Small businesses provide the majority of jobs in our country. What public policy issues most affect their bottom line? What are their challenges? How do they discuss those challenges with employees?
Bob Wendt, Owner of Cultivate Communications in Brookfield, Wisconsin, represents millions of employers like him who want to provide for their employees, grow their business, and protect our free enterprise system.
You’ll be encouraged and challenged as you listen to his reasons and recommendations for educating employees regarding the public policy issues that affect their jobs.
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Linda J. Hansen: Thank you for joining us today. Today, I have with me Bob Wendt who is the owner and President of Cultivate Communications. Cultivate Communications is a marketing and communications firm based in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area. Bob, I'd like you to share just a little bit about how long you've been with Cultivate and a little bit about your background and that would be great.
Bob Wendt: So, Cultivate has been in business for about six years and being in the Milwaukee area, most of our clients are manufacturing clients. We help support them and their efforts to grow their business by helping them develop websites and email and engagement programs to help them and their sales teams grow their sales. Right here in Brookfield along with another business I own which is a direct mail printing business, Heritage Printing. We've been in this Brookfield area for about 30 years and it's a great location.
Linda: Great location and great company. I wanted to interview Bob because he represents so many of the small businesses across this country. Small businesses are the largest employer in our country. And it is hard for a small business to stay in operation. And a lot of times their employees do not understand that. So, I was asking Bob, what do you find is one of the biggest challenges as a small business owner?
Bob: You know, you're challenged every day trying to grow your sales, trying to encourage your employees to stay engaged and participate in the growth of the business and you don't always have the resources that you need to do that. Small businesses are always intriguing because it's a balancing act between what you want to do and what you can do. And a lot of times, you have to make decisions that you think are in the best interest of the business and the best interest of the employees and you're constantly working and going through iterations of what you need to do to make your business viable. Small businesses live that and breathe that every single day.
Linda: We talked a little bit about the challenges that an owner experiences when they own a small business. Could you share a little bit more about that?
Bob: Again, you know, a lot of it comes down to resources. As an entrepreneur, you're always interested in what it takes to grow the business and you just always don't have the financial resources to do that. So you're constantly working between what you need to do to keep your business viable and what you can do. And it's risky sometimes. Sometimes you make good decisions but more times than not, you don't. You live and learn by that and sometimes you say you'll never do that again but an opportunity comes around and you do it again anyway. Again, it's really interesting, it's never a dull moment. Being a small business is great cause you're right at the core of interacting with the community and interacting with your clients and politicians and the environment that you need to exist into being a viable business owner.
Linda: What do you think your employees see as your biggest challenge? What do you think they perceive your biggest challenge to be?
Bob: They see that we work really hard at it and they go through the ebbs and flows of a business just like we do. As much as we try to insulate them from some of the opportunities or threats to the business, they see it every day. There's 30+ employees here. If you come in with egg on your face about something, they're gonna know it. They're gonna ask you what happened, what's going on. Informing them, keeping them engaged in the business is really absolutely critical. I think for all our employees, what they want is consistency. They want to know that they've got a consistent workplace, they've got a viable and growing business, that they've got a paycheck that's coming to them every week. That's like anybody, find that to be really critical.
Linda: Really critical. Before the interview, we were talking just a little bit about how that consistency is so important and how a small business owners often the owner is the one who either doesn't get paid or gets paid last. But a lot of times, employees do not understand the basic economics of job creation or what it takes to run a business. Can you expound on that a little bit?
Bob: Sure. The employees get a lot of information from us about the performance of the business. They know what we sell. They don't always know what it costs to produce that work. A lot of times, I think there's a misconception on the employee's standpoint that the owners make a ton of money. That would be great if that was true. I would love that and my family would love that too. But we work as hard in our business as our employees do. We strive to make our income consistent along with our employees. They just find that's hard to do sometimes. They get it, they really are looking for stability in their personal lives and a lot of that is related to how… stability they have in their work life.
Linda: I know that many small business owners who try so hard to keep stability for their employees, a lot of things are outside of their control. We've talked quite a bit about policies, regulations, laws that may impact a business and their profitability. What types of regulations or taxation has been helpful or harmful to your business?
Bob: Well, Wisconsin and our community, in general, has had some great years where the policies and tax have been very pro-business. What that's done is freed up cash for us to invest back in the business and create more stability. Anything that we save by not having to pay in taxes or excess taxes, we put back in our business. New equipment, new job opportunities, new training. It never goes back into your pocket. We have no problem paying taxes. We live in a beautiful community here in Milwaukee and in Brookfield and we need to support those resources. But when it gets excessive or it takes money away from the opportunities to grow the business then that's problematic for me and it can be problematic for my business.
Linda: I know you are pro-active in trying to explain about these policies to your employees. What types of things have you found to be most effective in talking about public policy with your employees?
Bob: Again, like anything with employees, you can’t over-communicate. You really have to share information with them about the business, about what's happening because they can influence decisions in the community in how they spend money, how they make choices in elections, how they contribute in the community in ways that impact our community. So, I find that employees have been very astute. They want information, they want to learn, they want to understand. We communicate with our employees on a regular basis. We're in front of them at a minimum, quarterly and on a day-to-day basis with most of them all the time. Just kind of sharing our points of view and sharing our obstacles and challenges and encouraging them to participate, really to understand what's happening out there so that they can make good decisions about healthcare, about taxes, about who they wanted as an elected official.
Linda: That's so important and I really commend you for that. A lot of employers feel they can't speak about these issues. What types of resources would be the most helpful for you as you try to discuss policy with your employees?
Bob: Again, our employees are amazingly astute in what they know and what they want to know about their financial situation, their public policies. The program that you put on, Prosperity 101, I think is a fantastic program to help educate people about some of the things that maybe impact their life but they don't spend enough time to really try and understand to the point where they could feel good about making those decisions. But all the information that we've provided them has been helpful in them making really good decisions about how they want to interact and utilize the resources that are available to them cause they are actually small business people too. And the fact that they have a mortgage and they own a car and they're managing resources just like we are as a business.
Linda: Just like you are, just on a different level. Exactly. If you could give a few tips to other employers about how best to communicate about policy issues, what would you say?
Bob: I think sharing with them multiple points of view is helpful and getting them the information that they need to make good decisions or connecting the dots. A lot of times they don't connect the dots on a policy decision or tax decision and how it potentially could impact them. The more information that you share with them, in my opinion, they're pretty smart, they're gonna make some good decisions.
Linda: Connecting the dots is one of the things that I've tried to do with the Prosperity 101 program is to be able to help people understand as we've talked about the foundations of prosperity, the policies of prosperity and then how to protect their prosperity by becoming informed, involved and impactful. Many people don't connect the dots about maybe our founding documents like what they mean to their freedom and to their prosperity. They may not connect the dots about taxation or regulation and what it means to a business owner when it comes to the pie of money that is available to keep the business running and to pay for employees. So, there's this whole educational component. Over the years that you've been in business have you seen any changes in the employee understanding about these issues?
Bob: I think, again, it's an ongoing process. As they mature and they understand life a little differently and business and politics a little differently, they make different decisions. I have a couple of kids and as 20 years old, they were just as free-minded as I was at 20 years old. It's really interesting how you shape their thinking so that they understand some of the things that maybe they don't totally connect the dots with, again, with regards to how public policies generate opportunities or hindrances to their lifestyle. Same thing is true with employees. They really make that connection.
Linda: They do. You know it's interesting when you talk to other employers or, I met you at a business networking event so I was thinking about when you talk to other employers, do you talk about these issues with them?
Bob: Yeah, we talk about it because we're all swimming in the same you know, ocean. Everybody has the same issues. We're all trying to navigate the hurdles that are in front of us to help our business and help our employees be successful.
Linda: When you think about your bottom line in the big picture, you talk about employees' understanding more about what it takes to run a business, the economics of running a business. How do you feel that that impacts their job performance when they understand more?
Bob: I think the more they understand, the better they perform because they can put things in perspective. So, the more you treat them like business owners, the more they'll act like business owners. I think that's a really critical point. Some of the information that I get is because I am involved with certain groups or you know I have those kinds of conversations with certain types of people. If I can trickle that down into my employees and they can start to feel a little bit more like they're part of the business, that they have a stake in what we're doing here, I think that makes them extremely more valuable employees.
Linda: I always say employee engagement equals employee retention.
Linda: Right. And so, an engaged employee is someone who will stay with you. They'll be more loyal, they'll be more committed to their job performance, they'll be more concerned about their long-term association with the company and the success of the company. I think that you've done an amazing job of growing your company and I've seen it firsthand, he's got great relationships with his employees and they are very devoted and committed and great to work with. So it's been really amazing to see the various employers who branch out and are unafraid to share about public policy issues. It's so important because, for some people, that may be the only education on this basic economics that they ever get. They may not have learned it in school, they may not be part of an entrepreneurial family where they don't understand, they've come from a different background and it's great when a business owner or a manager takes interest in the employees and helps them see the big picture. I look at it as the big picture of what really helps businesses run well and what keeps money in the tank to fill all the cars at everyone's lives. Do you have anything else that you'd like to add?
Bob: No. I mean, again, I think the program that you're putting together is fantastic. I'm looking forward to presenting it to my employees. I think programs like that are extremely helpful in what we're doing as business owners in creating an environment for success for everybody that's here.
Linda: I always say that a rising tide helps all ships sail. So when we can help employers be more successful, we can help businesses thrive, we help the individuals thrive. And when businesses and individuals thrive, then we have a community or nation that is also prosperous. So, for all of us, we really value that freedom and that opportunity to be in a free market society where our businesses can grow in an unlimited fashion.
Bob: Yeah. Everybody in America can have success, right? It's a great country, a great opportunity to be American.
Linda: It really is. Thank you so much, Bob. We appreciate you very much. What is the website of your company?
Bob: Our business is Cultivate Communications. It's cultivate-communications.com.
Linda: Please reach out to him if you'd like some marketing and communications work or some direct mail printing for some direct mail projects or anything. We appreciate the time that you've taken today. Please visit our website prosperity101.org for more information about our break room economics program. Thank you for joining us today.
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