’s so widely used so you may feel it’s a bit practised.

More questions next week. Call us if you’re hiring and want to kick around ideas.

Growing your business? Get the right people! – Part One

Do you need more time for planning, thinking and getting face to face with prospects and customers?

Have you thought recently about how to dispense with the operational jobs that consume a lot of your time and which are so routine you can do them blindfolded?

When trying to be batsman, bowler, stumps and all, it’s always a challenge for small business owners to grow and take the leap of faith to hire (more) people.

List the more mundane jobs that you currently do and calculate roughly what percentage of your day is taken up in doing them. (What is that percentage?) Then ask yourself if you could stop doing those jobs and deploy that time more productively in growing your business, how much more income would you need to earn to recover that outlay by hiring someone to take the work?

Calculate your personal daily gross and net income and then consider the lifetime value and monthly net income from even one new customer, or more.

We have looked at this subject briefly before but, given the changing employment market, it’s getting tougher to hire good people. So here is part one of four blogs with more thoughts on growing your business.

We’ve heard some horror stories about hiring recently and know that you’ll be interested. As we said last week, Brexit is already influencing employment in UK. The available pool is shrinking already with unemployment at its lowest rate for 40 years. So, before you hire anyone (else), you will certainly have to change your approach in order the catch the right person.  There’s competition!

However, you want to hire the brightest and best so this will take some thinking through. We’ll talk about ‘Millennials’ later, but you do need to consider the motivation of people in order to hire someone who fits in and has a good work ethic. This is an investment in budget, time and patience so these pointers will help you, I’m sure.


  1. With people harder to find, there’s more reason to invest in the way you advertise jobs, to eliminate time wasters or, sadly, hopeless cases, and to ‘sell’ your company to candidates. (That’s right, most employees have choice)
  2. Set a very clear job framework, just like buying a house. Ask yourself, ideally, what kind of person do you need? A do-er? Someone who learns quickly, a keen office junior, a bright graduate first jobber, an intern, someone more mature or a part-timer? Every member of your team must sound good on the phone. (Always call candidates first to test this. If you cannot understand them, neither will your clients!)
  3. Write a set of simple procedures for each piece of their work that you want followed clearly and unambiguously.
  4. The procedures will also set your standards and values. It’s your business, so why not?
  5. In a binder, these will say, ‘This is the way we do things.’ Then there’s no argument or ‘Oh, I thought you meant …’
  6. When you have written a set of procedures, share them with your staff who must agree them or develop the ideas with you until you agree.
  7. Ask yourself how much it costs to hire someone in today’s local market? Check local going rates and ask around. Make sure you’ve looked at the fully rolled-up cost – NI, etc.
  8. You need a distinct set of skills they can demonstrate they’ve already learned and those that you are prepared to coach. See how many exact matches you get from their c.v.
  9. Pre-Interview – put them to the test. I suggest you have just 5 minutes with them on Skype first. If you like them, invite them in. If they’re exceptional, make it same day!


Part two next week.