Taking Advantage of Slooow Times
Unless you just woke up from a decade-long nap, and are still rubbing your eyes, you recognize that we are in a very difficult economic situation. Although the recession is apparently over (tell that to shop owners on Pearl Street in Boulder), hiring is minimal, extravagances are history, and budgets are being whittled to the bone.
Empty shops, echoing warehouses, and vacant desks are easy to find; there is no sugarcoating that. However, with a healthy focus on the opportunities rarely found except in tough times, business owners can make good use of the lull.
Three areas come to mind: protecting your soft assets, shoring up staff agreements and policy, and cutting fat.
Many businesses, when they contract for work involving creativity, simply find a talented artist or craftsman, discuss the price and the work to be done, and call it good. However, it can make sense to take it a step further, so that not only does the company possess the end product (whether it be computer code, an animated character, costume / uniform design, etc.), they own all rights to it. By having an attorney draft an effective “ work-for-hire” agreement , the business owner will have a nice tool to ensure that the company who paid for the design owns the design. A work-for-hire agreement simply states that the hired artist / craftsman is being hired to create content for the company, shall be paid for same, and that the finished content / design product belongs exclusively to the company. Otherwise, the artist / craftsman could conceivably develop the design, claim it for their own, and re-use or re-sell it to others, including the competition.
Another area often overlooked in the hustle-bustle is trade secrets. When things are cooking and you don’t have a moment to breath, it’s easy to miss something as basic as trade secrets. These might include customer lists, price lists and even business methodologies. When reviewing your documents, it probably makes sense to look at the employment documents that your employees sign to see if there is a provision for protecting these valuable assets. To determine if your employment agreements should address trade secrets , ask yourself “Would my company be harmed if an employee left and then kept / used our customer list, price list, or business methodology”?
Speaking of reviewing things, slow times may offer the best opportunity to review documents relating to your most important assets; your employees. In addition to making sure that your trade secrets stay safe, secure and where they belong (with you!), many CEO’s ensure that they have confidentiality agreements with all their hires; even warehouse workers and temps may have access to information you would just as soon keep in house.
Additionally, if your business doesn’t have a formal and comprehensive “No Discrimination, No Harassment” policy in place, what better time to prepare one? As you probably know, discrimination based on race, age, gender and a few other categories are federal offenses that can be very expensive to defend against. And sexual harassment is a growing source of litigation that can apply to women and men alike, and be quite costly. A well-crafted policy, along with executed copies kept in employee files, can go a long way towards preventing a lawsuit, or defending one if you get sued.
The funny thing is that employees who are likely to be involved in unscrupulous activities are often the most resistant to signing these kinds of things. You may run into some flack from them, but in the long run, smart bosses know that a good policy is like money in the bank. The agreements and policies discuss delicate matters and should be written with the utmost care, so that you are able to walk the fine line between offending people unnecessarily and being unpleasantly exposed to theft or litigation.
One area often overlooked in chaotic and busy times is waste. Whether it be office supplies or food dropped on the floor, it is far too often written off as “miscellaneous expense” because employees are either too busy or uncertain about what to do with it, or how to account for it. A lull may be an ideal chance to rectify this problem with a waste-tracking sheet. Many astute managers prepare a spreadsheet with columns for date, item, amount, reason and initials. Though it won’t entirely stop waste, it allows you to track more effectively, which may lead to better, more efficient procedures. If you have extra time after creating the waste spread sheet, it might be wise to perform a thorough inventory of your current merchandise. This is a great way to stay on top of the ebb, flow, and shrink of your products.
And as long as your team has a breather, why not go through and reassess all your vendor contracts? Not only does this allow you to compare price and competition, but perhaps the tight times will pave the way for negotiating better terms, and locking them in place with a forward-looking contract.
Contact Allan Parr for questions or concerns regarding this article or for other ways to help your business save money and prosper.