When your small staff grows by even a few employees, it's a big transition. One key to making it work is acknowledging that changes in operations and structure are necessary.
By Terri Burnor
Kopplin's Coffee serves more than an ordinary caffeinated beverage to be gulped down in the morning. At this specialty coffee shop in St. Paul, Minn., owner Andrew Kopplin and his baristas advise customers on flavor profiles of beans carefully selected from small-batch farms.
Kopplin launched his business nearly two years ago with no staff members except unpaid help from his mother. Within six months, he slowly added part-time employees. But Kopplin's staffing vision has evolved into a long-term goal of offering full-time employment with benefits. Already, four out of his five on-site employees work 35 hours per week.
"Full-time employees are loyal," Kopplin says. "I don't want my staff to have three other part-time jobs to work around. I want them devoted to my shop."
Kopplin is one of nearly four million employers with fewer than 10 employees. He is working to develop an employment structure that meets his goal of hiring skilled professionals over unskilled laborers.
All business owners need to determine their own staffing plans and visions. Consider these tips as you add staff members and transition your role.
Maintain Your Vision
Small business owners are passionate about what they love to do, says C. P. Krishnan, a business owner and volunteer counselor with the SCORE chapter in Orange County, Calif., which offers free advice and guidance to America's small business owners. Owners often lose their focus when adding staff members. "The biggest challenge a micro enterprise faces is transition," says Krishnan.
Krishnan says fewer than a quarter of micro enterprises pay enough attention to staffing issues. The successful business owners he encounters remain focused on two areas: how their businesses add value to the marketplace and how running a business adds value to their individual lives.
These owners then develop staffing plans that support their vision. Most importantly, Krishnan says they learn to delegate responsibilities so they can focus on developing and growing their businesses around their original passions.
Be Honest About Your Strengths
Although Kopplin discusses coffee like a sommelier does wine, he is less knowledgeable about the finer points of personnel issues. "I'm not a good manager," Kopplin says. "I tell my employees that they don't work for a corporation. They work for a human being." He relies on his bookkeeper and friend to serve as his sounding board.
Krishnan says this approach works, and he advises his clients to recognize what they cannot do and then surround themselves with people who can help.
Leverage Your Staff as a Marketing Asset
Kopplin has built his business around his reputation as a connoisseur of coffee. However, he recognizes that his employees are a competitive asset. "When I know my coffee, people are impressed, but they are even more impressed when my staff knows it too," he says.
Employees need to understand the business's products and services. "Employees need even more tools than the owner does," Krishnan says. This investment will pay for itself, but there is a certain training factor and supervision cost business owners must anticipate.
"It's a tough market to be a small business owner and face the same issues as larger organizations — except with smaller resources and smaller knowledge levels," Krishnan says. "Don't try and cut corners. Do it right, and it will be a success."