Beeswax in Business
Control Room, c. 1942 Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria.

I’ve been thinking about minding the beeswax of business.

It started when I was happily watching a period drama. You know the kind of thing – lovely clothes, beautiful houses and lush gardens. Cold relationships between the rich and aristocratic families, but much warmer with their domestic servants.

So it came as a bit of a culture clash to see a bunch of small business operators complaining about having to pay their staff more. Particularly in terms of having to pay them extra to work on weekends.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know that running a small business is hard – I run one myself. I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to do things so I don’t have to pay or rely on others to do them.

And several of my small business owner friends pay their staff more than they pay themselves.

Beeswax of Business 1: Owners

When we think of a generic business, we tend to think of the big ones. The ones that make squllions of dollars and pay next to no tax. We think of “fat cats,” overseas factories and exploited workers.

The ruthless big ones who can afford to contract top accountants and lawyers to ensure that a pinch of this and a dash of that reduce the company’s liabilities. The ones with thousands of owners (shareholders) paying a board and management to take care of their interests.

We don’t tend to think of farms, shops or cafes. The small businesses at the low end of the profit spectrum who are disadvantaged by lack of access to adequate advice.

But the problem is that many small businesses are trying to play the same game as the big guys. They’re taking on debt to grow their businesses because they think it’s normal for a business to run at a loss for the first few years.

And as the sole owners using their homes as security for the debt, they have everything to lose. It’s no wonder they’re stressed about having to pay staff more.

BoB 2: Employees

But I think complaining about the cost of employing people is misguided. Especially when you do it on tv where they can see you…

People who enjoy their work, do a better job. When they:

  • Like their colleagues, they’ll help during stressful busy times.
  • Are thanked, they’ll be willing and happy to work a little harder.
  • Feel appreciated, they’ll actively look for ways to improve the business.

But if you don’t take care of them, they won’t take care of you. They’ll:

  • Only do the work they contracted to.
  • Stop working unpaid overtime.
  • Potentially sabotage your business.

And yet small business owners who can’t afford to chew through staff like big companies do, still risk it.

BoB 3: Customers

One important thing to remember, is that you don’t have a business without customers.

So, another good reason for taking care of your staff, is that they’re the ones taking care of your customers.

How good that care is, depends a great deal on how much care you’re taking of them.

Not too long ago, news broke that some well known restauranteurs weren’t paying staff their mandated wages and entitlements. It’s not just them of course, but they make a good illustration because when the public found out, they found they didn’t have customers anymore.

And the other day, my Uber driver told me all about a restaurant he’d been eating at when the owner shouted at a new girl on her first day. In the middle of the dining room (as opposed to somewhere quiet out the back where no one would hear).

How to Mind the Beeswax of Business

Something that many people forget, is that business is personal. And like other personal concerns, it’s not going to work if you’re spending more than you’re making.

All businesses are different, but if you can’t afford to pay your staff, don’t hire them! Do more of the work yourself!

And if you don’t want to do the work yourself, find other ways to cut costs so that you can afford to pay your staff properly:

  • Focus on what’s selling well and discontinue what’s not.
  • Reduce your hours of operation to your busiest times.
  • Cancel some of your less useful recurring expenses.
  • Find newer cheaper premises.
  • Outsource on a job by job basis rather than hiring staff you can’t afford.

These suggestions won’t work for every business, but you know your business the best. Just like your personal expenses, if you make the time to think about it, you’ll find the best ways to reduce your business costs.


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