Small Business Security

When you own a small business, it’s critical to think of three types of security for your company: the physical security of your property, the physical safety of your staff, and the security of your computer data.

Physical security starts before you even lease or purchase space. Choose a safe area of your community and look for a property that is well lit and preferably visible from the street. Protect against easy entry with deadbolt locks, metal-lined doors, and burglar-resistant glass. Don’t leave serial numbers on your locks. This can allow potential thieves to copy your keys. Your alarm system should be tested regularly and if tripped it should reach an outside organization with 24/7 response.

Take the in-plain-sight approach to your office design. If you have a safe, make sure it is visible from outside so security and police will see anyone trying to break in. If you have a cash register, make sure that’s also visible. Empty the cash register at close of business and leave it open to show that it’s been emptied. Also leave the safe open if it’s empty. Having the empty safe and register visible reduces the likelihood of a break-in.

Don’t tempt thieves by leaving valuable products on display in your windows. Place those items in a safe when your operation is closed. Be sure to leave lights on so that security patrols can see into your operation. Have a standard protocol for locking up and securing your business. This type of vigilance makes you a poor prospect for thieves.

Keep a current inventory off site so that if you are burglarized, you are prepared with accurate information for insurance purposes.

Employee safety involves setting policies for securing your business during working hours. If your operation handles expensive products or equipment, make sure that products are secure. Set a policy about how many valuable pieces of merchandise can be displayed out of locked cases at one time. If possible have at least two employees present whenever you are open for business and use mirrors to reduce the opportunity for shoplifting. Encourage employees to report any suspicious behavior on the part of a customer to you or the manager on-site immediately.

One of the highest employee risks occurs when domestic violence is brought into the workplace. Encourage your employees to keep you informed of any restraining orders or other domestic issues. If possible, remove any employees at risk to a position where they are not publicly accessible.

If female employees need to work after dark, make sure your parking lot is well lit and offer to accompany anyone who requests it to their cars. If possible, arrange for parking close to and within view of the office entrance.

Data security is critical for both your employees and your customers. Start with a secure firewall and password-protected networks and computers. Build in automatic password changes at least every three months. Keep passwords on a need-to-know basis with your employees and change the common passwords any time an employee leaves your organization.

Create a system of regular back-ups, and keep one off-site or in the cloud. Work with a skilled IT person, either on-staff or as a consultant, to ensure that you are meeting fundamental security measures for your data. If any data is compromised, notify your affected customers or employees immediately.

Keeping your business secure is at the foundation of good business practices. By following these suggestions, you are well on your way to providing a safe workplace for your staff and a good place of business for your customers.

2. When business owners find out that an employee has been stealing from them, the most common response is surprise. Inside thieves don’t follow a pattern; they may have worked for a company for years and be a trusted and valued member of the team. Demographics such as age and gender are also not relevant measures of honesty.

It would seem that the problem would be more common in larger organizations but in fact smaller companies – with fewer rules and regulations – on average lose four times as much with a dishonest employee. And they can’t absorb those losses as easily. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, approximately 30% of small company failures are due to employee theft.

So, what do you do to protect yourself and your firm against this problem? Well, start with your hiring process. You want to keep those people from getting in the door. Here are some tools you can use to minimize your risks.

Use an application: Unlike a resume, an application requires a complete work history with dates. Make sure it includes places for their full name and address as well as education and employment record (with years) and references. It’s easier to hide gaps in employment or reasons for leaving a company with a resume. An application form forces complete disclosure. Be sure to state that any inaccuracies are grounds for immediate termination.

Include more than one interviewer: Often people tend to be more comfortable with someone who resembles them demographically or in terms of style. Including another person or two, particularly if they differ from you, helps keep the interview focused on skills and behavior rather than how much you like the person.

Ask probing, behavior-based questions: Avoid the pre-programmed questions such as what are your strengths or weaknesses. Instead, ask for examples from previous positions or situations where the potential employee demonstrated the skills or behavior you desire. For example, instead of asking how they like working with customers, ask them to describe a time when they had a difficult or angry customer and how they handled the situation. It’s a lot harder to lie when talking about an actual event.

Check references: Even though many former employers are gun-shy about giving too much detail with a reference for fear of later lawsuits, you can ask for information that will give you the answers you need.

  • Check dates of employment and, if possible, the reason for leaving.
  • Check salary history.
  • Ask if the former employee is eligible for re-hire.

Any inaccuracies you discover when the answers are checked against an application are automatic red flags. Although it’s hard to believe that a potential employee would not be truthful on a resume or application, in reality very few employers check references.

Do a background and credit check: This enables you to test the accuracy of the information provided by potential employees. Also, a problem credit history can forewarn you about money problems that may lead to embezzlement.


Be sure to follow the processes laid out by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. One of the most important requirements is getting the consent of the potential employee before doing the checks. Here’s the good news: people with problems in their backgrounds will often self-select out of the job process, so just mentioning that you do background and credit checks may eliminate some potential problem employees.

Do drug testing: It may seem silly to you in your line of work, but drug users and abusers once again don’t always fit a certain profile, and drugs can be another reason for stealing as well as other employment problems. This also provides an opportunity to eliminate potential problems as regular drug users may self-select out of your pool of possible employees.

Create a test for any required technical skills: Employers used to have typing tests for secretaries to see if their speed and accuracy matched their claims. One classical-music radio station had an audition sheet that included almost every difficult to pronounce composer or composition name in the field.

Figure out some way of measuring any specific skills needed on the job. If you’re hiring someone to work at an IT help desk, provide a list of common questions and see if they can answer them. Potential customer service reps should be asked to handle several test calls from your other employees posing as customers. This may not seem like a screen for dishonesty, but if they can’t handle the tasks they claim to have mastered, you already know they’ve been less than straightforward about themselves.

Most companies faced with the reality of employee theft never get that money back. It’s been spent on lifestyle decisions or to pay credit card or gambling debts. Your best protection is to avoid hiring them in the first place.

Did you know that the annual value of employee theft ranges from $50 billion to $660 billion in a single year? This doesn’t merely count the physical theft of product, but also includes offenses like embezzlement, falsifying time cards and stealing of proprietary trade secrets.