SME Agony Uncle: Bobby Kerr answers all your business and work-related questions

Join Bobby on The Hard Shoulder every Tuesday, with thanks to Energia

Each week broadcaster, entrepreneur and agony uncle Bobby Kerr joins The Hard Shoulder to answer all your employment-related questions.

With the countdown to Christmas well underway, the last thing most of us will be worrying about is the annual performance review.

Many employers, especially those in larger companies, make sure every worker is formally assessed at least once a year – but for Bobby, the whole process tends to be more trouble than it is worth.

While it is essential to communicate with employees about performance, targets and their overall impression of the workplace; the formalised annual assessment often leaves everyone feeling a little cold.

“I am not a fan of this highly complex; try and solve everything; one meeting a year idea,” says Bobby. “And I think that is the traditional type of performance review that people would have had.”

The trick may be to tweak the format a little – and make sure the whole experience is a little less formal for all involved.

“A lot of people go through this box ticking exercise; you fill out the eight page form for HR you tick off all the boxes - and then people end up disappointed with the results,” says Bobby.

“I think the move now is more towards often and regular contact.

“Communication should always be ongoing so it isn’t pent up into this big formal thing that happens once a year.”

Hi Bobby, I run a small manufacturing business and want to give my staff a few quid for Christmas. Are there gift vouchers that I can give tax free? I don’t want to line the tax man’s pocket.

“There absolutely is Tim,” says Bobby.

“There is a thing called a small benefit exemption scheme that came out a couple of years ago.

You are allowed to give any employee - once a year - up to €500 by way of voucher, tax free.”

The amount was doubled by the Government in 2015 and there are a host of schemes available - including the An Post, ‘One4All’ voucher and the Retail Excellence ‘FromMe2You’ voucher - to choose from.

Hi Bobby, I have a small service industry business that employs two people part time and myself full time. One of my part time employees is getting calls from a crowd called JobPath - which I am told is part of the Dept of Social Welfare.

They are getting him interviews for full time work. I have trained him for the past year and I am trying my best to get him full time work here. Why is this happening? Dan

In short this is happening because the employee has signed himself as available for full time work – and clearly wants it.

“His employer here is offering him part time and it all appears to be going well - but he doesn't seem to be in a position to offer him a full time job,” says Bobby.

“I think if Dan can say this guy is good enough - give him a job.”

“Give him a full time job and those calls will stop.”

I have a relatively new business and I was thinking of raising finance from Micro Finance Ireland for €25,000

They tell me I need a business plan complete with projections.

I feel I would be better off on the road selling agricultural machinery - which is what my business does - rather than spending my time writing what I consider to be a whole lot of waffle. Seamus in Offaly

This is a bit of a worrying message – as this kind of attitude does not bode well for the future the business.

“I am not sure how long your business is going to be profitable for Seamus,” says Bobby. “You can write a business plan in an hour or two hours – there are templates online.”

Seamus may have gotten in touch in an attempt to vent his frustrations – but if he takes the time, there a real benefits to having a proper plan in place.

“I can tell you if you stand out of your business, even for an hour or two, to write down what it is you do; why you exist; what it is you want to do - it is a great mind clearer,” says Bobby.

How do I justify a pay rise to my employer?

I am in the position five years; hired during the recession; no raise at all since then.

I work at a small software company, Dublin based. They have plenty of money but they don’t like to spend it. Mary Maynooth.

It might be of benefit to Mary to map out, on a single page, exactly what she has achieved over the past five years.

“She needs to write down, ‘this is what I have done; this is what I am good at; this is why I am of value to this company’ and sort of justify it in her own head first of all,” says Bobby.

“Then she needs to go and have the conversation with the boss.

“If there is nothing forthcoming, she needs a couple of cards in her hand; she may need to check the market and look to see if other employers value her services.”

Hi Bobby,

My husband and I started our own business about a year and a half ago. He now works full time in the business. I work in the evenings having another part time job to pay our rent.

We optimise the use of freelancers to do the work we can’t do ourselves but we find we are being weighed down with all the admin.

We have about six projects on the go at various stages and would love to hire someone to manage it while my husband goes out to do the selling and networking. I myself would love to do this on a full-time basis but I am terrified of letting go of my salary I can bank on. We are at a loss to know when to take on someone permanently whether this is me or someone else.

“This is great email and I applaud Maria,” says Bobby.

“There is always going to be a time that you need to take a leap into the unknown and she is probably coming close to it from what I can read here.”

Maria mentions using freelancers to come in and fulfil contracts and it is important that she ensures the company is making a good mark-up on them – rather than simply using them to fill the gaps.

It appears the business is close to the point where a new hire will be required  - and for Bobby, that is Maria’s chance to take the plunge and focus on the business full time.

“It sounds to me like the business is coming to point where she can actually do that and I wish her well because [...] I really admire people like that who take that courageous step," he says.

You can listen back to all of Bobby’s employment advice from Tuesday’s The Hard Shoulder here:

If you have a business or SME related query you would like answered - you can get in touch with Bobby each week by simply sending a short mail to