Small Biz Advice: How to Be the Boss



Holly Howard runs Ask Holly How, a small business consulting company based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn that works with a wide variety of businesses from restaurants to retail to art studios and pretty much everything in between. Her clients report increased income and profit, decreased expenses and a significantly better quality of life. Holly heads up the Small Business Book Club at McNally Jackson Books.

Want valuable insight into how to grow your business?  Holly hosts FREE 30 minute strategy sessions at The Yard in Williamsburg.  Email her to set up a time or to ask a question for the next Ask Holly How.

Dear Holly,

I’m a photographer who often works with many assistants on the set.  I try to set a relaxed tone in the working environment, but lately I feel like everyone is taking advantage of that.  Professionalism is really starting to slip, and the client is suddenly holding me accountable to a much higher standard.  I feel like my staff is taking advantage of the fact that I’m a “nice” boss and I haven’t laid out a ton of rules.  I fear that it’s going to be a real challenge to change.

It’s stressing me out because the client is not always pleased with the perceived lack of professionalism on set.  Do you have any advice on how I can institute some rules without taking the fun out of the working environment?


Professional Pushover

Dear Professional,

That’s a common mistake I see all the time in small businesses.  Many owners believe that in order to be “liked” as a boss that they shouldn’t make too many demands on their staff.  They assume that people should use common sense and behave appropriately.  What I tell all business owners is that common sense is a myth.  It does not exist and the sooner you embrace this, the faster you can make change and actually enjoy being in charge.

So here’s what you can do now to turn this messy, stressful situation around.  First, start small. You shouldn’t show up tomorrow and throw out 20 new rules for the workday.  Change is most effective when it is gradual.  Recognize that change is a process and you can start with a few simple changes and unveil new rules over the course of the next month.  Take time to set your strategy so you know where you are going and where you’ll end up.

Most importantly, give it purpose.  Never issue new rules without discussing the reasons for the rules.  “Because I said so” does not work in the workforce.  (Or in life, really).  You have to be able to show how these rules will benefit everyone involved, including the assistants.  Employees actually value structure and direction as long as it’s delivered in a way that is fair and with purpose.

Finally, be consistent!  Change is definitely the hardest process you’ll go through as a business owner, and you should never hold anyone to standards that you yourself cannot uphold.  So know that if you are going to set rules, you have to abide by them as well.  “Do as I say not as I do” is also not a good motto in business.  Remain consistent with accountability, and you’ll see a new work environment in no time.

Good luck with this!  Like I said before, it’s one of the most challenging processes for a business owner to maneuver.  But, it’s what separates truly successful businesses from those that just get by!



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