This two-part post started with a quick discussion of some of the small business resources I have used throughout my years as a business owner - books, blogs, people, etc. The goal has been to learn more about all the aspects of the business, determine my own strengths and weaknesses, and improve as a manager and business owner. As the business grows and we continue to add new people, create new products, and take more responsibility for the development and sales cycles, there is always something new to learn - for both me and the staff.
One question that should be considered as well is, "How does the staff learn about business?" They have come on board from any number of different backgrounds. For us, we have men and women of different races, ages, experience, education, etc. Some have owned their own businesses or managed large organizations; some were 23 years old and fresh from college; some are on their second careers. We encourage everyone to attend training seminars, workshops, webinars, tradeshows and conferences, but those are often related to their jobs. It may be technical training on a specific software application or a webinar for the new CRM software, but what about learning about business itself?
In my opinion, small business learning starts with the small business owner. Unfortunately, in my experience, many small business owners are unwilling or unable to talk about business with their employees. There is almost a jealous guarding of all things "business related." I want my employees excited about the business, and dedicated to it. When you have only a small group of people working for you, you need them to understand how their contributions affect the business.
We have done a few things here at Big Bang in order to bring everyone into the fold. First, I will answer virtually any question. Whether it relates to legal questions, banking issues, sales, insurance renewals - it doesn't matter. There is nothing off limits, and we let people know that when we hire them. They are expected to ask questions and to challenge me and each other.
The second thing I try to do is regularly tell the staff what's going on, both verbally and in print. Consequently, everyone know where sales are at for the month, or how close we are to exceeding the previous year's sales. I do a brief email newsletter every one to two months that summarizes everything that's going on in the business - Sales, Marketing, Development, Support, profitability, travel and construction schedules, etc. I can't take credit for this idea - blame it on the business blogs - but it seems to be very well received.
Finally - and this will sound odd - everyone here knows that they are welcome to leave at any time for a new opportunity. I want and need employees that are informed, excited, knowledgeable, curious, ambitious, opportunistic, dedicated and well trained. Hiring people, keeping them ignorant and being afraid they will leave is a colossal mistake. I would hate to lose any of the staff here, but Big Bang and the UIU would not exist if I had not learned enough to step out on my own. I want the same opportunities for my employees and they deserve it.