New Employee On-boarding Tips

Hiring a new employee is a time-consuming process. You need to define the position, promote the job, evaluate candidates and decide on the right hire. You must think through your hiring plan carefully and then act fast, as other businesses may be interested in hiring your top candidates, too. This process doesn’t end when you offer someone a job and he/she says yes. Now you need to prepare for your new employee’s first day.

The first 90 days on the job are critical for an employee’s success. You want the new person to feel welcomed, engaged and ultimately be happy in the role and committed to your business for the long term.

new employee

Here are some tips to consider when you hire a new employee.

Create an on-boarding plan

Map out how you will orient the new employee to the new job and the business.

  • What will his/her first day, week and month look like?
  • What information about the responsibilities and internal systems will you share when?
  • How will you introduce the new person to key contacts?
  • How will you communicate the business culture and key values?
  • What will be the new employee’s first assignments?

One approach is to create a calendar and/or checklist with key tasks to be learned and/or completed during the first week, month and quarter. This will give both you and the new employee a roadmap to follow so that expectations are clear.

Have the work environment ready

The new hire’s desk or physical area must be ready, with computer set up and e-mail configured. Have payroll figured out and any related new employee paperwork prepared. A welcome packet can include the employee’s job description, a schedule for the first 2 weeks, important contact information, and your business policies and procedures. (Consider creating an employee handbook that explains the company culture, benefits packages and the “rules and regs” of the business.)

Make the first day special

The new employee will probably show up excited but also a bit nervous on the first day. You want him/her to have a positive feeling about the business and co-workers right away. Set a welcoming mood and show the new hire that you are ready. Call employees together to introduce the new hire, or introduce to others one-on-one. Have a lunch plan for the new employee on the first day to help him/her feel welcome.

Train in small modules

There is so much to learn when starting a new job. To be effective, training sessions shouldn’t feel like marathons. Take breaks. Segment the orientation into manageable blocks no longer than 90 minutes. Use time between training sessions for the new employee to meet more staff, tour a particular area, and get started on meaningful but simple or straightforward work.

Check back on a regular basis

Make time for check-ins with the new employee — both during the training process and beyond. This can take the form of a regularly scheduled meeting, a weekly meal, or an informal chat. Discuss concerns, answer questions, share your feedback and address any negative issues before they fester.

Your good planning and continued support will create a lasting, positive environment for this new employee. Remember, you are making a long-term investment in this most important business asset!

Paul Terry & Associates helps clients hire new staff. We can advise on the best hiring steps or completely manage the hiring process from outreach to on-boarding. Are you thinking about hiring someone? We are here to help you hire and train the best person for the job.

Family Business Advice

Owning and operating a small family business – whether you are a business founder or part of the next generation to operate the business – is very different from running a small business with people who aren’t family members. We asked two of our clients to share their thoughts and advice related to the family business experience. One is part of a multi-generational family business and the other has been in business with her husband for over 20 years.

MARTY SANCHEZ, third generation of Casa Sanchez

As a part of the third generation of a successful San Francisco Bay Area family business, Marty understand the dynamics of multi-generation family businesses and shares this advice:

On playing to your your strengths

In every family business, each person has a strength that really helps the family – it could be related to sales, bookkeeping, organization, etc. Learn who you are and figure out your strengths. Engage in the parts of the business that you are good at and where you can make a difference.

On communication and compromise

With family, you sometimes speak without thinking first. Nagging is a common way of communicating in family businesses. This is not the best way to communicate, but it can be effective! You must not forget that the strength of the relationships is the strength of the business. Family business means compromise. This goes for out-laws (in-laws), too, who may not fully understand the family dynamics and have their own ideas for the business.

On personal vs. business time

One holiday many years ago when the family was together, we couldn’t stop talking about the business. Someone said, ‘Let’s not talk about business at all on Thanksgiving and Christmas’… and we’ve stuck to it! This makes holiday time extra special.

On growing up in a family business

Kids get involved with a family business organically. They hang out at the business after school every day and start to help out. They learn about it without even knowing it. It’s ‘Take Your Kid to Work Day’ every day! As kids get older, they can feel obligated to help their parents, siblings or other family members. Guilt can play a large role as they don’t want to abandon the family. We need to be sensitive to these feelings and make sure that those in the next generation feel comfortable talking to someone in the family about the business and their role in it.

On compensating family members

There needs to be a clear understanding about how compensation is handled for family members and how pay and raises are calculated. Imbalances in pay or a lack of clarity lead to resentment. Create clear compensation rules that are related to roles, tasks, hours worked, etc. and put it in writing.

On getting outside support

When an issue comes up, it can be hard to talk about it openly, and in a way that leads to resolution. A family member may be unhappy but may not feel comfortable talking about it. It has been really helpful for us to meet with a mediator to discuss issues, find ways to compromise, and move forward.

On family pride

People love to support family businesses and they love to hear that I am the third-generation in our family business. Customers recognize the commitment, passion, dedication and hard work and want to support us. I’m very proud to be a part of a family-owned business.

DEBORAH BOWES, co-owner of Feldenkrais Center for Movement & Awareness

Deborah has co-owned Feldenkrais Center for Movement & Awareness with her husband, Cliff Smyth, since 1996. Here are her tips for other businesses owned and operated with a life partner:

On communication, compromise and sharing the load

  • Agree on the steps to take next. Be willing to compromise and sometimes follow your partner’s dream.
  • Share the stress. Be attentive to when your partner needs a break and give it to him/her.
  • Be honest with what you want to do and the kind of support that you need.
  • Allow each other to work from his/her strengths.
  • Give a lot of support when your partner is doing something the he/she doesn’t like to do or doesn’t want to do. After all, there’s always going to be some of that!
  • Make specific times for work meetings and take notes. It’s so easy to forget who agreed to what.

On managing conflict

  • Don’t talk about work before going to bed.
  • Go for walks to talk out difficult issues.
  • When you both are around your employees, be professional with each other.
  • Keep any private issues at home.

On work/life balance

  • Home support is essential. Share tasks related to cooking and cleaning, and use a housecleaner if that is helpful.
  • We get grouchy if we have worked all day, come home hungry and there’s nothing to eat in the house. Have food in the freezer ready for a quick meal or get take out once a week.
  • Your business depends on your own self care and health. It is as important as everything else you do. Stay hydrated and try to fit some type of movement or exercise into your day.
  • Laugh together and relax together.

Deborah’s last words of advice are applicable to ALL of us – “Be the kind of boss you’d want to have and the kind of employee you’d value!”

At Paul Terry & Associates, we are familiar with the challenges specific to family business owners and joint ventures. We help new joint ventures define the terms of their relationship and established partners address current issues and update agreements. Learn more about our services.

Check out these tips and resources for family-owned businesses.

Operating a family-owned business

At Paul Terry & Associates, we understand family-owned business dynamics. Paul worked for his father’s sawmill manufacturing business while in high school and college, and his first two businesses in San Francisco were partnerships with a married couple. Today Paul’s daughter Jenny is a part of the Paul Terry & Associates team, when she’s not running her family farm with her husband.

family-owned business

We know that owning and operating a business with family can have a lot of advantages, especially related to trust and a joint commitment to the enterprise. This is often essential in the early stages as the business is getting off the ground. Everyone in the business is driven by their passion for creating the product or providing the service.  But once the “honeymoon” stage is over, things can get more challenging and complicated, as additional business skills are required. Careful attention must be given to operating the business and relating to one another as business partners and not just family members.

Roles and responsibilities

Every business needs clearly defined roles and responsibilities for the people associated with the business. This is especially important when the owners or the employees are family members. With a family business, every issue affecting your business relationship could easily spill over into your personal life. It is essential to:

  • Create job descriptions outlining each person’s role and specific responsibilities, and revise when necessary.
  • Set regular meetings (monthly/quarterly) to discuss tasks, responsibilities and how decisions are made.
  • Confirm that employees who aren’t part of the family know how to deal with the family lines of authority.


When you have a personal and a business relationship with someone, communication requires extra care. It can be easy to be critical with a relative in ways that you never would be with a non-family member colleague. You probably know how to push his/her buttons! Simple rules of good communication must still apply.

  • Address issues as they surface in a respectful, honest and open way.
  • Approach your interactions from a place of respect and trust.
  • Refrain from talking about personal issues during work time, especially when around people who aren’t family members.
  • Spend time with your family members when you don’t talk about the business.
  • When needed, bring in an outside mediator to help resolve the issues that you can’t fix alone.
  • Use an experienced business advisor to help build your management skills.

Governing structure

Just like any other business with more than one owner, it is very important to have written agreements. This can include both the governing and operating structure of the business as well as the roles and responsibilities of each owner, particularly related to decision-making. Everything may be working fine… until it isn’t. For a family business, it is very important to consider these questions:

  • How will family partners evaluate each others’ work? Will there be performance reviews?
  • How will family partners be compensated? Does everyone make the same amount?
  • What happens to profits from the business and how are they divided?
  • What happens when one partner no longer want to own/run the business? Who gets the first right of refusal?
  • What is the policy for bringing other family members into the business?

Like all joint ventures, every family-owned business needs an ownership operating agreement in writing. This agreement should include an operating agreement as well as a succession or exit plan to protect both the business and the personal relationship of the owners.

Getting support

It is tempting to try and “go it alone” and take care of issues within the family instead of discussing your problems with outsiders. But outside support – whether from a trusted business advisor or another family-owned business – can bring different perspectives and solutions. An advisor or mediator can help you address underlying issues that may be difficult to bring up or handle without support. They can also help you implement and maintain better business systems and make adjustments as needed.

Here are local resources for family businesses:

Gellert Family Business Resource Center
This University of San Francisco center provides family-owned businesses with access to networking and practical family business information, and helps promote next-generation leadership.

Family Business Strategies Summit
The San Francisco Business Times sponsors an annual breakfast and conversation with family business owners every July. Family-owned businesses share some of the common challenges they face, as well as strategies and best practices for effectively managing and growing a family business.

 Check out our services to see how Paul Terry & Associates helps family businesses and other joint ventures and business partnerships to launch and grow, as well as plan for transition or succession.

Ready to Hire? Create a plan.

There are many ways to manage expected business growth. You can improve or streamline your systems, sub out work to independent contractors, or take on more work yourself. Yet at some point, sustained business growth may mean hiring full-time or part-time employees.

ready to hire

When you decide to hire a new employee, it’s tempting to get someone (anyone!) into the job as soon as possible. We recommend that you FIRST think through what you need, who you want, and what you can afford. Then, create a hiring plan. Proceeding carefully can make the difference between finding a temporary fix or hiring the right person for the job.

Before you hire, think carefully about:


  • How much will a hiring process cost you?
  • How will hiring a new employee add value to your business?
  • What are you able to offer in terms of salary and other benefits?

Job description

  • What are the specific tasks that need to be handled by this position?
  • What are the basics of the position (full/part-time, on-site/remote, etc.)?
  • What skills and experience are necessary to do this job well?

Be clear about the “must-have” v.s. the “would-be-nice-to-have” qualifications for this new hire.


  • Where are potential candidates looking for jobs?
  • Who might know someone great for this job?

Diversifying your outreach will help you find the most qualified candidates. Online job sites may be the best way to promote the job but be sure to do your research. Some sites are industry-specific, some are free and some are pricey. Let colleagues, friends and customers know exactly who you seek. Word-of-mouth can be powerful! Social media, your website and e-newsletters are great ways to spread the word.

Screening candidates

  • How will you communicate with applicants?
  • What are the steps in your screening process?
  • What interview questions will help you identify the best applicants?

Consider asking applicants to answer questions by email first, and then interview select candidates by phone. Only bring the best candidates in for face-to-face interviews. Adding these screening steps may save you time in the long run. Choose your interview questions carefully. You want to explore the candidate’s range of experience and skills, how they will handle challenging situations or conflict on the job, and how they will fit into your business culture.

Evaluating candidates

  • How do you decide which applicant is best for the job?
  • How does your hiring team agree on who to hire?

Often the “right” hire isn’t completely clear. A candidate may have great qualities/skills in one area but deficiencies in another area. (We use evaluation tools with our clients to assess the pros and cons of each candidate.) Be sure to request at least three professional references and then call to confirm that your impressions match others’ experiences. When you finally come to a decision, be sure to act fast. If you love this candidate then chances are other employers do, too! Call or email to offer the job and then follow up with an offer letter.

Once you complete the hire, it’s time to create a plan to on-board this new employee!

Are you thinking about hiring someone? We help small businesses hire new staff. We develop job descriptions and interview questions, and help design the right hiring process. We can help manage the hiring process from outreach to interviews to selection. 

Stepping away – a management transition

Sometimes “getting out” of a business doesn’t mean giving it up completely. It may just mean letting go of a certain amount of control. Stepping away from day-to-day operations. Delegating management responsibilities to someone else so the business can continue to function smoothly. For this type of transition to be successful, the business owner needs to be ready to give up control.

stepping away

Your business = Your identity

As a small business owner, your whole identity can be wrapped up with your business. If you step away, you could lose that identity. You could lose a reason to stay involved with a merchants group, or you may no longer be invited to participate in certain business networks. Without your business identify, you have to redefine or reinvent yourself.

In any business exit or succession—whether it involves transitioning out of business ownership or just management control—a gradual process is ideal.  We encourage business owners to:

Assess your current business first

Before rushing into a change, you need to understand the value of your business and the strength of your systems. Are you building or have you built business assets that have real value? Do you have operational systems that can be understood by others? Do you have key employees that will stay and take on increased responsibilities?

Share your knowledge

Employees or junior partners will need to be prepared to become majority owners. Family members need to know what they are getting into. You may need to hire new senior management who must get up to speed. Any new manager (or eventual owner) needs to get to know the business inside and out and develop the skills needed for success.

If the transition is gradual, a new manager/owner will have time to grow into his/her role, gain confidence and also credibility in day-to-day management. As time goes on, you can take on more of an advisory (or backseat) role… and by then you will be ready to be in that new role.

Get support

It can feel impossible to focus on a future transition when there is so much to attend to with the business right now. You are managing products or services, employees, cash flow, marketing and day-to-day operations. How do you focus on your transition goals when so many other aspects of the business need your attention right now?

An advisor, support partner or support group can help you stay accountable to your transition planning. We work with small business owners who want to step away from a full-time management role but are struggle to figure out how to do it.

We help clients:

  • Put the right management systems in place to step away
  • Hire or promote the right management staff
  • Work with family members to build skills and create a succession plan
  • Gain confidence in the new management team
  • Create financial projections for the transition
  • Clarify their new role apart from the business

As small business owners, we pour our hearts (as well as lots of time and often lots of money) into our businesses to make them succeed. After that huge investment, we want to be remembered for our excellent products and valuable services. We want to see our businesses continue to flourish even after we step away from full-time management or are completely out of the picture. Creating a plan for how to transition will help make it happen, and can help make our desires a reality. Start now!

Hiring great professional support

In every stage of small business, whether you are an emerging or an established business owner, it is important to have trusted relationships with professionals who know you and can support and direct your business growth and long-term sustainability.

professional support

Why get professional support?

As a small business owner, you will hire outside experts for many reasons — for technology support, social media development, financial planning, bookkeeping, legal issues, personnel reviews, or to improve your business management. You may also benefit from contracting with a business advisor who can be an expert sounding board on business decision-making, holding you accountable and helping you to meet your goals.

What to consider first

First, you need to be clear about why you want help and what you want from any professional. What is your challenge or opportunity?

Next, identify the qualities that would make a professional a good match for you and your business. You want to find someone who:

  • Has skills and experience that exceed your needs
  • Is ethical, transparent and trustworthy
  • Has an approach that fits with your style
  • Is available when you need them

How to find “the right one”

It can be hard to know if someone will be a good match just from looking at a website. We recommend asking for referrals from people you know and trust, and who are also in small business. After getting referrals, though, you must still do your own due diligence! You are not just hiring someone for an hour of their time (even if for now that is all you need). You want to find someone who can be a great support person for your business for months and years to come.

Due diligence

Whether you find a professional from a Google search or a trusted colleague, you need to do your homework. When interviewing potential people to work with, it is important to:

  • Honestly represent who you are and what you are looking for
  • Ask lots of questions to verify this person has the expertise you need
  • Read their testimonials and/or reviews
  • Understand the terms of the relationship and any contract, including fees.
  • Pay careful attention to the questions he/she asks you. (They should be assessing if you are the right fit for them, too!)

(Once you are working with someone, be sure to continue to re-assess your needs and the professional relationship so that you get the outcomes desired as your business grows and your needs change.)

Finalizing the match

Take your time to make a good decision. You need to feel confident that this professional understands you and your needs, will be available when you need them, and will help you implement effective solutions. This person will be an essential business asset – giving you advice that you can use, and helping you to develop systems for your business. With the right support, you will be able to focus your energy on your clients, customers, employees and business goals… and see long-term positive results for your business!

Business skills and lessons learned

As a small business owner, you bring your know-how from past successes and failures to your business.  As the business grows, you continue to build on lessons learned and hone your business skills.  For many small business owners, “learning from doing” is the primary teacher.

Do your business skills match your business’ complexity?

I recently shared six tips on this topic and asked other small business owners about their experiences.  How did their business skills match the complexity of their business when they first opened?  How have they dealt with this tension throughout their business’ evolution?  What advice would they want to share with others?

In previous posts Heidi Gibson of The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen and Rachel Saunders of Blue Chair Fruit shared their stories with us.  Here are two more business owners tackling complex issues and leveraging their management skills.

Elizabeth Leu

business skills

When Elizabeth Leu started Fiddlesticks, a children’s boutique in Hayes Valley, she thought she was prepared.  She first worked for someone else and learned as much as she could about the retail business.  Elizabeth also took the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center Business Planning class.

She started her business with a solid foundation of hands-on experience, working for others, and thoughtful planning. Yet she couldn’t prepare herself for what it would actually feel like when she was completely responsible for her own business and all its complexities.

“As a small business owner you have to be the master of all in everything you do, and that’s not easy.  You have to wear ALL the hats and ideally, they should all fit.  I think management capacity is finding the correct fit with all those hats — and that’s hard!  It takes a lot of time and experience to get them all to fit.”

Elizabeth’s advice:

Learn as much as you can about every role in your business.

“You may love only a few of those hats but you have to figure out, master and tolerate them all — at least in the beginning until you can outsource.  Once you get strong enough to outsource, you still need to understand how it all works to keep a watchful eye on the whole operation.”

Stay positive and just keep going.

“I have worked very hard to grow my business and I have had some significant setbacks.  With every setback I can either choose to learn from it or become bitter and harbor frustrations.  I have worked hard to learn from them.  All of the setbacks were complex and difficult, especially because it was uncharted territory for me.  But I learned and I am still learning.  What is it they say, ‘two steps forward, one step back’? As long as you move forward, business complexity feels easier because you keep breaking it down, tackling it piece by piece.”

Claire Keane

business skills

Claire Keane, owner of the artisan, handcrafted sweet treats company Clairesquares, says that her business skills did not match the complexity of her business when she started.  She had a steep learning curve.  But Claire gained the skills she needed by seeking out specific business knowledge and support and her daily experiences in business brought many lessons learned.

Claire’s key steps for developing core business skills:

Write a business plan.

Claire took the 14-week Business Planning Class at the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center and wrote a business plan.  “To this day, I frequently remember key pointers from each class.”

Join an incubator.

Claire joined La Cocina’s Incubator Kitchen and received the help of that community and all their support services.

Attend lots of workshops.

Claire learned from others to increase her skills.  “Whenever there was a workshop relevant to my lack of skills, I made sure to attend it.  I was able to take tips from each training and apply it to my business immediately.”

Develop a support team.

Claire knew that she could not do it all alone.  “It was very helpful to have a business mentor, new business friends with similar start-up business pains and other friends and family to lean on for advice to get me through the learning curve.”

Keep at it, even through failure.

Ultimately it has been Claire’s tenacity and her perseverance that has made her business a success.  “No amount of workshops can prepare you for real world experience.  In the end, I learned from trying, failing, and trying again.”

Check out these additional tips on balancing business skills with business complexity.  What has worked for you and your business?

Defining success

No matter how we define success — our business skills must align with our business’ needs at each stage of growth.  The skills needed initially for an emerging business must deepen and expand as the business grows.  We must consistently and continually increase our management capacity to meet our business’ complexity.  And this can be a constant juggling act!

There is a lot we can learn from other small business owners.

I recently shared six key considerations for matching business skills with the complexity of a business. Then I shared advice from Heidi Gibson of The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen.  Now, here is some advice from another successful small business owner…

Rachel Saunders
Blue Chair Fruit


Rachel Saunders would describe herself as a complete neophyte when she started Blue Chair Fruit.  But, “what I lacked in experience, I had in determination.  Also, I had several bosses who were terrible managers and their negative examples helped orient me towards how I did NOT want to be!”

As Rachel’s business grew she realized that she had to pay attention to her business structure.  Instead of thinking about her business just in terms of herself or the people who worked for her at the moment, she started to focus on key roles and how they functioned together to support the business.  “Once I was able to step back and look at the staffing structure of my business, I was able to manage in a way that made more sense.”

Learning how to stream-line the business’ operations in general was also an important learning for Rachel.  “Big corporations can afford to have extra staff or waste, but a small or micro business cannot!  Over time, I was able to streamline things dramatically.  A leaner business is a stronger business, as long as everything is getting done!”

At one point Blue Chair Fruit Company was selling at eight farmers’ markets a week.  This was great exposure but ultimately not the most profitable sales channel.  “I realized that selling more product through a wholesale distributor, despite the lower profit margin, was actually a much cleaner, easier way to do business.  Since we scaled down to our three best farmers’ markets, our bottom line has improved!”

Rachel’s advice for success:

Take a step back and ask yourself if everything you are doing in your business is really necessary.

Determine what is actually working and worth the effort.  Scaling up is not always the answer.  Sometimes your business should be scaled back to increase profitability.  Look at your staffing.  Be clear about when and where you need the help.  How can jobs be structured to maximize efficiency?

Keep track and analyze your data.

Understand what activities lead to better returns.  Don’t commit yourself to a sales channel where you aren’t making any money.  Exposure alone isn’t good enough!

For Rachel and many other small business owners, business growth isn’t just about getting bigger.  It’s about developing the right business model and scale for success.  What does business success mean to you?

Check out Heidi Gibson’s advice for small business owners and my six tips for matching business skills to business complexity.

Business advice from the field

One of the most enjoyable moments during the Renaissance Business Planning Class is when we invite graduates back to the classroom to share their experiences and their business advice. They talk about their successes but also reveal their struggles and mistakes, and what they might have done differently. Their advice has a profound impact on the current students who are about to launch or expand enterprises of their own.

In that tradition, I asked some of my clients and past students to share their thoughts on a common growth challenge for small business owners: balancing business skills with the complexity of the business. I recently shared six key considerations on this topic. I was curious to hear from small business owners in the trenches.  How did their business skills match the complexity of their business when they first opened? How have they dealt with this tension throughout their business’ evolution? What advice would they want to share with others?

Here is one story…

Heidi Gibson and Nate Pollak
The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen

When Heidi and her partner Nate opened The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen they already had general business expertise, people management skills and financial management experience but they were new to the restaurant industry and lacked specific industry skills. Heidi and Nate’s approach was to be honest with themselves about their own abilities and get help. “We took a cold hard look at what we did and did not know how to do, and then we recruited advisers who could teach us, or hired staff who already had the skills we lacked.”

Heidi and Nate took a similar approach when opening their second location. They had never run a multi-unit operation before. They sought consulting from other multi-unit operators, and hired general managers for each store who had come from multi-unit backgrounds. “We tasked the managers in the stores with the responsibility of ensuring consistency across the stores, not just within their own. For us, hiring managers who brought experiences and skills to the table that we did not have ourselves was crucial.” With the added complexity of two locations, Heidi and Nate decided to outsource their bookkeeping, too. “We hired a bookkeeper who had deep experience with multi-unit restaurants, which brought more expertise to our operation and freed up our time to handle other issues.”

Just this month Heidi and Nate opened their third location and published a cookbook, Grilled Cheese Kitchen: Bread + Cheese + Everything in Between!

Heidi’s advice for other small business owners:


Be brutally honest about what you are good at and what you’re not.

For the things you are not good at, find a way to outsource them to someone who is good at them. This goes double for bookkeeping and accounting if you are in a high-volume, low-margin business.

Ask for help.

There are a lot of resources out there for growing business owners, including Renaissance, SBDC, ICA and most importantly, other business owners. People want to see you succeed and you’ll be surprised at how much they want to help.

Don’t skip financial forecasting.

Many small business owners underestimate their financial management needs and make mistakes with finances when starting or expanding a business. The worst-case scenario is running out of cash, and sometimes growing can really chew up cash. You’re in a much stronger position to secure financing before you run out of cash rather than waiting until you’re down to the wire. Take the time to forecast cash flow, accounting for your growth needs, and start investigating funding options early rather than late.

Check out these tips on balancing your business skills with your business’ complexity and stay tuned for more words of wisdom from small business owners!

How to Handle Business Complexity

A common issue for small business owners is the relationship between business skills or management capacity and the complexity of the business.


If you start a business slowly, you may be able to handle everything yourself.  If you only have one or two products or a limited customer/client base, your systems can be quite simple.  But…

  • Are you financially sustainable?
  • Can you generate enough capital or cash flow to reach break-even?
  • Is the business profitable?

To create a self-sufficient business, you may have to scale up or increase your business’ complexity.  And as you do so, your business skills and management capacity must keep pace.  Getting this balance right is an on-going issue.  To grow the small business, things get complicated… perhaps more than you can manage well.

  • Is it better to wait until you have all the skills to handle the increased complexity?
  • Do you go ahead and grow now and hope that you will develop the skills “on the fly” to be successful and sustainable?
  • Should you hire someone with more expertise to help you?

To manage your business’ increasing complexity, it is essential to focus on these six key areas:

1. Pay attention to the your weak links.

Your lack of skills as a small business owner in any key area of your business (management, operations, finances or marketing) can limit your success. There is a good chance you already know your areas of weakness. Cash flow management? Operational systems? Managing others? Take the time to identify a key weakness and make it a strength. (Think about a simple SWOT analysis.)

2. Improve your own business skills now.

Find the help you need NOW before your current knowledge limits your business. This may mean taking a class, reading a book, following relevant blogs, finding a peer mentor, or working with a business adviser or coach. The key is to put aside some regular time (every day, week or month) for your personal education.

3. Bring in others with the skills you need.

Being a small business owner does not mean that you have to know how to do everything yourself or that you have to do it all alone. Often the smartest approach is to hire someone who can do a particular business task better than you. This could be an outside professional or an employee with skills in the specific area of need, such as a bookkeeper to help you manage cash flow, or an employee good at sales. (It may only be a short-term need until your internal systems improve.)

4. Take a leadership role.

You may have started your business because you love making your product. But to create a successful business you may need to hire someone else who can make the product at a cheaper price. This could be an employee that works directly under your supervision, or an outside manufacturer or co-packer. (See these six tips when planning to hire employees and step into a leadership position.)

5. Put good systems in place.

It is challenging to take on larger projects, additional clients or more employees if you don’t have clear (and documented) systems. It is hard to hire someone else to help you if you need to take a lot of time to show them how to do the work because it is all in your head instead of written down. Without good systems, it is also harder to take a break!

6. Don’t stop planning.

Growing a business can sometimes feel like a set of spiral movements around and around—seemingly sending you one place and then another. Yet your business challenges and your careful responses to those challenges can create a great foundation for growth. A solid business plan can also help you predict and prepare for the complexities ahead. Remember, planning isn’t a one-time thing. It helps you to take the pulse of your business—over and over again. So, take the time to identify your weaknesses, challenges and opportunities and create a plan to take your business to the next level.

At Paul Terry & Associates, we work with many small businesses that are confronting the tension between management capacity and business complexity. Some clients are eager to grow their businesses but feel stuck, unsure how to reach the next level or increase sales given current skills or resources. Some clients are struggling to keep up with the demand for their products/services. Using an action planning approach, we work with small business owners to assess the current situation and create a road map to reach their goals. Our goal is to help clients prepare for the road ahead, manage the increasing complexities, and build businesses that are profitable and sustainable for the long term.