Small business owners have questions. The Biz Wiz has answers.
As a business owner, people assume that making tough choices comes naturally to you. But I know your secret: sometimes, you wish you had an advisor, confidant or psychic who could lay out the answers for you. While I don’t have a crystal ball (yet), my years of high-level business experience and professional networking skills can help steer you in the right direction. Do you have a pressing business question or dilemma that you don’t trust Google to answer? The Biz Wiz offers quarterly advice on workplace dramas and traumas. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Biz Wiz:
It’s never fun to receive a bad review, but the one-star review I discovered on my business’s Yelp page a few weeks ago is particularly disturbing. The review called out one of my long-time employees, “Max,” by name, saying that not only did he mess up a customer’s order, but when they called him on it, he told the customer to go … hug a cactus. But the thing is, I’ve never had an issue with Max before, not in the six-plus years I’ve worked with him. But knowing that he’s having some difficulties in his personal life right now, should I assume that the customer is telling the truth? Or do I give my coworker – and friend – the benefit of the doubt?
As is often the case with most posts on social media, public perception ends up trumping the truth. Whether or not Max actually lost it on a customer doesn’t matter now since the damage has already been done. What does matter is how you address the accusation online.
Regardless of the facts, you need to respond to the customer’s review with a sincere apology and a promise that action is being taken to address the situation. You might go so far as to offer them a full refund or leave your personal email address if they wish to discuss the situation in more detail. For more advice on responding to negative reviews, see page X. This will assure the customer that their complaint has been heard and validated and also will give you the opportunity to reposition your business as one that cares about its customers’ satisfaction.
As for Max, you should check in: how is he really? It sounds like you two have a close working relationship, so my advice would be to approach him privately but directly. Are the personal difficulties he’s battling interfering with his work, and, if so, can you accommodate more flexible hours for him or subsidize counseling? Or, if the customer’s word holds true, is it worth keeping him on the team right now, knowing that he might snap? There’s no easy answer, but the sign of a good leader is being able to make tough choices that will ultimately benefit your business.
Best of luck,
The Biz Wiz
Dear Biz Wiz:
I know that this is a last-minute submission, but I’m hoping you can write me an answer in the next issue of LOCAL Biz. I really need your help. Last week one of my star employees came to me asking for a raise. They’ve met and exceeded all of my expectations over the last year, and my first inclination would be to say a resounding “YES!” However, our budget is especially tight right now, and I don’t think I can give this employee the amount they’re asking for – no matter how much they deserve it. And worse, they’ve indicated that they may start exploring other job opportunities if they don’t receive a raise. What should I do?
I hate to say it, but you have two options, and both will require you to sacrifice something: either you lose money, or you lose a great employee. This is one of those situations where you simply can’t have it both ways. My advice would be to conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine which is worth more. If you choose to give your employee a raise, is there a way you can recoup that money, even if it requires working some overtime on your part? Or would the cost be detrimental to your business? And if you can’t afford to give them a raise, how much would your business suffer without their time, talent and expertise? Quantifying (and visualizing) the cost of each option may help you make a more informed decision, though I can’t promise it will be an easy one. And if your employee does apply for other jobs, don’t stand in their way. It’s well within their right to find employment that meets their current financial needs, even if they’ll be missed.
All the best,
The Biz Wiz
Dear Biz Wiz:
I’m an executive assistant, and working with my most recent client, “Cheryl,” has been both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, Cheryl has become my biggest client yet and has sent me several referrals over the three weeks I’ve been working for her. But on the other hand, Cheryl seems to have mistaken herself for not just being my biggest client, but my only client. I get emails and texts from her at all hours, assignments that are not typically within my range of services and near-constant requests for updates – even on projects I’ve only just started. But because of her and her referrals, I’ve been able to add another person to my team and start growing my business, so I don’t want to risk losing her as a client. Is there a way I can politely remind Cheryl that I have other responsibilities, or should I keep doing what she asks, whenever she asks it?
I’m with you: it sounds like Cheryl is definitely a PITA client. But as you clearly know, some PITA clients are worth indulging for the business they bring. For all of her antics and asks, it sounds like Cheryl has made a significant – and positive – difference to your business, so I wouldn’t cut her loose just yet. Instead, I’d try to clarify your expectations of each other now (before things get worse).
Almost everyone in the client services industry has weathered high-maintenance clients before, and most of those situations could have been avoided or resolved by getting everything in writing. The next time Cheryl comes to you with a project, draft a clear, specific timeline that you can refer her to – assuming you’re willing to take the project at all. If not, you’re well within your rights to explain to her that you typically don’t do that kind of work (bonus points for “See our signed services agreement”), or that you would be willing to take on the additional project for an added fee. Know your worth, and don’t be shy about making it known to other people as well.
You’ve got this,
The Biz Wiz
Dear Biz Wiz:
I don’t want my business copy to come off as generic or ingenuous, but using ChatGPT could seriously cut down on the time I spend coming up with social media captions, blog posts, etc. Should I start using ChatGPT for my marketing efforts?
As an AI language model, ChatGPT can certainly generate marketing content for you. However, whether you should have it write your marketing content depends on various factors. First, consider the tone and style of your brand. If your brand’s voice is formal and serious, and your target audience consists of professionals, then using a conversational tone generated by an AI may not be the best fit. Second, consider the complexity of the content. AI language models are great at generating coherent sentences, but they may not be able to create content that requires expert knowledge in a particular industry or topic. Third, consider your goals for the marketing content. If you need quick and generic content, then AI-generated content could be a great option. However, if you need content that is tailored to your specific audience or that addresses a specific pain point or need, then it may be better to have a human writer create the content.
Hold up, though: I did not write the paragraph above. ChatGPT did, though the program did a decent job of explaining three of the factors that you should weigh while deciding whether or not to turn to the program for help. While ChatGPT draws from thousands of online sources to craft believable responses, the AI program does have its limitations. Without incredibly specific prompts (which can take just as much time to come up with as the copy itself), the text it generates may not be right for your brand or niche. And when I say that the copy may not be right for you, I’m talking about more than just the content of the program’s responses. Most of what ChatGPT writes reads like a high school-style five-paragraph essay, which is about as compelling as it sounds.
My suggestion would be to use ChatGPT for “deep background” work only, as the program is fairly effective at suggesting new content ideas and breaking down complex topics, but you should write the public-facing copy yourself. Not only will the final product be true to your brand voice and writing style, but it will likely be more relevant to your business overall. If you’re truly pressed for time (or are sick of staring at blank documents), consider outsourcing your marketing and copy writing to an agency.
Dear Biz Wiz:
One of our longtime clients wants us to hire her son for our summer internship. We’ve met her son on multiple occasions (let’s call him James), and while he seems like a nice young man, we’d rather go with an applicant who’s more qualified and has a clear interest in our industry. The problem is, our client keeps ending emails with lines like, “James is really looking forward to this summer!” as if we’ve already hired him. How do we get out of this?
I think the technical term for what you’re in right now is a “sticky situation.” From the way I see it, you have two clear options to choose from:
You hire James as your summer intern, allow him to coast by in the program for a month or two, and then he (presumably) goes back to school. Sure, you could have hired a star applicant instead and found a potential future employee, but your long-time client stays happy. The problem? She may expect you to hire James back in the future or let her friends know about your not-so-selective summer internship.
You have a tough conversation with your client and tell her that you’re planning to hire someone else. While you’ll likely get more of your time and money’s worth out of an intern who’s truly qualified and committed to the position, you risk burning a bridge that likely can’t be rebuilt. At least, not in the same way it was before.
Clearly, both options have their advantages and drawbacks. Before you choose which path to take, I would start by determining how valuable your summer intern is to your team. If you rely on your annual intern to take some of the load off your team (allowing you to spend a weekend away for once), then I would consider whom you hire carefully. But if you offer the program as a kindness to help build young professionals’ resumes, then maybe taking the path of least resistance isn’t such a bad idea.
Keep me posted.
Dear Biz Wiz:
My grandpa used to say that “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about at all,” but I’m not sure that’s true. I work in a small-ish office, and while I consider most of my coworkers to be personal friends, one of the newest additions to our team, “Janice,” is getting a little too close for comfort. Janice has practically made herself the office Gossip Girl, spreading around all-too-personal information that, in my opinion, isn’t appropriate for the workplace. How do I know she’s doing this? Because she’s brought up some heavily editorialized tidbits about my other coworkers’ lives with me before, so I can only imagine what she’s saying to them about me. One time, I even caught her lingering just outside my office door while I was taking a personal call. When I asked if she needed something, she look embarrassed and had a weak explanation as to why she was there. Should I confront Janice, or let her keep the rumor mill churning?
There will always be people who speculate about their coworkers’ lives, but when it turns into rumor-mongering or outright lies, gossip in the workplace can wreck reputations and create an uncomfortable situation for everyone. Yes, I do think you should confront Janice about her obvious lack of boundaries, but there is an artful way to do it so that you don’t get burned.
The first step is to shut down the conversation the next time she brings up something personal about your coworkers. You can do this by saying something like, “I’d rather not discuss John Doe’s personal life without him present, and I’d rather keep our conversations professional from now on.” If she doesn’t take the hint and continues to talk about you and your coworkers behind each other’s backs, resist the urge to come charging out of the gate and accost her in the break room. While she might deserve a firm “talking to” (as we say here in the South), it’s not your place to reprimand her, and doing so might only give her cause to speak poorly of you. Instead, take the issue directly to your supervisor (if applicable) or to an HR professional who can help you resolve the issue.
Best of luck.
Dear Biz Wiz:
I think an employee is stealing from me, and I’m not sure how to handle it. I say “think” because I haven’t caught them in the act, but there have been one too many missing bills from the register on their watch to call it a coincidence. Should I confront them about my suspicions or wait until I have more evidence, knowing that my business is at risk for further theft? And if I should confront them, what do I say? This person has worked for me for almost five years, and I would hate to ruin a relationship over nothing.
I’ll start by saying how sorry I am that you’ve been put in this predicament in the first place. I’ve seen how frustrating and, frankly, disheartening, it can be to realize that someone you’ve relied on is no longer (or perhaps never was) worthy of your trust.
Trust your instinct to wait until you have clear, indisputable evidence that this employee is stealing before you confront them. The word “theft” is a legal landmine in itself, and the last thing you want is for this employee to bring a defamation case against you if they’re innocent. Situations like these need to be handled with almost surgical precision.
Consider installing discrete security cameras angled toward the register, or ask other employees to work shifts with the person in question (without revealing your suspicions, of course). Document every bit of evidence you have – from your business’s financial discrepancies to complaints from fellow employees – in a secure file. Once you feel you have enough documentation, seek help from outside experts. Use human resource managers, forensic auditors or law enforcement to help you develop a plan to interview and confront the employee regarding the behavior.
Hindsight is 20/20, so it may be wise to draft an official company policy to reference if future situations like this one arise.
Wishing you the best of luck.
Dear Biz Wiz:
We keep hearing that we should launch a podcast because it’s “good for business,” but it seems like a lot of work for little return. What do you think?
If your friends are telling you to start a podcast for your business, then guess what? You have good friends.
Podcasts are nothing new, but they’re often overlooked as a way to diversify your brand’s digital presence or to drive traffic to your business. Sharing more about your business’s niche – or your expertise – through a podcast can help you establish yourself as an expert, reach new audiences and create community connections by interviewing guest speakers on your show.
Sure, recording and editing a 20-plus-minute episode will take some extra effort on your part, but keep in mind that (a) you can repurpose your podcast content on social media, and (b) the benefits listed above are worth sacrificing an hour that would otherwise be spent watching Netflix.
We don’t want to miss an episode, so be sure to email (email@example.com) or DM (@LocalBizSC) the link to your new show. You never know – we might just feature your podcast in a future issue.
Charging my earbuds now.
Dear Biz Wiz:
My competitor is badmouthing me on social media, and I’m worried that it’s hurting my business. They’ve even started replying to comments on my posts with things like, “FYI, they’re overpriced. DM us for 20 percent off X service!” How can I make them stop?
I’m going to take a line out of every parent’s middle school playbook: “Remember, bullies are mean because they’re insecure.” The longer you’ve been in business, the more likely it is that jealous competitors will try to come at you with below-the-belt attacks.
If you sling mud in return, you’ll appear just as negative, and your customers may assume that what your competitor is saying is true. They may be liars, but you don’t need to point that out. Instead remain professional, and correct what they say without attacking them for saying it. And as uncomfortable as it sounds, it may be worth trying to get to know your competitor. Extending an olive branch demonstrates good faith and a willingness to collaborate – qualities customers are likely to notice.
While not all nasty comments are actionable, lies that fall into the category of libel (damaging lies in print) or slander (spoken words) are grounds for a lawsuit. Something like, “A customer of theirs once told me they found a nail inside of their cheeseburger,” would be slanderous if you can prove that it’s a lie. If your competitor continues to disparage you, online or off, you maybe be within your rights to take them to court. But a word of warning: a case like this might garner media attention as well.
Rooting for you in the comments section.