Over the last year, the Small Business Navigation Program has interviewed many local, regional and national experts about the issues that affect our readers. As we head into 2014, here's some of their best advice:
1. Implement a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy for employees who bring their personal smartphones or tablets to work.
Allow them to connect to Wi-Fi but not directly to the company's network. Integrate a mobile security app to block threats such as malware, spyware and phishing, said Jenny Roy, in charge of business at Lookout, a San Francisco company that develops mobile security technology.
"As more and more people bring their personal devices to work, there is increased potential to expose the organization to the same security risks that consumers face," Roy said.
- "Safeguarding your company's data on mobile devices" (Nov. 4)
2. Connect with social media users by providing interesting, informative, instructional, "Tip of the Day" advice from your industry.
People appreciate those simple nuggets of info, said Susan Ball, business consultant and new venture specialist at the University of Mary Washington Small Business Development Center in Fredericksburg.
"Social media is more about making connections and raising brand awareness than marketing per se," she said. "Posts should be interesting, entertaining and informative. They should not be sales pitches."
- "The writing on the wall: how to make your presence known on social media sites" (July 29)
3. Join a local business incubator.
"When I went to the Peninsula Technology Incubator, everything broke open for me," said Adrienne Adams, founder and president of The Green Gi, a Norfolk business that sells eco-friendly martial arts apparel. "I am now gaining traction. I have done more in the last six months than I ever did on my own."
- "Head start" (May 20)
4. Encourage employees to stay healthy by offering corporate wellness programs, such as workplace workouts, on-site health screenings and healthy lifestyle incentives such as bicycle racks, bus passes and organic snacks.
Three out of four small businesses that provide employee wellness programs say those efforts improve the bottom line, according to a September survey from Humana Inc. and the National Small Business Association.
- "Prescription for profit: Start an employee wellness program" (Jan. 14)
5. Get professional help on complicated documents.
Small business owners typically wear all the hats, from sales manager to bookkeeper to product designer. But sometimes they need to bring in an expert, particularly when it comes to contracts that involve leases, purchases or sales, said Stephen M. Jones, vice president of Norfolk-based accounting firm Strickland & Jones
"A single word can make an important difference in some agreements," he said. "If you have a lease that says your business must be in 'complete' compliance with the lease, then for any small technical infraction the landlord can legally terminate the lease. Changing the word 'complete' to 'material' (compliance) can prevent eviction due to a small insignificant violation."
- "Oops: The 5 most common business mistakes" (Sept. 9)
6. Have a wearable brand - and share it on Facebook.
Post pictures of people dressed in your company's official T-shirts, hats or other apparel. Martin Joseph, CEO of 360IT Partners, a Virginia Beach technology firm, photographs clients and friends sporting baseball caps embroidered with the 360IT logo. With their permission, he tags the photos on the company's Facebook page.
"A picture is worth a thousand words, and seeing someone wearing your [brand] would give the impression of a testimonial or endorsement," he said. "Naturally, with Facebook, when someone is tagged in a picture, it is posted to the news feed for all of the tagged person's friends to see. The end result is getting our brand and logo in front of more people."
- "Do-It-Yourself marketing tips" (June 24)
7. Check those batteries.
Cpl. Mary Shackelford, Hampton Police public information officer, said it's important to periodically check that surveillance cameras are working properly.
"Many times a business will say they have a camera to check but it is not in working order," she said. "We go to see if the crime is on video only to find the batteries are dead or something else is wrong. Like other business equipment, it needs basic maintenance. Write down a schedule for it."
- "Surveillance cameras, stricter bookkeeping guard against employee theft" (June 17)
8. Offer a financial wellness program to assist employees with retirement planning, budgeting, reducing debt and other personal finance challenges.
Doing so helps lower absenteeism, "presenteeism" and similar productivity killers.
"It's a win-win," said Judith Cohart, president of the Personal Finance Employee Education Foundation, an Alexandria-based nonprofit focused on financial education in the workplace. "It helps the employee because they get their finances in better shape and are able to save for retirement.... And it's a win for the employer because the employer then has a more productive employee."
- "Helping your employees achieve financial wellness" (Feb. 11)
9. Get to know employees on a personal level, so you can anticipate potential crises and assist them when such issues arise.
"I am not saying a manager should be in their employees' business, but for instance if the employee has an aging parent with health issues, the manager should see something like a request for time off to take care of the parent coming," said Anne-Lise Gere, independent HR consultant at Gere Consulting Associates in Newport News. "It is good to be proactive and show interest. That helps the business prepare."
- "Getting personal" (April 22)
10. When crafting a company policy on personal Internet use in the office, use common sense and consider your workplace environment.
For example, you should consider whether employees are hourly or salaried, said Susan Blackman, an attorney who specializes in employment law at Willcox Savage in Norfolk.
"Don't write a rule that's more strict than you're willing to enforce," she said. "If you have a good employee and they spend a few minutes doing something personal on the Internet, are you really going to discipline them? So think about your work culture."
- "What's fair in the social media jungle" (May 6)
Looking for local businesses
Are you a local business owner in one of the following industries?
* Oilseed and grain farming - wheat, corn, soybeans
* Building finishing contractors - drywall, painting, flooring
* Real estate agents and brokers offices
The Small Business Navigation Program wants to interview you for its series "Hot Biz How-To." Please contact SBN Editor Teresa Talerico at email@example.com.
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