A. As a general rule, investment in staff training will lead to improved business performance. Start with a job description for every employee and define the skills needed to do each job effectively. Prepare a written policy on staff training and circulate to all staff. Discuss training needs with each employee when they join your business and then as part of an annual appraisal. A more difficult judgement arises when employees request training courses for which you see only partial need. In those situations, it's often sensible to part fund the cost rather than simply reject the request. Alternatively, it's not uncommon to fund the whole amount subject to an agreement that an employee pays back all, or a portion, of the costs if they leave the business within a set period of time. This is often set using a sliding scale over three years.
Q. One of my employees has asked to work reduced hours, between 10am and 4pm, because of childcare issues. My heart says yes but my head says no - any advice?
A. Follow your heart if possible. Firstly, decide whether this will have an impact on your business - for example would there be any health and safety implications? My experience is that every business should strive to be flexible and that employees repay you with loyalty.
Q. My jewellery business is going very well but I'm struggling to make pieces in order to meet demand. I don't really want to employ anyone else - what can I do?
A. Have you considered that you may be charging too little? Higher prices will put some customers off but would generate the same revenue with fewer pieces.
Send your questions to Professor Russell Smith at email@example.com. Selected questions will be answered each month. Answers are for the general guidance of owner-managers only; always seek professional advice.
Professor Smith is the founder of Oxford-based Business Boffins Ltd which, in collaboration with Oxford Brookes University Business School, delivers sustainability support programmes to small businesses nationwide. Independent On Sunday readers can enrol on the university-accredited programme at a discounted rate; see www.businessboffins.com/iosReuse content