Q I run a small thriving business, which sells products to a niche market. A competitor of mine has recently slashed its prices and there is no way I can compete. I am losing business hand over fist and really do not know what do to. Is there a way that I can entice my customers back without sacrificing profits?

A Unfortunately if your competitor is selling the same products as you to the same market at a cheaper price then customers will obviously buy from them. This is a very competitive world and you should look at ways of trying to reduce your costs. Look at your overheads and operational costs along with production costs. There is no easy answer to this question and in the short-term you may have to work on a smaller profit margin

Q I run a business where the busiest periods are between 11am and 2.30pm. I am frequently finding that I am short-staffed during these times due to employees taking lunch breaks. Where do I stand legally on staff break times and can you think of any way to resolve my problem?

A All staff are entitled to take breaks. If you find you are short-staffed at certain times you should look to perhaps employing part-time staff. In your case, you could do this between 11am and 3pm to cover lunch breaks. You could also stagger breaks and lunch breaks to try to ease the staff shortages.

Q A couple of employees have come to me requesting training, but my budgets are pretty tight. How can I assess which training would be most beneficial to each employee and what can I do to make sure the courses do not break the bank?

A One answer would be to perhaps do your training in-house, people with specific skills could give training to others. You should discuss training with your employees and see what training they feel they need and in what areas. You could perhaps send only one or two senior employees on courses and they could in turn train junior members of staff.

Q My business is particularly buoyant at the moment. The company has been inundated with orders and is making very healthy profits compared to this time last year. I should be over the moon, but my staff are all stressed and de-motivated. What should I do to let them know that I appreciate their efforts?

AA If your business is buoyant and your staff are de-motivated and stressed you should look at the reasons why they feel this way. Are they overworked? If so, it may be worth looking at temporary staff to give the workforce a boost, or if the orders look long-term you could consider increasing your workforce permanently. It is important to reward staff for jobs well done and the best way to do this is either give them a pay rise, or perhaps a one-off bonus as things are going so well. If you think the increased orders will last, perhaps you should think about a more structured bonus scheme - this will certainly increase staff morale and also from your point of view productivity.

Q My supervisor keeps passing projects on to me and then taking credit for the results. I want to say something to my manager, but I am worried that this will cause bad feeling within the office. I have tried to broach the subject with the person involved, but they seem to think this is common practice. What can I do to ensure that I get recognition for my efforts?

A This is a common problem. Perhaps the next project you are given you should pass it directly back to your manager, don't make an issue of it, just ensure the manager knows you have done it. If your supervisor is doing this to you, they may also be doing it to others, and if you take the lead and broach the problem with your manager the bad feeling in the office may not be as bad as you think. It is important for staff morale to get recognition for their efforts. If you don't, then over a period of time you will think why bother? You are probably going to have to stand-up and be counted.

Published: 23/09/2003