how collaboration can build your small business

your challenge

if you're a small business owner, you probably spend a lot of time working on tasks and projects that fall outside of your strongest skill sets.  sometimes the reason for this is a lack of money.  other times the reason is a desire to drive every aspect of your business.  regardless of the reason why this happens, know that spending too much time on things you don't do well usually results in massive inefficiencies and is guaranteed to stunt your company's growth.

so how do you get over this hump?  like many things in life, the answer is simple, but the solution is a little more involved...

the solution

for every business task that stretches one of your talents, I can guarantee there are no fewer than 25 people within a 2 mile radius of where you currently stand / sit / lie that can do one of these tasks better and faster than you.  the challenge you have lies in finding the right talent, then creating a manageable and sustainable method for bringing this outside help into your operations.  here's my list of key considerations for this process ::

  1. identify your top 5 time wasters that are most important to the growth or smooth running of your business
  2. define the scope of work involved with each
  3. make certain you understand and can effectively communicate how these tasks influence and interact with other parts of your business
  4. find at least 2-3 talented people who can do this work well (preferably the kind of person who delivers value beyond just getting something done)
  5. verify the quality of their work
  6. determine which of these folks possess a style & personality that fits best with your own (and those of the people with whom they'll be interacting)
  7. rank your candidates based solely on quality & fit
  8. negotiate a fair and affordable price for services with your top candidates
  9. assure the person you select creates & integrates a well-defined process that satisfies 2 critical needs.  first, it should allow others to seamlessly step in if necessary.  second, it shouldn't just meet your present needs, but also be designed to comfortably handle the increased volume of work driven by your company's growth

what if i can't afford to hire outside help?

many business owners honestly believe their company's cash flow simply won't support the hiring of outside help.   rarely is this truly the case.

if you diligently execute on each of the considerations listed above, the resources you bring into your operations should quickly pay for themselves (you should actually come out ahead).  the challenge, once again, lies in budgeting the time, talent and energy it takes to invest in this process.  you do have some other options.

first, if you're not already doing this, get out and network with your fellow business owners.  learn to be purposeful in your networking, however, so you're not simply spinning your wheels (this is another article for another day...)

[WARNING :: watch out for the passing reference to one of our service solutions]
second, join a co-working community.  even if you're a retailer, every business function is not performed on the sales floor.  co-working locations can have dozens of different businesses of varying specialties and focuses all under one roof.   accountants can find marketers to help them promote their services.  developers can find lawyers to help them sort through contracts and licensing issues.  there's no better environment for evaluating a service provider, and you'll have countless opportunities to share, barter or charge for your own services.

[WARNING AGAIN :: now watch out for a shameless plug]
finally, you can give us a call here at main street ventures.  we're passionate about working with small business owners, and specialize in creating the "connective tissue" that's needed to make "main street" businesses both sustainable and profitable.  in fact, we're so confident in our approach that we guarantee our work will pay for itself.

Real Estate Broker Fined $35,000 for Data Protection Failures

Last month the Federal Trade Commission finalized a $35,000 settlement with Gregory Navone, a small real estate broker who threw 40 boxes of customer tax returns, bank statements, consumer reports and other financial records into a dumpster located behind an office building in Las Vegas.   Despite what the ads say, this just goes to show you that what happens in Vegas doesn't always stay in Vegas.

In resolving this complaint, Navone agreed to the fine (approximately $875 per box) and committed to adopting a comprehensive "written information security program."  For those of you who read our last article on the Massachusetts Data Protection Regulations going into effect on March 1, this should sound really familiar.

There's a lot more to learn from this case, however, than simply noting we shouldn't be as foolish in our dumpster habits as was Navone.   The FTC's investigation of Navone extended deep into his business operations, uncovering many additional violations of the law:

  • he failed to implement physical and electronic security procedures over sensitive customer data, and
  • he failed to take reasonable steps to secure customer records stored  in his home's garage.

Once again, readers of our last article should easily recognize the similarities with the latest Massachusetts regulations.  Although Navone's problems arose under several federal regulations (the FTC and Federal Credit Reporting Acts), the requirements are very similar.  It's also especially interesting  that the FTC's claims also encompassed Navone's failure to comply with his own customer policies, which read in part:

We take our responsibility to protect the privacy and confidentiality of customer information very seriously. We maintain physical, electronic, and procedural safeguards that comply with federal standards to store and secure information about you from unauthorized access, alteration and destruction.

If I were in Vegas right now, I'd consider it pretty safe to bet that Massachusetts regulators will take a similar approach with the enforcement of its laws.  Navone either consciously ignored his obligations under the law, or believed he was such a small operator that his lack of compliance would never be discovered.  Like so many who gamble in Vegas, he lost.

If you're operating a business in Massachusetts, I encourage you to avoid acting like Navone - especially if you can't afford to lose $35,000 or more (plus the cost of hiring an attorney)  in making your bet.

Jack Speranza is an attorney, software engineer and entrepreneur.   For 15 years he has helped his companies and clients strike the right balance between risk and reward by weaving good business, good technology and good law into new services and operations.