Before You Sign That Commercial Lease . . .

Finding commercial office space can be quite a challenge. While there’s certainly real estate available, finding the right office space that satisfies your business needs, fits your business vibe, is conveniently located, offers your business the flexibility to grow and which falls within your budget doesn’t necessarily come easy. And, even if you should find that “perfect” or “close to perfect” office space, you’ll still need to negotiate fair lease terms and work out the language in the final lease agreement before it’s a done deal. You don’t want to blindly sign on the dotted line!

First, negotiate the lease terms with the landlord. If you aren’t a strong negotiator or don’t feel you have the experience to negotiate, seek an experienced and qualified real estate broker who specializes in working for and in the interest of tenants. They should have insight into the real estate market and relationships with buildings and landlords to help you find the right space and negotiate, in good faith, fair terms with the various buildings and landlords.

Keep in mind that there are various factors which may help your negotiating power including, but not limited to: prominence of your business, size and financial position of your business, amount of commercial real estate space you intend on leasing and the length of the lease term (a longer term lease may offer you stronger negotiating power over a shorter term lease).

Once you’ve negotiated the lease terms to a point which are reasonably fair and agreeable, the landlord will have their legal counsel draw up the lease documents. Be sure to read the commercial lease agreement and all the applicable attachments, amendments, riders, guaranties and related documents thoroughly. Be sure that the lease terms and conditions, responsibilities and obligations of both the tenant and landlord are clearly spelled out and align with what has been agreed to during the lease negotiations. These include, but are not limited to: the start/end date of the lease, the lease term (number of years), the lease renewal and termination provisions, the date landlord shall deliver possession of the premises to the tenant, the date in which tenant shall surrender the premises to the landlord, base rent and any applicable rent abatement(s), additional fees and costs outside of the base rent (ex: cleaning, security, water/sprinkler), annual rent escalation (percent increase), proportionate share of property taxes and other applicable costs/expenses beyond the base year, the base year to be used for calculating property taxes and other applicable costs/expenses beyond the base year, electricity costs (ex: if the space is individually metered), HVAC (ex: if HVAC is tenant controlled – annual maintenance agreement requirement, who is responsible for repair/replacement of major components like compressor/condenser or replacement of the unit(s) in the event of a failure during the lease term? the landlord’s certification that the existing HVAC unit is in good operating condition; if HVAC is not tenant controlled, availability and costs for after-hours and weekend use), security deposit requirement, office space build out work and responsibilities, work to be performed by landlord, work to be performed by tenant (if work requires written approval by landlord), landlord responsibilities, tenant responsibilities, cost for building and office keys/key cards, covered and non-covered (a la carte) building services, commercial insurance requirement, “good guy” clause, etc. These are just some of the common items that typically appear in a commercial lease agreement which you should be on the lookout for and review carefully.

Even as an experienced business owner well-versed in negotiating contracts and agreements, it should go without saying that you should tap into and consult with a good real estate attorney who will thoroughly review the lease agreement and all the applicable attachments, amendments, riders, guaranties and related documents to make sure they are in order and contain the appropriate language to protect your interests. Let me be clear, having a good real estate attorney review the lease agreement does not mean that you should “pass the buck” and not exercise due diligence. YOU need to review the lease agreement thoroughly, make notes and consult with the real estate attorney so that you have a thorough understanding of what you are getting into before you sign and commit to the lease agreement. Don’t assume anything! Ask questions, get clarification and be sure you fully understand and are comfortable with the provisions of the agreement. Don’t think for a moment that any questions are stupid or silly. If it’s ambiguous, vague, unclear etc., get clear, definitive answers! Contracts and agreements often contain legalese which are difficult to fully comprehend and understand and may be vague and ambiguous.

Commercial leases are written for and inure to the benefit of the landlord. The objective is to try and get the lease terms to a point where the terms provide adequate protections, to the maximum extent possible, for you – the tenant. There may be several rounds of back-and-forth between you (and your legal counsel) and the landlord (and the landlord’s legal counsel) before you hash out the final language of the lease agreement so be patient, be thorough and exercise continued due diligence. This is one of those things where taking shortcuts will be more harmful than helpful. Don’t take shortcuts! Stick with best practices!

One final note . . . give yourself ample time to work through the process of lease negotiations and towards a final agreeable and acceptable lease agreement and whenever possible, have a backup plan. If you, with the advice of counsel, don’t feel comfortable with the lease terms and the landlord is not acting in good faith, don’t give in and don’t sign the lease agreement! Be prepared and willing to walk away! You don’t want to be stuck in an agreement for which you will ultimately regret!

Customer Service Can Make or Break Your Business

Customer service is a core part of many businesses. When customers reach out to or for customer service, quite often it’s about a problem or an issue that requires a resolution. Customers are typically looking for someone who is going to listen to and understand the issue at hand. They are looking for someone who understands that there is a sense of urgency, the issue needs to be treated with a level of priority and that it will be addressed in a timely manner. Customers are also looking for accountability; someone to take charge, be responsible and follow through from start to finish to ensure the problem or issue reaches final resolution or is escalated appropriately and promptly up the chain until reaching that resolution.

Talk is cheap! Customers want results!

It’s important to note that this is not the time to upsell or downsell to customers. Upselling or downselling is not a solution or resolution to a problem or issue. These are retention tactics, plain and simple! Sure, some customers may be taken in by the tactic while others who understand the retention tactic may manipulate it to their advantage. For real problems or issues, this will likely infuriate customers, especially patrons. Fair warning: If you’re going to play with fire, you’re going to get burned! Put your customers first! Focus on resolving the issue at hand in a timely, effective and efficient manner. Don’t give your customers the runaround and don’t make them jump through hoops. In the end, it can have serious repercussions on your business and its reputation.

Any business that is defined, in whole or in part, by the quality of their customer service, their customer service reputation and customer satisfaction rating MUST step up and provide an exceptional, premier level of customer service to their customers not only to differentiate themselves from their competitors but also to demonstrate and prove to their customers that they have earned and deserve their customers’ business. Anything less is simply unacceptable.

Planning For A Rainy Day

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you suddenly lost your job? Are you financially prepared to deal with a sudden loss of your income stream? Do you have a backup plan and reserve funds for a “rainy day” event?

Hopefully, you’ll never end up in this situation; however, life doesn’t always play out the way we hope it will and change is always constant. While there may be early warning signs or indications that something may be brewing, without a clear sense of urgency, there may be no desire to act without knowing for certain something is imminent. Sure, you can actively look for new job opportunities (and there’s nothing wrong with that) but when it comes down to timing, events don’t always play out the way we would like them to.

That said, if you haven’t already started to, it’s important to create a safety net or security blanket for yourself, and if applicable, for your family. Start setting aside reserve funds for a “rainy day.” You’ll want to have reserve funds that will cover no less than three (3) months of expenses to start, but ideally, you’ll want to grow it to cover anywhere between six (6) months to one (1) year worth of expenses.

You’ll always want to maintain a stable reserve of funds. In good times, you can tap into reserve funds to meet short-term cash needs (ex: major investments and capital improvements like replacing major appliances, home improvement, etc.) but keep in mind that you need to replenish those funds as additional funds become available. Don’t get into the habit of draining your reserve funds and only realizing there’s a problem when you have an “Oh No!” moment. There is a REAL inherent danger when using reserve funds irresponsibly. Don’t be irresponsible! Of course, you’re better equipped to assess your financial situation at any given time, so you need to make those responsible decisions when it comes down to whether you should tap into your reserve funds in various situations.

Also, be sure you are living within your means. Plan and budget for your expenses. Don’t get into the habit of spending what you don’t have or what you can’t afford simply because your credit card issuer or bank is extending a line of credit to you. A credit line is NOT free cash. If you are constantly paying the minimum balance on your credit cards or overdrawing your credit cards or bank account, you are NOT living within your means.

Make it a point to periodically review your spending habits; trim any non-essential expenses. It’s okay to splurge every now and then but don’t throw your hard-earned money down a big, black hole. You want to be responsible with your finances. If you run into a “rainy day” situation, you’ll be in a much better position if you’ve been responsibly managing and monitoring your finances.

A Job Interview Is A Two-Way Street!

Job interviews can certainly be nerve-racking. While they may open the door to potentially great opportunities and hopefully, to a long bright future, they can unquestionably make you nervous and feel uneasy for good reason. Job interviews are an opportunity to showcase your credentials, demonstrate credibility and make an impression (hopefully, a very positive one) that will resonate long after you leave the interview. If the job interview is for that “dream job” that you’ve searched long and hard for, a great interview could land you that “perfect job” while a poor interview may leave you feeling defeated and devastated.

That said, it’s also important to understand and realize that job interviews are a two-way street. Yes, it’s your opportunity to showcase your credentials, make a lasting impression and statement about why you should get the job; BUT, it’s also an opportunity for YOU to evaluate the job opportunity to determine if it truly is the right match for you.

Use the job interview to assess the job opportunity thoroughly beyond the basics like job function/duties, compensation and benefits.

What is a typical work day like?

You’ll want to try to get a feel for what a typical day in the life of this job would be. Yes, no two days are alike but what are some of the things that you can expect each day from basic to moderate to extreme. Is it a fast-paced, be quick-on-your-feet type of job? Is it a seasonal type of business? Are there peaks and lulls? Is it a 24/7 type of business where you’ll be constantly on-call or is it more of a “9 to 5” or “8 to 6” type of job?

Does this job offer a good personal/work life balance?

While you’re certainly willing to put in 110% towards the job, it’s vital to have a good personal/work life balance to manage stress and avoid burnout. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be effective or efficient in what you are doing. During the interview you’ll want to try and get a sense of what the personal/work life balance will be like in this job. As eager as you may be to get the job, you also don’t want to regret it immediately thereafter.

What is the culture, atmosphere and environment like? Do you like and feel comfortable with the culture, atmosphere and environment?

You’ll be spending a good amount of time in this job, so this is very important. Be sure to look around the office and try to gauge the atmosphere. Pay attention to how people act, behave, respond, interact, operate and so forth. If you meet with multiple interviewers or other company employees, it’s a great opportunity to gauge your interaction with each interviewer and employee. You can learn a lot from just having conversations with various people within the company. Also look around the office, how it’s setup, organized and arranged. The look and feel of the office can say a lot about the environment, atmosphere and culture. Rely on your senses and instincts.

What are the opportunities for growth & development? What is the outlook for the future?

You want to get a sense of what the future will look like for both you and the company. Obviously, if this is a job and more importantly, a company that you hope to spend many years with, you’ll want to have room and opportunity to grow and develop. If the outlook is that it’ll take 3-5 years before you can make a move within the company, you’ll need to decide as to whether this is the right fit for you personally and career-wise. Sometimes you may take a position that isn’t quite in your area of interest but has the potential to get you into your area of interest with the caveat that it will take several years. You need to decide whether taking this job is the most appropriate course of action or whether it’s better to seek a different opportunity. How does this fit into your short and long-term personal & career plan?

You’ll also want to get a feel for where the company stands currently and where it is going. If you walk into a company that appears to be on its last leg, you’ll seriously need to take this into consideration because you know that within a certain period, you could be on your way right out the door. On a similar note, if a company is in the process of a merger or acquisition, there is the potential for downsizing or elimination of duplicate roles or job positions. While mergers and acquisitions are a way for companies to grow & expand rapidly and may result in benefits for some employees, there is always the potential for job losses.

So, the next time you go on a job interview, keep in mind that it’s a two-way street. The interviewer is exercising his or her due diligence and so should you!

Best Practices for Small Business Corporate Cards

A business credit or charge card can be helpful for business owners when it comes to making purchases and paying expenses on behalf of your business. However, it’s extremely important to develop best practices when it comes to managing and using these cards.

When applying for a business credit or charge card, determine the type of card that best suits your business needs. A business credit card, just like a personal credit card, will offer you a fixed credit limit and the ability to pay over time while a charge card will have no preset spending limit (not to be confused with unlimited spending power) and will typically require the balance be paid in full each month. It should go without saying that you should only spend what you can afford so that you can afford to pay your monthly bill in full every month. Paying over time will not only cost more in the long run (due to accrued interest) but also set you and your business on the path of accruing unnecessary debt.

As a startup or small business, you’ll want to find cards that offer no annual fee while still offering some bang for the buck (ex: sign-on bonuses, cash back rewards, points for every dollar). As your business grows, you may need to upgrade or switch to a different card that offers you greater benefits and rewards, but keep in mind that you may need to pay an annual membership fee to gain some of those added benefits and rewards. While paying an annual membership fee won’t necessarily break the bank, don’t go off and get a credit/charge card with a $400 or $500 annual fee if the value of the benefits and rewards do not help offset the cost of the annual fee.

A business credit or charge card, unlike a personal card, is intended for legitimate BUSINESS expenses only. Do not get into the habit of mixing business and personal expenses on a business credit or charge card. Cardholder agreements will usually state that business credit or charge cards are only to be used for business expenses. While card issuers may not audit every transaction made on a business credit or charge card, failing to keep your business and personal expenses separate can pose risks and liabilities including piercing the corporate veil and you could face penalties if your business were to undergo an audit by the IRS (ex: treating personal expenses as deductible business expenses). Just don’t do it!

If you are planning on issuing additional business credit or charge cards to employees, be sure to limit the number of cards to only those employees who absolutely require one for legitimate business purposes. Also, be sure to have written policies in place on the proper use of business credit or charge cards. Make sure every employee understands the current policies in place and provide refreshers as needed. As part of your written policies, you may want to include a policy requiring employees to obtain pre-approval or pre-authorization by management before any charges are placed on a business credit/charge card and/or set spending thresholds which require additional management approval.

Make sure that for every transaction on the card, there is a corresponding receipt for the purchase. You should also require that a monthly reconciliation (ex: expense report) for each card be submitted along with copies of all the corresponding receipts for the applicable charges. Be sure to thoroughly review every monthly statement for accuracy and to protect against fraudulent charges. It can also be beneficial to enable alerts on each card and on the master card account and to frequently monitor transactions on the cards. All card issuers should have an online dashboard which allows you to monitor all the card accounts and transactions on your master account.

With some business card accounts, card issuers will allow you to select billing options for your cards. For example, one option would be to receive a single master bill for your business credit/charge card account with a breakdown of each individual card and the respective charges.  The business, upon reviewing and reconciling the statement, can then pay the master bill each month. Another option would be to have individual credit/charge card bills issued to each cardholder. Each cardholder would then be responsible for paying their respective bills and then submit those expenses back to the business for reimbursement. The latter option would add an extra layer of protection for the business to prevent and deter unauthorized spending on a card.

Business credit and charge cards can be a useful and vital tool in helping a business owner manage and run his/her business, but like anything else, they must be used properly and responsibly.