small business

006 - Employing staff – a simple matrix approach


Employing staff is hugely important for your business.

Most of us have conducted interviews and then battled to recall who was who from the meetings held throughout the day. 

It’s also common to suffer from the ‘recency effect’ – whoever we met last receives preferential treatment in our minds when comparing them to other candidates.

The interview we did at 8.30am is now a distant memory; and the interview we just completed was the best candidate by far!

This can happen even if we take detailed notes; and in some cases; these detailed notes can actually muddy our judgement more.

Employ the right staff and your customers will be happy and your profits will head in the right direction.   Get it wrong, and everyone suffers – your customers, your business, your sanity - and the badly placed employee.

Many business owners are bluffed by glowing resumes and letters of recommendation – don’t be one of these.  I find the old saying, “you can teach skills but not attitude”, holds true time after time, so recruit on attitude and you’ll be giving yourself the best chance of success.

Any potential employee comes to you with a set of characteristics – history, experience, training, skills, thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and so on.

Many of the deeper personality characteristics are hardwired in childhood, so you as the potential employer 10 or 20 years later, has little chance of changing these.

I’ve found the use of a simple, matrix gives you the best chance of finding the right employee/employer fit during the recruitment process.

This is the process: 

Every role has 5-7 key defining skills, traits and attributes a candidate must have to ensure the best opportunity of a great relationship between the two parties.  Ideally these skills, traits and attributes should come from a Position Description you have for the role.

Lets take an example of a sales person that operates away from the head office location.

Think of all of the qualities you would like in this new employee and list them.   These could be industry knowledge; communication skills, attention to detail, trustworthiness, work ethic, and so on.

Think of as many as you can, and brain-dump them on a page.  Also cross check your list with the Position Description and ensure all-important items are captured.

The items you have listed will be varied – some will be easier to quantify than others. 

It’s generally easy to determine through questioning if a candidate has the right experience; however it's significantly harder to qualify if they are trustworthy, work well with others, diligent, and so on.

These are the attitude or character traits that we are trying to ensure we recruit into our business; without being blinded by what we see in resumes, character references, and application letters.

You know your business better than anyone – what would you like to see the perfect employee do; be; act and say – all day - every day?  Shoot high.

Leave your list for an hour then come back to it.

Now number your list from 1 to however many traits and attributes you have.

Once you have sense-checked your list; captured the most important points; it’s time to drop them into a basic spreadsheet or table.

When you have completed an interview with a candidate, rate that candidate on each of the key criteria you have chosen out of 5.

If you have 5 criteria, each candidate can score a maximum of 25.

Once you have completed all interviews and are approaching making a decision, put the candidates in rank order to allow you to objectively evaluate against one another.

Often you will be able to exclude the last 1-2 candidates, leaving you a choice from the top interviewees, or the option to conduct 2nd interviews.

This is the simplified version of this recruitment/evaluation method, and will satisfy most recruitment processes. 

There is an additional level of evaluation that can be added by ‘weighting’ each trait or attribute if required.

Whilst basic, this matrix approach to comparing interviewees can help you achieve the following:

1.     Identify the traits that are most important to your business

2.     Focus on these traits during the interview process

3.     Avoid the phenomenon of the ‘recency effect’ where we forget the first meetings, and unfairly favour the later ones

4.     The process of identifying traits you are looking to recruit can act as a mini-cultural check of your business

Good luck and recruit well for the benefit of everyone.



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005 - Treat your customers well

005 - Mainbreak.jpeg

If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

Several years ago I had dealings with a business that delivered a service to thousand’s of customers each day.

This was a highly transactional business involving a service that was necessary but not exciting, and there was little focus on building relationships.

This lack of engagement from the supplier should have been the first warning sign.

The other indicator of concern was the pricing adjustment mechanisms used.

Upon commencement, new customers would be given a very low rate, but over time, these rates would be driven up through a bulk price-increase mechanism; sometimes multiple times in a 12 month period; and always accompanied by an impersonal letter that delivered a series of vague reasons behind the increase.

The reality was that these blanket price increases were rolled out when the business thought they could get away with it – there was little-to-no link to real cost increases being incurred, or any other legitimate reason for the prices rises.

The price changes were a simple profit-grab and were delivered in such a way, that before the customers knew it, they were paying exorbitant, inflated rates.

Most customers simply accepted these increases - some pushed back - but the Terms and Conditions (T&C’s) in the service contract were watertight, so most customers stayed under duress. 

However, those that really pushed back had the increases waived regularly.

As a result, there were long-term loyal customers on hugely inflated rates; and clients with zero loyalty continued to enjoy low entry-level rates.

The vast majority of customers were small/medium sized, owner-operators, who were highly stressed and time poor.

This was not right.

Treat your customers well – enjoy the interactions and relationships with them - and I guarantee the long-term benefits will outweigh the short-term profits obtained through a structure where mutual respect or a fair exchange is lacking.



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004 - Don't be afraid to raise your prices


Pricing is one of the trickier aspects of running a business.

Too high and the phone might not ring; too low and you’re selling yourself short and not maximising your returns.  

It’s affected by the return you need to cover costs and make a decent profit, as well as what the market is willing to pay.

There are many different thoughts on how to set pricing, but if you have a business that allows you to do it  (new or established), experimenting with prices can lead to the best outcome.

I met some business owners recently who were working harder than ever and not making any more profit.

They deliver a service.

Pricing had been increased in the last 12 months, but hadn’t been changed for several years before that.

We had 3 problems:

1.     Expenses incurred by the business had continued to rise (rent, electricity, consumables, wages, etc.)

2.     Customers had grown used to the under-market pricing they had been receiving  (and enjoying!)

3.     The owners were working harder than ever, and had no capacity to make more sales and address the profit-squeeze they were experiencing

I sat there; listening to these business owners who deliver a great service; suggest that maybe it wasn’t worth running the business anymore.

This business had been in operation for a little over 10 years – and now here we were – the owners despondent and disillusioned about those last 10 years - and with no positive future prospects.

So we worked out a strategy around supply and demand as influenced by price.

Demand wasn’t a problem – it was through the roof and causing a high level of stress and anxiety.  We needed to curb this demand slightly whilst getting a better return on the work being done.

So we published a new price-list to become effective in 60 days – we moved all pricing up to the next level, for example, $30 would be come $33; $50 would become $55.

We discussed the concept of adjusting prices to the point where demand just starts to fall away, and then you know you’ve hit the optimum price your market will pay for your product or service.

We published these prices with plenty of notice to allow customers to make an informed decision on whether to come back or not.

A quick check of the market indicated these new prices were still below market rate, so there wasn’t a problem.

We also agreed that pricing would be reviewed more often to ensure things didn’t get out of balance again in the future.

A relatively simple thing when viewed from the outside, but so many business owners are buried so deeply within their businesses, that they can easily overlook things that can make their business so much more successful – and enjoyable - to be a part of.

The owners were happy – I was happy (mainly because I’ll still get to use their service, albeit at a slightly higher price) and we get to tip the scales a little more into balance for everyone involved.



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002 - Funding my business - do I bootstrap, borrow, crowd-fund, sell equity - or is there another way?


Questions (and challenges!) around funding are common, and are often the biggest obstacle someone with a great business idea will face. We can borrow money from friends or family; borrow from a formal lender; crowd-fund; bootstrap (ie. fund) the business ourselves; sell equity (ie. a part or % of our business) - or we can get creative.

A good friend of mine had a great business idea, but was cash poor.

He'd found a product; negotiated pricing; created a wonderful brand; and built a website, along with a 1000 other tasks required to get his idea up and running.

Supporting a young family with two children, paying a mortgage, and living of an average salary whilst staring up his new venture meant that the business struggled to grow and take full advantage of opportunities that were coming its way.

He funded it himself to start with, then sold some equity in order to buy stock, however still couldn't quite get the cashflow and inventory to a point that would allow the business to take off.

Borrowing wasn't an option (at least not from a traditional lender), as the business was required to have 2 years of full financials before it would be considered for an overdraft or loan, which is a very common, and very frustrating reality for many small businesses.

As a result, the business lived hand-to-mouth. There were generous and heart-felt offers of loans from family and friends - but as is so often the case, the Founder still had doubts (mainly self-doubts which are extremely common), even though from every angle the brand and business he was building looked solid and a sure-thing.

A funding option that would be both effective and acceptable to the business owner seemed to not exist.

Then came an opportunity out of left-field, and one the founder hadn't necessarily expected, as it wasn't the normal way a new, small business finds the cash it needs to grow.  

A business associate in a similar market was launching a new venture, however had some shortcomings in terms of skills and experience with online marketing, e-commerce and social media.  On the other hand, he had a depth of experience in retail, stock management, and had access to funds.

There was the ability for one business to make up what the other business lacked, and so a partnership was formed.

We cant be good at everything - and so whilst not the most obvious way to fund a business, by finding a business partner with the right needs, structure, culture, experience and fit, a great outcome is being enjoyed by both.

Funding a business can be achieved through a variety of mechanisms and structures - just make sure you are realistic about the pros and cons of each method - and stay open to ways to achieve your desired outcome that you may not have thought of.



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