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How entrepreneurs benefit from hands-on management

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So many people love small businesses because they have that homey feel. On a Saturday morning in a locally owned coffee shop, we can sit and enjoy our java. Likely, that mug was served by someone we have come to know, probably even like.

As we sit with our Kindles, iPads, (or even a book or something made of paper) we’re not likely contemplating the hourly wage of the beloved barista, whether or not he or she has health coverage, how comfortable (or uncomfortable) their life outside of the coffee shop is, or whether they have children or parents to care for.

Leadership in Small Business

But there is a good chance that if we’ve been patrons of a small business for any real length of time, we’ve noticed when the owner or manager walks into the shop. Does the mood change? Does it ripple throughout the entire coffee shop? Is it a good mood, or does it feel like dad just pulled into the driveway after a bad report card popped up in the mailbox?

If you’re the manager or owner of a small business, there’s something you need to know: humility is an action verb. Not only will your employees notice and be motivated by your attitude and willingness to hop on the espresso machine when they’re in the weeds, all those patrons sipping half-caffeine soy lattes will take notice, and it motivates them to stick around too.

Being hands-on is critical in small business. There’s not enough employees to delegate to.

Owners typically have to run a tight ship and drive sales, operations and administration. Many manage their accounting software to monitor daily sales numbers and see if these pace with expenses.

Cash flow is the lifeblood of any business, and for small business owners, losing control of this critical area often leads to bankruptcy.

Case Study: Pizza Shop

Let’s look at one scenario: A one-off pizzeria in a town with a population of 100,000 has a good chance at lots of competition. Because pizza parlors and corporate pizza chains are everywhere we go, it’s easy to go out of business fast. But if your pizza joint is a sit-down restaurant, and your manager is screaming insults across the kitchen and food prep area, people take notice—and will often pass up the best pie in town to avoid the hostile environment.

Likewise, if your delivery guy is always showing up out of breath and apologizing, the pizza is cold and the car in a customer’s driveway is a 1991 Camry, what is really going on here? Management has likely spread the drivers too thin, isn’t paying them a living wage, the orders are disorganized, and employees can’t get things under control—in the shop or at home.

Disorganization is bad, but it can usually be resolved in a timely manner for most small to medium sized businesses. But when it comes to angry managers and belligerent business owners, turnover is high, and patrons will notice it as fast as your payroll company.

Customer and Employee Service

If you’re reading this and it sounds like an email an employee might write about you, time to hang up the gorilla dust. Do the right thing—serve your employees and they will serve your patrons, and this serves your bank account a lot better than trying to be right all the time.

Remember the infamous Paul Ryan campaign foible of “rolling up the shirt sleeves” to wash the pots and pans at a soup kitchen for a photo op? Don’t do that. But do the dishes. Really do them.

When things get backed up, remember it’s good fortune—without so much business, there wouldn’t be any dishes to clean. And the bigger payoff is better than a photo op—it’s an actual opportunity to show both employees and patrons that you are right there in the trenches, making things happen, and just as invested in keeping people happy on both sides of the counter as you are in making money.

Fighting Fires

If you’re a small business owner interviewing managers, ask them what they’d be willing to do when the brown matter hits the ventilator. Don’t fill in the blanks for them; create an interview process that lets them tell you about the kind of person (not just manager) they are.

When you own a small business and you want to get away from the shop once in a while, the person at the helm has to be willing to unclog drains, empty trashcans, do the dishes, and mop up milkshakes just like anyone else on the clock.

When the prep cook looks out into the dining area and sees his boss with a mop in his hand, the people eating pizza see it too. Morale: boosted. Patrons: impressed. And your local brand is established: Good guys who value employees, the level of service, and the kind of atmosphere you’re serving up with those pies.

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