Hire and Retain the Best Employees

Hiring and keeping effective and engaged employees can be a challenge for many business owners. Great employees add value and contribute to the success of your company overall, and employee turnover costs business owners in both time and productivity. The following tips can help you find and keep the best talent.

1) Recruit on a continuous basis: Even if you don't have any existing openings, make sure you continue to recruit and interview prospective candidates that may be a good fit.

2) Ask the right interview questions: Ensure that you are not only asking questions about the candidate’s qualifications and previous job history, but that you are also making sure the prospective employee is a cultural fit for your organization.

3) Prioritize reference checks: Take the time to have conversations with each candidate’s professional and personal references to get additional insights on a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses that you may not gather from an interview.

4) Set expectations upfront: From your job posting to your employee’s first day, it’s important to clearly define the skills that are important to the job and what is expected from the position, both on a daily basis and long-term.

5) Establish a mentoring system: A tenured, successful current employee can help your new employee smoothly integrate into the workplace by helping with job-related tasks and by helping build rapport with co-workers. This not only benefits the employee, but also the employer as mentors can help eliminate unnecessary mistakes and lead to greater productivity.

6) Consider trial employment periods: A brief trial period can help ensure your new hires are a good fit for your company and also help new employees gain confidence and clarity that the job is right for them, leading to longer employee retention.

7) Empower your employees: Encourage decision-making and creativity among your employees to boost employee morale and job satisfaction. Providing interactive, educational opportunities and sharing your company goals can lead to more knowledgeable, engaged and happier employees.

8) Consistently assess performance: It’s important for you to take the time during a formal review process to let your employees know how they are doing against both overall business goals and their own performance goals. Provide positive and constructive feedback, and stress the importance of growth and development opportunities within your organization.

9) Conduct exit interviews: An exit interview can give you a deeper understanding of how to improve your management and company policies for current employees. Additionally, it affords you a final opportunity to retain a valuable employee who otherwise may have left your company. Listening to and acting upon feedback is critical in retaining valued employees.

Leveraging Social Media Effectively & Efficiently

While leveraging social media for your company can be intimidating and cumbersome, it also brings big benefits to help you engage with your customers, build your brand and increase your reach. The following tips can help you provide quality customer service, retain existing customers and acquire new customers through social media.

Set a Clear Strategy

Determine what you want to accomplish through social media. For example, you may want to drive sales, build your brand, acquire new leads or engage with existing customers. Identify who you want to reach and how you will measure results.

Choose the Right Platform

It’s hard to know where to begin with so many different options. Take the time to research the popular social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, etc.) and find out where your customers are and where relevant conversations to your company or industry are already happening. Consider the different formats on each medium. If your company is B2B-focused, spend your time on LinkedIn engaging in forums related to your industry. If you have powerful images related to your company, share them on Facebook or Instagram.

Create a Dialogue

Do not use social media tools to just push out your brand messages and promotions. Instead, use your networks as an opportunity to join a conversation that is already taking place or to start a relevant and interesting conversation. Engaging and communicating directly to your customers can lead to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Share Quality and Original Content

From creating your own content to sharing relevant news stories or blog posts, it’s important to build your social media presence with content your customers are interested in and can engage in. Quality content can boost your creditability and position you as a valuable resource and industry leader.

Integrate Social Media With Other Marketing Efforts

Social media is a key component for integrated marketing and can help boost email marketing, direct mail and other marketing efforts. A multi-faceted campaign is a necessity in today’s marketplace and each channel can help reinforce the others.

Incorporate Social Media Into Your Daily Routine

To make social media work for your business effectively and consistently, dedicate at least 15 minutes each day to engage with your customers. Consider recruiting a set group of employees who can also contribute to your social media presences.

How U.S. Small Business Administration Loans Can Benefit You

The Small Business Administration (SBA) exists to help small businesses grow and offers multiple programs to provide financial assistance to small businesses to meet key financing needs, including debt refinancing, purchase of assets and providing permanent or short-term working capital. U.S. Small Business Administration loans can be a great opportunity for recently established or rapidly growing companies.

What can an SBA loan do for my business?

For rapidly growing companies in need of capital, an SBA loan can be an excellent option. The SBA sets the guidelines for its loans and its partners, including lenders, community development organizations and micro-lending organizations, offering the SBA guaranteed-loans to small business owners. With higher loan-to-value ratios and longer finance terms than other loan options, SBA loans can provide capital to purchase or renovate real estate, acquire fixed assets or fund ongoing operational needs.

Is my business eligible?

To apply for an SBA loan, your business must be for-profit and owner-occupied. Both existing and start-up companies are accepted. The business must also be engaged in or propose to do business in the United States and be able to demonstrate a need for the loan proceeds using the funds for a sound business purpose. Visit SBA.gov for more eligibility requirements and a list of ineligible businesses.

What do I need to apply?

To begin the loan application process, you should first reach out to your lender. Castle Bank is an authorized SBA Preferred lender and we make our own credit decisions in-house to expedite the approval process. To assess your eligibility, you will need to provide a personal background and financial statement. You will need to provide income tax returns, loan application history and business financial statements, including a Profit and Loss Statement, to demonstrate your ability to repay the loan. A list of names and addresses of any subsidiaries and affiliates as well as your original business license or certificate is also required. You will also need to provide a brief business overview and history, personal resumes for each principal, and your explanation of why an SBA loan is needed and how it will help the business.

To learn more and get started on the process, visit a branch near you to speak with a Castle Bank lending professional. Castle Bank has the experience and expertise you can rely on to help you grow and strengthen your small business.

Cybersecurity - Are You Protected?

At Castle Bank, we're committed to serving you and to the confidentiality of your records with us. We've created an Online Security Center for corporate customers like you – where you can find resources to ensure your information is protected. We believe the best way to avoid a cybersecurity threat is to maintain a strong relationship with your financial institution. We are here to assist you and our mission is to deliver the best experience possible for you by protecting you and your information.

Internet Safety and Security Fundamentals: Focus on Passwords

Passwords provide the first line of defense against unauthorized access to your computer or device. Weak passwords make it easier for hackers to access your computer and network. Be sure to lock all your devices, screensavers, electronic file storage, and online accounts with passwords, passphrases, or a personal identification number (PIN).

Does your password have the following characteristics?

  • It is unique on each account or device containing personal or business data, and it is changed regularly
  • Use at least eight characters
  • Don't use personal or public information, such as your real name, SSN, company name, or a complete dictionary word in your password or phrase
  • Use upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols (!, @, #, $, %, etc.) where permitted
  • It is never disclosed or shared with co-workers or friends
  • It is changed at regular intervals, 90 days at the latest across all your important accounts and devices

More Resources for Your Business:

How to Break Through 5 Common Barriers to Small Business Growth

If you are ready to take your business to the next level it is helpful to put a strategic plan in place. Here are some strategies that can help you break through some of the common barriers to growth that many small businesses experience.

1. Watch the indicators for growth
Before you embark on any growth strategy, step back and take a look at some key business indicators to help you decide whether you are actually ready for growth!

Are you successful in a current market and want to open a new location? Are you about to clinch a big sales deal? Is your sales pipeline full? Is product development success opening the door to new opportunities?

These are all important indicators that will drive growth and should be constantly monitored to ensure you are able to effectively prepare for that growth. Study your pipeline, conversion rates and market trends in dashboard form every day.

2. Keep one eye on your competition, but always think big picture
Underpinning any growth strategy should be a deep knowledge of where you stand against your competition. A simple SWOT analysis, reviewed quarterly, can help you determine where you fit in relation to your competitors and areas of opportunity to exploit your strengths and their weaknesses. Likewise, it will give you a good view of any threats to your growth and guide you towards developing a plan to fix or compensate for these.

Then take a look at your market – your potential customers. Do some market analysis to find out how your customers view your business and what they see in the competition that would make them buy from them instead of you.

Look for ways to differentiate yourself – how does your competition position itself in the marketplace relative to your business? How does your business/product/service contrast with theirs? Why would a customer buy from you and not them? The answers to these questions will help you see your strengths, exploit market opportunities, and execute a tactical plan to get ahead in areas that you don’t measure up to the competition.

3. Always be recruiting talent
Setting the stage for growth has to involve superstar employees. Even if you can't afford to right now – keep looking for talent and bring them on part-time or on a contract or hourly basis. Another option that can help guide your growth is to work with an organization like SCORE. SCORE provides free business mentoring services and can partner you with someone with business management experience to help you steer your business on a path to growth. Whether you need help across the entire business, or are looking for help with functions such as business planning or marketing, SCORE can pair you with a mentor for free.

4. Constantly assess risk
If there's one thing being a manager or business owner teaches us all, it's that we must always anticipate and manage risk. Look ahead—what variables could occur that might compromise or damage your growth plans? These could be supply chain issues, hiring and training problems, competitive activity, cash flow, or patent infringements. Include these in your SWOT analysis and develop a plan to prevent or manage any issues.

5. The bottom line
If there’s a common thread here, it’s the importance of being prepared. This, of course, means having a plan. Never embark on a growth strategy without a plan. It doesn’t have to be encyclopedic, but it should contain the key elements discussed above. Break your plan down into chunks – have one strategic plan that contains your market findings and helps inform where you are and where you want to be. Then assemble smaller plans. For example, have a day-to-day operations plan, a hiring plan and a marketing plan, each of which lay out the tactics for using your business resources to accomplish your strategy.

If you don't have a business plan, check out SBA's Build your Business Plan Tool. This step-by-step online tool guides you through the process of creating an actionable plan.

Find a Business Mentor

Every stage of running your business, from starting to growing, requires strategic decisions. Finding a business mentor who understands your industry and who can offer valuable advice can be a tremendous asset to your business.

What is a mentor?
A mentor is someone who has been down the same path you're taking. He or she is experienced, successful and willing to provide advice and guidance — for no real personal gain. But how do you find a mentor?

Here are some steps for finding and working with a mentor for your new small business venture.

1. Government-Sponsored Mentor Organizations
The government offers a great deal of free resources and services to support small business owners, both online and in person:

  • SCORE Mentors: Sponsored by SBA, SCORE provides free and confidential counseling, mentoring and advice to small business owners nationwide via a network of business executives, leaders and volunteers.
  • Small Business Development Centers: SBDCs provide management assistance to current and prospective small business owners. SBDC services include financial counseling, marketing advice and management guidance. Some SBDCs provide specialized assistance with information technology, exporting or manufacturing. SBDCs are partnerships primarily between the government and colleges, administered by SBA.
  • Women's Business Centers: WBCs provides business training and counseling with the unique needs of women entrepreneurs in mind. WBCs are a national network of nearly 100 educational centers designed to support women who want to start and grow small businesses.
  • Veteran’s Business Outreach Centers: VBOCs provide veterans with entrepreneurial development services such as business training, counseling and mentoring.
  • Minority Business Development Agency: MBDA advisors help minority business owners gain access to capital, contracts, market research and general business consulting.
  • Additional federal counseling programs can be found on Business.USA.gov.

2. Trade Associations
Many trade associations operate mentor-protégé programs that provide guidance to help you build a business. These mentoring programs are often conducted through a combination of formal one-on-one mentoring sessions and group networking with fellow protégés. Business owners might be connected with multiple mentors for a more holistic experience.

Most industries are represented by trade associations. If you need help finding a trade association, consult your local SBA district office.

3. Mentoring for Government Contractors
If your business plans to sell products and services to the federal government, you may need specialized mentorship. The General Services Administration (GSA) offers a Mentor-Protégé Program that is specifically designed to encourage prime contractors to help small businesses participate in government contracting.

4. Look to Your Network
Who do you know? Do you have a previous boss who inspired you or a friend who is a successful business owner? Ask that person to be your mentor, and learn from his or her advice and best practices. Just be prepared to share with them why you chose them in particular, your goals and what you are looking for from them.

5. Working with a Mentor
If you decide to work with a mentoring organization, ensure there is a formal mentor-protégé structure in place. If you work with an individual, you’ll need to establish a mutually beneficial, structured relationship. Remember these tips about mentoring:

  • Be organized, prepared and consistent. Make sure you are respectful of your mentor’s time.
  • Do not expect your mentor to run your business for you or make decisions for you. You should have realistic expectations about what a mentor can provide you.
  • Plan your mentoring sessions in advance. These could be as simple as having a one-on-one meeting once a month to discuss business goals, obstacles and regulatory requirements that you don’t understand.
  • Take notes, create action items and be prepared to review progress during your next session.
  • Thank your mentor for his or her time and assistance with your business decision-making skills.

Provided by: SBA.gov