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SBA spreads wisdom to business owners

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Here are some tips on rewarding employees, buying a franchise and finding outside investments.

USA Today | July 1, 2011

Managing a small business can be stressful, confusing, rewarding and overwhelming – sometimes all in the same day. And sometimes all in the same hour.

"Owning and running a small business is hard work," sais Karen Mills, head of the Small Business Administration.

But the workload can get easier, and owners can find more business success, when they seek out support and advice.

Those who utilize long-term counselors or tap into peer networks tend to have better sales, Mills said. They also get firsthand stories of what has worked – and what not – in areas such as financing, hiring and buying new equipment.

"Taking advice from someone who's been there and done that is very helpful," Mills said.

To help spread small-business wisdom, USA TODAY has asked the SBA to provide guidance on some common workplace quandaries. The agency tapped into its network of government experts, small-business counselors and business owners to compile the advice below.

Q: I'm barely breaking even, but I would like to reward the employees who've stayed loyal during the downturn. What are some low-cost ways to let my workers know they are valued?

A: Many employees understand the financial constraints that come with running a business during bumpy economic times and appreciate creative efforts to recognize their contributions. Here are some ways to provide rewards without breaking the bank:

Think 365. Many firms reward employees once a year — usually in conjunction with a performance review. A better approach is to sincerely reward workers throughout the year. That helps to motivate teams and keep them energized.

Make it public. Don't solely recognize employees behind closed doors. Most people enjoy being acknowledged in front of their peers.

Q: I'd like to buy a franchise, but I'm worried about financial risks and potential rip-offs. How can I find viable opportunities — as well as note red flags — when it comes to financing?

A: As a general rule, the government requires that franchise owners (the franchiser) provide specific business information so that you can make an informed decision. Under the Federal Trade Commission's "Franchise Rule," the franchiser must provide potential franchisees with a detailed disclosure document during the pre-sale stage. This information can provide valuable insight into your chosen franchise.

If you have concerns that a franchise owner is withholding information, the FTC provides a hotline to get help: 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357).

The law helps to keep a franchiser honest, but there are some extra steps you can take to assess an opportunity.

Run the numbers. Investigate whether claims about potential earnings are genuine. Ask the franchiser for an explanation of the basis for these claims in writing. Also ask about the earnings potential when interviewing existing franchisees.

Suss out the success potential.
The franchiser must tell you in writing the number and percentage of owners who have been as successful as they claim you will be.

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