Archive for the ‘Human Resources’ Category

Small- and Medium-Business Employee Healthcare Insurance: Yes Or No

September 11, 2015

Shock waves are hitting a majority of smaller businesses receiving notices about the premiums due for employee healthcare insurance policies in 2016.
The new rates exceed 20% for many enterprises based on surveys done by Information Strategies, Inc. and other organizations.
An average 23% increases were reported in ISI’s survey of 233 randomly selected businesses under 50 employees. Other soundings surfaced similar increases ranging from 19% to 24%. One respondent reported a 49% increase.
Many companies are pondering alternatives such as providing stipends in lieu of benefits, increasing deductibles, reducing coverage to the minimums required by the Accountable Care Act (ACA), or doing away with any coverage.
For companies with under 50 employees, this last alternative does not involve government sanctions.
Organizations with 100 or more employees have weighty penalties for abandoning employee healthcare insurance.
Perhaps hardest hit are enterprises with 51-99 employees who are seeing massive increases in healthcare insurance premiums.
During the past two years, companies have held down premium costs by shifting the burden to employees either through higher deductibles, increasing the percentage paid by employees, or trimming benefits.
Most of these savings have been wrung out and there are few other alternatives.
While last year, only 6% of respondents said they were considering eliminating healthcare insurance benefits (believed important for employee recruiting and retention), in 2015 the number more than doubled to 13% in ISI’s survey and two other surveys reviewed.
Here are two ways small businesses can attack the cost hurdle.
The first involves a government program offering subsidies to smaller enterprises. This program is complicated and less than 100,000 companies have attempted to use it. The program is called the Small Business Healthcare Options.
The second involves setting up a private exchange enabling employees to purchase individual policies and obtain government subsidies under the ACA.
It has been reported that such programs can save companies significant dollars while providing individually tailored healthcare insurance. To learn more about this approach small business leaders can go to HealthMarkets.com.
If you know of other alternatives, please share them.
No matter what course of action is taken for 2016, small- and medium-businesses can expect 2017 premium rates will be higher.

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Warning Signals Abound; Are Small Business Leaders Listening?

May 22, 2015

When Staples opened its first store, stationary establishments were amongst the most profitable retail operations in America.

Within 15 years they were losing money and have almost disappeared from most shopping areas.

For those owners who did not heed the warnings blared at them by their fellow owners and trade press at the time they lost everything.

It is no different in today’s rapidly changing world.

As consumers and business purchasers change their buying habits, many small-and medium-size businesses are getting left behind.

Therefore it is important that even the most successful small business leader should take lessons from birds.

A recent study of wild birds found that different species learn the warning calls of other forest creatures.

Moreover, they learn what the calls mean and if the predator can be targeting them.

The landscape is evolving quickly and even the most mundane small business will be affected.

There are many venues preaching the need for change.

They are the distant drumbeats warning of danger to profits that can’t be ignored.

However, for many managers buried in day-to-day activities these warning signals are not being heard.

Only when the threat of a new technology approach becomes immediate is action taken.

By then it may be too late.

Warning calls are all about us, it is important to hear, heed them.

In business there is a need to be familiar not only with one’s industry and competitors but other sectors.

Then too, economic, social, and financial trends also affect any small businesses.

When the economy shrinks, some small businesses are affected to a greater extent than others.

Likewise, as the economy expands, some small businesses are negatively impacted.

For an individual small business the first warnings signs come when customers stop reordering; phone calls are ignored; products are returned; store traffic slows; etc.

When this happens, it is important to listen to:

* Customers

* Suppliers

* Employees

* Other industry participants

* Trade press

* Family/friends

What is heard may shock, but it is the key to learning.

Today, small business leaders need to learn quickly or get left behind.

Are You Running On Empty?

February 9, 2015

Many small business leaders started the new year with a burst of renewed energy and purpose.

As the economy has recovered, there is strong evidence this year’s activities have been particularly active. And it is borne out this year by some respected surveys.

But the downside of this is that these efforts can negatively affect management later in the year.

While a year of activity is not long, it can be exhausting, especially after five years of difficult struggles.

Therefore it important that senior managers pace themselves.

Let’s look at the broader picture.

Two studies conducted by Information Strategies, Inc., done 10 years apart, found small businesses:

* Tend to hire most in the first and fourth quarters.

* Start new campaigns, products, equipment purchasing, IT upgrades in the first quarter.

* Ignore, put off solving minor problems that become big situations later in the year.

Like their corporate brethren, in the first months of the year small business management is involved as new staff is added, marketing campaigns debuted, equipment purchased as well as other activities initiated.

These efforts are all to the good but there are reasons to pace new activities.

The most important reason may be that small business leaders get too busy and wear themselves out, according to experts.

In the rush to be proactive early in the year the following happens:

* Vital issues are sometimes not addressed properly;

* Management is distracted; and

* Problems are overlooked; and

* Most importantly, managers quickly become overworked.

This trend also sometimes lead to poor follow-through which affect the entire organization.

These include:

* Staff can’t absorb all the changes.

* Not all of the crucial elements are in place.

* Management has not spent enough time evaluating needs, applicants, etc.

* The desire “to just do something” takes hold within the organization.

Because management is a long-distance race, small business leaders should pace themselves.

Unfortunately, many small business leaders don’t.

One key element necessary to smart pacing is to carve out a work/life plan.

Experts in this area see as a tell-tale when coaching small business leaders.

One recent survey by leading travel card found that 93% of small business leaders had no set plans to vacation in 2015. The most frequent answer given “when there is a lull time for the company.” This compares with 51% of corporate managers have vacation periods already set.

Another example is the antidotal evidence of coaches that more admitted management mistakes are made in the fourth quarter than at any other time.

The lesson to be learned: small business managers need to look at the entire year and learn it is a marathon and not just a day-to-day race.

Creative Ways Of Adding To Your Small Business’s Marketing Efforts

October 17, 2014

Adding A Company-Wide Approach To Grow Your Enterprise

In today’s difficult economic world, small business leaders can’t ignore the importance of a unified, integrated marketing effort that goes beyond direct sales and media efforts

While smaller enterprises are aligning their traditional marketing efforts, they often ignore every day company communications as channels to added sales, profits.

Encouraging employees to repeat the company mantra; act as brand ambassadors; identifying new communication channels; and building a unified persona will drive added sales.

At Information Strategies, Inc. (ISI) our surveys and reader feedback indicate a majority of small businesses concentrate on insuring the “look” and “feel” of online and offline marketing are complementary.

In these efforts the logo, type, message, and response mechanisms are often in sync and carefully match their targeted audiences.

Once they have aligned these efforts, we found many small businesses think of their marketing efforts as “totally integrated”. In short, they assume their marketing begins and ends with their online and offline efforts.

That is really not true!

An effective branding effort just starts there. By not extending the sales effort to other parts of the company that touches the public they are wasting precious resources and opportunities that can add to the profit picture.

Here are some ways of making these resources be part of the marketing solution:

  1. Customer service: Every day, employees are communicating with current or potential customers. In instance after instance, smaller enterprises who have turn these workers into an auxiliary sales force. To do this companies who have implemented training programs designed to make them aware of their role in the sales effort, What’s more, they have seen dramatic profit increases.
    Small businesses in particular can benefit from this approach because studies have shown their employees are more committed to the company’s immediate and long term success than counterparts in large corporations. Therefore, they are more willing to speak highly of the company and its offerings to the customers they interact with. Highlighting the need for this effort often falls on willing ears. Consider implementing some form of program to encourage these efforts. The results may astonish management.
  2. Bills and other forms of communication: Many small companies ignore the potential marketing inherent in the bills they send out. Credit card companies, banks, department stores include promotional materials in their monthly statements. Why can’t a small business do the same? Announce a forthcoming sale, new product, coupon in every bill. Once a year have a letter from the president about the state of the company and how appreciative it is of the customer’s business.
    Offer an incentive for referrals as well. By carefully weighing the package being sent to customers, there should be no additional mailing costs. Smaller companies who have taken this suggestion to heart have seen improved sales.
    Another often neglected sell channel is the company’s business card. Use it creatively to tell more about the company’s offerings.
  3. Be creative: We often run into unusual ways of gaining new customers. One local dry cleaner bought space on pizza boxes used by three local pizzerias. They were pleasantly surprised by the number of tomato sauce stained coupons they redeemed. To spur this creativity review every day interactions of a personal and/or business nature. The channels to reach potential new or departed customers will appear.

Social media is becoming more and more prevalent as a marketing tool. Take advantage of it but also remember it is as two-edge sword. Read negative comments carefully. They will tell management more than they might want to know. However, it will give it a gauge on how successfully its message is getting heard.

Above all, do not be satisfied with the marketing effort unless it includes the whole company’s efforts to sell and communicate with your customer.

Listen Actively to Your Customer: Hear and Respond to What They Are Saying

July 10, 2014

There is an old sales adage: “The more the customer talks, the surer the sale.”
This approach should be continued after the sale is made.
Too often, large and small companies fail to take the most elementary efforts to find out why customers buy their product/service.
This trait is especially true of smaller enterprises who often blame lack of resources as the primary reason.
Yet, there are considerable rewards to be had for truly understanding why consumers/clients are buying a company’s goods/services.
More importantly, the company may learn that what they believe the reason their product is selling is not why customers are buying.
In talking with groups specializing in “listening” for companies, this is the case in many instances.
Many entrepreneurs fall in love with their product, as do technical and engineering based developers. They look at their product as something people will appreciate and adopt as they conceived it. Sometimes success and failure results from customers seeing the product differently.
Knowing how others see offerings can lead to success.
That’s why listening is so important for smaller enterprises.
It can be way of insuring success at a relatively low cost.
In this world today, the cost of learning what and why customers are buying is relatively low.
Moreover, social media and other avenues make the listening part easier.
Smaller enterprises need to make a concerted effort to reach out to current customers and ask them such open ended questions as:
• What most appealed to them about their purchase?
• Why their choice of the company’s offering over another?
• How did they reach their decision?
• Where did they make their choice?
• When was the choices made?
• Who consumes the offering?
• How do they use the offering?
There are many avenues for soliciting this information. Here are several:
• With many purchases done online today, it is easy to ask purchasers to take a short survey after their purchase, perhaps with an incentive coupon on their next purchase.
• In establishment, purchasers can be asked to fill out a quick five question response card, again with a coupon attached.
• Monitoring chatrooms and other social media venues can lead to a treasure trove of information. This includes competitors’ accounts as well.
• Hiring a professional “listening” company is more expensive but the results may provide not only a roadmap for the success of current offerings but new products/services as well.
• If the purchaser or consumer contacts you directly, listen carefully to what is being said.
Small businesses are more nimble than their corporate competitors. Finding and identifying what customers want and fulfilling that desire or need is an advantage not to be overlook.
If not being done today, small business leaders should start listening to their customers. They have a lot to say.