You may think that because your small business currently has one employee - yourself- you don’t need to worry about something like company culture, but that’s exactly when you should start. “Begin as you mean to go on” is a good way to look at it. Company culture, roughly defined, means how you go about daily business. It includes how you treat your customers and employees, the expectations you have of employees, and where you want to go with your company. What level of professionalism do you want? Professionalism is often defined as the strict adherence to courtesy, honesty and responsibility when dealing with individuals or other companies in the business environment. You want all of this in your dealings with others, and your customers, employees and vendors expect it from you. How you set and maintain this standard is the backbone of your company culture. Much as we would like to ignore this fact: how you dress affects how you are perceived. There are plenty of articles on the web about how casually teams in some of the big .com companies dress and behave; there’s not much written about the fact that these folks are working in a high pressure environment, expected to produce the next great thing in a short amount of time. “Work hard, play hard” comes from this culture and works for them. You have to decide if this is the environment you want. If you have a more customer forward business, your dress code and the environment in your offices should be more formal most of the time. You set the tone. If you don’t, your employees will by default, and it may not be what you want. A great deal of the working hours, or where your employees work is dictated by the nature of your business. Do you advertise that you are open certain hours of the day, do you have products that are expected to be shipped on a certain date, do you have customers by appointment? These details determine the hours your employees work, and whether they come in to work at your place, or possibly work from home. They also dictate whether your employees work a straight eight-hour day, or three ten-hour days, or just when they are called in. You set the expectations for the work day when you hire your first employee. Whatever expectation you set, stick to it, counsel when the employee doesn’t meet the standard, and then set them free if they continue to fail. This process is basic to maintaining the culture you want and will require time you would rather spend elsewhere, but will repay you tenfold down the road. The better informed and the more knowledgeable your employees are, the better they are, and the more of an asset they are to your business. The amount of transparency you create between you and your employees is up to you. If you hired someone to work for you in order to build your business and/or handle the details of that business you no longer have time for, then there is knowledge about your business they need to have. Your employee/s need to be able to make informed decisions, and they can’t if they don’t understand your business. Discuss your goals, talk about the pitfalls (cost overruns, late deliveries, bad product, nobody answers the phone, etc.), and how you expect everyone to work to avoid them. Customer service cannot be a casual undertaking in any business. The level of professionalism you and your employees present in this area should be driven by you and your attitude. Talk to your employees about customer service, set a good example. Some businesses have a “decision tree” used to help decide how to treat a customer issue, others tell their employees to apply the Golden Rule when deciding how to resolve an issue. Problem customers are a fact of life; if you are going to stay in business, you must deal with them in a positive way. Set the example: don’t let disrespect, anger or lack of interest color your attitude because it then colors your employees attitude and becomes part of your company culture that can be hard to root out. Your company culture starts and ends with you. Standards for performance, dress, attendance, accountability, customer service are set and maintained by you, influenced by your attitude and actions.