Regardless of where you are in the business world, you undoubtedly need help with something. Wondering how to improve your corporate culture? Want to know what social media strategies really work? Stuck finding the right way to expand your business internationally? All of the above? Don’t worry; we know the feeling. So we turned to our favorite local experts, entrepreneurs, execs, and thought leaders to gather up the 35 pieces of advice that are sure to help you take your business to the next level. (You can thank us later.)
Founder and CEO, BrandTwist, Dobbs Ferry
Creating a strong personal brand is about focus. When giving your elevator pitch to a prospective employer, for example, present compelling reasons for why you should be hired. Tell your brand story succinctly, with relevant examples of your interests and skills, and draw prospective employers in. The first step in a personal brand plan is to list the values you would like to be known for and then, for each, take a look at how your behavior supports them. People with the strongest personal brands are the ones who “walk the walk.” They don’t just say that they are strong in certain areas; they prove it through their actions.
Alison Pearl Yassky
PR & Marketing Coordinator, Castle Hotel & Spa, Tarrytown
The key to success is to build relationships that go beyond one-time projects and provide value to clients on a consistent, ongoing basis. It is important to think of clients as more than just “clients.” The more you can identify with the client as a person rather than a chance to make money, the stronger the bond will be. It is also crucial to reward your loyal clients and thank them for their valued business, so they know they are appreciated. Lastly, you need to have a vision of partnership with your clients. If you are providing the products or services your client needs, your client sees that you’re in it for the long haul and soon begins to see you as more than just a service provider.
Business Development Manager, Kings Capital
Construction, White Plains
Team-building activities and company outings are a great way to keep company culture. Our business is a very tight-knit community, but we’ve only been able to achieve this type of atmosphere by making sure all lines of communication remain open between each team member, including management.
“Respect yourself, respect others, and take responsibility for your actions. While it may seem obvious, the ability to take ownership and treat others the way you would like to be treated is an attribute we should attempt to instill in all young professionals as they develop in their careers.”
—Nikhil Kumar, Vice President, Undergraduate Enrollment Management, Manhattanville College, Purchase
Commercial Practice Office Managing Partner, BDO, Stamford
The Millennial generation was raised during an era of constant and instant interactions, forcing companies to recognize that they must adapt traditional management and communication methods to engage and retain key talent. Members of the Millennial generation are interested in seeking out fulfilling careers and won’t settle for just any job. It’s important for companies to ensure jobs are dynamic and career paths are well-supported. At BDO, all employees—including interns—are given access to senior-level executives at all times. A leader is invested in the success of every team member.
Co-Owner, Wheelhouse Communications, Bronxville
Businesses often struggle with harnessing the power of video to promote who they are and what they do. If you simply understand the value, you’re halfway there! Next, it’s about figuring out the objective of your message—basically, the audience and what they need to know. Then, determine the “feeling” you’re trying to convey; this must be directly tied to the culture of your business. Should it be funny or just clever? Do you want folks in deep thought, getting emotional or simply getting the facts? Finally, you need to find a way to articulate the basics of your business and get it on video. Make lists underneath the headings, like, “This is what we do” and “This is why we’re special.” It will become your primary reference for the project, because if what’s happening in the video doesn’t tie back to who you are, you’re going to miss the mark.
Overall, the key to effective video is to be interesting and be real—people will respond.
Co-Owner/Artistic Director, Central Park Dance, Scarsdale
When we first started Central Park Dance more than 30 years ago, we envisioned a building with all aspects of health and well-being. This lasted for a day, as the reality and growing pains of a new business quickly set in. We learned to focus on small goals and be consistent in growing the business. Small goals led to bigger goals. We listened closely to the wants and needs of our customers and began to expand slowly in several directions and eventually developed a full-range fitness program that is still growing today. The key ingredient to success is to stay committed to your beliefs and ethics while evolving and growing with your customers, vendors, and marketing strategies.
“Never assume that all of your employees will work the same way you do. Work ethic is as much a personal quality as a cultural one. Good companies create a culture of work ethic.”
—Mike Durante, President, Select Telecom, White Plains
Vice President, Robert Half, Stamford
Ask yourself these four questions:
1. How long has the recruiter been in the industry? Be sure that the individual you’re considering has enough years of experience to hold valuable market knowledge and is committed to the recruitment industry.
2. Does the recruiter focus on a specific area of expertise? Having a specialist in your field (IT, finance, marketing, etc.) can return greater focus and results for your needs.
3. What is the reputation of the individual or firm? Who do they know who you know? Ask that connection about their experience with the individual or firm, to be sure you are working with people who are trusted by those you trust.
4. How well do they listen? You can tell 10 minutes into a conversation whether you are being told or being listened to. If you aren’t feeling a connection, cut the cord quickly.
Director of Digital and Inbound, InspiriaMedia Group, White Plains
1. Start with a strategy. Having a detailed understanding of the business and goals for social media allows business owners to be more strategic and better positioned for success.
2. Understand your target markets. A best practice is to develop multiple audience personas, which are representations of your ideal customers, based on demographic data and information about your target audience. Once you have identified your target audience, find out where they are active online, and focus your efforts there.
3. Define what makes you unique. Why would a customer purchase your products or services instead of your competitors’? This is a critical step that, surprisingly, many companies skip.
4. Establish your goals for social media. Engaging a community, generating brand awareness, and establishing thought leadership are just a few goals. If your goal is engagement, you can clearly measure that by looking at the analytics for the various social media channels.
5. Spy on the big guys. Whoever is responsible for social media for a small business should identify a few big brands that they admire and check out what they’re doing on the different social media channels. A small coffee shop can get some creative inspiration by checking out what Starbucks is posting.
“Be sure to carve out a budget for PR and marketing to promote your business. Too often, we see businesspeople who have invested tons of money in their businesses, products, or services but left no money to create any awareness about it. If people don’t know about you, they won’t buy from you. Products and services don’t sell themselves. It’s that simple.”
—Christina Rae, President, Buzz Creators, Inc., Valhalla
President & CEO, Curtis Instruments, Inc., Mount Kisco
You achieve employee loyalty by extending loyalty to your employees. This used to be the norm but is now a rarity. You must treat people with fairness and decency, and you need to consistently let the employees know that they are valued—not by rhetoric but by action. Our number-one company operational tenet is: “People are our most important resource.” That has to be put into action daily. People respond positively to a positive environment. Being nice doesn’t mean you can’t be profitable.
VP of HR and Training, Quorum Federal Credit Union, Purchase
High employee engagement is the holy grail, as engaged employees can transform a company: They can take customer/member loyalty to new levels, reduce hiring costs and improve productivity and product quality. Here’s how we do it:
Step 1: We set clear expectations for all employees and provide them with the resources and tools to succeed in their personal development.
Step 2: We provide feedback on a quarterly basis so that employees always know where they stand and how they are performing. (Quorum has over a 50 percent internal promotion rate.) We also recognize our employees through simple programs, such as peer-to-peer recognition, employee of the quarter, spot awards, and lunch with the CEO.
Step 3: Openness and transparency are also important to us as an organization: We provide updates on at least a quarterly basis on how our business is doing and what our employees can do to help support our strategy.
Step 4: We provide our employees flexibility and a work/life balance through working from home, flexible work hours, summer hours, and enough time off to ensure our employees can get re-energized.
President & CEO, The Westchester Bank, White Plains
Formulate a business strategy that creates a customer/client value proposition that is needed in the marketplace. Determine a strategy around how you will do business, with whom you will do business, and how you will compete with competitors. The strategy should define the business’s target market. It’s key to recruit employees who will buy into this businesses strategy; employees must be prepared to execute the strategy, day in and day out. All employees should be able to articulate the company strategy, its strengths, and its client-value proposition. In short, know what you are and what you stand for; be proud and make it happen.
“Take on work within your organization that is critical but that no one else wants (perhaps because it’s hard and tedious). Learn it, and get great at it. Within a few years, that subject-matter expertise will be your most valuable asset.”
— Phillis Mooney, Executive Director, Career Services, Pace University, Pleasantville
Owner and CMO, Westchester Marketing Café, Briarcliff Manor
Developing a marketing plan doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Start by choosing your most profitable customers who are the best to work with and provide excellent referrals. Choose your top-five clients as a template for your future targeting efforts. Develop a “persona” that incorporates the characteristics of that audience. Then, establish your goals for the coming year—a mix of tactics, including new content on your website, email marketing, social media sharing, attending appropriate business networking events—and make them specific and measurable.
Vice President, Randolph Rose Collection, Yonkers
Doing international business requires a complete understanding of a country’s local customs and traditions. I try to do my own research and then engage clients on where they live, family, history, etc., so I get a better understanding of who they are. Without this knowledge, it is easy to offend someone. Once we have common ground, and they realize I understand where they’re from, it is much easier to do business. I source international business by traveling to large trade fairs and also by visiting local stores wherever I travel. I speak to the locals about the best place to find “X” and then go and explore.
“It is important to take risks in life, because big risks can bring big rewards instantly, or, if the risk ends unfavorably, the lesson learned from that particular situation will help one grow, develop, and prepare to be better for the future.”
—Victoria Bruno, Business Development Manager, Kings Capital Construction, White Plains
Owner, Frankie & Fanucci’s Wood Oven Pizza, Hartsdale and Mamaroneck
Bite the bullet and invest in people to run the business, so you have time to work on the business. You can’t do both. We’ve always found the more you broaden your focus, whether it’s different restaurant concepts or even just broadening your product portfolio, it can slow your growth fast! Danny Meyer is a good example: He spent decades building a handful of incredible higher-end restaurants. It took a lot less time to make a lot more money by scaling something simple, but still great, like Shake Shack.
President, Atlantic Westchester, Bedford Hills
Try these six steps:
1. Purchase a programmable WiFi thermostat so that building owners/managers can remotely configure, program, and/or check the HVAC system and modify set points on snow days, etc.
2. Turn off lights, computers, space heaters, and other electronic devices when not in use, which can help reduce unnecessary energy consumption.
3. Raising or lowering an HVAC thermostat by just two degrees will equal about a 2 percent decrease in energy consumption, depending on the season.
4. Install solar panels, to enable a building to generate electricity via sunshine (a renewable-energy source), thereby decreasing the cost per kilowatt.
5. Implement LED lights in an office—a quick and simple way to reduce energy consumption.
6. Lower window shades on a hot, sunny day, to keep the heat out.
“If you see someone who does something excellent, don’t wait for them to tell you—just admire what they do, and do it yourself. If you see something you admire, copy it. There is no shame in it if it makes you a better person.”
—Gus Dimopoulos, Maniatis & Dimopoulos, P.C., Tuckahoe
Owner, Harrison Wine Vault, Harrison
It’s important to know your industry and stay ahead of the curve. I am constantly researching things that will make us better and unique. Also, listen to what your customers are saying. The more whiskey I brought into the store, the more excited customers became.
Vice President, Undergraduate Enrollment Management, Manhattanville College, Purchase
In today’s dynamic, digital world, where technology is at our fingertips and marketing has been transformed, it is imperative for businesses to acquire and develop leads through targeted digital marketing strategies that include Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM), marketing automation, re-targeting, behavioral targeting, and pay-per-click campaigns. The ability to influence and reach your audience while measuring success and setting benchmarks for conversions is a powerful tool and imperative strategy for today’s marketing professional.
Owner, Little Drunken Chef, Mount Kisco (and four other restaurants)
When I ask employees what keeps them here, they all say that they’re drawn to the sense of belonging at all my locations. They feel that their presence on the job is very important to me…Then, it’s the bonding that we do: We all hang out and do lots of after-work activities, like picnics, fishing, jet skiing, and other things that connect us. I like to goof off, be naughty, and have fun as much as the rest of them. We all get to know each other as friends, so those who work for me care about being there. In fact, 70 percent of my staff is the same as when we first opened. Perhaps more important, I place 100 percent trust in them and give everyone a fair chance, which makes them feel valued.
“We are all mistake-makers and mistake-breakers. If you get stuck, brush yourself off, and start all over again.”
—Maria Bai, Co-Owner/Artistic Director, Central Park Dance, Scarsdale
Partner, Leason Ellis LLP, White Plains
“I have an idea for a business.” I hear that sentence often, since I’m an intellectual-property attorney in a firm that counsels businesses on trademark, copyright, and patent law.
An entrepreneur can benefit from a discussion with intellectual-property counsel to determine if the entrepreneur really has a new idea or has merely restated the problem. Since ideas themselves are not protectable, the entrepreneur must be able to articulate a “detailed road map” to a solution. This may be protectable under a legal theory, such as patent or copyright.
As an entrepreneur, you might worry (rightfully) about disclosing your idea to investors, contractors, etc.—any third party who may think, Who needs you?—because you don’t have the skill set to develop the idea, and the third party might be as capable as you are in hiring freelancers to do just that.
But, you will need to take a risk and disclose your idea to people who might take advantage of you. That’s why you must protect yourself through a written contract—even if the contract is scrawled on a napkin. Many clients hesitate to assert their rights, thinking, in effect, that the mere act of asking the “receiving” party to sign an agreement will ruin the prospect of a deal. Sometimes, they’re correct. If so, it’s just as well; trustworthy potential business partners will respect you, and they’ll never kill a deal because you’re trying to protect yourself.
Joseph Di Carlo
Senior Vice President and Director of Human Resources, WESTMED Practice Partners, Purchase
In today’s competitive landscape, business leaders and hiring managers are challenged with the fact that a good or poor hire has a great impact on their business’s success. What we’ve seen at WESTMED is that a historical over-reliance on having the right skills is only a very small part of what our best candidates, staff, and leaders exhibit. In the past, we would hire people with the right skills, but they couldn’t always work effectively with others. We have shifted over the last five years to placing a high level of credence in understanding a potential employee’s “emotional intelligence” (EQ)—a person’s ability to recognize and understand their emotions and their impact on the behavior, attitude, and results of others. People with a high EQ are in tune with the wants and needs of their peers. They are able to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically without time-killing and goal-busting distractions. The idea of hiring for attitude and training the skill is how we at WESTMED hire the best talent in a competitive industry and geography.
Chief Sales Officer, USI Insurance Services, Valhalla
Great sales skills can be developed by breaking down the sales process into these steps:
1. Cultivate only qualified prospects.
2. Conduct thorough research to understand your prospect’s specific business issues.
3. Connect those issues with your solutions, then follow up with the prospect diligently.
4. Ask to meet, and prepare, prepare, prepare! First meetings typically last 30 minutes, so leave them wanting more.
5. Practice with colleagues: Conduct role-playing that includes handling objections and asking for the business.
6. Never go on an appointment alone.
7. Repeat! Practice and prospecting never ends.
General Manager, The Ritz-Carlton, Westchester, White Plains
Creating great customer service for any business starts and ends with the hiring process. First off, stop hiring people; instead, select them. Be critical and picky, and only bring on candidates who you know are going to go out of their way to make people happy. Select people who love people, and you will not go wrong. I’ve always been able to teach people to do tasks—clean rooms, cook food, and serve drinks—but I’ve never been able to teach someone how to love and care about people.
EVP, Westchester and Connecticut, Douglas Elliman, Scarsdale
It all comes down to being a trusted advisor. Clients want to do business with people who are knowledgeable and whom they trust. The more you demonstrate your value to clients, the more likely you are to make the sale.
“Just go for it. Sometimes, we overthink things and get frozen with fear of the unknown variables. Every now and then, you just have to throw caution to the wind and move ahead, or nothing will get done.
—Christina Rae, President, Buzz Creators, Inc., Valhalla
John Rosenthal, Esq.
Senior Counsel, Harrington, Ocko & Monk, LLP, White Plains
Though ubiquitous, email marketing is not without risk. At the present time, 37 states, as well as the federal government, have laws that regulate email marketing in one way or another. These regulations set forth a specific framework regarding the transmission and content of commercial email advertisements. Before you send out any advertisements, e-newsletters, etc., filled with marketing materials from your company, check your state laws regarding this presumed easy task. If a commercial email advertisement is found to have a materially false or deceptive “from” or “subject” line, the sender could be liable monetarily per email and incident.
President, Startup Connection, New Rochelle
Create environments that encourage diverse approaches, information, and participation. For example, I have virtually banned PowerPoint from my start up workshops and have instead made these sessions entirely interactive, to allow client presentations and feedback among participants in a risk-free environment. This sounds simple, but it is not so easy to go cold turkey when you are also committed to excellence and complete preparation.
President, Select Telecom, White Plains
When thinking about your product offerings, put yourself in your customers’ shoes. For instance, most people lump their telecommunications and IT needs into one mental bucket—especially now that everything is digital. This approach has led our technical team to expand and learn about IP cameras, data switches, and videoconferencing. It has led our salespeople to think about data bandwidth and phone-carrier service. And when a solution is out of our comfort zone, we always have a trusted IT company to recommend.
Maniatis & Dimopoulos, P.C., Tuckahoe
Generally speaking, a family-owned business is the sole source of family revenue and the source of great pride. Hence, emotions run hot when a divorce presents the parties with a scenario where the asset must be distributed equitably.
In New York, the date of acquisition of the business will be a key factor. For instance, businesses started during the marriage will be considered a marital asset that is to be distributed equitably (not necessarily equally). However, if the business was started by one spouse shortly before the marriage, but the other spouse contributed considerably during the marriage, the non-founding spouse will be entitled to a percentage of the appreciation of the value of the business.
Under any scenario, the valuation of the business is critical. Generally speaking, courts will order a business appraisal based upon market value—and if the parties can agree, one party will retain the business and pay the other a distributive award, or amount of money, that is based upon the value of the business.
The key to handling the disposition of these valuable assets is to keep in mind that, in most cases, the business is how the parties support themselves and their children. Thus, cool heads must prevail. What’s best for each individual is not necessarily what’s best for the business, and emotions must be kept under control. As the saying goes, “This is business,” and litigants must be cautioned not to make emotional decisions that they will be paying for the rest of their lives.
Cofounder, Westchester Angels, White Plains
Every check your business receives from investors comes fully equipped with either a string or a rope attached! Each investor or group of investors will have their own set of expectations, involvement requirements and, most important, personality. The only effective way to find out if investors are a good fit for your business is to spend time with them. While business plans and investment terms can be written down and agreed upon, personalities and temperament can only be negotiated over time.
CEO/President, White Plains Linen, Peekskill
Many things are key when managing any company, but when you add family to the mix, you need to make sure you are setting boundaries and reasonable expectations. You need to set the example and set a formalized business relationship in order to keep all relationships on a professional level. Over time, this should allow your employees to feel like family, too. I truly believe that a work family can be just as strong and loyal as an actual blood family.
“Learn to say ‘no’ and stay focused. Easier said than done.”
—Brad Nagy, Owner, Frankie & Fanucci’s Wood Oven Pizza, Hartsdale and Mamaroneck
Chief Marketing Officer, Marks Paneth, Purchase
Social media is an invaluable tool for businesses of every sort. But before you jump in, make sure you do your homework: Identify your audience. Make sure you know who you’re talking to. Then, define your objectives. Are you brand building? Looking for leads? Next, decide on the social media platforms that are suitable for your audience. Optimize your social media channels. If you’re not sure how to do that, call in an expert. Finally, determine what resources you’ll need, e.g., Web tools, people, and budget.
Partner, Strategies for Wealth, Rye Brook
Company culture comes from your people, so be sure you have the right people in the right seats. If not, move them out of those seats. We try to live by a pretty clear motto: “Hire slowly and fire quickly.”
Administrative Vice President, Business Banking, M&T Bank, Tarrytown
Buying a franchise is a popular way to open a small business, but local entrepreneurs should understand the risks and be prepared before approaching their banks. There are specific steps business people can take to improve their chances of running a successful franchise. One step we recommend is interviewing existing franchisees to better understand the long-term marketing and operational support provided by the franchise. Do your research, and talk to your accountant and lawyer when developing your plan. Look for a bank experienced with that particular franchise. Also, find a bank experienced with US Small Business Administration loan programs, because you may need an SBA loan to finance the purchase.
“Your leaders must be completely attuned to the long-term vision of your organization. They need to always be clear with expectations and goals, communicating them effectively to the team.”
—Josh Becker, Partner, Strategies for Wealth, Rye Brook
Owner, Hudson Hospitality Group, Peekskill
I have seen too many small businesses over the years put blood, sweat, and tears into a startup, only to have a landlord raise the rents unreasonably in order to capture a national tenant once an emerging market becomes mainstream. So, don’t be shortsighted by selecting a location in an already established area with high rents; instead, find a city or town that has all the criteria for a becoming the next great place to live, work, and prosper. Consider buying a building instead of renting, so you can better control your destiny. The big-picture play is to always own all or part of the commercial real estate that you are making better through your creative small business. These tips will help you do just that:
1. Use a qualified real estate attorney who handles commercial real estate and leases— you get what you pay for in that department.
2. Don’t be a copycat when opening in an emerging city. You need to attract clients from outside the city with new concepts, since the local population does not warrant two or three of the same types of business at this point.
3. Find buildings that have absentee landlords and have been vacant for a period of time; the landlords may be more motivated to partner or sell.
4. Check with the municipal government about tax liens on properties, foreclosure auctions, etc., for possible building leads.
5. Check with the planning department about upcoming development for new residential dwellings, to get a good idea about the future growth of the area.
Chief Marketing Officer, HEINEKEN USA, White Plains
Regardless of the size of your company, speaking to your audience with a clear, bold message on the right platform is critical. First, unlock a strong insight and then determine one statement that is most meaningful to your brand and your key audience around which to develop your marketing campaign. Then, present it confidently to the world through whichever channels directly reach and engage your target audience. Traditional channels, such as print, TV, radio, and outdoor advertising, remain great platforms, but having a strong digital presence continues to grow in importance, as well. Digital is also very cost-effective for those with a limited marketing budget. And, finally, be sure to understand the speed at which you can deliver your story. In today’s chaotic world, proper timing is everything.
Cofounder, Westchester Angels, White Plains
Before you start raising money for a business, you need to define it. What is your product, your business model, and your strategy? You should always have a clear plan for what you are going to do with the money and how you will generate a return or pay back the loan. Through this process, you will also determine how much money you need and in what time frame. Then you can match the source to the need: A smaller, short-term need backed by assets might lend itself well to debt, while long-term investment with significant growth potential may lead you to equity investors. Consider as well the advice and support that comes with the money; “smart money”—money that comes from someone who can lend advice and connections—is much more valuable than just money.
“It’s impossible to learn something you believe you already know. That says so much in so few words.
—Marge Schneider, EVP, Capelli Organization, White Plains