PEOs Can Be Advantageous

May 6, 2018

In today’s world of regulations, administering employees has become an often onerous task.

More importantly, employee administration has become a legal trap for many smaller businesses.

Leaders like you of small- and medium-sized businesses have a vision, build and inspire a team, want to make money, and/or do something meaningful.

You want to run a business while insuring that your employees are paid, receive the best benefits and all employment regulations are met.

Just look at some of the key responsibilities of employee administration:  workers’ comp, 1099s, W-2s, payroll administration and related tax filings, disability insurance, PRO administration, etc.

They all take time away from focusing on other critical aspects that makes your business successful.

An outsource alternative exists: PEO (Professional Employer Organization).  PEOs provide services to between nearly 180,000 SMBs, with 2 to 200+ workers, employing an estimated 3.4 million people.

A PEO can help your business get the benefit cost savings and perks of a large company along with employment related compliance; plus streamline your payroll, HR and other back office functions.

Here are some of key advantages to PEOs:

Co-Employment:  PEOs can take on such responsibilities because of a practice called co-employment.

With this contract, a PEO will handle payroll administration, and related tax filings, plus provide HR support and access to benefits.

Your company will retain responsibility for daily operations and management of employees.

This sharing of responsibilities allows you to focus more on your employees and running your business.

 

Save Money:  PEOs have collective bargaining power; they are able to get better rates for benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, workers’ compensation, commuting, gym memberships, and more.  Because the PEO is negotiating for a large pool of employees, they can get your small- or medium-size business access to better benefits at lower rates.

 

Free Up Time:  Small- or medium-size businesses take a lot of time to run.  It always seems there is more to do than hours in the day.  With a PEO handling the employment-related administrative work, you get multiple hours back every day or week to focus on other matters.

 

Be Compliant, Avoid Fines:  Each year more than 33% of small businesses get fined for making payroll mistakes.  PEOs are experts in employment-related compliance; they can help you with your payroll and filings, and in most cases file it for you.

 

PEOs offer many similar services, but they are not all the same.  Each PEO has different service providers, benefit packages and HR tools unique to their company.  Here are a few things you will want to look out for in a high-quality PEO that helps your business:

Access to Quality Benefits: health (medical, dental, vision, HSAs/FSAs), short- and long-term disability, life insurance, accidental death and dismemberment insurance, on-demand primary care services, commuter benefits, bike shares, gym memberships, among others.

Payroll Processing and Tax Filing:  automatic direct deposit payroll, pay vendors and contractors, and direct deposits; plus integrate with the existing software you are using.  In addition file tax documents such as W-2s, 1099s, 940s, and 941s on your behalf.  Provide compliance support: new hire reporting, Workers’ compensation, W-2 and 1099 filing, employment practices liability insurance, unemployment filings, ACA filings (1094-C and 1095-C), employer payroll filings (940 and (941), and statutory disability insurance.

Customer Service:  allow you to access customer support through a variety of means (telephone, Slack, chat, email, text).  Other services: HR Consulting to help you address complex HR questions; a Resources Center to see if you are up-to-date on the many labor and employment laws; and HRIS (human resources information services) Tools to manage paid time-off, onboard new employees, store important documents, access HR templates, etc.

In 2017, the IRS approved the first certified PEOs (CPEOs).  They are subject to ongoing bonding, audits, and IRS reporting, so you can be confident that the CPEO you select is being held to the highest operational standards.  That leaves you time to focus on other aspects to grow your business.

While adding to employee administration overhead (PEOs charge either a flat per-employee, per-period charge or as a percentage of total payroll), a PEO solution can be a path to greater success.

 

The Time For Robotics In Small Businesses Is Now

April 3, 2018

Smart small business leaders are already arming themselves with the knowledge and tools to make robotics work in even the smallest enterprise.

Today, smaller companies in the manufacturing, assembly and distribution areas are reaping savings possible through robotic applications.

In other sectors including hospitality, restaurants, service centers, etc. businesses are employing units for many repetitive interaction with the public and their clients.  Given time, these and many other sectors will see broader categories of robotic units customized for individual company needs.

Supplier entrepreneurs are taking their experiences with the internet to quickly make robotic applications that are easily customizable, which hastens the adoption rate. That appears to be the goal of more and more start-ups today.

Rather than seek to totally replace workers in all of their tasks, many of these far-seeing entrepreneurs believe adding a few robots at a time can make the small business workplace better for customers and employees.  In this scenario, everyone wins when even the smallest company embraces robotic enhancements to the workplace.

Here are a few main areas where robotics at today’s standards can help a small business:

  1. Menial repetitive tasks can be off-loaded to robotic machines; reduced worker involvement in these tasks can contribute to higher profits.
  2. Workplace safety (tasks that are hazardous) is often greater with robotic elements, according to recent studies; safer employees are often happier and more productive.
  3. High tolerance, precision fitting are often done by robots with fewer errors; improving quality and output.

Additional benefits:

  1. Displaced workers can be re-assigned to tasks critical to company success, such as customer service; rewards for higher valued work contribution, may mean more money in worker pockets.
  2. Embracing innovations that prioritize your people will strengthen your company culture. Improved worker appreciation means higher workplace morale.

The time to begin looking at robotic help in your company is now.  If not, your competitor may beat you to it and benefit.

 

As Economy Grows, Small Business Leaders Face Needs For Financing, Technology, Trained Talent

March 11, 2018

With years of regulatory restraint seemingly behind them, small business owners are focusing on growth in 2018.

Surveys from diverse sources including the National Chamber of Commerce show small business owners believing that not only are they confident about their own prospect, business sectors, geographic region but also the national economy.

This confidence is reflected in small businesses hiring, investment in property, plant, and equipment as well as borrowings, say most recent surveys.

Small businesses appear to have started 2018 with a healthy sense of confidence, a sentiment reinforced by projections of 3% global economic growth for this year.

However, the optimism remains tempered by a few factors – among them, the perennial cash management, talent shortages, and the disruption caused by emerging technologies plus for some the continuation of geopolitical and social tensions.

While the new tax bill put additional dollars into small business coffers, there are as always many demands for each dollar including but not limited to upgrading assets such as technology, equipment, property, plus compensating workforce and growth cash outlays before payments.

Finding the dollars to finance investment in growth factors remains a major concern of small business leaders according to almost all surveys conducted this year and reported in the press.

To cope with worker and skill shortages down the road, survey results tell us that small businesses are fundamentally rethinking the composition of their future workforces.  In one survey, nearly 80% of small business owners and leaders foresee greater use of contingent non-traditional employees.  Moreover, three-quarters of them anticipate a rise in digital labor solutions such as robotic process automation.

A desire to have cultures that are inclusive, engaged, high-performance, customer-focused, and resilient is signaled throughout the responses to this year’s survey.

At the same time, the impact of the New Digital Economy is clearly being felt in the daily processes and practices of businesses, and through the emergence of new competitors; owners and leaders want to foster a culture of innovation that encourages cooperation across functions and business units and promotes risk taking in order to stay ahead or abreast of the marketplace.

Another concern of owners and leaders is creating new business models because of disruptive technologies.  For instance, less than half of owners and leaders (48%) see their firms as a technology leader in their industries.  Moreover, less than 10% of owners and leaders say they are extremely satisfied with their organization’s ability to innovate, and they continue to struggle with how to measure innovation.

The latest job numbers show three contrasting trends: more people working, salary growth slowing, and the need for better trained employees.  While the number of people working has increased, salaries have not moved upward as fast as economist predicted and small businesses report many applicants lack fundamental skills to succeed.

These are the challenges facing small business owners and leaders as they seek to participate in the economy’s growth.

The New Tax Bill Is Positive For SMBs

February 6, 2018

Experts are still dissecting the most extensive rewrite to the U.S. tax code in 30 years.

What is becoming clear is that on the whole small businesses will net a great many benefits from these new legal provisions.

Every small business should consult their accounting professional for individual guidance. However, there are five major issues that SMBs must stay on top of under the tax landscape.

  1. Choose your company structure carefully.

This concern is based on whether there is a need to retain working capital and the distribution needs of the owners.  Along with these concerns is how the company will look to a potential buyer.

  1. Smaller firms have different considerations than larger firms.

Smaller firms will benefit from passing cash through to owners while larger firms will see ways of shielding income and bringing back overseas monies.  In this case size matters so check with a tax professional.

  1. Tax savings are an opportunity to grow your business.

As the bill intended, there are good reasons for SMBs to invest in growth.  So even the smallest firms should broaden plans to include longer time horizons.

  1. Take advantage of estate tax exemptions.

For estate planning purposes the exemptions have doubled but have a sunset of 2026.  In this case, are you betting you will die before the exemptions expire?

  1. Beware of unintended consequences of the legislation.

Congress limited interest expense to 30% of adjusted income, a difficult barrier for companies in hyper-expansion mode.  Perhaps as a swipe to new age or millennium companies, it also reduced to 50% the deduction for providing food to employees.  It phases out entirely in 2025.

Surveys have shown the changes are popular with SMBs.  In fact, the latest public soundings show Americans in general warming up to the new tax bill.

A Squeeze Page Can Build Your Lead Generation

December 9, 2017

An effective onboarding process is the beginning of the sales funnel that should end with more voluminous conversions in a shorter time-frame.

The sales funnel begins with generating leads.  While referral of a satisfied customer is always preferable, another way in through your squeeze page.

For those of you who have not yet heard this term, a squeeze page is basically a short landing page with one main purpose: to “squeeze” the email address out of the page visitor.  In other words, it’s a promotional page with the goal of lead generation (or “list-building”).

Smart businesses like to balance their online mixes and do both: direct-to-sale efforts (i.e. selling a product) along with list-building (i.e. lead generation) efforts.

But not all squeeze pages are created equal.

Some are very short and pithy, with a headline and call to action… more ideal for mobile phone viewing, which how the majority of people are now viewing pages.  While others have longer copy to convey the value proposition of why the prospects need to give their email addresses.  Your target audience, delivery platform, message, offer and other variables will determine which format you may want to test.

Here are some key elements in creating effective squeeze pages and getting leads for your business.

  1. Gets Attention. It is important for a squeeze page to have a strong headline and an eye-catching masthead image.
  2. The Free Offer. You need to show the reader the reason they need to sign up and give you their email address.  Tell them WHAT are they getting out of it?  Typically it is some kind of free bonus, such as a .pdf report, white paper, e-newsletter, which answers a question the prospect may have, solve a problem and teach them something they don’t know.  All of the bonus benefits and the value proposition need to be outlined in the body copy in a clear, easy-to-read format (usually bullets).
  3. Why Listen to You? It is also important to briefly outline WHY the prospect should listen to you.  Introduce yourself and your credentials to the reader; explain why you are the expert, and it is important to hear what you have to say and give you their email address.
  4. Visually Appealing. Use call-to-action buttons that are bright (i.e. red, orange, yellow) and other graphics that catch and keep the visitor’s attention all the way down the page.  Consider highlighting savings, providing a headshot of the expert, and other relevant graphic enhancements.
  5. If you have testimonials that speak to your expertise, use one or two short, strong ones in quote boxes along with the endorser.
  6. No Distractions. As mentioned earlier, squeeze pages have one simple goal: to collect an email address. Do not to have other clickable links on the page or navigation.  You want to keep the readers focused on only giving you their emails and clicking “submit.”
  7. Contact Information. To add credibility, at the bottom of the squeeze page, add your physical mailing address of the business, an unclickable web address, and perhaps a pertinent affiliation and/or award to add prestige, authenticity and promotes visitor confidence.
  8. Legal Disclaimer, if needed. In certain industries, such as health or financial publishing space, it is necessary to add the necessary disclaimers specific for that industry.  In general, you need to add “The information and material provided on this site are for educational purposes only.”
  9. Anti-Spam Pledge. Under the email collection fields and above the call-to-action button, it’s a best practice to add some anti-spam verbiage to alleviate any concerns to the reader that the email may be sold or rented.
  10. Ask Less. Get More. For each additional information field you ask the prospect to give, i.e. first name, email address, etc., you will get fewer responders. Think about your ultimate goal for the squeeze page when determining how much information you’re going to ask for.

The squeeze page is only the beginning.  A good, strategic list-building campaign will have many elements that all work together to get a prospect’s attention (the ad); get them to sign up (the squeeze page); help them bond with the ‘expert’ (free offer); become informed on the topic or offer related to your business; and, ultimately, get the prospect to convert to a buyer of a paid product.

This is called the onboarding process. And an effective onboarding process is the beginning of the sales funnel that should end with more voluminous conversions in a shorter time-frame than if you don’t have an onboarding process in place.

So evaluate your business.  See how many leads you are bringing in on a monthly basis, at how much per lead, and how quickly these leads are converting to buyers.

Then decide if squeeze pages and setting up an onboarding process are right for your business in 2018.

Emails: an Effective, Low Cost Tool to Engage Potential and Current Customers plus Build Sales

November 11, 2017

Learning profitable customer insights are an added bonus to any effective email program. Sometimes what doesn’t happen can speak volumes while forging profitable connections with your customers.

Here are some tips for making your Email campaign work:

Manage and grow your subscriber list properly and legally: The list quality is more important than its quantity; it is better to have 500 loyal subscribers than a 5,000 cold email list.  Today, most email providers require each person on your list to have a demonstrable relationship with your brand.  To ensure list success: review and clean your list(s) consistently; and ensure that every email sent has a clear option to ‘unsubscribe’ and is adhering to CAN-SPAM and other legal requirements.

Segment your list(s): Email marketing has become about personalization.  A personalization strategy known as segmentation is when large email lists are chopped up into small lists based upon common characteristics. To stick out from the crowd, create emails that are tailored, as much as possible, to each customer’s specific needs. To segment your list: develop 2-5 archetypical customer personas; map out what unique value your brand provides to each; place each subscriber into smaller lists based on your archetypical customer personas; create unique campaigns for each segmented group, and cater towards each segment with a message addressing their specific needs.  Each campaign doesn’t need to be entirely unique; often segmented campaigns re-use 80% of the email and simply adjust subject lines and sections of body copy.

Mix promotion with high value content: The hard sell doesn’t sell. Try to infuse each email with free value on top of your promotional purpose. This technique improves subscriber retention and is an opportunity to reinforce your brand’s values.

Automate: Email marketing can be labor intensive, requiring creativity, time and meticulous review. Take full advantage of all the automation capabilities that your email service provides, such as: trigger emails, or an email which automatically fires when a user completes a certain action such as abandoning an eCommerce cart; automated scheduling, or the ability to pre-load and schedule campaigns far in advance or when it is statistically the best time to send; and personalized messages, or the ability to automatically send personalized emails such as long-term prospect follow-up, product recommendations based on prior purchases, greetings, etc.

Monitor analytics and continuously improve: track what numbers matter most to your business (click-thru-rates, conversions, sales, etc.) and try to improve with each campaign.  Learn what messages different segments are responding to, and then use actionable data to enhance each campaign and your business.

Best email marketing campaigns:

Email marketing is one of the most effective tools for strengthen your relationship with prospects and customers to increase retention, repeat sales and referrals.  Through using your own list of prospects and customers, you will build rapport with your target audience.  Other benefits include: with your prospects pre-sold on doing business with you results in a reduced sales cycle, less cost per sale, which leads to more profit; generation of leads and sales on demand by running email promotions to any segment of your list whenever you want; and you will build a strong relationship with your customers to fend off competitors.

Here are 5 email types of email promotions for your business to use:

Warm-up Campaign: sent to your list of prospects and customers that you have never formally sent an email newsletter to stay in touch.  The Warm-up campaign is geared toward warming up your “cold” list.  It is essential to do this campaign before you try to use one of the other campaigns, unless you’ve continually stayed in touch with your list.  The goal is to reintroduce your business, not to sell anything at this time.  In the email, provide context as to why you’re reaching out, and explain how you will be following up with even more valuable emails in the future.  To engage your audience, a tactic is to run a survey to gain feedback from your audience.

It is critically important to build your relationship with your contacts and customers. If you do not first have a relationship, then none of the following campaigns will work for you.

Tee-up Campaign: is to ready leads for your sales team.  At any given time there are contacts on your email list who are ready to buy and you want to make it as easy as possible for them to self-identify. The Tee-up campaign doesn’t directly ask for the sale.  Instead, the email is positioned to help anyone who is in need for your product or service. A tactic is to email out the question, “Are you still looking for help with [your product or service]?”  ‘’Yes’ responses are a reengaged lead in your sales pipleline.

Flash Sale:  is an email touting a limited-time sale; it is familiar and popular with most people.  Again, you can literally generate sales on demand with the click of a button.  Just type up the terms of your sale, select the segment of your list you want to email, click send, and sit back as the orders come in.

Referral: is creating sales through non-competitive partnerships with local businesses.  Every contact on your email list needs additional products and services that your business does not provide.  For example, a fancy dress shop could form partnerships with an upscale shoe and jewelry stores, plus hair salon.  Once you establish your partnerships, then you can run a referral campaign to generate leads and sales for your partner.  This should be benefit everyone: you are helping your contacts get what they need, and your partners get a new marketing channel; plus depending on your partnership you could earn commissions or reciprocal promotions where your partners promote your business.

Launch: is a campaign for a new product or service launch.  The purpose is to build up excitement and anticipation for your offering in advance of the launch date.  To prepare, study marketing campaign of big movie releases and high-profile technology products, think of how best to build anticipation for your product of service.  Before launch day, send emails in waves to build up the value, explain the benefits, and lay out the details for exactly how and when to buy.  May this result in a line outside your door the day your sale starts.

 

Holiday Marketing and Email Content Mistakes to Avoid

October 5, 2017

October is almost too late to start Holiday promotions but there are ways of ensuring added profits and reduce mistakes.

 Here are 8 Steps To Creating An Effective Holiday Marketing Campaign 

  1. Start early: Advance planning allows you to make sure that all the elements of your promotion are well-thought through and tested and that you have the resources in place to execute.
  2. Identify your segments: Understanding your audience is critical to any successful marketing strategy, and holiday marketing is no different.  You can segment your audience by customer lifecycle stage or behaviors, persona, and/or specific demographic attributes— like age, geography, and gender.
  3. Choose the right holidays for your customer base: Holiday marketing, especially once fall begins, focus is primarily around Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s.
  4. Create thoughtful offers for your holiday marketing campaign: Start by asking yourself “What is my goal?”  Sometimes what you offer can be an idea (like what to buy someone), a curated experience (like a Pinterest board), educational (like a reminder to make healthy choices), or a limited-time offer.
  5. Create a personal experience for today’s savvy consumer, who expects more than ever before: Marketing automation can help marketers deliver this personal experience from web, to social media, to email, and even across your different ad platforms.
  6. Create a multi-channel plan: Make sure that your campaign is everywhere that your customer is, and if you can understand how your customer is using that channel, you will be able to target your marketing even better.
  7. Reward loyalty: Loyal customers are the bread and butter of any business, plus your best advocates. Use your holiday marketing campaign as a way to reward them by offering exclusives, sneak peeks, and special offers, and then ask them to share.
  8. Have fun: Capture the energy of the season or holiday with your marketing and don’t let the constraints of “what’s been done” define your campaign. The more creative, fun, and innovative you are, the more you will stand out from the rest.

 

Side-Step These Two Common Holiday Email Content Mistakes

 

Sales and discounts, all day every day: During the holidays, strong sales and promotions can help brands stay competitive. But sales offers in every subject line for weeks on end get as stale as last year’s fruitcake.  By diversifying the messaging stream and offering value beyond just promotions, brands can let their merchandising, editorial content and featured collections draw subscribers down the browsing and purchasing path.

 

Putting the pressure on … turning subscribers off: The holidays can be stressful, both for marketers and consumers. The last thing subscribers want is for a brand to guilt them into creating a perfect holiday or rushing into a purchase. This can put them off of that particular campaign and can even impact their perception of the brand.

Rather than adding to the stress and noise in the inbox, consider a strategy that positions the brand as an ally. Highlight ease, simplicity and convenience to help take the pressure down a notch and reduce subscriber hesitation.

 

Protect Your Website from Digital Pirates

September 3, 2017

By being proactive, you can improve your chances of not being a Cyber Attack victim.

Don’t let your company become the next victim of a Cyber Attack

Among the most deadly to small businesses is Ransomware.

As a source of danger, disruption, and money drain, Ransomware is climbing as a source of woe to more and more companies each month.

By holding a company’s online assets hostage, Cyber Pirates use Ransomware to extort payments from large and small enterprises.  It also locks the company’s computers, preventing them from continuing as part of day-to-day activities.  More even than the funds demanded, this aspect of the problem is more dangerous to small business and other companies.

Before a Ransomware attack disrupts your company there are things you can do to reduce your vulnerability.

The first thing is to learn what Ransomware is.

RANSOMEWARE IS A MALICIOUS SOFTWARE PROGRAM

THAT HOLDS BUSINESS COMPUTER ACTIVITIES HOSTAGE OR THREATENS TO RELEASE SENSITIVE DATA TO THE PUBLIC FOR A HANDSOME FEE.

Cyber Pirates use many ways (emails, network traffic, user behavior, application traffic, and more) to insert Ransomware.  Usually attacks are made using a “Trojan” that is disguised as a legitimate file, such as an innocent looking email from someone you know and trust instructing you to check out pertinent information.  Unknowingly you click the link, which activates the download of the malware and the hacker can encrypt your files until you supply the payoff.

“A Ransomware variant will infect between 30,000 to 35,000 devices a month, with some variants reaching up to 150,000 infections,” according to Barracuda.com.  But, most these attacks can be prevented. Don’t become a statistic.

To keep your website running well and guard against potential threats as well as cyber attacks, follow these Tips:

  1. Be aware of suspicious emails, websites, and apps. In order for Ransomware to work someone has to unknowingly download malware onto their device.
  2. Run daily, weekly or minimally monthly backups of all of your files. If a cyber-attack occurs, having back-up from your most recent version will help you recover your website.
  3. Host your website on a secure server. Dedicated servers with a variety of weapons (Firewall Protection, Anti-Spam and Anti-Virus Protection, HTTP Intrusion Protection, Daily security audits and more) help monitor threats, prevent website attacks, and fight cyber security attacks when they do happen.
  4. Have an SSL certificate for your website to initiate a secure session with browsers. Look at your URL, if it has HTTP (or even better HTTPS) in it you have the “Secure” stamp of approval.
  5. Update your plugins to patch bugs and potential vulnerable areas. No website is self-sustainable, so keep your website backend up to date to guard against possible threats.
  6. Use Strong Passwords and 2-Factor Authentication: make sure that your website password is complex (an eight-character password with numbers, symbols and mixed-case letters is harder to guess) and updated bi-monthly and you have dual authentication for website access is crucial.
  7. List good and bad IP addresses: Whitelist all trustworthy IPs, and Blacklist all bad or suspicious IPs.
  8. Monitor for attacks on a daily basis. Sign up with a hosting and support company that offers Daily Attack Monitoring so that you know quickly when an attack happens and respond to it.

 

In summary, always try to prevent threats before they happen.  But, that is not always possible.

Many resources are available to help you protect your company, its data and reputation; here are a few:

Additional Tip: Never pay a fee for the return of your data.  Why?  You may not get your data back.  A copy could be retained for further fee(s) and/or the data could be used against your business.  And, you will probably be put on a ‘payer list’ that is distributed in the digital pirate world marking you as an easy target that pays a fee when threatened or held hostage.

The time to act against Ransomware is now, before it infects your computers.