Advice for the Non-HR Professional Handling HR

advice for HR

In many small and even medium sized businesses across the US, individuals with no background or education in HR are managing the HR function. Mostly out of necessity. The business doesn’t need (or thinks it needs) full time HR support, but they do need HR “things” so the function gets lumped in with office management or finance.

I get it and won’t rehash the reasons again why this may not be the best idea. That blog post also has great ideas for companies to ensure the individual covering HR gets the training and support they need, but I know companies don’t always listen, so for this blog post I’m going to offer advice to the individual directly.

If you are not a trained HR professional, but have been tasked with the HR function and feel like you are lost, here are a few key pieces of advice. Specifically, advice for the individual who isn’t getting much support from their company in ensuring they receive the training they need.

Online Resources:
Thankfully, the internet has proven itself very useful over the years in helping individuals gain knowledge they never had before. Unfortunately, there can be so much contradictory information that it’s hard to know what is true and what isn’t. That’s why I encourage HR professionals to follow bloggers and online personalities who they trust and feel confident provide truthful information. I believe those are lawyers and HR professionals who have been in the trenches a while. I have three that I like. Two lawyers, Eric Meyer and Jon Hyman. They will keep you updated on all the new stuff happening in the court system and how your business can avoid ending up there yourself. For a compliance HR blogger, there is none better than my friend Mike Haberman. Even I have his site bookmarked for when I have compliance questions and I’ve been doing this a while.

For California specific, because let’s face it, we be crazy on the west coast, I like the lawyers blog at Seyforth Shaw, aptly named: The California Peculiarities Employment Law Blog

Focus on Compliance:
There is a lot that goes into effective HR strategy, but if you are wearing many hats, chances are slim you have any time to do most of them well. Make sure you are legally compliant and stay that way and leave the intrinsic valued HR projects to when you have time or have the budget to have help.

Decide your Goals:
This one is big. About half of my clients have an office manager as my point of contact. They are the individual handling HR, but call me in for outsourcing or coaching of that person or special projects. Out of those clients, only a few of those people actually have any interest in HR. They are just trying to get by until they have the budget to hire their own HR person and can pass this stuff off. The others like the HR piece and can’t wait to hire someone to take the other stuff so they can focus on HR.

If you can decide which part of your role fits your best, then you can work towards making that your only job as time and budgets allow. That isn’t to say you should put more effort into that piece, it’s just to say that if you have the opportunity for extra training or coaching, you want it to be in the area you want to end up, not the area that you are in now that you aren’t enjoying.

Hopefully wearing multiple hats is only temporary and soon you will be able to focus on one area while others take things off your plate. I realize it may not come soon enough, but most small businesses get their faster than they realize. Keep doing what you can do, focus on what matters and let time play itself out.

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The Salary Question Bill and What it Means for Hiring


If for some reason you haven’t heard, Massachusetts became the first state to ban asking about previous salary during the recruitment process. I have no doubt California will follow suit soon – I’m actually surprised they haven’t already.

I’m also thankful I don’t currently have any clients in Massachusetts.

Not because I don’t appreciate the law’s worth, I do, but because I know how my clients would freak out. They are mostly small businesses whose main compensation plan is to pay everyone whatever they can get them for with little to no forethought. Many are relying on funding or investments or are fairly new in producing revenue and want to pay what they need to, but not a penny more.

My talks to them about having a compensation strategy rather than just assigning pay all “willy nilly” (consultants use big words) usually falls on deaf ears. It isn’t that they are trying to pay women less or be unfair to any candidate, they are just trying to do as much as possible with as little as possible.

It isn’t the best way of doing things, but it is reality.

And now that has to change. Companies, who have been assigning pay based on the person rather than position are going to have to adjust. They are going to have to put together an actual compensation strategy that assigns a value to a role and pay that amount, regardless of what the person made before. They can not, on the application or in the hiring process, ask about pay. They can only share their pay rate upfront and allow a candidate to share whether that is acceptable or not.

The law, which has more components than this, takes effect July 2018 so companies do have some time to adjust.

I was asked by a California client, who is already thinking ahead about when this happens here, about how I thought this would affect hiring. It’s a good question and the more I think about it, I’m not really sure it does in any way that is much different from today. The salary question, if filled in on the application may have prevented some candidates from getting a call back. If it were asked during the interview and the salary was too high then it may have prevented a few from being passed through the process further, but all in all we are talking low amounts of people being disqualified. What was more likely to happen was that the role would have a rate attached to it (even if that rate was a guess) and when the candidate said they made less, they were offered less – even if others in the role made more.

This law will actually affect companies more on the back end. They are going to have to have a documented compensation strategy that they can defend. They are going to have to figure out the right rate for roles and ensure that all employees with the same experience and background are making similar pay. I could even see a few current employees getting a pay raise.

As with anything time will tell how this actually plays out. I do believe in the law’s merit and appreciate the issue it is trying to fix. We will have to see if it actually does.

In the meantime, if you don’t have a compensation strategy and have been paying willy nilly – add it to your to do list. I would expect this law to spread in other states. It’s only a matter of time.

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Dear Leader: You Are Making Everything Too Hard

difficult leader

I’m going to venture a guess that simply reading the title of this post brought someone to mind. I think we all know someone who makes things too hard. And I know we all know a leader who does. See if this sounds familiar.

All suggestions for improvement are met with reasons they won’t work.

A question that needs only a simple yes or no answer turns into a 3-hour debate (often with themselves) on whether yes or no is the right answer.

The implementation of anything new is preceded by months and months of discussion, followed by months and months of planning only to then have the leader wonder if other options should be explored.

Everything is complicated even when it isn’t.

Freak-out mode is so common for them you wonder if there is a switch on their back that someone keep tripping just to mess with everyone.

We all know that guy/gal don’t we?

If you are saying to yourself that you are fortunate enough to not have any of those people in your life and are about to click off this article, I want to stop you right there because that person may just be you.

It is one of those things that is impossible to see in ourselves. Like being whiny or overly affectionate. We don’t realize that this personality trait is actually a bad thing driving everyone crazy. In fact, we may not notice it until we take a hard look at ourselves or get very brave and ask the question.

Not ready to be brave? I feel ya, let’s talk about how we might recognize it in ourselves.

How much autonomy do I give my employees? When my employees suggest a new way of working or a new project idea do I consider it thoughtfully or shoot it down immediately. Do I let them run with it or do I make them take things slow, talk it through more than necessary and obsess in my own mind about how it will go? Making it hard for employees to work on their own or suggest new ideas is a sign you might be making things too hard. There are times when employees should implement slowly, but not every change needs a 5 page dissertation and 8 week incubation period.

My normal reaction when setbacks occur is take a deep breath and hold my head on because the rising pressure is about to make it explode. Does every negative thing that happen, regardless of size, raise my blood pressure? Do co-workers have to plan how they are going to tell me things in an effort to diffuse my reactions? If ever single setback sends you over the deep end, you might be making things too hard.

Do co-workers even try to give me feedback anymore? If I have a problem do they try to offer suggestions or have they given up because they know every suggestion will be rejected? If they do try to offer up any feedback do I listen with open ears or immediately jump on the defensive?

You can often tell a leader who is making things too hard by the amount of people around them. If co-workers, even those at the same level, interact only when necessary then chances are good that the leader is making work and work relationships too difficult. If that’s you, then it may be time to evaluate and see how you might make some changes.

The good news is this is often one of those personality traits that, once someone is aware, they can change. But they definitely have to be aware…..

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How Hard Should HR Push – A Lesson from Wells Fargo

HR Role in Wells Fargo Incident

I’ve been fascinated by the Wells Fargo incident. I spent the last 7 years of my corporate HR career in a call center where meeting goals was a high priority. It is easy for me to see how this sort of environment opens the door for dishonest practices. Even the best of employees can fall victim to doing something they know they shouldn’t when their livelihood is on the line.

Since the news broke, two articles have caught my eye. This one, posted on SHRM’s website that points at least part of the blame on the HR team and this one on the Huffington Post where the CEO takes hardly any blame at all.

I guess we should be happy he didn’t blame HR… least not publicly anyway.

I do agree with statements in both articles that highlight the fact that this has been going on for a while and leadership, including HR was well aware long before this latest bit of news came out. I also agree that HR should ensure that policies are enforced and unacceptable behavior is addressed.

But at what point does HR get to let the leaders wallow in their own inaction?

One thing I’ve learned more as my role as a consultant is that regardless of how well I set myself up to be a partner to my clients there is going to be a time when they don’t want to take my advice. There is going to be a time when they hear what I have to say, but do nothing about it.

And it almost always happens around employee behavior.

I say all the things I should. I ensure the leaders understand all of the possibilities that their inaction could bring – both culturally and legally. I remind them multiple times and ensure my concerns are in writing. But at some point, I realize that my voice has been heard and if I don’t have the authority to impact change myself, I’ve done all I can do.

And I know HR leaders who face that exact scenario every single day.

I don’t know the exact situation inside of Wells Fargo. I don’t know if HR was screaming from the rafters that something needed to be done or if they were silent. I don’t know if they encouraged leaders to be less focused on the sales because of the damage it could do or if they are so removed from the business that they really had no idea any of it was going on.

But what if they did. What if they knew and were doing everything in their power to do something about it but their words were falling on deaf ears? In that instance, should they have kept pushing or let it go and know that at some point, the leaders would learn the lesson another way?

I realize that the answer is dependent upon the entire situation, but I think the discussion is one worth having. Where do we draw the line and at what point do we get to wash our hands of it all?

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Getting Ahead in Recruiting – My #ILSHRM Pre-Conference Workshop

getting ahead of recruiting

This Sunday I will be conducting the pre-conference workshop at ILSHRM. If you have read this blog for a while you know that I was the chair of the ILSHRM conference for many years and this will be my first year, ever, attending as a speaker and attendee. I’m really excited about it.

I’m also honored that the team asked me back to conduct this workshop.

When Julie and I were talking about what topic to cover, recruiting was top of mind for her. We had said over the last few years that we tended to receive less speaker submissions around recruiting than any other topic and always wished we could get more. So here we are.

I will be spending three hours helping workshop attendees work through how to get ahead of the recruiting curve. Ahead: in advance, beforehand, earlier, preceding, at an advantage. Instead of our normal place in recruiting, behind. Sometimes so far behind that we can’t even see the curve in the road.

Until we trip over it.

Here are the concepts we will be exploring:

Recruiting Strategy – What does a recruiting strategy actually look like anyway?

Workforce Planning – How do we keep better tabs on our workforce that will help us anticipate future openings?

Candidate Pipelining – How do we build and maintain communication with a pipeline of candidates that are there when we do have openings?

Emerging Trends – What is on the horizon in the recruiting industry and how are top companies using these trends to attract talent?

I take the word workshop very seriously. Attendees should come prepared to work. We will be splitting into groups of like sized companies and using our own openings as examples. I’m excited and am on a mission to ensure attendees walk away with information they can implement right away.

Are you joining me for this? If you are in the Chicago area and aren’t, you might be missing out!

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Working Mom – Stop Apologizing for Wanting to be a Leader


Whenever I speak I share my layoff story. As a speaker I have found that this story resonates with people and makes me human rather than just some talking head with a microphone. If you’ve read this blog for long, you know the story. If you don’t, here’s the cliff notes.

Corporate America HR leadership roles for 11 years.
Went on maternity leave with my 1st (and only) child in 2010.
A few weeks before I was to return, I was laid off.

That right there is enough to have people come up to me after the session and tell me their layoff story because goodness knows enough of us have experienced it in the last several years. But it’s what I share next that really get people lining up. My speech goes something like this (paraphrased).

“So here I was with a three month old trying to figure out what to do next. I knew I wanted to work. I have a ton of respect for stay at home moms, but that is just not who I am. Camp mom is not a fun place to be at the Baker household. What was new however, was this desire to better balance working with being a mom. I wanted to figure out how to still contribute to the workforce but have the flexibility to be home when my child needed that. All of that led me to starting my own business.”

Without fail, there will be a handful of women who walk up to me after and say that they appreciate how unapologetic I am for wanting to work and wanting to be a leader. Because you see, fiercer than any battle any of us are fighting in the workplace, we are fighting an even larger one inside ourselves.

Mom guilt.

The guilt that says we should feel that being a mother is the greatest gift on earth and being with our children should satisfy us more than anything else. The guilt that keeps some women home and focused on their families instead of in the workplace where they really want to be. The guilt that says wanting something other than time with your kids is selfish.

The guilt that can be overwhelming for some.

What’s more, the more aggressive a women wants to be in her career growth, the stronger the guilt can hit – and not just internally – but from well meaning friends or family as well.

I refuse to apologize.

I refuse to let the guilt eat away at me….and for the most part it doesn’t.

I know without a doubt that if I were a stay at home mom, I would not be a good mom. I love my son. I would die for him. But I know that me pursuing my career aspirations is as important to him being a well rounded human being as is eating three healthy meals a day.

If a mom and her family have made the decision that she will stay home and doing so delights her soul, fantastic. She should absolutely do that and never apologize. But if a mom knows that working is part of what she wants to do as well, why should she apologize.

And if she wants to climb that corporate ladder and figure out a way to be CEO and mom then why should she apologize for that? We, as women, have to figure out how to let the guilt go or it will keep us from doing what we really want and deserve to do.

Both the stay at home mom and the working mom are doing what they feel is best for their family. They are both pursuing the kind of life they feel is best for their children. They both love their families dearly, but have a right to be true to themselves.

Both titles: “working mom” and stay at home mom” should be guilt free titles.

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Encouraging Better Communication in Your Small Business


Below is an actual conversation held with a business leader. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Me (answering phone): Hi Dave,

Dave: Hey I was wondering if you knew what Jerry (another leader) had decided to do about Tom (matrix employee who is having disciplinary issues).

Me: No. I haven’t talked to Jerry since we all chatted a few days ago. I thought the two of you were going to discuss and then let me know if I could help.

Dave: I thought so two, but hadn’t heard from him and thought maybe you had an update.

Me: Have you brought it up to him?

Dave: No.

Me: Isn’t his office right next to yours?

Dave: Yes.

Me: So….maybe you could pop your head in and ask him if he wants to talk about next steps.

Dave: Yeah I guess. Or maybe you could call him and see if he wants us to get together and discuss it again.

Or maybe I want to poke my eyes out because grown men can’t communicate with each other unless I force them to. And it isn’t just grown men, it’s women too, but this example was men so…..

Amazing and frustrating.

I’ve found there are two types of small businesses. Those who over communicate and those who never speak to the person sitting right next to them, there is no middle ground.

In this example, the two men work fine together. They get along. They have several employees who primarily report to one of them, but due to the nature of the business have to have a matrix reporting relationship to the other. This requires them to communicate often and they seem to do so fine for the most part.

Until an employee screws up and they have to discuss next steps together.

I get these calls more than you might think. A couple of times a week I say, “but doesn’t sit right next to you, why don’t you ask them?” only to have them say “oh yeah” like it’s the first time they realized they could do that.

And it’s the thing that makes me way “what the….” the most.

It could be an employee who calls me to ask a question they could have asked their supervisor who they just saw in the hallway or the leader who calls me to ask me about something they could ask the employee they just saw in the break room.

I find myself uttering the phrase “use your words” way more to adults than I ever did to my son.

So how do we encourage better communication? Between leaders? From leaders to employees? From executives to the entire company? From employees upward?

I have a few ideas.

Take Inventory
The first step in deciding if you need to encourage better communication is to take inventory of how you are doing now. Gallup sites employee communication (or lack thereof) as a common complaint of employees so chances are good your business may fall into that. The best way to find out is to ask employees (all employees) a couple of questions.

  • Do we communicate enough?
  • Do you feel you can share your thoughts and ideas even if negative?
  • That’s it. You do not have to do a full length survey, just the answer to these two questions can let you know if you need to dig deeper or not.

    Words Vs Actions
    Often the biggest barrier to effective communication is when actions do not align with words. For example, having an open door policy while doors are always closed. Or saying that you encourage constructive employee feedback but getting defensive anytime some is shared. Leaders should review the type of communication they say is important in the workplace and then make sure their actions are in alignment.

    Force the Issue
    CEO’s who see that their leaders are not properly communicating must do what I did in the earlier conversation. I told Dave that it would be much easier and faster if he walked next door and had the conversation than me calling Jerry and then scheduling time we could all get together. I refused to do it for him. All leaders must demonstrate the behavior and continually encourage it with those around them.

    Reward Good Communication
    The key to getting any type of behavior to stick is to reward the good. If an employee brings up something that is important even though it may have been difficult for them to do so, praising them in public for bringing it to your attention will reinforce that behavior with others.

    It is so important to get this right. Finding the right balance can be difficult, but the better the communication, the more effective the workplace. Often one of the biggest time wasters in a business, is poor communication.

    Do you have ideas for encouraging better communication? I’d love to hear them!

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    Decreasing the Administrative Side of Recruiting for Better Hires


    Last week after my California HR session, a HR leader asked me how to get out of the weeds during the recruitment process. I had talked about being stuck in the weeds as a barrier to moving towards being a business leader. What are the weeds?

    Spending all day on a dress code issue.

    Entering 500 applicant names into a spreadsheet so you can keep track of all the people you are never going to call.

    Spending every other Monday doing payroll in the most laborious and inefficient process ever.


    Let me be clear here, as I was in the session. I believe HR, at it’s core, is an administrative function. That is what it was created to be. However, we can handle the administrative side while still offering leader level partnership to the organization. But that doesn’t mean we get stuck in weeds. It means we get that administrative ball rolling like a well oiled machine and focus our efforts on the important stuff.

    The questioner explained that during the recruitment process there was a lot of administrative type tasks an individual had to do, reviewing resumes, administering pre-employment tests, setting up interviews and checking references for example. She wondered how to cut down on the administrative part of recruiting so she could focus on more around creating strategies and improving the process.

    Great question.

    Since my work is mostly with smaller businesses, I approach this question as though it were coming from someone with little budget and extra help. Those with budgets or extra hands should not be stuck doing all this administrative work as technology can greatly speed up this process.

    For those who may not be able to afford robust technology, I have a few ideas.

    How Are You Finding Candidates?
    My first step in figuring out this leader could reduce her time burden on administrative recruiting tasks is to understand how she is finding candidates and how many candidates she is “sifting” through per position. My guess is going to be that she is using a “post and pray” approach where she posts the job on job boards (maybe multiple) and prays that the right person applies. This leaves her to review possibly hundreds of resumes, most of which wont be qualified.


    Better targeted ads, sourcing instead of posting and reviewing applicants who applied for the position before will help decrease the amount of resumes an individual has to review.

    How Are You Scheduling Candidates?
    Managing multiple calendars is a pain. Trying to get hiring managers and candidates schedules to gel can be a exercise in utter frustration. If you are going back and forth in email between candidate and hiring manager trying to find a time that best suits everyone – you are stuck in you know what.


    Technology is a wonderful thing and the world of freemium software allows users to try things out for free and then pay for upgrades as they need them. Scheduling apps are no different. Check out this article which outlines 16 different scheduling apps to help take most of the administration out of scheduling interviews.

    Find one you like and you’ll never go back and forth in email about days/times again!

    How Are You Communicating with Candidates?
    A few months ago I helped a company streamline their interview process. The office manager called me in to review what they were doing, find out why it was taking them so long and then offer ideas for efficiency and effectiveness. I’m like the industrial engineer of HR processes.

    One of the things I found is that the office manager and hiring managers were communicating the same information over and over with candidates and typing them into emails each time.

    As in from scratch – fresh typing – exact same words – over and over again.

    The weeds are growing up the side of the building.

    Even the most basic of email platforms allows for canned responses. Even the most basic of applicant tracking systems allows for autoresponders. So here’s what we did.

    We built autoresponders in their applicant tracking system that went beyond just telling the candidate we received the resume. They now give pertinent information that we knew the applicant was going to ask. We did this for initial applications all the way through the process – acceptance or rejection – every email the candidate received from the company had a ton of detail about the process.

    We also compiled a list of most common questions and put a simple FAQ link on their careers site. The next phase of our project which starts later this year is to build out a social media presence and strategy and one of the things we will do is share the answers to many of these questions regularly across all platforms. This will, and already has, cut way down on the amount of emails anyone is typing.

    I’m sure you can see how just these few simple tweaks can reduce the administrative tasks associated with recruiting. Are we ever going to alleviate all of them, of course not. But can we leverage technology and find more efficient ways of doing the things we used to do manually. Definitely.

    How have you decreased the amount of administrative tasks you are doing manually? All ideas welcome to help others in similar situations.

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    Intentional Communication and It’s Role in Leadership


    I write a lot about communication. I talk a lot about communication. I believe we are mostly bad at it. The collective we, myself included. Many of my posts on communication are lessons I’ve learned in my own life – during my own communication mishaps – of which there is a ton of material to draw from.

    But I’m constantly working on it.

    My style is rather direct. I typically don’t mince my words and get straight to the point rather quickly. To say I speak my mind is an understatement. But unlike certain presidential candidates, I have found that “telling it like it is” isn’t always the best approach. It can be rather off putting and alienating to the very people you are trying to reach.

    And that’s when I realized the truth in the above quote. The best communicators do not push their style on everyone and expect them to hear the words and interpret the meaning, they adapt their style to the listener.

    And they are very intentional about it.

    Intentional communication is communication that is thought out. It is deliberate. It is executed in a manner that is easy for the listener to digest. It enables the listener to understand even if the information being shared is negative.

    And it plays a major role in the effectiveness of a leader.

    We have probably all worked for the leader who has a “drive-by” communication style. They fly by your office, vomit a bunch of words and keep moving. You have no idea what they said, what they meant or if they were even speaking English. Reading their emails remind you of solving world problems in the 6th grade.

    If two trains leave the station at midnight going opposite directions, how long will it take for you to hire 14 account executives by tomorrow?

    Leaders who are intentional about their communication, come into the office, sit down and talk about things they need to without making you feel like you were just splashed with dirty rain water by the 6am bus. What’s more, they share only information or requests that have been though through. If the information they are going to share is going to be taken negatively, they have thought through the words they are going to use and how to make sure you hear what they are saying even though it may upset you.

    As a result, they are more respected, listened to and are often sited as leaders who employees would follow to the ends of the earth….or at least to other companies.

    If you are not thinking about your communication style or being intentional about how you communicate, you might be losing respect and more from your employees. And that isn’t something any leader can afford to lose.


    Employee Classification Issues for Small Businesses


    I have been working with a client all summer on trying to figure out if an account executive position they have is exempt. They have them as non-exempt, but both the employees and leaders would prefer them be exempt. Unfortunately, the way the role is laid out, it just can’t be exempt. What I appreciate about going through the exercise is that they didn’t just make them exempt when the employees asked… many others do.

    One of the biggest funnels of business for me is the Department of Labor. I’m dead serious. A small business facing a DOL audit will look for an HR Consultant faster than anyone else. The call I get the most from businesses facing such an audit is because they are being charged with misclassifying employees.

    Because an employee asked to be exempt and in order to save the overtime, they let them.

    That’s not how any of this works.

    Misclassifying employees as exempt when they should be non-exempt is a serious offense. An employer will have to pay back wages, taxes and penalties. The DOL can go back three years – so that is three years worth of back wages and not just for the employee who complained, but for all classified improperly. The cost to a small business, especially a startup, can be debilitating.

    Effective December 2016, there is a new salary threshold for the exempt test, but that usually isn’t what trips employers up. In order to be considered exempt employees must meet both the salary threshold and the duties test.

    And no where in that duties test does it say that employees can simply ask to be exempt.

    The best way to ensure your employees are classified properly is to have an experienced HR professional or employment lawyer review your job duties and current classifications. Keep in mind that reviewing job duties does not mean reading a job description. Thinking you can get around the DOL by calling the employee an exempt sounding title and writing an exempt sounding job description while they do something completely different is just asking for trouble. Please make sure whoever is doing the review is actually observing employees job duties rather than just reading the job description.

    I had a client ask me recently what happens if the DOL never finds out. Good question. The answer is that you could get away with it. But that isn’t what would worry me as a small business owner.

    What would keep me up at night is what would happen if they did.

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