Friday, August 16, 2019

Best Work Trucks for Your Small Business - Small Business Trends

Best Work Trucks for Your Small Business - Small Business Trends


Best Work Trucks for Your Small Business - Small Business Trends

Posted: 15 Aug 2019 07:30 AM PDT

There comes a time when delivering your products in a commuter car doesn't cut it anymore. Here's what you need to look for in a work truck for your small business once you become successful.



The Right Vehicle for Your Industry

The right vehicle for your small business depends on a few things. But you need to start choosing one by matching your needs with the business you're in. Cutting lawns, shoveling snow or doing home renovations? Start looking at pickups. You'll more than likely need a truck for bigger jobs like construction and landscaping too.

Pickup Trucks

Here's a few things you'll need to consider:

Cost

You'll have to spend more on a pickup. It doesn't matter whether you need to throw some shovels and lawnmowers in the bed or haul a trailer, the payments jump. Edmunds sales data compares the average monthly payment for a larger truck ($713) to a midsize car ($484) in 2019.

Towing Capacity

Decide on what you will be towing and how much it weighs.  In the past, trucks were rated by this system. Remember the three-quarter tons and half tons? Now pick ups are divided into three basic categories: light duty, medium duty and heavy duty. Here's a towing guide from Ford to get you started.

Here's a general rule of thumb. Towing capacity goes from 2000 lbs up to 20,000 lbs. Try to get 10% more capacity than you need to prevent engine burnout.

Cab Size and Bed Size

This where where things can get a little tricky. Need to move a small crew from job to job? You might want more cab than bed size. You need to decide which one is more important because the larger the cab size the smaller the bed.

Most pickup truck manufacturers have up to four different cab sizes to choose from. The Super Crew option has four full-size doors. Maybe a bit of overkill if you've only got one helper for your window installation business. Extended cabs have less room in the back but a longer bed that can fit those windows and doors.

Best Work Trucks – Pickups

Here's a few standouts to keep an eye on this year.

2019 Ram 1500

One of the big improvements for this year is optional air suspension that keeps the truck level while hauling heavy loads. Pricing starts at $34,885 (5.7L V8).

2019 Ford F 150

The high strength aluminum in the bed and body panels gives this truck best in class tow ratings. Prices start at $29,750.

Vans

These are a good choice for small businesses that need to make a lot of deliveries. Vans are a good middle ground between a truck and a car. And they can be more maneuverable than a truck for those city deliveries.

Check these options off to get the right one for your SMB.

Engine Size

There's lots to choose from in this space and the options start with a variety of engine sizes. Like a lot of the same choices you'd get with a pickup such as a 4.0-liter V6 or 5.6-liter V8. There's even a 169-hp 4-cylinder on the market.

If you're a florist or baker, you might want a more powerful engine to get perishable goods to where they're going on time. The four-cylinder engine is better for your carbon footprint and reputation.

The V6 and V8 engines make more sense for contractors who need to haul trailers to the jobsite.

Payload Capacity

There are a few factors that go into what's called the payload capacity. Whether you choose a low roof or a high roof model matters as does the wheelbase. The space that's available inside is generally measured in cubic feet.

Here's a general idea of what you should be looking for. The Ford transit is considered a benchmark for cargo vans with 487.3 cubic feet of space. You'll need to carefully consider all these factors if you've got a small business painting homes. Transporting materials like scaffolding and paint cans take up a lot of room.

Best Work Trucks – Vans

Here's a few of the industry leaders if you're shopping for cargo vans.

Ford Transit

An industry leader for good reason. It can haul up to 4640 lbs and comes in three lengths and roof heights. Starting price is between $34,000 to $38,000.

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

A turbo-diesel 3.0L V6 engine sets this one apart. You can also get the four-cylinder 2.0L version. The base price is between $35,000 and $50,000. More expensive than the competition, but this one doesn't sacrifice or skimp on luxury.

Commercial Trucks

Then there's the vehicles you'll need a special license for. These include dump trucks, cement mixers and tractor-trailers. Flatbeds and even tankers are in this category.

You'll need a commercial drivers' license for these.

Image: Depositphotos.com

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Top 8 Ways to Make Your Small Business Smart(er) - BOSS Magazine

Posted: 15 Aug 2019 08:07 AM PDT

Reading Time: 4 minutes

A look at the best smart tech for small businesses

Small business owners don't always have the time to look into new technologies that would improve their businesses, but this oversight is costing them money. There are several tech trends that will help small businesses succeed, and smart business owners can take advantage of these opportunities to improve their costs, sales, and customer service, among other things.

One of the best ways to cut costs in your small business (and help the planet at the same time) is to install smart tech in your office space. Smart technology saves energy in so many ways that the investment tends to pay for itself pretty quickly. And this is only one of the ways smart tech can improve your bottom line. Here are 8 smart tech systems that can improve small business operations.

  1. Security system

To protect your investment, consider a smart security system. Originally designed for homes, these systems are becoming increasingly popular with small business owners. Most come with a number of door, window, and motion sensors that will alert you immediately via your smartphone if there's unauthorized activity at any entry point. Many also include heat and leak sensors to protect your space from non-human damage. SimpliSafe and Adobe offer affordable options. A newer entry into the market, Kogniz, includes AI technology with facial recognition to monitor for repeat shoplifters.

  1. Video doorbell

Home or office businesses can benefit from a smart doorbell, which incorporates a camera to allow business owners to see who's at the door from wherever they are and monitor for attempted theft. These are especially helpful for appointment-only businesses that may not want to answer the door for unexpected callers.

  1. Smart lock

If you have employees or contractors coming and going, a smart lock will help you provide access only when needed and monitor who's entering when. You can use this tech to set up individual codes, lockout everyone at any time, and replace swipe card systems with keyless locks for better security.

Such systems can also give reports of comings and goings and send you alerts whenever the front door is opened or closed if you need to closely monitor activity at your business site. Kwikset Kevo and Schlage Sense are two robust options.

  1. Smart thermostat

Energy efficiency isn't just good for the planet—it's good for your bottom line. The first step to cutting your energy costs is a smart thermostat. You can set it to kick on the HVAC system on customizable schedules. And employees will be happier when they arrive in the morning to a workspace that's already at a comfortable temperature.

Smart thermostats will monitor your usage and make slight adjustments to the temperature settings to save you money, and some have integrated motion-sensing capabilities to respond to the environment and adjust in real time—say, if everyone has left early on a Friday afternoon. Look for a smart thermostat designed specifically for businesses.

  1. Smart lighting

Such tech has been on the scene for a while and makes a real difference in your energy costs. Installing a complete system with smart LED bulbs, motion sensors, and remote control will give you the most bang for your buck and allow for nuanced control of the lighting in your workspace.

As work schedules become increasingly flexible, it's more important to make sure the lights are only on in the spaces they're needed. Philips Hue has been the gold standard in smart lighting, but newer options such as LIFX, Digital Lumens, and Wiz offer good integration options.

  1. IoT devices 

Smart lighting is one example of how the Internet of Things is moving forward, but businesses can benefit from other IoT devices as well. For example, auto-fulfillment of consumable supplies is now an option with connected devices like the Brother Printer Refresh, which will detect when ink or toner is getting low and order more. Merchandise RFID tags can automatically update your inventory, saving a lot of human labor time. Connected sensors used in shipping help you monitor inventory as well, benefiting logistics and supply chain.

  1. Digital assistants

The first thing a digital assistant can do for you is to create a hub for all the smart devices you're adding to your business space, making it easier to monitor and control those devices. However, digital assistants also create more efficiency in operations by providing an easy way to schedule meetings (and get timely reminders), search emails, and quickly access important data.

At home, people might rely on digital assistants to check the weather, play music, or order takeout, but once you start exploring what this tech can do for businesses you'll find the possibilities are endless.

  1. Chatbots

Chatbots might seem like the domain of large businesses with big customer service departments, but they can be a boon to small businesses as well. One popular way to implement a chatbot is on your business Facebook page, so you're always offering timely responses even when you don't have dedicated personnel. On your site, a chatbot can help answer frequently asked questions and aid customers in searching for information or products.

Chatbots can help with more advanced business needs, to—for instance, automating sales by performing many of the functions a human might. And as AI advances, the information chatbots collect can be analyzed, turned into data, and accessed from a digital assistant.

Smart tech is still in the early stages, but it already offers many benefits to small businesses in terms of increased efficiency, cost savings, improved operations, and deeper business understanding.

Written by: Hilary Thompson

Hilary is a freelance writer, small business owner, and travel junkie. With a background in content strategy, journalism, and business management, she loves to explore solutions for success, in all areas: health, business, parenting, life.

Should I Fire a Family Member - Small Business Trends

Posted: 15 Aug 2019 11:00 AM PDT



 A reader from Ohio asks:

"I am struggling with the question of firing a family member. In a moment of weakness last year, I hired my brother. I didn't know he was such a screw up. He comes in late and drops the ball a lot, causing problems with customers. Then he blames it on someone else. I noticed my other employees starting to pick up his bad habits. My mother always takes his side and I know she will do so here, but I don't know what else to do. Should I fire him?"  

  –  Andrea from Dover, Ohio 

That is an important question, Andrea. There's no easy way to terminate any employee, much less your own brother. But sometimes it has to be done.

Firing a Family Member … If You Have To

It's always best to try to work things out first. Do everything you can to avoid termination, because it can really mess up family dynamics. The impact can be lifelong.

Before you get to firing, you need a staged approach. First try to get improvement. Don't rush into termination as the first step. Give your family member an opportunity to improve.

Here are our best tips when it comes to firing a family member — if you have to go that route.

1. First Talk With Your Family Member

Start by talking with your brother. Before firing a family member — or anyone — it's important to fully hear the other side.

As managers and business owners we sometimes assume we have all the facts. We also tend to think that the situation should be obvious to the employee.

But in real life, things are rarely that clear.

At this stage you want a back and forth exchange. Make your points, but also get his side of things. Here's how to do it:

  • Talk face to face, in person. This is not something to do in email or over the phone or via texts.
  • Maintain confidentiality.  Hold your discussion some place others can't overhear.  Do not discuss his performance issues with your mother or try to line up other relatives on your side.  He deserves confidentiality as much as any employee.
  • Be professional and friendly, perhaps offering a beverage. Reinforce how glad you are to have him work here, or some other positive message. Smile.
  • Hold a conversation, not a confrontation. Listen more than you talk. Keep an open mind. Build rapport.
  • Keep it unemotional. Tamp down your feelings. Stay low key.  No arguing. No yelling.

Start with an Explanation

Explain what you are observing. Then give him a chance to speak.

There are good reasons to hear him out.

Your brother may have extenuating circumstances. He may have contributed and accomplished more than you realize.

For example, he may be coming in late, but what if he has been working at home on a special initiative?  You might not know that unless you give him a chance to explain.

Or he may have achieved some important goals, but you have overlooked those because you're so unhappy with a few negative issues. The negative is preventing you from balancing out the positive aspects of his performance.

Or what if he has temporary transportation issues?  Perhaps you can help him solve those.

The point is, the conversation may change your mind about firing this family member.

Pro Tip:  If you don't trust yourself to hold an unemotional conversation, try asking your brother to fill out a self-evaluation of his performance before you meet.  Use that document for a structured way to address performance issues.

2. Be a Good Coach Who Understands Human Nature

Think "coaching" rather than "firing" in the early stages.

Let's do a brief role play for how you might address the tardiness issue, both the wrong way and the right way:

The Wrong Way:

"You're late all the time! I'm sick and tired of your laziness. I don't want to hear any excuses. If you are late one more time I'm going to fire you!"

What's wrong with the above scenario?

Several things. You already have your mind made up. It doesn't sound as if you want to hear his side or give him a chance to explain. You sound like you WANT to fire this family member, not help him understand how to improve. There's no attempt to be persuasive or help him see your point of view. Overall it's a very emotional and confrontational approach. It will not end well.

The Right Way:

"I really am glad to have you working here. But I notice you've been late 3 times in the past week, sometimes by more than an hour. Is there a particular reason?  [Give him an opportunity to talk. Hear him out and discuss.] It's important for you to show up for work on time, because customers are waiting. Plus, all the employees look to you. They think if you are doing it, it must be okay for them to come in late. Or they think I'm showing favoritism. I'm afraid that pretty soon everyone will start arriving late. And then the whole business suffers. Will you help me out and lead by example, and try to be on time?"  

Notice the differences in this second scenario?

You started out reinforcing the positive. He has the opportunity to respond and knows you are open to  listening. You explained yourself calmly giving good business reasons, without ultimatums. Things didn't become emotional. You stated your expectations going forward. He's been given the feeling you want him to be successful. And you put him in a position of power — noting how he can choose to be a leader of others.

Pro Tip: Make a note of when you held the discussion and what you discussed. Then if performance issues continue, you can remind him about the discussion. You will also have documentation to back up your decision.

3. Provide An Opportunity To Correct Poor Performance

Always give an opportunity to correct performance within a specific time frame, before moving ahead with firing a family member.

A typical remedial period is 90 days, but it could be 30, 60 or 120 days.

The point is, give some time for improvement. It's only fair.

You see, it's not uncommon for poor performers to seem blindsided by a critique of their performance. Some employees express dismay — even disbelief!  Some will say they had no idea they weren't performing up to expectations.

Do They Understand the Problem?

Now, it's possible they know they are not doing a good job and are just playing you for sympathy.

But it's also possible they do not understand your expectations.

Here's an example:  let's say an employee is spending all of his time on project B and thinking he's doing a great job. But project A is the urgent priority and so you are  unhappy by the lack of progress on it. A frank discussion can realign priorities.

Or perhaps the employee is not doing things the way you want them done, or not performing up to your standards. Sometimes employees will measure performance differently from the way you do. State your expectations. Tell him what you consider to be acceptable performance.  Don't assume he knows.

Pro tip:  Always be specific. Give examples.

  • Example 1: "You handled XYZ that way. I would like you to handle it this way instead."  
  • Example 2:  "It should take less than15 minutes to enter a transaction into the database, but it seems to take you much longer.  I have a suggestion that will help you speed things up. I've noticed you have a lot of interruptions with your phone and texting, and that probably makes it hard to concentrate. Limit the texting and calls to your break time (unless it's an emergency). Take one break per morning and one per afternoon. You'll be able to focus better." 

4. Give Positive Reinforcement

Dealing with performance issues should not be all about the negatives. In fact, positive feedback and proactive coaching are more important than negative.

After holding the discussion with your brother, be sure to provide positive feedback for his work while you give him an opportunity to improve.

Some experts suggest a 3-to-1 or even a 5-to-1 ratio of positive to negative feedback. Positive feedback will boost an employee's confidence.

Go out of your way to give praise.

Give him reasons to feel good about how he's doing. Let him know you appreciate his efforts.

Pro Tip:  Always give feedback immediately when you see something well done.

5. Play to His Strengths

Here's another possibility. If you find he isn't up to the job duties, consider adjusting his role to suit him better.

Performance issues sometimes are due to a mismatch between skills and the job requirements. In other words, perhaps he's not in the right role for his strengths and weaknesses. Remember, it's hard to fit a square peg into a round hole.

If might be possible to assign him more responsibilities for the things he's good at. And move him away from areas where he is weak.

The ability to tailor job duties is one of the advantages of owning a small business. It's not always possible to tailor a job in a business that is very small. But if you can do it it's worth a try.

When All Else Fails: How to Fire a Family Member

If after 90 days, or whatever remedial period you choose, you don't see enough improvement, what do you do? You've tried your best, but see insufficient improvement.

In that case, you may have no choice but to fire the family member.

Take decisive action. Don't procrastinate or stew over it. Accept the inevitable: you're going to have to proceed to firing a family member.  Best practice is to cut the cord immediately.

Pro Tip: Handle it as you would any other termination. Call him in for a private meeting. State your decision and that it's final. Keep your meeting short. Indicate that you will pay some amount of severance.

For more, see our article: How to Fire an Employee.

It's not going to be pretty.  It will forever affect your relationship with your brother. And it may well affect other family relationships, particularly if people take sides. That's why you should try to avoid terminating a family member if at all possible.

But taking no action could be worse. Poor performers are stressful on everyone in an organization. They can destroy morale and hurt customer relationships. So it's best to get it over with, if you decide you must do it.

Good luck!

Get more employment advice.

All answers to reader questions come from the Small Business Trends Editorial Board, with more than 50 years of combined business experience. If you would like to submit a question, please submit it here.

Image: Depositphotos.com

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