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Making Waves In Small Business: The Drowning Owner

Feb 22, 2016 | Entrepreneurs

“When you’re drowning, you don’t say ‘I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me,’ you just scream.” – John Lennon

DrowningI love working with small businesses.  I am a small business.  And, admittedly, I’ve been a bit of a cheerleader in my last couple of Thursday posts.  You have to be.  You have to be the bumblebee – a creature that – apocryphally, can’t fly.  And yet it does.  Why?  The bumblebee doesn’t know it can’t fly.

While the legal work is often engaging, there is another side to making waves in small business.

Hopefully you’ve never encountered someone drowning, but if you have, you know what the person does: Try stop their drowning, even if that means they drown you first.

It’s primal instinct.

The same can be said for the dynamic between owners and employees.  You’re bound to have some hard times — could be days or months. The employees who stick with you through those times are the ones who should be rewarded when things are on the upswing. There are so many reasons why a company experiences hard times — too many to list here. For the sake of this post, let’s assume you are not intentionally running the business in to the ground.

Either because of client demands, looming deadlines, or just slow business, a time will come when everyone will need to take one for the team.

The most important action is to communicate. 

It’s so simple, yet often overlooked because everyone may be in the self-preservation zone. And it’s a two-way street: Employees should be open with you if they have a major event concurrent with an important time for the company and you should typically let your people know when you’ll need their extra time and energy.

If it’s tax or filing time, which can be lead up to April 15th for some, and immediately after for others, everyone should already know what’s at stake.

The best method is to ask for hours. Don’t withhold pay and always pay your people before yourself. If you need more time from them, be honest and give them enough notice so they can clear their schedules and get on board with you, as opposed to making it feel like a punishment. They’ll get the time back in extra days off once your head is again above water.

Some employees see this as a cue to start whining. Every business owner deals with it at some point. The second it becomes their claim of “you’re not considering me,” get ready to drop ‘em. I’ll take the ‘B’ student with the ‘A’ attitude and ethic over the ‘A’ student with a sense of entitlement or a feeling of being the world’s most special snowflake.

Being brought down from within is one of the worst ways to go.

If you’re operating within your means, paying on time and setting a manageable level of expectations, your employees should be helping you swim back in to shore rather than trying to squeeze the last bit of blood from the stone.

When the communication is absent, you basically become both the lifeguard and the one thrashing madly about in the ocean.

Leave a comment with your experiences as the lifeguard or the thrasher.






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I formerly worked as a satellite employee from my home state of New Jersey. I ended my employment with my former employer in 2016. In 2018, I was sued by my former employer for $1.1 million in Illinois State Court. I was referred to Brinen & Associates, LLC by a friend who is a client of the firm. Brinen & Associates, LLC came highly recommended. I contacted Joshua Brinen and then had a consultation at his office with his colleague Mark White. Together, Messrs. Brinen and White explained my options...

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