Family Loss Fueled My Small Business Leadership Success

Family Loss Fueled My Small Business Leadership Success

Dan Tarantin, CEO of Harris Research, Inc., franchisor of Chem-Dry and N-Hance Wood Refinishing Credit: Harris Research, Inc.

Grief is a powerful beast. While it may have the power to consume you, it also has the rare ability to chew you up and spit you back out as a stronger, more resilient person who is less fearful of the world and emboldened with a new sense of strength.

When I was 13 years old on my first day of high school, my father passed away. This was a tough age to lose a parent – I was still a kid, trying to emotionally manage the loss of my father while needing to take on a larger role within the household. To lessen the burden on my mother, who was going through her own grieving process, I began working outside of the small propane business my father started and where my brothers worked. I found a job in a sub shop, learning the ins and outs of running a small business before even finishing my freshman year of high school.

The early exposure to employee management, daily shop upkeep, and handling money sparked a fire inside of me. Learning to lead a team through a busy rush hour was not only a helpful distraction from my loss, but laid the foundation for my passion for business. I worked hard until I was ready to manage the shop on my own at 16, and then began forming my identity as a leader rather than an employee. I learned how to build teams of all ages that worked most effectively together, how to mentor and manage employees, and how to run a successful small business.

That experience led me to attend college and graduate with a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management. While ultimately not staying in that field more than one year after graduating, I learned and internalized the essential importance of true customer service that I have carried with me and held as a core principle for the rest of my life and career.

Fast-forward eight years, and I found myself the CEO of Jackson Hewitt Tax Services in my early 30’s. Building upon the lessons learned early from my father and my job in that sub shop during my teenage years, I jumped into the world of franchising with an eagerness to pull together and strengthen teams that were built for success. With a focus on growing strong, healthy systems, franchising was the perfect way to hone that skill on a larger scale. In my four years with the company, we doubled in size to 3,600 locations, grew same store sales by an average of 16 percent per year and grew EBIDTA more than tenfold. Needless to say, my first stint in franchising was a successful one – I had found my calling.

In 2011, I became president and CEO of Harris Research, Inc. (HRI), franchisor of Chem-Dry Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning and N-Hance Wood Refinishing. As a driving force behind the continued growth and success of each of our brands, it was the consequences of my family tragedy that started and fueled my small business passion and success. Below were some of the key ingredients I learned and have used to become a strong and effective leader:

1. Take advantage of resources available to you. Your entire team is a resource. Your customers as well as vendors are key resources. Accept that you do not know everything and may not be the best at it. Surround yourself with people who are far stronger than you in their respective areas of responsibility.  Be sure to utilize the tools available to you, ask questions, internalize advice and most importantly, respect the guidance from your peers, colleagues and other stakeholders who have been in the business longer.

2. Be an active listener. Be mindful and empathetic, and engage yourself in conversations by asking questions to deepen your understanding of the problem or issues at hand. Seek out and listen carefully to the thoughts and suggestions of your employees and your customers and find a balance of the feedback you receive when creating your business vision. Both perspectives are valuable and vital to your and the company’s success.

3. Implement a flexible growth strategy. Recognize that the economy should not change your business’ development plans, only the approach of how you reach those goals. Businesses need to be able to adapt to various highs and lows that they will experience.

4. Hire smart. Create a diverse team with people who will challenge each other and instigate conversations that will open doors to different opinions and ideas. Passion is a must for a committed, hyper-productive, reliable team. Create opportunities for the team to have fun together because a team that enjoys and likes each other is also more productive.

5. Give back to things you’re passionate about. This is important on a personal level, but it’s also important professionally in creating the kind of company culture and value system that helps companies to be successful and desirable places to work. I am deeply involved in and on the board of Comfort Zone Camp, a bereavement camp with programs across the country. Comfort Zone helps grieving children who have lost a parent or sibling discover their capacity to heal, grow and lead more fulfilling lives. We have also found ways within the companies I’ve led to give back to the communities we serve, supporting and raising money for causes like breast cancer awareness/research and shelter pet adoption.

Taking all of the above into account, I still find myself most appreciative of my days in the sub shop, taking the helm of a small business like the one my father built. Whether managing a team of five during busy lunch hours or leading an international franchise system, it all comes down to people – be good to and serve your team, and they’ll be good to you.

About the author: Dan Tarantin is the president and CEO of Harris Research, Inc. (HRI), franchisor of international home services brands Chem-Dry Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning and N-Hance Wood Refinishing.

Edited for brevity and clarity by Nicole Fallon.

Character Over Skill: How I Knew I’d Found the Right Business Partner

Character Over Skill: How I Knew I’d Found the Right Business Partner

Credit: Choozle

As an entrepreneur, at some point you’ll have to decide whether a potential business partner is a good match for you.

For Jeff, my business partner and co-founder of Choozle, that moment was six years ago, shortly after we met. My brother-in-law, whose kids went to the same school as Jeff’s, suggested we meet because we “both work in the internet.”

We decided to grab lunch, and as I was leaving after our chat, I saw an older woman fall in front of the restaurant. Jeff watched as I stopped to help her up, and my display of character impressed him right away.

After that initial meeting, Jeff and I began having lunch once a week at Mimi’s Cafe, which was halfway between our homes. We didn’t know what type of business we were going to build at that point – we simply got together on a weekly basis and brainstormed business ideas and models. In effect, we were “dating” before committing to a long-term business relationship.

These sessions enabled us to align and explore our complementary skillsets, business goals and various tactics and strategies. More importantly, however, it allowed Jeff and me to get to know each other, both personally and professionally.

Character trumps skill when finding the right business partner. People in a business partnership need to be compatible; sharing values is imperative to a productive and amicable partnership.

So how can you find a quality business partner that matches your need and expectations as an entrepreneur? Follow these tips.

Your gut instincts will have something to say about a potential partner – listen to them.

From early on, Jeff and I trusted each other. He trusted me to take on the numbers side of the enterprise, including raising capital and planning the business structure; and I trusted him to build our product.

As the business grows, ask yourself if you trust your partner with your livelihood. The more effort you invest, the greater the stakes for both of you.

You shouldn’t commit to a business partnership with someone you don’t get along with.

That’s not to say Jeff and I never argue. We have our share of momentary contention. Our working styles are distinct: I’m tactful and overly self-aware; Jeff’s forthright. But despite our differences, we’re able to move forward because of our solid foundation of trust and respect.

As Choozle started to take off, we set out to define the company culture. Like a person’s character, culture is difficult to change once it’s set. I was conscious of this and pushed us to create an environment that was positive, fun, respectful and growth-oriented.

Once we were aligned, the vision and values he and I share naturally translated as we began to develop our team. It became the kind of company we wanted to grow.

You want to make sure your skillsets complement each other. Working with numbers and planning infrastructure are my areas of expertise, while Jeff has technical and creative skills that I lack. Knowing where our strengths lie makes it easy for us to divide and conquer the big stuff.

Complementary skills are key, but a personality fit is even more important for overall growth and productivity (and your sanity). Maybe you’re searching for a partner with technical skills – the person you have in mind is a great personality match but doesn’t know the preferred coding language. That doesn’t mean you should discount them. Instead, see if they have the ability and drive to learn a new coding application.

The bottom line? Skills can be learned. Aptitude and personality, however, are hard wired. Choose someone you can work with for more than 12 hours a day.

About the author: Andrew Fischer is the CEO and co-founder of Choozle, a self-service programmatic digital marketing platform which now powers media execution for over 800+ global advertisers. Prior to Choozle, Andrew co-founded and built the RGM Alliance. Andrew holds a BA in Economics from Vanderbilt, and an MBA from UCLA’s Anderson School of Business. Connect with him on LinkedIn and @AndrewFischer_1 on Twitter.

Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.

Save Money and Boost Productivity by Upgrading Your Technology

Save Money and Boost Productivity by Upgrading Your Technology

Credit: winui/Shutterstock

Small business budgets are tight, especially where IT is concerned. But technology upgrades can pay for themselves quickly by improving IT performance and enabling employees to accomplish more in less time. It may be time to focus on your IT assets to ensure they run smoothly and efficiently.

Here are a few steps you can take to make sure your business technology is functional and up to date.

Older operating systems, like Microsoft Windows 7, have potential security flaws that hackers take advantage of, making a system more vulnerable to malware and other attacks. It’s not enough to run a current protection suite, such as one that combines antivirus, antispyware and a firewall, because the operating system itself may contain security holes. With new cyberattacks being launched daily, your organization could easily fall prey to a ransomware attack or malware infection.

Windows 10, Microsoft’s latest desktop operating system, is designed to be more secure than previous versions. Plus, it has a decent shelf life and should run just fine on PC hardware you purchased within the past three or four years. It requires a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and 20GB of free hard disk space (for the 64-bit version). Your PCs that are running Windows 7 probably meet those specifications already.

The latest OS lets employees take advantage of a host of new apps and programs that boost productivity. And because Windows 10 runs on all kinds of devices, including smartphones and high-end laptops, your employees get a consistent user experience regardless of which device they use.

Note: Microsoft will continue to push security patches and hotfixes to Windows 7 computers until Jan. 14, 2020 (when extended support ends). Learn more here.

Over time, computers, peripherals and printers become outdated and move into the legacy class. For very old hardware (say five years or more), you might have a hard time finding drivers that support new operating systems and applications, leading to compatibility and reliability issues.

One major issue with legacy computers is inadequate RAM, which can be a major pain point for users. Web browsers, especially, require a lot of memory. Just open Task Manager in Windows and browse the running processes to see how much more memory a browser uses than most other programs. Many employees tend to have a browser open at all times, along with other software, so a computer without enough RAM can greatly decrease employee productivity while increasing their frustration level.

Keeping old equipment in use might seem like a money saver, but it requires more maintenance than new equipment in the form of upgrades and repairs. And waiting until your server crashes to replace it is risky, potentially setting your business back for days at a time and resulting in loss of revenue. Consider an upgrade cycle of every three years for computers, or more often if you can afford it.

Paper documents are often inefficient and limit accessibility. You’ll do your business a favor by scanning paper documents, such as accounting, sales and project files, and making them available on a centralized company network or, better yet, in the cloud.

The low cost of online storage makes cloud services a good business value, and documents are available 24/7 from any computer or device. Another plus is that you don’t have to maintain backups yourself. Cloud service providers back up your data automatically as part of their core services, and rescuing data that’s been accidentally deleted is much like fetching files from the Windows Recycle Bin.

Worried about security? With proper folder organization, you can set simple user and group permissions to prevent users from accessing documents they shouldn’t see.

A high-speed network connection that’s available 24/7 enables organizations to run modern applications, like office suites and customer relationship management software, that might tax older, slower networks. Employees appreciate an optimized network connection that allows them to complete work faster and move on to the next task.

Another important benefit of a reliable network is collaboration. Online collaboration services let staff use voice or video applications to meet one-on-one or in teams, and they make remote employees feel like they’re an active part of the office. The ability to archive previous discussions and search through them removes the need to take copious notes during meetings or to share details via email.

Crafting a technology refresh plan is one way to support your organization’s mission, goals and strategies, and to keep employees working productively.

Kim Lindros
Kim Lindros is a full-time content developer who also writes on technology and security topics. Coming from a background in project management, she has run large multifunction teams to produce entire book series, online curricula and on-ground training classes. She has also contributed to several books on Windows technologies and applications and IT certification.

Is a Hostile Workplace Making Your Employees Miserable?

Is a Hostile Workplace Making Your Employees Miserable?

Credit: XiXinXing/Shutterstock

Imagine waking up every day and going to a workplace where you felt uncomfortable or even unsafe. That’s the reality for 20 percent of the American workforce, according to a survey of more than 3,000 employees.

The research, conducted by Rand Corp., Harvard Medical School and the University of California, Los Angeles, revealed that 1 in 5 workers faces hostile conditions at work, including behaviors like sexual harassment and bullying. This type of abuse is disproportionately directed at public-facing workers who deal with customers and clients directly, researchers found.

Additionally, about 55 percent of workers say they face “unpleasant and potentially hazardous” conditions, which includes frequently inhaling dangerous particles like dust or smoke and handling chemical products. About half of the respondents also reported that their work spills over into their personal lives, either in the form of doing work in their free time or in unpredictable schedule changes.

“To us, it is kind of a very interesting and somewhat striking portrait of what people go through on a daily basis,” Nicole Maestas, an adjunct economist at Rand Corp. and co-author of the study, told Business News Daily.

It isn’t all doom and gloom, though: Researchers found that American workers have a great deal of autonomy in their work. About 80 percent of respondents said they are able to solve problems and formulate their own ideas on the job. And a majority said their bosses are supportive of them (58 percent) and that they have good friends at work (56 percent).

“A substantial proportion of workers is exposed to an adverse physical and social work environment and is subject to high pressure and hours variations that spill over into personal lives,” the study’s authors wrote. “At the same time, many workers say that they have latitude over how they do their jobs, and a majority feel supported by their coworkers and bosses.”

The researchers will expand their body of data in 2018, as well as follow up with respondents from the 2015 survey, Maestas said. This will allow them to examine not only larger trends in the American workplace, but also the impact of hostility or hazardous workplaces over time, in terms of things like turnover, productivity and health.

“My idea here is to ask, ‘What role do working conditions play?’ It’s not just a matter of economic performance in U.S., but also the health and well-being of the American worker,” Maestas said. “We’re talking about recognizing that jobs can be really stressful for a lot of people and impact their physical well-being, as well as their emotional well-being. We work quite a bit, and we don’t have a lot of control over when we work.”

Despite the positives, hostile work environments are still a common occurrence for large swaths of the workforce. And a majority feel, at the very least, uncomfortable. These findings bring with them an imperative to change how we see things in the workplace, said Joel Klein, a certified professional business coach and producer of BizTank.

“If people feel that their environment is hostile, whether they know it or not, their work is likely to suffer, and the success of the company is at jeopardy,” Klein said. “The less this is spoken about, the more a hostile environment becomes a topic that is too normalized to be addressed, leaving people unhappy in their jobs constantly.”

Fortunately, Klein said, there are ways for both employers and employees to address when hostility is bubbling under the surface. Resolving these issues before they grow beyond control or to a tipping point is essential to maintaining a functional work environment with happy and productive employees.

“Employers can take courses, speak to HR or seek counsel to help to alleviate the company’s hostile culture,” Klein said. “Employees, although difficult to do, should speak up to a human resource professional at the company or someone in upper management that they can trust. It’s important that the suffering doesn’t go unnoticed or you will just have resentful employees.”

Adam C. Uzialko
Adam received his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Journalism & Media Studies at Rutgers University. He worked for a local newspaper and freelanced for several publications after graduating college. He can be reached by email, or follow him on Twitter.

Android 8.0 Oreo: Is it Good for Business?

Android 8.0 Oreo: Is it Good for Business?

Google Pixel Smartphone, business technology, android o

Credit: Google’s Pixel smartphones are sure to be among the first devices to receive the Android O update this fall.

A new version of Android looks ready to make workers more productive. Dubbed Android 8.0 Oreo, the update promises longer battery life, improved messaging and time-saving gesture controls.

Here’s a rundown of the features that business users can look forward to.

Even the best business phone won’t get you very far if it’s always running out of juice. Android Oreo is expected to help your smartphone run longer by setting strict limits on what applications can do while they’re running in the background.

Specifically, the software update will cap the number of background services and location updates that can be performed at once, or in a specified period of time, which Google says will help stretch your phone’s daily endurance.

Previously, muting alerts from an Android app was an all or nothing affair. With Android Oreo, a feature called Notification Channels can break alerts down into categories so you can silence only the unnecessary alerts when you want to be free from distractions. For example, a chat app might separate individual conversations into channels, so you can choose which to get alerts from. That’s pretty handy, since a buzzing, beeping smartphone can be a real distraction. It will be up to developers to determine how each individual app breaks content down into channels, though.

Filling out online forms can be a time-consuming drag, especially when you’re typing on a touchscreen keyboard. Android 8.0 Oreo will save precious time by providing new tools to autofill common information, such as your name, address, company info, and even usernames and passwords.

Essentially, the platform will allow you to choose an autofill app as a system-wide provider of auto filing services. That means existing autofill apps will become more reliable and easier to use without the need to fuss with accessibility settings or permissions inside your Android phone’s options.

With Android Oreo, Google maps will communicate with other apps on your phone to help you get where you need to be. Say a client texts you the address of a restaurant where you plan to meet for lunch. Instead of copying and pasting that address into Google Maps, you’ll simply tap the address to instantly open the maps app, complete with turn-by-turn directions.

Gesture controls could prove to be a small, timesaver in Android Oreo. The feature will let users trigger actions in Android by drawing out shapes on screen with their finger. For example, drawing the letter C could launch your contacts app so you can make a quick phone call. That means you might spend less time swiping around your phone’s interface and more time being productive.

How often have you been in a video chat on your phone only to realize you need to send a quick text or email? In Android 8.0 Oreo, that type of multitasking won’t be a problem, thanks to Picture-in-Picture. This feature is exactly what it sounds like: It allows you to minimize one screen within another so you can still see the person you’re talking to as you text, email or take notes.

Smart Text Selection is a new feature business owners are sure to love because it makes copying and pasting text a lot easier. In Android Oreo, all you need to do is double-tap on part of an address, phone number or restaurant name and the Smart Text Selection tool will automatically highlight and copy the relevant information for you. This feature will also suggest second steps, so if you copy and paste an address, it might ask if you’d like to see directions to that address in Maps, which is a great time saver.

Android Oreo has lots of security features that business owners will like, and Google Play Protect is one of them. Google Play Protect puts security in your hands for more control and peace of mind. When you access this security feature on a device running Android Oreo, you can see exactly when the last security scan ran, as well as its results. You’ll also get warnings if you accidentally try to download an app that doesn’t look secure. Plus, the Find My Device feature (which is available on all Android devices now) makes it possible to remotely locate your phone, turn it off or on, or even erase all the data on it if it’s lost for good.

At Google I/O 2017 (the Google developer’s conference), the company announced that it’s working on a new project called Android Go. Android Go is like a pared-down version of Android Oreo, and while you probably won’t be using it in your business, it could have a huge global impact.

The biggest difference between Android Oreo and Android Go is that Android Go is built to run using very little storage space. In fact, it will only be put on phones that have 1GB of memory or less. Memory is one of the most expensive components in a smartphone, so by eliminating the need for lots of memory, Google will effectively create a cheaper smartphone that will run lite versions of different apps. Android Go phones could completely change the technological landscape of developing countries and rural areas. The low-cost phones are slated to start shipping in 2018.

Android Oreo is not yet on all Android phones yet, but it has been released into the wild. Until recently it was in beta.

Additional reporting by Brett Nuckles.

Mona Bushnell
Mona Bushnell is a New York City-based Staff Writer for Tom’s IT Pro and Business News Daily. She has a B.A. in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College and has previously worked as an IT Technician, a Copywriter, a Software Administrator, a Scheduling Manager and an Editorial Writer. Mona began freelance writing full-time in 2014 and joined the Purch team in 2017.

What Is Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

What Is Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

coworkers, hiring, hiring tips Credit: Rido/Shutterstock

Industrial-organizational (I/O) psychology focuses on the behaviors of individuals in the workplace. I/O psychologists can be great additions to companies looking to improve the well-being of their employees, as well as increase the efficiency and productivity of their workers across the organization.

As the name implies, I/O psychology is split into two parts: industrial and organizational. While the two sides of this field study similar things, they focus on different perspectives and apply what they’ve learned in different ways.

The industrial side of I/O psychology “examines specific problems and issues that companies have to deal with,” said J. Michael Crant, professor of management and organization in the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame.

Industrial psychologists can help organizations with the following tasks:

Hiring. After studying a company’s culture and work processes, industrial psychologists have a well-educated idea of what type of employee will work best with the way the business already works. Industrial psychologists can help with many parts of the hiring process, including creating interview questions that can help hiring managers identify the best candidates for certain positions. When using industrial psychology for hiring, Amy Cooper Hakim, founder of the Cooper Strategic Group, suggested considering the values, personality and motivation of the applicant.

Training. To keep things running smoothly, businesses need to make sure their employees have the skills and knowledge they need to do their jobs. Industrial psychologists can identify missing skills among employees and create effective training to help fill these gaps.

Employee efficiency. By studying human behavior from the top of the business down, industrial psychologists can identify ways to make jobs more efficient and employees more productive for the overall good of the company.

According to Crant, organizational psychology generally addresses bigger-picture issues. Organizational psychologists want to motivate the workforce and create stronger teamwork, he said.

Various studies have shown that employees who feel comfortable, safe and happy at work are more productive and efficient. If you don’t feel you’re getting everything you could be out of your employees, organizational psychologists may be able to help. These are some areas these professionals could assist you in:

Employee satisfaction. Organizational psychologists study employee behaviors and attitudes to gauge overall employee satisfaction. Using their findings, psychologists then suggest changes to improve employees’ well-being and happiness at work, which makes for more productive employees.

Work-life balance. If organizational psychologists find that employees are stressed or unhappy, they may suggest work-life balance programs to ease the stress on employees, thereby helping them to produce not just more work, but better work. Successful work-life balance programs decrease turnover rates and burnout while increasing motivation and commitment.

Decreased job stress. A major difference between organizational and industrial psychology is where the psychologist focuses their point of view. Where the industrial side works from the top of the organization down, organizational psychologists work from the bottom up. By doing this, they may be able to provide helpful suggestions on managerial practices, company organization and other elements that might be creating job stress.

If you own a small business and only have five to 10 employees, it might not be worth the investment to hire an I/O psychologist. However, for midsize and large businesses, these professionals are a valuable asset if you want to increase the satisfaction and productivity of your employees. However, depending on the scale of your company and the work that you feel needs to be done, you might not want to hire an I/O psychologist in-house. A consultant might be a better fit for you. Here are some pointers to help you identify what type of I/O psychologist is best for you.

An in-house psychologist is best if …

  • You have a large, global organization.
  • You want to develop ongoing training programs.
  • You need to do long-lasting studies of workplace culture in multiple locations.

An I/O consultant is best if …

  • You have a smaller organization.
  • You only want to study one particular area or department.
  • You need only limited information and don’t have ongoing work available for an in-house psychologist.

One way to introduce I/O psychology into your organization without hiring a professional on-staff is by conducting personality assessments with your employees. Analyzing the results of these tests (typically in the form of a report compiled by the company administering the test) can help managers and their teams learn how to better work with each other based on individual preferences, work styles and behaviors. Juli Weber, organizational development manager at Business News Daily’s parent company, Purch, administered a test called the DiSC Assessment to the company’s employees, which she found to be an effective tool.

“We use it to help people understand two things,” Weber said. “First of all, employees understand themselves and recognize how they communicate. Along with that, there’s this awareness that others communicate differently than you do. If I communicate in one way and I’m speaking to an … employee who speaks in a different communication style than I do, I can adjust myself to be more effective.”

Hakim added that personality assessments can be used to help screen applicants as a “multiple-hurdle approach” to hiring, or to help develop employees.

These are some common personality tests you can purchase:

  • DiSC Assessment: This test identifies communication styles in the workplace and helps employees understand how to more effectively work together and talk to each other.
  • Myer-Briggs: Also known as the MBTI, this test puts you into one of 16 different personality types to help you understand how you perceive the world and why you make decisions. Though this is a popular test, there is some controversy surrounding it, according to Crant, since it doesn’t always produce the same results when someone takes the test multiple times.
  • Predictive Index: The Predictive Index, or PI, is a short, simple test that helps you understand your employees’ behaviors at work. This can help you align goals and improve efficiency.
  • Five-Factor Model of Personality: The FFM separates people into the “big five” traits – extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to experience.

While the data from these test results can be highly useful, Weber warns that personality tests aren’t for every company.

“You do have to be careful that [the test results] don’t become a form of segregation. You have to be careful that you’re not stereotyping,” she said. “If your culture is not where you can support that in a healthy way, I don’t recommend you bring it on board. There are probably other things you should clean up first.”

It’s important to note that attempting to analyze the results of any personality tests on your own, without the help of a professional, can lead to controversy and misunderstandings within your organization, so we advise that you consult a professional psychologist before you administer or share the results of any personality tests in your workforce. You can learn more about I/O psychology and find qualified professionals by visiting the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology website.

Jill Bowers
Jill Bowers is a technical writer by day and a fantasy author by night. She has more than 10 years of writing experience for both B2C and B2B content, focusing on topics like travel writing, consumer finance, business marketing, social media marketing and other business categories. She spends an inordinate amount of time singing love songs to her dog, composes handbell music and writes YA fantasy novels.

3 Tips for Training Leaders to Work With Remote Teams

3 Tips for Training Leaders to Work With Remote Teams

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Working remotely is becoming more and more popular, which means that leadership now happens virtually for many teams. Whether an on-site manager works with remote employees or the leaders work remotely themselves, leading people you don’t see face-to-face every day requires a slightly different skill set. When you’re working across time zones and everyone’s interacting from behind their screens, communication becomes even more paramount.

Training leaders to manage remote workers effectively is vital to the success of any remote work program, according to Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs. In general, a remote leader’s focus needs to be managing based on results and processes rather than face time, which is so often relied upon in traditional office settings.

Sutton Fell and other leaders of remote workforces offered their best advice on developing managers who work effectively with dispersed teams.

One of the most useful areas of remote leadership training is proactive communication practices amongst teams and colleagues, said Sutton Fell.

“Proactive communication – taking the initiative to reach out when an idea, question or challenge comes up, rather than waiting to be asked or waiting for a scheduled meeting – can really help to develop a more transparent, open management process, as well as build trust and prevent problems from going unnoticed,” she said.

“It’s exponentially harder for a remote leader to manage a team, compared with a leader who is managing a team in person,” added Phil Shawe, co-founder and co-CEO of translation services company TransPerfect. “To manage a team from a remote location, it’s best to make a strong effort to keep in touch with that employee.”

Leaders can proactively communicate by holding regular and individual meetings specifically to address questions and help solve problems (not just to give a laundry list of updates), and by setting guidelines so all team members know which communication method – email, phone, IM, video conference, etc. – to use in certain circumstances. For instance, Shawe advised against using email to convey “feelings” or any important updates that might invite a lot of follow-up questions.

Bryan Miles, CEO of Belay, added that remote leaders must also learn to communicate the “why” of important tasks and projects more than the “what,” “when” and “how.”

“When the leader is not accessible, any hardworking adults can fill in the blank of the ‘what,’ ‘when’ and ‘how’ when they know the ‘why,'” Miles said.

Another big piece of the puzzle is training leaders to translate the company’s culture for their remote team members. Shawe noted that creating a culture that fosters true leadership is hard enough to do when you’re in the same office as someone, and it gets harder the more remote the team becomes.

When Sutton Fell started FlexJobs as a remote company, she was very conscientious in considering how to translate the best traditional office elements and activities to a virtual environment. She advised reaching out to employees regularly to engage in casual conversations – like water-cooler conversations that might happen in the physical office.

Whether it’s once a month, once a quarter or twice a year, Shawe said remote leaders should get on the plane to attend a meeting at the company headquarters. This way, they will be able to interact with the rest of their team in person and receive sufficient training for the skills they need. In addition to this, remote leaders should use common conference (industry or internal training) to increase face-to-face opportunities.

Sutton Fell said leadership training needs to focus on “best practices,” regardless of whether the leader is remote or on-site.

“Successful leaders focus on communication and culture, challenge and empower their team members, focus on short- and long-term strategy, and the list can go on,” she said. “These are all the same approaches that I’ve used to lead in on-site roles.”

Jennifer Post
Jennifer Post graduated from Rowan University in 2012 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. Having worked in the food industry, print and online journalism, and marketing, she is now a freelance contributor for Business News Daily. When she’s not working, you will find her exploring her current town of Cape May, NJ or binge watching Pretty Little Liars for the 700th time.

Back to Basics: How to Get SEO Right

Back to Basics: How to Get SEO Right

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Search engine optimization (SEO) is especially important for every business, but for small businesses it can be a nightmare to keep up with the regular changes to algorithms governing SEO best practices. But no matter how you feel about the ever-changing rules and algorithms of search engines, one thing is certain: If you’re serious about your website, SEO should be at the top of your priority list.

“SEO remains a big mystery for many businesses,” said Eric Mason, owner of WigDawg Marketing and Communications. “This is only exacerbated by the perception that SEO is a fast-moving target, changing all the time and in unpredictable ways. However, there are core SEO fundamentals that all business owners should consider and invest in that will, over time, yield results while providing a solid base from which to grow.”

Kevin Nichols, co-author of “UX for Dummies” (Wiley, 2014), agreed that the erratic, unpredictable nature of SEO changes are partly a misconception. The rules don’t change drastically as much as they evolve, he said, and optimizing your website to be easily found and achieve higher search rankings depends more on the quality of your website than adhering to a set of specific guidelines.

Companies and websites that engaged in sneaky “black hat” SEO prior to Google’s 2012 Penguin update and the more recent Panda update learned this lesson the hard way when their search rankings plummeted following the updates. Ronn Torossian, CEO and founder of 5WPR and author of “For Immediate Release” (BenBella Books, 2011), noted that the “fast, cheap and great” tactics that once worked, such as keyword stuffing and link farming, will hurt you in today’s world of SEO.

“These adjectives were aligned with SEO pre-2012, but the game has completely changed,” Torossian told Business News Daily. “Search engines are in the business of ensuring that the most authoritative, informative, engaged and optimized content the Web has to offer is showcased on the first page of the search engine results. Aligning your business with SEO requires a more sophisticated strategy that has to constantly evolve to meet the changing nature of the search engine algorithm.”

Across the board, SEO experts agree that the number one factor that affects your website’s rankings is content.

“Having relevant and fresh content on your website will always keep you ahead of the curve,” said Max Friedman, founder of Hatchery, an online marketplace and subscription service. “The best way to do this is by setting up a simple blog that you can commit to posting to at least once every couple of weeks. Doing this lets search engines know that not only is your site active, but that you’re sharing relevant and useful information with your visitors.”

It’s important that you’re actually setting aside time to regularly update your blog, Friedman said. The more frequently you publish high-quality content, the stronger your search engine ranking will become over time. David Brown, chairman, CEO and president of website builder Web.com, also said that old or improperly tagged content won’t do you any favors.

“If your website’s content is dated, your pictures are not properly labeled, or if you don’t link to relevant sites, there’s a good chance your site will be neglected by the search engines,” Brown said. “It’s [also] important to include the keywords that your customers use to describe the business, rather than having a website that is full of industry jargon.”

Finally, a strong social media strategy will always help you drive traffic back to your website, ensuring a further boost to your SEO performance.

“Every [social media] engagement boosts your SEO,” Mason said. “Add your site’s link to your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and everywhere else you have an online presence. After you complete this, share [links from] your site on these networks. Since search crawlers get to sites via links, you increase your chance to get discovered faster [by users] while sending social signals to search engines.”

“Produce high-level content, backed with facts that your audience engages with and shares with their community,” Torossian added. “An organic white-hat link-building strategy, coupled with a high-level social media strategy that’s tied into pushing traffic to your site, will ensure a consistent “up and to the right” view of your website’s traffic and rankings.”

Local search is exactly what it sounds like: people searching for businesses within their immediate location. Research from ReviewTrackers shows that more than one third of all searches (35 percent) are locally geared.

For small businesses, this is especially important, because it means people nearby are interested in potentially making a purchase. And the odds are high that a local searcher will be following through. According to the research, 14 percent of local searchers visit a business immediately. Moreover, 53 percent visit a business related to their search within the next 48 hours.

Crafting a strong SEO strategy that takes local search into account has the potential to make an immediate impact on a small business’s bottom line. Due to the urgency of these types of searches, Google prioritizes those businesses with accurate listings, hours and contact information.

“Local searchers aren’t looking for general information. They’re looking for two kids of actionable information,” the researchers wrote. “Listing information [like] store hours, phone numbers, busy times, menus, etc. and reputation information – star rating, service, whether a place is one of the ‘best’ in the area.”

By ensuring that this information is on point, businesses can capture a larger share of local searchers, which yield immediate results and offer the opportunity for more converted sales.

Additional reporting by Adam C. Uzialko. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Nicole Fallon
Nicole received her Bachelor’s degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the managing editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.

How to Write a Functional Resume: Tips and Examples

How to Write a Functional Resume: Tips and Examples

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On a typical resume, you’ll usually find a person’s work experience as the primary focus, with employers and positions listed in reverse chronological order. This format may be the standard, but it isn’t ideal for everyone.

If you have gaps in your employment or a lot of short-term positions, a chronological resume will call attention to your employment history, which may be a red flag to some employers. A traditional layout might also hurt entry-level candidates and career-changers with little to no experience in their new fields or, conversely, those with extensive work experience that covers a lot of the same skills and responsibilities in each job.

One way around these issues is to use an alternative format: a functional (or skills-based) resume. The idea is to group your skills together under themes rather than present a chronological work history, said Mary Ellen Slayter, a career expert for Monster.com.

“Coupled with a good cover-letter narrative, it can help you get interviews that you otherwise would have been passed over for,” Slayter said.

There are several advantages to listing your work experience by skill category rather than by employer. If you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, a functional resume will help you sell yourself based on the knowledge you gained while you were working. For career-changers, there’s no better way to highlight your transferable job skills than by putting them front and center.

“As a business leader, I appreciate a functional resume that outlines clearly and succinctly exactly what you will bring to the table,” said Phil Shawe, co-CEO of translation technology company TransPerfect. “Communicating these clearly and accurately is also the best way to make sure your career move is a win-win – you are able to bring value in your new role and for your new company.”

In addition to helping you zero in on the specific skills an employer wants, this resume format can reduce redundancy when describing similar positions.

“[If] someone has worked as a desktop technician for several small clients … it’s better for that person to list their skills [under] ‘desktop technician’ versus listing multiple short-term contracts,” said Josh Ridgeway, director of MSP delivery for staffing firm Kavaliro. “It cuts down [on] repeating [the description] for each role and shortens the overall length of the resume.”

“With a lot of experience under your belt, don’t be afraid to connect the dots as to [how] your experience fits … with the job, the company, and the industry – both for the audiences who will be screening your resume and conducting your interviews,” added Shawe.

Regardless of how you choose to write your resume, there are two key questions it should answer: Can you do the job, and can the hiring manager work with you?

There are many ways you can show this when writing a skills-based resume. Arthur Jordan, vice president of engineering at education technology company 2U, advised finding a way to discuss successful work and personal projects that could show off your unique abilities to an employer. For instance, you could mention your contributions to an open-source project, or that you wrote a blog post about a work problem you solved.

“Skills help you do the job, but [industry-related] projects demonstrate your ability to work towards business goals,” Jordan said. “Your personal projects and passions count in determining if your new co-workers will want to work with you, and if they are even tangentially relevant to the job, they count towards skills too.”

Joel Klein, founder of BizTank, which provides capital to minority entrepreneurs, said that your resume should not only describe your background and experience, but also give insight into who you are as a person.

“Are you a hard worker? Are you eager to please? How do you get along with others? All of these should be reflected so the potential employer will go for your brand,” Klein said. “It’s always who you are, what you can provide, what you want – all of which are the cornerstones of a good resume. You’re selling your experience, your strengths and why you should be selected.”

A word of caution to those writing a functional resume – don’t think you can get away with not listing your work history at all. Hiring managers still want to see your track record of previous employers, even though it may not be the central point of your resume. However, you can place this section below your skills.

“The goal of this type of resume is to highlight your skills first,” Ridgeway told Business News Daily. “That way, you attract the attention of the manager before they see your actual chronological information.”

Slayter acknowledged, however, that an experienced recruiter will likely see through this strategy. While it’s not necessarily perceived as dishonest, you should be prepared to answer questions that a hiring manager may ask about your work history.

Here is a sample of a functional resume that you can model yours after:

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You can find more examples and templates of functional resumes on the following sites:

  • CareerOneStop
  • Express Employment Professionals (PDF download)
  • Monster.com

Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Nicole Fallon
Nicole received her Bachelor’s degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the managing editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.

Close Workplace Friends Boost Employee Satisfaction and Productivity

Close Workplace Friends Boost Employee Satisfaction and Productivity

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Do you have a close friend in the workplace? Research from job hunting platform Good&Co shows that 65 percent of workers maintain a tight-knit friendship with at least one co-worker. These types of relationships can boost employee satisfaction and engagement, and it shows. Good&Co’s researchers found that 54 percent of employers believe strong work relationships help improve company culture.

“Relationships matter because they help us feel connected, making us more motivated and productive,” Catherine Fisher, LinkedIn’s senior director of global integrated marketing and communications, wrote in a blog post. “It’s much easier to share feedback with someone if you have built up a solid rapport, or ask someone for advice if you have invested in the relationship.”

The research showed that employees increasingly value a positive social and cultural environment at work, nearly as much as good compensation. About 36 percent of workers say they look forward to going to work when they work with a friend, and 31 percent feel stronger and more valued. The researchers found that people with a best friend at work are 7 times more likely to be fully engaged and productive. On the flipside, isolated workers tend to harbor negative emotions which can be counterproductive and damaging to that employee’s contributions to the overall team. An engaging, friendly environment is key to reaching out to those employee’s who would otherwise find themselves isolated and disconnected from the larger group.

Workplace friendships don’t just stay in the workplace, either. After work hours 59 percent of office friends communicate face-to-face, 50 percent speak with one another via a messaging app, and 42 percent interact on social media. Work friends, then, are often real life friends. Translating that support to the workplace can be vital for many employees.

“I’m not suggesting we all start texting our managers at any hour about our latest crush or favorite new shirt, but it does indicate that our growing workforce wants to have more of a connection,” Fisher wrote.

Managers can do their part as well to foster an inclusive social environment at work. By leveling with workers not just as subordinates, but taking a real interest in their lives, managers can begin to foster the type of culture that values social bonding. Fisher offered several tips to help managers who aren’t comfortable with becoming too personal with their employees, while also helping to ensure their millennial employees feel connected:

  • Don’t limit conversations to email or formal meetings. Take awalking meeting. Walking meetings are part of LinkedIn’s culture, and they are popular because people tend to relax during a walk, which allows for a more open and creative discussion. Plus, not having a phone or computer interrupt you every second allows you to be more focused on the person you are talking to, and ultimately more connected, Fisher said.
  • Take an interest in their personal lives. While you may not want to give relationship advice, you should have an interest in your teammates as people. Take a few minutes during every one-on-one meeting to connect on a personal level. If your colleague always jets out with her yoga mat, ask her about it. Work is only a part of who people are. If you get to know people’s other passions, it may give you a glimpse into what motivates them.
  • Congratulate, share and like. A simple gesture on social media can do wonders for employee morale. Think how great it feels to get “a job well done” email from your boss, and then imagine having the same recognition shared with your network. It feels great to get acknowledged for your hard work, and by sharing it publicly, you also help to build your professional brand.

Additional reporting by Chad Brooks.

Adam C. Uzialko
Adam received his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Journalism & Media Studies at Rutgers University. He worked for a local newspaper and freelanced for several publications after graduating college. He can be reached by email, or follow him on Twitter.