Small and medium-sized businesses are finding ways to save money and streamline operations by automating.

February 3, 2019

Small businesses are not being left behind in the trend towards industrial automation.

Rather, they are being cautious in their approach to moving more and more of their operations onto automated processes.

It is popular to think since the 1950s that industrial automation was more for big businesses running huge operations, which involve massive production lines.  But the historic barriers to entry, huge costs and time constraints associated with setup are disappearing.

One reason, thanks to advances in how robots learn, many systems are designed to be set up by non-experts.  Robots have become readily deployable into lines without dramatically slowing down or reconfiguring operations.

Without the need of hiring specialists, but rather using consultants and a rapidly growing field service sector targeting small and mid-sized business (SMB), customers are cropping up literally overnight. Moreover, many suppliers offer help getting their robots online, easing the transition to automation.

Here are reasons why your small- or medium-size business might consider automation.


The most popular collaborative robot on the market is UR5 by Universal Robots; it costs about $35,000, it is suitable for a variety of tasks like components manufacturing, pick-and-place, as well as bench-work in labs and light fabrication shops.

Another company, Soft Robotics, using materials science in favor of complex engineering, makes soft grippers that conform to objects and are suitable to handle a wider range of tasks than their hard-skinned counterparts.


While collaborative robots are billed as safe, and by and large that is true; it is a matter of how it’s used.  There is currently a groundswell effort to help establish stricter compliance protocols to ensure safety; perhaps 2019 is the year that robot safety becomes a top priority.

The safety record since robots have come out of cages to start working alongside humans has been strong.  A combination of force sensors, which cause robots to stop when they bump into things, advanced machine vision, and other sensing innovations have resulted in platforms that are reasonably safe if deployed responsibly.


If your company warehouses and ships components, manufactures small devices, performs scientific testing, fabricates metal or is involved something else… there is most likely a robot for that.  In fact, it is possible all of those operations could be served by the same robot.

The trend in industrial automation is task-agnostic platforms that can be customized and configured for an infinite number of deployment types.  Companies like Fetch Robotics, which makes autonomous mobile robots for materials handling and picking & placing, can move materials in a warehouse just as easily as they can stock inventory in a logistics operation.  When designing a lightweight pneumatic collaborative robot, Festo intentionally modeled it after a human arm, a nod to the range of tasks it was designed to perform.

The widest integration of collaborative robots has happened in industries like components handling, but SMBs in all industries are finding innovative ways to automate with collaborative robots.

What tasks can be automated?

Repeatable tasks in predictable environments.  That could mean picking diverse products off a line and placing them in a bin.  It could also mean operating existing machinery, such as CNC machines or welders.  At the other end of the spectrum, it could mean holding a beaker and pipetting chemicals.


Automation with a diversity of applications is so versatile, SMBs are benefiting from automation in a variety of sectors; they include but are not limited to agriculture, apparel, boutique manufacturing, construction, fabrication, healthcare, laboratory, publishing, real estate, technology, among others.

With the pressure to increase salaries and finding qualified employees, perhaps it is time to consider how your SMB can benefit from automation.


How Startups and SMBs Can Make the Most of the Freelance Economy

January 10, 2019

Six of ten start-ups in the past five years have used or are using on-demand or gig employees.

One in three workforce members are freelancing regularly by choice today.

The freelance economy has played and is playing a big role in the continuing growth of start-ups, small- and medium-size businesses, and even larger corporations; and that role keeps getting bigger.

Today 53 million Americans or 34% of the entire workforce is freelancing, and that number is expected to grow to half of US workers by 2020.

Freelancers are available and generally more affordable workforce than full-time employees for start-ups and SMBs to tap into.

Of course, the freelancing economy is not without disadvantages. One is that freelancers do not guarantee accountability, unlike with a regular workforce whom you can closely observe as they work.

On the flip side, in addition to freelancers costing less than maintaining a long-term workforce, they also help businesses expand their networks and form mutually beneficial business relationships.

All it takes is a system that facilitates good work, better communication, and integrated workflows between businesses and the freelancing community. These are the foundations that will help build long-term relationships and sustained success.

Here are some tools and platforms that will allow you to maximize the benefits of the gig economy.

Enhance Workflow Through Accountability, Performance & Tracking

Accountability has always been a concern when it comes to remote workers.  If you can’t always observe and monitor their work, how can you track their progress or evaluate their performance?

Relying on outside workers may also affect the productivity of your in-house team. By adding freelancers to the mix, it can be tricky to establish a seamless workflow that will keep everyone on the same page.

Businesses need to deploy a project management platform to manage your entire team, onsite and offsite.

There are plenty of platforms that can make sure everyone is doing their job, no matter where they are in the world. Some to consider:

  • Trello: a simple project management tool that allows you to assign tasks to specific team members; this cloud-based solution also enables you to specify deadlines for each task, and all of these are managed through a drag-and-drop card interface.
  • WorkflowMax: a time tracking tool which provides a time tracking and timesheet tool that can be used by project managers, full-time staff and freelancers in facilitating a smooth workflow will help to better enforce your use of a project management platform.
  • Xero: a financial tool that tracks the amount of time a freelancer puts in a specific work project will guarantee businesses get what they pay for and the worker wastes no time computing when it’s time to invoice and does so accurately.

Continue Expanding Your Network

As a growing business, you need to consider options beyond freelancing networks like Upwork that will help you connect with a bigger community of reliable freelance professionals. Start-up and VC communities as well as an accelerator or incubator are a good way to find good connections when it comes to talent and available work. Plus, beyond finding individual freelancers, a good network will enable your business to partner with other enterprises in fulfilling your goals.

Address Structural Difficulties

Sometimes, a professional may be hesitant to form freelancing commitments with businesses, particularly due to structural difficulties, such as managing taxes, spending overhead, and registration for documentation purposes.

As a business, providing your support for your freelance workers is important if you want to make the most out of the gig economy. Your business might consider helping them manage overhead costs, providing assistance in filing for regulatory or accounting purposes, and providing access to business resources, as necessary.

Remember that, just like your in-house team, forming long-term relationships with your remote staff is enormously beneficial. If one particular freelancer is highly valuable for your business processes, you should consider hiring them as a permanent remote staff as opposed to outsourcing them for projects from time to time.

With project management platforms that can help relay consistent workload, it will be just as good as having a permanent onsite employee.

Bridge Cultural and Time Differences

So you found the best freelancers for a long-term project, but they can’t deliver on a regular basis due to a difference in time zones.

Since the gig economy encompasses the global market of professionals, the cultural differences barrier is commonplace. The mismatching time zones are among the most common. This, however, can easily be overcome with the right use of project management platforms and tools.

The language barrier should be out of the question, especially since there are plenty of English-speaking professionals in most freelancing and social networks. But when it comes to other cultural issues, cost disagreements and payment, the differences may have significant implications.

Again, leveraging a workflow and time management tool can help provide accurate invoices, thus resolving the problem of both underpayment and overpayment.


In summary, the gig economy continues to empower startups, SMBs, as well as larger businesses with a global pool of talent that is accessible and cost-effective. For the most part, freelancers offer a better deal, especially for project-based agreements. But to bring about sustained success, businesses must look at the bigger picture and adopt strategies that will foster productivity and help keep reliable freelancers for the long-term.

Cyber Security Begins With Small Business Culture

December 4, 2018

Many small business leaders think they aren’t big enough to be a target.  This is a myth hackers want them to believe.  Because fully one of three hacker attacks in this year’s first six months involved a small company.

Based on those statistics, a small business can expect a cyber-attack in the next three years, say cyber security professionals.

These same professionals say attacks are increasing for small businesses because they are often easier targets for sabotage.  The main reason, they say, is because small business leaders do not have the time or funds to fully devote to preventing or thwarting cyberattacks.

While the simplest way for hackers to gain entry is through your company employees there are ways of cutting down the threat through creating a company-wide awareness of the danger.  Even if the funds for greater cyber security are not available, by putting in some or all of the following recommendations can help your company be safer from cyber-attacks.

Security starts with the culture. Effective cyber security requires acknowledgment, assessment, and total participation.  Many users do not implement these basic protections because they assume additional security controls will complicate usability and interfere with efficiency.  To truly secure their assets, businesses must work towards proactive risk management rather than reactive compliance.

Take the words out of passwords.  Remember this simple adage: the best possible password is one that you don’t know.  According to Open VPN, 25% of employees reuse the same password for everything.  One person’s weak password has the potential to compromise not only an entire organization’s data, but also the data of those serviced by that company. Using password management software such as 1Password or LastPass disperses responsibility and risk in a visible, automated manner.

Test your business’ readiness by phishing yourself.  After you simulate a phishing attack at your organization, you will be better prepared for a real attack.  Available are free programs such as Microsoft’s Attack Simulator and KnowBe4 that gauge your organization’s awareness of and response to hacking attempts. This will not only train your users, but also give you the visibility into how well they’re trained.  As a general rule, tell your users to read the fine print: hover over links to fully read domains exchanged through email.  Spelling errors and suspicious redirects are highly legible, even when embedded into a lengthy link. (Pro tip: Open any foreign link in an incognito browser.)

Since emails are a popular attack vector, it’s critical that security and forensic teams have complete awareness of email activity within the organization.  Step one is connecting O365 or G Suite to your SIEM (security information and event management), which will, for example, correlate login events to look into potentially compromised accounts.

Use Multi-Factor Authentication. The more barriers are put in place, the more difficult it will be for hackers to infiltrate your data infrastructure.  According to the Verizon 2017 Data Breach Investigation Report, 81% of breaches are the result of stolen, default, or weak credentials.  MFA significantly reduces the chance that credentials can be compromised.  Have your employees present two or more pieces of evidence to verify their identity for a login or other transaction.

Use MFA such as Google Authenticator that does not connect to a phone number, because phone numbers are no longer secure and most are publicly available

Better yet, use physical MFA layer to your defense, especially key executives and employees, with encryption keys such as Yubico Security Keys that plug into USB ports.

Lead the leaders. Security is a top-down solution and should be considered as an integral part of business.  Business owners and leaders should be the most secure so that the culture permeates down.  Aside from altruistic business concerns and the cost of a security breach, owners and leaders should be doubling down on security efforts out of self-interest: today, hackers are targeting the top.

Pleasant 2018 Tax Filing Surprise Possible

November 9, 2018

A nice surprise is in store for many small businesses at the end of this year’s tax preparation cycle.

Uncle Sam’s tax bite will be less for many companies according to experts because of the reforms implemented by President Trump’s new tax bill will lessen the tax bite Uncle Sam gets from ongoing companies.

But changes made by The New Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 means it is important to talk to your Tax Advisor now. There is still time to implement changes to your business based on the new tax bill.

While savings can differ from company-to-company most experts think small businesses really benefit from the tax bill.

To help small business taxpayers maximize savings legally with the changes that impact 2018 returns, here are some year-end tax planning questions you should consider.

Business Tax Changes:

Does your business income qualify for the 20% pass-through deduction? If not, should you switch to a C corporation to take advantage of the 21% corporate tax rate?
If your business does not qualify for the 20% pass-through deduction because it is one of the Specified Services Trades or Businesses, consider taking steps to reduce your income below the thresholds ($157,500 for a single taxpayer, $315,000 for a married taxpayer) to avoid this limitation.
If you are planning on starting a new company, are you planning to sell the company in 5-10 years? If so, consider forming as a C corporation to take advantage of the Section 1202 tax-free gain rules.
If you live in a high-tax state, consider your alternatives to paying tax as a business instead of personally to receive the deduction for state taxes or make state-tax-credit-effective contributions in your business to avoid the limitation on individual state-tax-credit contribution deductions.

Maximize Real Estate Investment Deductions:

Do you need to invest in real estate to take advantage of the bonus depreciation to offset other taxable income?
If you are a commercial real estate investor, consider if you need to replace your roof or any HVAC units as these are now deductible.

As a real estate investor, are you maximizing the new 20% pass-through deduction?

Maximize Retail Deductions:

If you own a retail establishment, consider whether to change your accounting method to maximize new inventory deductions.

Maximize Business Automobile Deductions:

Can you establish a home office to increase your automobile deductions?

Do you need a new car? If so, do you want to consider an SUV or truck over 6,000 pounds to take advantage of the 100% write-off of the business use portion?

Finally, Make Critical Personal Decisions:

Are you contemplating a divorce? If so, the divorce must be finalized by 12/31/18 if you still want to deduct your alimony going forward.

Do have children and want to share money with them? There are changes in the way you can legally shift some of your 2018 income to your children.

Keep in mind, the IRS still haven’t ironed out or published all of the new changes. What it has done is give professionals road signs to help them guide clients.

Talk to them now, not when it is too late.

* Note: The New Tax Bill Is Positive For SMBs was the topic of my February

How to follow up with networking contacts

October 7, 2018

Follow-up is the key to making the most of the time, money and effort you invest in going to events. The people you meet at such events can mean extra profits to your business.

Often time, after an event you have a big stack of business cards. Looking at that pile, you think about following up with all of those contacts but are a bit overwhelmed?

Do not worry, your experience does not have to feel that way. In fact, reconnecting with your new contacts can be fun and meaningful.  Here are a few ways to keep those new connections close:

Business card CRM: if you do not have a CRM system, Excel spreadsheets and Sharpies work well.  Immediately after a conversation with a new contact, write the important details about them on their business card.  Since it probably already has their business title, include something that is more personal — like your conversation about a mutual sports team or your connection to their hometown.  That way, when you reconnect, you can keep the connection human. Not only is that more fun than leading with business talk, but it also helps the person remember who you are.  Keep track of each connection you make with your contacts.

Reconnect with cards or notes: although it may seems so last century, getting a handwritten letter is a nice, unexpected surprise.  It shows you thought enough of them to write a card or note, then address and mail it.  That is more effort than an electronic message to let someone know you are thinking about them.  That is why this personalized follow-up method will make you memorable.

Invite: generally, people hate to be sold, but they love to be invited, as long as the invitations are relevant and anticipated.  By offering an invitation to an event, you are providing value and opening the door to future conversations.  If you are the type of person who goes to events frequently, this strategy will require very little effort while providing great results.

Be a Matchmaker: connecting two people via email is a simple yet powerful strategy.  After all, it provides value to two people while simultaneously boosting your worth to both.  In other words, you are not just out to help yourself, you are creating opportunity for others.  But if you should need help in the future, each person may be more likely to help you.

Comment on Content: if you create content (videos, photos, blogs, tweets, books, thought pieces, etc.), you know that it feels great when people provide a thoughtful response to your work.  It is rare, and really means a lot.  That is why you should take the time to peruse the work of any meaningful new contacts.  Then, send them an email with some positive feedback.  For a guaranteed way to continue the conversation, make sure to end the note with a question.  Also consider posting a favorable comment about their work online.

We all like to be remembered so any touch can lead to something more. Be the one to follow-up.

Boards: Why, When, What and How to Build the Best Advisory Group for Your Business

September 2, 2018

WHY? The reasons for having a board are varied and include:

Strategy – independent views / voices can challenge and improve strategic decision making with other perspectives, plus help guide your business

Expertise – bring in others who know the industry, or a provide skill that is missing or needs oversight

Succession Plan – you may want to move on to another business or retire; thinking about in advance who is going to take over is important

Innovation – outsiders can foster modernization, improvement

Governance – a formal board process will ensure a company is properly managed

Credibility – quality names will add to the integrity to your company

WHEN should my business get a board?

Establishing a board isn’t necessary for all entrepreneurial ventures; venture-backed companies routinely start out with a board from day 1, and privately held companies, those that bootstrap their way to success, may be small enough to navigate day-to-day operational issues without one.

There are a few scenarios where creating a board not only makes sense but can be a critical part of growing the business to the next level.

Contemplating big moves – businesses that have significant growth opportunities or face significant threats or decisions can find a board very helpful.

CEO or owner decides to step down – a board can be instrumental in finding a new CEO, supporting his or her transition, and holding the person accountable to the owner’s objectives.

Next generation succession – a board can help with the leader’s plan to bring his/her children into the business, a handover that he/she may find difficult can be eased with a board composed of parents, adult children, and advisers who discuss business issues and make decisions together.

For many entrepreneurs who have become successful doing things their own way, the formality of board meetings, can be off-putting. But that doesn’t have to be the case. 

WHAT type of board is the best one for your business?

First, figure out what kind of board you want. There are a range of board types to consider, each appropriate for different situations. 

A board of insiders – composed of shareholders and company executives who come together to make decisions on key issues related to the business. This type of board can be appropriate for closely held businesses that are not necessarily facing major issues, but want to lay the foundation for the future by taking some of the first steps toward more formal governance.

A board of insiders can also be an effective way to involve the next generation of family owners in the process of making major decisions.

These types of boards are relatively easy to assemble, requiring little if any legal setup, and can be an effective forum in organizations that lack sufficient debate and interaction at the senior leadership level.  

An advisory board – generally composed of a combination of insiders and outsiders, but they don’t hold their positions on the board in an official capacity. Owners get the benefit of outside thinking and expertise, but in a less formal context.

Advisory boards work well for owners who are not ready to give up any control, but want advice and support on a range of issues. This can apply to businesses that have a relatively small ownership group that are facing major long-term strategic issues in which a consistent, outside perspective can be helpful.

A well-run advisory board is often more helpful than a formal board; it’s easier to recruit great people, everyone is independent and you can structure meetings in whatever format makes most sense.

A fiduciary board with a minority of independents – has a formal role in the organization; the members have decision-making authority laid out in the corporate bylaws and are also subject to the liability associated with board membership. Keeping the number of outsiders, those unaffiliated with the company or the ownership group, in the minority keeps the decision-making firmly in the hands of insiders. This can be more comfortable for owners who want to maintain their authority while moving to more independent oversight.

Ownership groups that are considering major changes in their ownership structure, either by raising capital or selling a part of the business, may elect to form this kind of board to demonstrate a level of governance and oversight that will be important for outside investors. 

A fiduciary board with a majority of independents – is what you see in most public companies and many large privately held companies. With a majority of outsiders, the board generally functions more objectively and independently than if it were dominated by insiders. While still acting on behalf of the owners, the board is more likely to drive the strategic agenda and have more authority.

These boards also typically can and need to attract members with a higher level of expertise and experience. Most privately held businesses that pursue this route have an ownership group that, for a variety of reasons, has decided to turn the majority of the key decisions over to a board. Perhaps the founders have sold their stakes in the company, ownership has passed on to a next generation of owners who don’t know much about the business, or the owners are preparing to go public or pursue some other liquidity event.  

HOW to proceed?

Once you’ve made the decision to form a board, how do you actually move forward?

  1. For a first-time board, you should aim for 5-9 members, to ensure a range of opinions but not so many that everyone will be fighting for airtime. Consider looking for people within your network to serve on your board before going to a search firm or recruiting more broadly.
  2. With regard to pay, you should expect to pay board members enough to make them feel appreciated, but not so much that they feel like they are doing it for the money. One useful rule of thumb some companies use is they compensate the board at a daily rate equal to the CEO’s effective daily rate.
  3. Finally, no friends, customers, suppliers, or other connected individuals who are obviously underqualified or has a conflict of interest; they can compromise the effectiveness of the board. Everyone you choose for your board should be there because he or she has something to contribute and is willing to deliberate the issues carefully before, during, and after the meetings.

Once the board is up and running, here are a few guidelines to get the board off on the right foot.

  1. Make sure the board functions well as a team. It is as important to get a group who works well together as it is to get people with the right experience or expertise. Effective discussion and decision making requires good chemistry, so interview for personal fit and character as well as what is on the résumé.
  2. Give the new board members some breathing room to be effective. Initially, it can be tempting for you as the leader/owner to set the agenda, dominate the discussions, and focus only on what you are interested in. You need to make sure you are listening, especially early on. After all, you formed a board, presumably, to get support and guidance from others.

Consider going as far as giving the chairmanship or other important responsibilities to other members of the board to distribute the balance of authority.

  1. Define the board’s authority clearly. Be clear about what decisions they can make and which ones they cannot. This will help focus the discussions on what they can affect and reduce confusion between the roles of the board, owners, and CEO.
  2. Finally, set the tone that every board member works on behalf of all It can be tempting for board members to align with one or a group of shareholders, especially if they were introduced to the board by said shareholders. For the board to stay focused on what is best for the company and thus the entire shareholder group, they should avoid pushing a particular shareholder’s agenda.

To address your fear of somehow losing control by bringing in a board, it’s important to make clear that the board reports to you (and your partners, if you have any) as the owners, not the other way around. This is generally documented in the corporate bylaws. You, as owner(s), will retain the ability to make the key decisions, including selecting board members, while delegating only the decisions you choose to the board.

Many owners look back at the founding of their board as a critical moment in the long-term success of their business and in their own success as owners stepping away from the business.

Understanding that boards can be designed to fit the unique needs of every business can ensure that you get the expertise and support you need without the unnecessary bureaucracy or any unintended loss of control.

If you consider why, the range of options for what type and how to build a board, you’ll be far better positioned to know when you’re ready for one.


The Necessity of Reference Checking

August 8, 2018

Despite how important it is to thoroughly vet your next hire, few businesses take the time or expense to initiate a thorough background assessment.

While having a “gut” positive reaction about a candidate is important, there are myriad reasons to check new employee references.

Here are just two:

  • Internal security: much of your business secrets are available on company IT systems and how easy the system can be internally stolen, a new hire should be vetted.
  • Danger: employees can sometimes be hazardous to themselves and others.

 Reference checking is critical to making your business more competitive and protecting it.  Today +90% of reference checking can be done online; it is fast and affordable.

Here are some additional reasons you will want to check your employees’ references, if you are not routinely doing so already.

  1. Automated reference checking solutions allow you to move faster than the competition. With the economy growing, good candidates aren’t available for long. Don’t lose your next great hire to the competition while you’re reaching out to confirm the right references and their contact information. With automated reference checking solutions, you can reach 4 to 5 references in under 2 business days.
  2. Call it quits on phone tag and getting routed to an HR person.  Consider utilizing an automated, cloud-based process to obtain job-specific feedback from references. You can use your time for other things and get the pertinent information on whether to make that hire.
  3. Look ahead by looking back. In reference checking the goal is find positive indications of future performance. While how well a candidate performed in the past is often buried in a vaguely positive referral. A reference check verifies the candidate’s skills or knowledge, as well as the specific soft skills and behaviors of doing the job well.
  4. Modify candidate questions to fit position needs. The skills needed for an accounting role are much different than those needed for sales. So why are you asking references nearly the same questions for every job role? How do you know the right questions to ask for each and every hire? Job-specific surveys developed by experts can let you learn the candidate’s suitable for the position.
  5. Avoid that one bad hire that can affect the whole company. When an employee doesn’t work out, it can create a toxic environment and hurt everyone’s productivity, damage the company’s brand, and more. A bad hire is 29-times more costly than a good hire. But how do you gauge soft skills like a candidate’s work ethic, professionalism, attention to safety protocols, or the ability to work in a team environment? With the right online reference solution, you can ask about whether a software engineer can understand product requirements or whether a service representative has empathy when listening to customers.
  6. Add some analytics to the mix. Performing well in a job requires the right combination of skills, experience, and behaviors’; it’s a complex equation. Background screening can provide detailed reports for all your candidates and comparison reports across candidates. Why not apply actionable data behind your hiring decisions rather than relying solely on your gut?
  7. Go mobile. Today’s candidates and references are hooked to their mobile devices. Making your reference checking solution mobile increases the chances that they’ll respond quickly. Reference feedback is available more than 20% faster when candidates use mobile devices instead of a PC.
  8. Support compliance. Some organizations have thrown in the towel and given up on checking references on a consistent basis. But it’s a costly omission. Companies can be sued for negligent hiring, discrimination, or other claims if candidate assessment criteria are biased, or not checked consistently across all applicants. It’s not just about good processes; it’s about the law. Replace potential bias with science to assess candidates objectively and consistently. And make sure your solution adheres to EEOC guidelines too.
  9. Enable your hiring managers to excel. Busy schedules and lack of HR training can prevent hiring managers from preparing well for job interviews. Make them pros by giving them detailed feedback reports and behavioral interview questions in advance of the interview. They’ll know the right questions to ask so interviews are more productive and on target.
  10. Champion diversity. Evidence is mounting that having a more diverse workforce delivers serious benefits. Achieving diversity and realizing its advantages means reaching the widest possible range of candidates. It also means assessing them for their ability to do the job they’re applying for. But many barriers still stand in the way. Online reference checking solutions can help you quickly and legally assess job-specific skills, without adverse bias.
  11. Don’t let language be a barrier to finding your next great candidate. Multilingual reference support gives all references a chance to weigh in, even if English is not their primary language. Nearly 1 in 10 working-age U.S. adults speaks a language other than English, according to a Brookings Institute study.
  12. Make a good impression. Candidates aren’t the only ones under the microscope; they’re checking you out too. A good reference checking solution will help your company stand out from the others. It says you’re a forward thinking organization, embracing new technologies to get the job done and always thinking one step ahead. This can be a real-game changer. Plus, these solutions help you build your organization’s brand by offering custom branded opt-in pages, links, and forms to promote your organization and recruit not just references, but referrals and visitors to your website and career page.
  13. Build a talent pipeline. Great people tend to know other great people. With automated reference checking and sourcing tools, you can reach more references, and turn them into future candidates. Talent determines the success or failure of every business. With the best people in the right positions, your company can achieve amazing things.

The bottom line is reference checking is an important tool for your business success. Automated reference checking can be an effective tool for streamlining the process.

Get Ahead of This Holiday Season

July 26, 2018

This year’s holiday season requires more advanced planning due to the changing face of retailing in particular and commerce in general.

Smart business leaders are already planning for the year end, which can be the difference between a so-so year and spectacular profits. 

One of the major changes in this current marketing world is a simple fact: the average customer has more ways of shopping than previous generations.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Today’s savvy customers are comfortable both online and in store.
  • They expect brands to deliver seamless sales experiences.
  • Mobile-based buying is strengthening.
  • The sales process revolves around the customers and their needs.
  • Products, services need to be there when they want them and no delays.
  • Customers are less loyal than previous generations.

With this in mind, here are some ideas on how to reach and satisfy more customers this holiday season and build lasting loyalty all year:

Enable on-demand, in-the-moment customer service: As much as possible integrate the in-store and online experience so shoppers can easily move between them. Insure they do not need to leave your purchasing venue(s) to get the item and price they want.

Store drives experience; digital delivers convenience: Despite the rapid growth in online purchasing the store experience still drives sales. Make the in-store experience as positive as possible. Poor customer service, hidden stock, long check-out lines hurt sales. Stay on top of crowd surges and determine heavy cashier times.

Focus your efforts on shopper needs: Armed with endless options and instant access, customers choose how, when, and where to shop based on their in-the-moment needs. Leaning into the native advantages of all of the brand’s channels will help retailers meet customers’ ever-increasing expectations.

Understand which parts of the shopping experience customers value most and anticipate what they need. Then,

  • Simplify the customer experience by ensuring servicing options are easy to find and navigate across channels;
  • Develop digital resources that enable customers, and associates, to find what they need and accomplish their tasks quickly; and
  • Offer customers control over how to pay by enabling mobile and digital payment technologies, in addition to traditional options.

Maximize mobile’s micro-shopping moments: Customer behavior is shifting to focus on mobile as they look to make the most of their time. Mobile impacts nearly every aspect of a customer’s journey. Look at their behaviors across devices, online and offline, to understand how and when customers are using the technology. Ensure promotions can be redeemed via mobile app or a mobile-optimized website. Give them mobile access to accounts and rewards. Enable location-based technology to provide the right message to the right customer at the right time.

Make it easy to get the goods: Delivering the goods in a way that’s most convenient to the customer is a critical satisfaction point during the holiday season. A free, reasonably timed shipping option offering a variety of shipping and pick-up options that enable the customer to choose the method that best meets their needs. 

Use store pickup to sell added goods: Incentivize customers to pick up merchandise in-store to drive traffic and increase engagement. Maximize the BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) opportunity with quick gift options, impulse merchandise displays, and appropriate staffing at pickup locations. 

Build loyalty that rewards at holiday and beyond: Holidays offer merchants the chance to add new repeat customers and enhance current relationships. Start with simple, straightforward loyalty program with meaningful rewards, like program-specific discounts, promotions, and offers, can deepen relationships during the critical holiday shopping season. Offer members surprise-and-delight moments throughout the season. Elevate the rewards-redemption moment to ensure members feel special and valued. Promote the program across all channels, including giving customers a view into all of their options as well as higher-level loyalty program tiers that offer bigger benefits for increased spend with the brand.

Inspire customers to find that perfect gift: Introduce holiday customers to products and help them find the perfect present. Create compelling, curated gift guides, including guides by interest, price point, theme, and other psychographic elements. Use promotional vehicles to tout special, company-unique offerings. Develop a social media strategy that enables customers to start, and even complete, their journey via their preferred platform. Explore how new technologies, like voice commerce, fit into the customer’s gift buying journey.

The time to start your holiday efforts is now. The results can last through the New Year.

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.