Providing performance reviews of your employees is never easy, especially when the employee in question is you! With so many inherent biases about yourself, both positive and negative, how do you know whether your self-assessment is truly objective? Fortunately, gathering accurate data about your own performance is simpler than you think. In episode #114, Elizabeth Larkin and Gene Marks offer advice on how to objectively evaluate your performance as a small business owner.

Executive Summary

1:23—Today’s Topic: How Do I Give Myself a Performance Review?

6:16—The first step in reviewing your performance as a small business owner is to create a list of measurable goals and objectives that you would like to achieve.

7:19—If you feel that you have met your goals, be sure to also check in with your clients and employees for external feedback about how well you accomplished them or whether there is room for improvement.

10:53— Perform a small business SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis to help you determine where you stand.

13:26—Once you’ve gathered all the data from your evaluations and SWOT analysis, use this information to give yourself a report card.

15:04—Based on your report card, you need to design a strategy that tangibly addresses all of your results.

15:27—Business owners are encouraged to seek out a mentor who can provide guidance or hold them accountable for fulfilling all their goals.

20:52—Elizabeth advocates joining a Facebook Group to connect with other like-minded business owners.


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Elizabeth: Welcome back to the Small Biz Ahead podcast. I’m Elizabeth Larkin, I’m the managing editor of Small Biz Ahead. Although not for much longer, Gene.

Gene: What’s going on?

Elizabeth: I hired someone.

Gene: So you’re not gonna be the managing editor anymore?

Elizabeth: I’m just gonna host the podcast with you, and that’s all I’m gonna do all day long.

Gene: I quit. It’s sort of a dream job. Just hanging out with me all day and doing podcasts.

Elizabeth: So I wanna welcome Hannah Stacy, who is going to be the new managing editor of Small Biz Ahead and I’m sure we’ll have her on the podcast because she’s gonna be working with all the writers, choosing the topics we talk about on this show, and what we write about. And we just met her for lunch and she’s wonderful so welcome to Hannah. Gene’s title is not changing though, he’s still our Small Business expert. Small Business owner, Small Business speaker.

Gene: CPA.

Elizabeth: CPA, Accountant.

Gene: This and that.

Elizabeth: Nerd et cetera. Et cetera. So today we’re talking about reviews. Because we talk about reviews typically in the middle and in the end of the year. Because most small business owners I hope are taking time to review their employees. Maybe it’s not like a whole formal review process, but you’re at least meeting with them and saying like, “Hey, now this is what happened so far this year. This is what I’d like you to keep working on for the rest of the year. Maybe do this a little differently than what you’ve been doing.” And checking in on their goals and what not?

But do you ever review yourself, Gene?

Gene: No.

Elizabeth: Are you afraid of what the results might be?

Gene: When you are a business owner, you don’t get … It’s not that people would get a review. I guess it’s the kind of person you are, Elizabeth. I mean like I don’t, in my business, there are 10 people in my company. To me, the numbers speak for themselves. I feel like my clients are happy with the job that I’m doing and my business is doing, as long as they keep paying our bills. And I do believe that my employees are happy with me.

Elizabeth: Because they haven’t rage quit on you?

Gene: Yeah, they haven’t rage quit on me. You know what I mean? They enjoy coming back and I’m … I don’t solicit feedback. I mean maybe I should be doing that more. I think it’s just different people want different things. Different business owners may have personalities where they would like that feedback more and want something more documented. I think that’s fine. I just personally, as a business owner, don’t really care. I mean, you know what I mean? When you work for a company you have a boss. I have hundreds of bosses and they’re all our clients.

Elizabeth: Your customers and clients.

Gene: And so they’re the ones that are doing the review on me and me personally. And again, if they pay my bills then I … to me, that’s a win.

Elizabeth: So after we hear from our sponsor we’re going to go through a six-step process that any small business owner can use to review themselves. We’ll be right back.

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QUESTION: Do You Have a Process to Review Yourself?

Elizabeth: So we do have an article that outlines that process. I’m going to link to it in the show notes. It’s actually by Felicia Sullivan who we had on a couple of weeks ago. A great guest talking about firing clients that become, that start … you’ll lose money because you’re servicing them and how you can do that.

So in Felicia’s guide to this, her argument is you’re a small business owner, you’re reviewing your employees, you’re setting goals for them and giving them objectives. You’re giving them feedback, you’re soliciting feedback on them. But do you ever really end up doing that for yourself? Do you have any external check on yourself on how you’re doing as a manager?

So for someone like Gene, you don’t.

Gene: I don’t care.

Elizabeth: You don’t care?

Gene: But that doesn’t mean that I’m right. You’re a manager yourself, I’m just saying I personally don’t care. Elizabeth, persuade me that I should.

Elizabeth: Okay, so you don’t need a lot of external motivation though. You’re not one of those people that’s … you just get up and you run your business, and you don’t need a lot of external motivation.

Gene: I don’t. And again, when it comes to clients I don’t. I really don’t care if clients like me or dislike me, as long as they’re happy with-

Elizabeth: Are you sensing a pattern here?

Gene: As long as they’re happy with our services. When a client is unhappy with the services that we’re performing, then I care. If they’re unhappy with me individually, I just can’t get along with everybody. And not everybody’s gonna love you and whatever.

Elizabeth: That really doesn’t bother you at all? Even the slight … what if it’s a customer you really like, and they’re like just I just don’t like you?

Gene: Sure, of course. That would upset me, it doesn’t happen that much. But there are tons of people that, can you believe this guy? Lots of people in the past, do not like me. And they still continue to do business with the company because they like other people in the company. Or they like whoever is providing the services. So I stay out of it, I’m like the bad guy. I kinda like in a way, being the bad guy in a sense that, sort of the final say. And my employees, as long as my employees they are the good guys. And they have good relationships with our clients. That’s-

Elizabeth: Yeah, that’s what really matters.

Gene: That’s what I really care about.

Elizabeth: So let’s say, you’re a newer business owner. And you’re like, okay how am I doing? Do my employees like working for me? Do they feel fulfilled in what they’re doing? Am I giving them enough direction, are they getting enough leadership from me? Am I micro-managing? Should I step back a little bit?

We have a six-step plan to help you figure those things out and give yourself a review. So the first one is set your goals and objectives. So if you’re, to borrow a phrase from Gene, “The smart business owners I know already have goals and objectives.”

Gene: I’ve heard that before. Yes, they do.

Elizabeth: So I remember, I think you do it around January and February. You set short term and long term goals for yourself and your business.

Gene: I do, but they’re never-

Elizabeth: And they’re fluid.

Gene: They’re fluid, but they’re also very quantifiable. You know I have objectives of sales goals. I have objectives of projects we’re working on I wanna get accomplished. I have objectives of client renewals or things that we’re trying to get done. So they’re really sort of black and white, like we either did that or we didn’t.

So it’s not a review that’s, I don’t think it’s a performance review. I just think it’s sort of company objective.

Elizabeth: This is the first step of a performance review.

Gene: Oh sorry, okay. Go ahead, so carry on.

Elizabeth: So, in reviewing those, you have your external.

Gene: So, we have objectives for the company.

Elizabeth: You have your goals, your objectives for the year. At that point, you’ve got those. So you can say, “Oh, I’m meeting these goals. Or I’m not those goals.” So that’s the first part.

The second part is you need to go out and get external feedback. So you really need to talk to your clients and your employees. Now I know that might be a little awkward for people.

Gene: It’s a different, some people are very, very into surveys. And I’m, I totally get that. So here’s a good example. I am starting up a new company that’s gonna be providing, and we’ll talk about this in the future. But it’s providing online training. And one of the things we’re gonna build in there is, surveys. So when people finish their training, I wanna get feedback from them. If they like the instructor, if they like the content, if they like the platform. I’m gonna be doing that, it’s nothing about me by the way.

It’s not, nobody’s gonna evaluating my job performance. They’re evaluating the service that we’re providing. I think that’s important.

Elizabeth: I think that’s, exactly what we’re talking about here. So, you have goals and objectives for your business. You’re either meeting them or you’re not meeting them. And then you’re going out and getting external feedback from your customers.

Gene: Correct.

Elizabeth: And saying, how’s our customer service? How’s the product? How’s this going? Do you like the person you’re working with? Then you’re getting feedback from your actual employees and that could just be a one-on-one meeting, or it could be a survey. Otherwise, it gets kinda awkward to send your employees survey.

So you go to them and you say like, “Do you think you’re getting enough direction from me? Is there anything else that I can be providing you that can make your job easier?”

Gene: Do you do that here at The Hartford? When you do your performance reviews with your boss, do … is there a part of this exercise where you give feedback to the boss?

Elizabeth: So in a previous job, at a big company, actually an investment bank. You do, they’re called 360 reviews. So everyone is evaluated by people that report to them, people that are their peers and people that are their boss. So even I worked for the Head of Equities and I reviewed him every year, which was super awkward. The thing is he wanted that feedback. Really good managers want that feedback and I say it to the people that I work with all the time, is there anything that I can be providing to you that I’m not to make your job easier?

Gene: It’s good, it’s good.

Elizabeth: And a lot of times, it’s not personal. A lot of times, well you know what actually? I really am looking to do this online training course, I need this. I’m having this problem, I need you to intercede and something like that. And that’s my job. I see that as my job.

Gene: Do you know what? You really are persuading me. You are having an impact on me. I didn’t even think this pod … I thought this podcast is all about giving advice to the listeners but I don’t do this to my employees. I don’t get 360 degree feedback. I mean we have performance evaluation. I’ve never asked for, “What do you think of me, or the job I’m doing or any other”. I know-

Elizabeth: Because those are the questions you ask, Gene. That’s so awkward.

Gene: So what questions should I be asking?

Elizabeth: So you should go to them and ask, “What could I be doing to help you do your job better?” And in those answers, they might be like, “You need to back off.” And then you know, you have your answer like I’m micro-managing too much. Or actually I’m having this issue, I need some troubleshooting. And then maybe with that person you know, I need to be a little more hands on.

Gene: Is that the only question that you ask in a review, or just what should I be doing to help you do your job better, or is there?

Elizabeth: I think that’s a good jumping off point and then you see what the conversation goes from there. So, at this point okay.

Gene: By the way, great advice. I’m gonna do that.

Elizabeth: Really?

Gene: I’m gonna start doing that this year.

Elizabeth: Oh my god, changing minds here.

Gene: This is really having an impact. Okay, I will do that.

Elizabeth: Okay, so we’re on step number three in performance review then. Step number one was review your goals and objectives that hopefully you’ve set earlier in the year. If you haven’t, set those now. Get some external feedback, one from your clients or customers, you can use surveys for that. Or you could just talk to them, that’s always a good idea. And also from your employees by starting a conversation and asking them, “What could I be helping you with so you can get your job done better?”

Gene: It’s tough.

Elizabeth: Okay, number three.

Gene: There’s more? Geez.

Elizabeth: It’s to perform a small business SWOT analysis. So Gene, what does SWOT stand for?

Gene: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. I like that, a SWOT analysis. I mean it sounds silly. The typical whatever, but this has been used for years and actually is really beneficial. It is, and I do it in a way. I mean, a couple times a year, you sit down and you think about your company and yourself. You do it both as a company and I do it individually. What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? What opportunities can we go out there and what threats are there to our business that could impede us?

Elizabeth: So for your business, you run a small tech company. What’s one of the threats? Just as an example.

Gene: Sure. Competing products is a threat. So maybe we’re not offering the right kind of product. There are many threats by the way, we don’t have enough expertise for a specific product. One of the threats might be a product might be going out. We used to sell products, still do actually, that was not a cloud-based product. And in fact, that was our main product. That was just a few years ago. So as the cloud was growing, we were like, “Wow, a big threat is that it’s gonna put this product out to pasture. We need to do something about it.” So those are threats that are impacting your business. Competitors, products.

Elizabeth: So, this is useful for you to do this couple of times a year.

Gene: It really, yeah. You need to be thinking about threats.

Elizabeth: Okay. So we’re moving on to the fourth step. This is where the rubber really meets the road so to speak. We’ve been doing a lot of data analysis or data gathering here. So step one, you’re reviewing your goals and your objectives. Step two, you’re getting feedback from your customers, employees. Step three, you’re doing that SWOT analysis. Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats. Number six, is you’re gonna bring it all together and give yourself a report.

Gene: Number six? We just did three, that was number four.

Elizabeth: Sorry, yes you’re right. Sorry.

Gene: Number four’s learning how to do math.

Elizabeth: I was a philosophy major. So, number four is you’re gonna give yourself a report card. So, that’s just kinda a cheesy way of saying you’re gonna bring all that data together. So you’re gonna see how you’re measuring up against your goals and your objectives, you’re gonna get your feedback and then you’re gonna take your SWOT analysis. And I don’t know, where do you do this? Do you do this on like a Word document?

Gene: You know I would, taking that into consideration, I don’t know if I’d be giving myself a report card. What I’d be doing is I would be taking notes in my … in my CRM system and maybe in a note taking application like an Evernote, or Task in Outlook where I’m taking my notes and kinda summing up what I learned and what I’d improve. And then maybe scheduling that out six months from now, so that six months later you’re in your Task list or your Calendar, and you’ve got your last review and what you found. And have you made in your progress in those things you’ve decided to do?

Elizabeth: But you’ve jumped over a very important step, and that’s step number five. Is designing a strategy for improvement.

Gene: Ah, I see. Right well. You need to be considering what you’re gonna do to improve. Okay, make sense.

Elizabeth: Exactly. So if you were just to jump five months, six months ahead and you’re like, “How am I doing now”, but you didn’t actually improve on anything, you’re just gonna be repeating the whole thing.

Gene: Good point, good point.

Elizabeth: Gene’s giving me a dirty look.

Gene: No, that’s good. So let’s recap this from the beginning.

Elizabeth: Okay so, number one you’re reviewing your goals and objectives, which hopefully you’ve set earlier in the year. Every year you do that. Getting feedback from your clients and from your employees. You’re performing a SWOT analysis for your business. And then you bring it all together by giving yourself a report card.

Gene: Got it, got it.

Elizabeth: Kinda see where you are.

Gene: Got it.

Elizabeth: At that point, at number five, you’re designing a strategy for improvement. So what that means is, if you see a threat, if you see a weakness, how are you gonna improve on those?

Gene: Sure, sure. Or even an opportunity?

Elizabeth: Definitely yeah. An opportunity. And with that, if you’re a person that likes mentors, the sixth part of this is you seek out a mentor. Who can actually continue to give you gut checks over the coming months. Like are you doing this? You’ve identified this opportunity, you have this weakness. What are you actually doing about it?

Gene: Right, right. Well the question is, is you come up with different kind of conclusions. It’s all nice if you’re thinking about this in your head. But working in a vacuum is not gonna help anybody. So it really is good to get some feedback from somebody else. So do you have a mentor here? I mean, do you … Does The Hartford have any kind of an official mentorship program?

Elizabeth: Not that I’m aware of.

Gene: Do you consider anybody here to be your mentor?

Elizabeth: I mean I have a former boss that I like to go to for advice. And then I have an outside friend, just a long time friend who, we talk about our careers every couple weeks. And bounce ideas off each other. But those are more, I would call her more of an accountability partner, which for me I really need that because I need a lot of external motivation to get things done. You’re, you don’t. Like you are internally motivated so-

Gene: I don’t have … My dad used to be my mentor, but you know he passed away a decade ago. Since then, I don’t really have a mentor.

Elizabeth: But you want one right?

Gene: I do, I really do. I have, I have people in my company I talk to certainly in my personal life, I talk to. But I realize this, from a business standpoint I wanna bounce certain off, I wanna just talk about my business with. I don’t have that mentor. There are places I could go to get a mentor. I’ve been asked to join business groups before. Vistage is a perfect example and there are a few of them. EO.

Elizabeth: I’ll put that in the show notes.

Gene: Entrepreneur’s Organization is another good one. There are local groups of business owners in non-competing industries, where you pay I mean a few thousand a year, up to 15, 20 thousand a year depending on the service that you want. But you get connected to a small group of other like-minded business owners and you meet with them and it’s a commitment and you really do share your world with them.

My issue with those groups is, not with the groups but with me. I mean I do a lot of traveling. So it’s really tough for me to commit. And I don’t wanna let the other people in my group down, because everybody’s really relying on each other for feedback. And I feel like I won’t be able to give the kind of commitment that I could. But I tell you, if I was more stationary, I would join a group like that. I think it’s really therapeutic to get together with other people of your sort of age and background or skill set or whatever that you’re not competing against, and just have a good hour or two where you can just vent.

Elizabeth: Just get together and cry.

Gene: You can cry to each other and you realize that your problems the same as this person’s problems. Everybody shares. And then other people come up, listen. No problems that we have are new, right? They’ve all been done a thousand times before.

Elizabeth: How do we get more customers? How do we deal with this? The economy.

Gene: Yeah, right. Or I have a problem employee or I’m gonna hire a sales person. What kind of a contract should I give them? I’m having a problem with this customer. What do I do?

People give you good advice. I don’t have that, I wish I did. I wish I had a good mentor.

Elizabeth: So people can go and find, like I see a meetup all the time. Entrepreneurial meetup groups and whatnot.

Gene: It’s just the issue with those groups, is that they are complete strangers. And I have a little, it’s not even sharing the information of my business, that doesn’t bother me as much. It’s just, I don’t know if I even like them or respect their opinion or care what they have to say.

Elizabeth: Gene does not like a lot of people so-

Gene: So I don’t know if I’m gonna be with a mentor, I’d like to be with somebody that I respect their feedback.

Elizabeth: What about your local, what is that called? Chamber of Commerce?

Gene: Same thing. I mean, well Chamber of Commerce has …

Elizabeth: Because they seem to have a lot of events.

Gene: It depends on the group. And your industry group as well. I mean, there’s definitely places you can go to find mentors. Question is whether or not you’re gonna like. Score, is another great place. I mean Score is, you’re small business development center. These are funded by the Small Business Administration, they provide retired executives. And they mentor small businesses. They’re great. I mean all these places are really, I’ve seen many success stories with all these different options.

But again, my only drawback to all those is that you’re all working with strangers. That might not be a drawback, that might be good. Somebody you don’t even know, who has no skin in the game, they come in and they say, “You stink at those.” You know what I mean? You should be doing better at that and there’s something to be said for that.

Elizabeth: So, I have an idea. I wanna have my friend, Felicia Sullivan back on because she is a big mentor person, she has mentees, she’s had mentors.

Gene: I’d like to hear what she says.

Elizabeth: And I think she could give our listeners some really good ideas on where to find mentors. And we will be right back with the word of the day which is actually going to be my word of the day.

Gene: Really?

Elizabeth: It’s two words and it has something to do with this topic. So if you’re looking for a mentor, or even a mentee, I might have a good option for you.

Gene: I’m ready.


Elizabeth: Okay, we’re back with Elizabeth’s Word of Brilliance.

Gene: This is exciting. Okay, go ahead.

Elizabeth: I have two words. Facebook Groups.

Gene: Facebook Groups, okay.

Elizabeth: So we might have actually used this as a word before. But I think it was probably more to market your business. If you are looking for like-minded business owners, Facebook groups are a great way to go. I am, I have a side hobby, I write a travel blog. And I joined. I was kinda feeling really uninspired and I wasn’t really that into it anymore. And on a whim, someone told me they had joined a Facebook group for a hobby they had and they were really bowled over by how much great info they got. So I looked up travel bloggers and I joined this group. And it has completely reinvigorated my interest in this hobby.

Gene: Tell me why? Like how so?

Elizabeth: Because it’s just other people doing something I love to do and sharing. People are so open with how they do things.

Gene: And they get passionate about it too.

Elizabeth: Very passionate about it. So I did some research for Small Biz Ahead and I was looking into small business owner groups on Facebook. And some of them you have to pay to get into because they’re so good. And it’s wonderful because people will ask the questions you were asking before, like I’m gonna hire a salesperson, what kinda contract should I give them?

Gene: And everybody chimes in and participates yeah? And by the way, I think paid groups are a thousand times worth the money because now people have got some skin in the game. So if you’re gonna pay, you’re gonna participate.

Elizabeth: Even questions like, I have an employee who smells. What do I say to that person? I mean that’s kind of a classic example of like a conversation you don’t wanna have unless you have a full-time HR person, it’s kinda hard to fix something like that.

Gene: How about LinkedIn groups? I mean do you have a preference over that over Facebook?

Elizabeth: I’ve never tried LinkedIn before.

Gene: Those are excellent.

Elizabeth: But we have found that most small business owners, at least the ones reading Small Biz Ahead are heavy Facebook users.

Gene: Well there’s 70 million small business pages on Facebook so that doesn’t surprise me. But LinkedIn groups, I found to be very good for a specific topic of interest. So rather than just general small business, if you’re an engineer or if you’re into marketing, or if you’re an HR person. There’s very specific industry focused topics on LinkedIn which are really good.

Elizabeth: We’ll be back in a couple of days with our next episode and this is about a topic that Gene really loves.

Gene: Netflix?

Elizabeth: How do you handle a late paying client.

Gene: Oh, let’s go.

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