Bosses’ job descriptions grow

Truck unloader, office manager, you name it and the head of a small business is doing it

Ever seen a chief executive driving a forklift?

You likely won’t find statistics this Labor Day on how hard small-business owners are working to keep their companies afloat. But ask any local entrepreneur and you’ll get an earful about his or her ever-growing “to do” list.

We profile three hard-working San Diego business owners here.

“I don’t really add up my hours, because it’s whatever it takes to get the job done,” said Jim Frost, president and general manager of Frost Hardwood in San Diego. Frost is not only the boss, he’s also the company’s credit manager and buyer of imported lumber, positions left unfilled for now.

And when there’s a truck to be unloaded, guess who may be doing the heavy lifting?

“I don’t wear a tie anymore, because I never know when I’ll have to jump on a forklift,” Frost said.

Times are tough, even though the recession is technically over. For the small businesses that are surviving, it’s often with a skeletal crew. They’re holding off on hiring help, but obligations haven’t fallen off.

Often, if there are customers to greet at the counter or an invoice to send, chances are good the owner is the one handling those tasks, said John Kabateck, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business in California.

“More and more small-business owners in California are working harder — and with fewer employees — thanks in large part to the soaring costs and mandates heaped on them by government at every level,” Kabateck said. “Many have already scaled back operational costs to extreme bare-bones levels. When unanticipated new taxes, fees or regulations hit them from left field, they have nowhere left to trim but their employees.”

Nearly 70 percent of small-business owners do not plan to make hires in the next year, according to a survey released last week by The Small Business Authority, which provides professional services for about 100,000 business accounts.

“I just wish the income was enough that I could hire a part-time worker here,” said Lisa Schmidt, who owns the gift shop Lisa’s Cottage in La Mesa. “The picking and the searching and the buying — that’s my forte.”

Many small-business owners are hiring only for duties they can’t do themselves. Take the case of Jeremy Durant of Bop Design in San Diego, who brought on a Web developer with skills that he lacked. Otherwise, Durant estimates that he is working an extra three hours a day to handle tasks such as driving to the bank to deposit checks.

“I have to determine: What are the tasks that I can take on, that are not going to take that much time?” he said.


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