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To Grow Your Business Start Focusing on Your Employees Keep your employees connected to their job, company and team to maximize both satisfaction and production.

By Nellie Akalp

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Employees are the cornerstone of any business. They're usually the primary point of contact with your customers and as such, can make or break your company brand and customer experience.

For the small business owner, keeping employees happy and engaged can seem challenging. You can't afford the salaries and stock options of Google, much less the free meals, onsite yoga, climbing walls, masseuse, and other perks that have become well known across Silicon Valley.

So how can you keep your employees connected to their job, company, and team with a small business budget? Here are a few tips.

1. Empower your employees.

One of the best ways to motivate employees is to give them more responsibility so they can demonstrate and achieve their full potential. According to a 2015 SHRM Employee Job Satisfaction survey, 74 percent of employees said that having opportunities to use their skills and abilities was key to feeling connected and committed to their work.

At our small business, we like to reward strong performance by giving those employees extra responsibilities and more autonomy. For example, we asked one of our bilingual employees to launch a new Spanish-speaking division and offer Spanish language phone support to help Latino entrepreneurs. We asked another employee to design a system for monitoring and following up on leads. Both experiences showed that when people feel challenged by their work, they'll be more likely to put in the extra effort.

Be on the lookout for specific skills and abilities that aren't being utilized in your employees today. If you can't think of a way to expand an employee's responsibilities, sit down and ask him or her what they'd like to do or what would help them grow professionally.

Related: 5 Ways to Empower Your Employees

2. Offer up financial incentives and perks (no matter how small).

As a small business, you may not have the budget of Google or Facebook, but you can still offer financial incentives to motivate employees to be more productive or achieve specific company goals. For example, gathering objective customer reviews has been a top priority for our company, so we created an incentive where any employee receives a $500 bonus if they get 20 reviews in 20 days. It's been a fun way to gamify this important objective, and we've seen success both in terms of results and employee excitement.

Related: What Really Motivates Employees? [Infographic]

3. Make sure employees know their work matters.

Employees are typically more motivated when they see a direct connection between their day-to-day activities and the big picture. Whenever you assign a new task to an employee, be sure to highlight why it matters to the organization, your customers, or your bottom line. Be sure to keep all employees in the loop about high level strategy and stress how everyone plays an important role in the company mission.

Related: 7 Tips for Wooing Your Employees Into Loving Their Jobs, Again

4. Drop the micro-managing.

Small business owners can be notorious micro-managers; after all, you've probably been used to doing everything yourself from the beginning. However, there comes a time when you can't grow your business based on your efforts and expertise alone. While it's important to follow up on your employees, micro-management is not the answer. Constantly looking over people's shoulders not only demotivates your team, it also stunts employee growth, since they're constantly depending on you for direction. Motivate your employees by giving them the freedom to do things their way, think for themselves, and deliver results.

5. Recognize and appreciate your employees.

Employee recognition programs have long been a workplace staple. A Globoforce survey found that frequent recognition correlates directly with employee satisfaction: "Employees who are recognized regularly are more satisfied with their work in their company…and more apt to love their jobs."

We run employee of the month programs, where we spotlight one employee on the blog each month, acknowledge their achievements during an all-hands meeting, and take them out to lunch or dinner. Formal programs like this are very effective, but keep in mind that a simple "thank you" or "nice job" right in the moment can also go along way to showing your appreciation.

Related: The Best Ways to Reward Employees

6. Make quality of life a priority.

U.S. employees are now working an average of 47 hours per week – almost a full day longer than the "standard" 40-hour work week. I believe in hard work, but also realize that too much work leads to stress and a lower quality of life. And, more time in the office means less time to spend with family and friends.

Businesses can improve morale and productivity with flexible employee policies that respect that every employee has a life away from the office. You can implement formal programs such as flextime or condensed workweeks to help employees balance their private and work lives. Or, just simply institute a culture that respects employee's home lives and ensures they can take time off to pick up a sick child from school.

As you can see, there are many ways to help ensure your employees are happy, engaged, and ready to do their best work -- and none of these strategies require the budget of a Fortune 100 company.

Nellie Akalp

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO of CorpNet.com

Nellie Akalp is a passionate entrepreneur and mother of four. She is the CEO of CorpNet.com, the smartest way to start a business, register for payroll taxes and maintain business compliance across the United States. 

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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