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Small Business Success Index 4

Index Score*   Grade
73 marginal
Capital Access 67
Marketing & Innovation 65
Workforce 76
Customer Service 88
Computer Technology 73
Compliance 92
*Index score is calculated on a 1-100 scale.

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Posts Tagged ‘Workforce’

Should You Encourage Your Employees to Use Social Media?

November 26th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

As a small business owner, you are responsible for how your employees spend their time at work. After all, you have to pay them, whether they’re doing something to help your business or just twiddling their thumbs. That means that you have to decide whether or not you want your employees using social media at work.

You can’t, of course, decide whether or not your employees can use social media at home — at best you can support them in the endeavor if you approve of the idea of having them use social media, or you can request that they don’t discuss your company if you’d prefer your employees not use social media.

Should Your Employees Use Social Media?

The big question on the table in many companies is how valuable social media is — or might be. Many small businesses have experienced incredible growth as a result of their social media efforts. Others have found that social media just burns through resources, without providing an equivalent return on investment. It’s difficult to tell where your business will fall until you’ve actually had a chance to try out different social media strategies.

If you do have an employee who is interested in social media, you may have an opportunity to move faster with your online marketing efforts than if you were relying entirely on yourself to handle the work. There can be a clear benefit to having employees who are socially savvy.

However, if you have an employee acting as your business’ main face online, you should be prepared for other businesses to make an effort to recruit that particular employee. As he or she builds up your business’ social media presence, an employee can easily build up his or her own online presence. That’s the price of working with a social media-savvy employee.

Keeping Your Employees in the Comfort Zone

The worst social media nightmare is that a none-too-bright employee will broadcast something unpleasant about your company to the world — and that’s a risk you will essentially be running if your employees are active in social media. But it’s also a risk you run if your employees aren’t active in social media in the office, but they are at home. It’s not a problem that will go away by ignoring it. Rather, the best step you can take is to invest in training for your team to help them use social media effectively.

It’s impossible to keep your employees entirely away from social media. Whether or not you have a social media plan in place in your business, you have to be aware of that fact. It’s impossible to control social media — but you can preempt it with positive campaigns, rather than waiting for something negative to happen. Otherwise, your only option is to prepare a response to that inevitable day when an employee posts something like a choice photo from the company holiday party to Facebook.

Image by Flickr user Jason Pratt (Creative Commons)

Small Biz Resource Tip:

November 24th, 2010 :: mhaubrich

Stymied on what to give clients and vendors for the holidays this year? Or maybe you’re looking for employee rewards or incentive bonuses to acknowledge high performances? has hundreds of merchant cards ready to purchase and mail out for you in the denomination of your choice. Choose from everything from movie tickets to restaurants to popular retailers. Not sure what stores or restaurants are in another state? You can also search by location. If you are seeking an employee or customer recognition solution, can help you create a program that fits your needs.

The Ethics of Outsourcing

November 24th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

These days, you can outsource anything. You can have a virtual assistant in India checking your phones, a call center in the Philippines handling your customer service and a manufacturer in China creating your product. But there are some ethical questions that go along with the decision to outsource your business’ tasks. Those questions won’t stop you from outsourcing, but they may cause you to think about what you’re outsourcing and how.

Am I Being Fair to My Employees?

If you’ve been working with certain employees for the long term and plan to fire them once you outsource the tasks they currently handle, it’s worth thinking about what that will mean for your employees. You have no obligation to keep on an employee if you find an outsourcing opportunity, but if you have a great working relationship with your employees, simply letting them go can be an uncomfortable prospect. Take a look at the situation and see if there are other opportunities, like offering them some of the tasks that simply can’t be outsourced.

You might also think about your new employees. You might find an outsourcing company that swears $1.50 is a fair wage overseas, but it’s important to look into that for yourself and decide if you’ll really get the value you need from an employee paid at that rate. You may find that not all local organizations are comfortable with the idea that you might be paying such a low rate for your labor, and you’ll need to be able to assure them that you’re paying a fair wage if you want to work with them in the future.

Am I Providing the Best Value to My Customers?

It may sound well and good to hand your customer service off to someone else, but that can easily mean that the first person a new customer interacts with doesn’t speak English as a first language. That’s not necessarily as helpful for your customers as you might hope, and it can make for a less than ideal experience for customers whom you would like to continue selling to. The same goes for manufacturing and other parts of your business you might outsource. You want to be sure that your customers are continuing to get the value they expect from your business if you outsource any part of your company.

If you can’t guarantee that value, that might be a stopping point for your outsourcing plans. You may have a lower margin of profit using local labor or doing something yourself, but you might have lower profits entirely if you can’t keep your customers happy. The changeover just may not be worth it for a small business.

Image by Flickr user Marc Smith (Creative Commons)

Can Hiring Family Members Mean a Tax Break for Your Small Business?

November 23rd, 2010 :: Karen Axelton

By Karen Axelton

Keeping track of tax breaks available to small businesses—especially in the current political climate—can be a complex task. The good news is, there is one kind of tax break that just about every small business can take advantage of: the advantages gained by hiring family members to work in your business. Here’s a closer look at some of the options:

Hiring your spouse: In general, the IRS considers a spouse an employee as long as an employer/employee relationship exists. In other words, one spouse must truly control the business in terms of making key management decisions, and must direct the other spouse’s work duties and activities. Specific rules related to hiring your spouse depend on the business structure you’ve chosen for your company. Visit the IRS website for more detailed information about tax issues related to husband and wife businesses.

Hiring a parent: Hiring a parent is becoming more of an option these days with many seniors and retirees more interested in continuing to work—or needing to work to supplement retirement income. If you are hiring a parent, know your business will be subject to income tax withholding, Social Security tax, and Medicare tax; however, you are not subject to Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) tax.

Hiring your children: Having your children work for you in the business is a great way to transfer income from your higher tax bracket to your children’s lower one. This is also a way you can transfer wealth to your children without worrying about gift and estate taxes.

If your company is a sole proprietorship or partnership, wages paid to your children under age 18 are not subject to Medicare or Social Security taxes; wages paid to children under 21 are not subject to FUTA tax. At any age, their wages are subject to income tax withholding. If your business is a corporation, get more details about the tax issues of having your kids work in your business at the IRS website.

Before hiring any family member, discuss the issue with your accountant to make sure you follow all the rules. It’s especially important to maintain detailed records of the person’s duties and the hours he or she works to protect you from any questions of fraud. And, of course, be sure the person’s salary or wages is in line with what he or she actually does, or you risk raising red flags.

Tax savings aren’t the only benefit of hiring family members. Working with your spouse can build bonds as you feel that you’re working together for a goal. Children at any age can gain responsibility and learn from seeing their parents working hard to build a business. Children approaching adulthood can be groomed to take full-time roles in the business and be part of your succession plan. Start your children in the business at a young age, and you’re less likely to face resistance from other employees as your kids take on more important roles.

DISCLAIMER: The information posted in this blog is provided for informational purposes. Legal information is not the same as legal advice — the application of law to an individual’s specific circumstances. The information presented here is not to be construed as legal or tax advice. Network Solutions recommends that you consult an attorney or tax consultant if you want professional assurance that the information posted, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular business.

Small Biz Resource Tip: Rescue Time

November 22nd, 2010 :: mhaubrich

Rescue Time

Are you worried about what your employees are really doing during work hours? They look busy, but unless you look over their shoulder all day, they could be checking the latest fantasy sports stats, for all you know. Enter in Rescue Time. By installing an application on your employees’ computers, you can track what sites are being viewed and for how long. You can also customize the information you receive and not track certain sites you know are work-related. If this all sounds a bit “Big Brother” the site explains that when you let employees know from the beginning you have this application in place, it simply boosts accountability.

Employee Benefits Still Matter

October 27th, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Rieva Lesonsky

In today’s challenging economy, you might think that employees would be grateful to have a job—any job. But a new survey from the Financial Services Roundtable and Employee Benefit Research Institute reports that benefits are an important factor in job satisfaction for employees at all salary levels.

Over half (52 percent) of employees value their benefits as a way to “protect their financial well-being”. What benefits are valued most? When asked to rate (on a scale of 1 to 5) different benefits in terms of providing financial protection, 85 percent rated health insurance a 5. Sixty-nine percent also rated retirement plans a 5, but that number increased to 80 percent as workers’ ages and incomes rose.

Interestingly, some other benefits were valued more highly by lower-income employees. While 48 percent rated life insurance a 5, that increased to 67 percent among workers making less than $35,000. Although less than half (39 percent) of workers rated long-term disability a 5; that rose to 52 percent among workers making less than $35,000. And while 35 percent rated short-term disability a 5, the number rose to 45 percent among workers making less than $35,000.

The power of benefits is evident in these results:

  • 36 percent of employees have taken a job because of the benefits and insurance an employer offered;
  • 40 percent have stayed in a job because of the benefits and insurance offered;
  • 10 percent have left a job because of the benefits and insurance their employers offered.

I often hear entrepreneurs say they can’t afford to offer benefits, but the reality is, you can’t afford not to. As a small business, there are many more options for providing benefits for your employees than ever before—whether it’s 401(k) plans (which can now be offered by even the smallest companies) or work-life benefits such as flextime or work at home policies. Benefits don’t have to cost a lot—and as this survey shows, they bring you a lot of loyalty in return.

Image by Flickr user Andrew Magill (Creative Commons)

Working Abroad: What It Takes and When It Makes Sense

September 28th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

Interest in telecommuting is growing — and not just for employees. Many business owners are exploring opportunities to make their companies virtual, so that they can travel or move easily. The specific form such a change can take varies, but for small business owners with goals simply beyond growing a business, heading abroad can certainly make sense. Thinking globally can have benefits beyond the personal for a small business owner, as well. Only 7 percent of small businesses do most of their business globally, according to the Small Business Success Index, but there are huge opportunities.

Making the Choice to Go Virtual

You may have worked on the assumption that you have to go into the office every day for years, but the real truth is that most office-based businesses can easily be made virtual. Even many stores can be converted to online-only operations with surprisingly few problems. The only businesses that don’t offer the possibility of going online are those that require a physical presence — a mechanic can’t usually convince a customer to ship a car overseas to be repaired and a doctor probably needs to see his patients during the diagnosis process. It’s worth noting, though, that the administrative processes for such businesses could probably be virtual.

But there’s more to the decision to go virtual than just the option to do so. Not everyone is comfortable working from wherever they happen to be: some people need the environment of an office. That means that, before you decide to take your office entirely online, it’s important to actually test how you and your employees work without the structure of an office environment. Similarly, you’ll need to test tools to see what you’ll need to be able to manage each part of your business.

What Your Business Will Need

A virtual business still requires a mailing address and some other physical aspects of a company. However, those needs don’t have to tie down the company. They can amount to something as simple as a post office box that someone associated with the company checks once a week. There are even companies that do little more than accept mail and scan it for the actual recipients. You’ll also need a computer and an internet connection no matter where you are, which can often amount to a laptop and some sort of wireless access point. Beyond those basic necessities, you’ll need to look at the specifics of your business and your industry.

Many of the software tools needed to operate an office now have web-based counterparts, allowing you and a distributed team to stay up to date with each other from around the world (provided, of course, that everyone involved has a decent internet connection). That includes project management, bookkeeping and even industry-specific tools. It’s a matter of exploring what is available.

Image by Flickr user Tom Godber

Turning Around the Small Business Workforce

September 23rd, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

The past few years have been tough on small business owners working to build the workforces necessary to growing a company. Rising costs of employment, paired with a down economy, have simply reduced the resources most business owners have available to invest in a workforce. In the most recent Small Business Success Index, many small business owners pointed to less success in training and developing employees — 58 percent consider themselves highly successful, down from 65 percent a year ago.

Creating the right team is crucial to a small business and has long made small businesses competitive as employers: employees at smaller companies tend to get more opportunities for development, more responsibilities and even more opportunities to increase their own income. But many small business owners report struggling with workforce issues right now.

Making the Most of an Improving Economy

Most small businesses are seeing their financial situation improving. That means an end to at least some cost-saving measures and perhaps an increase in hiring. It’s time to take a look at how you can improve your existing team and where you need to consider hiring more help. Your employees are about to have a lot more options in terms of employers and you’ve got to make sure that they have reasons to stick with you.

Just as one of the best strategies to manage your workforce during economic downturns is to talk to your employees and make sure that they’re kept up to date on what’s going on, it’s good practice to talk to them during good times as well. If you’re thinking about how you can improve things for your team — as well as how to develop them into a better workforce — check in with them and see if there’s any requests on the table. You may be surprised: an employee may be more interested in increased responsibilities or help furthering his education than a bigger benefits package. There are plenty of ways to help both you and your employees move forward and they may have some suggestions in that direction.

Avoiding Workforce Problems

If you feel that your business may be one of those that isn’t having as much success as in years past, it may be particularly crucial to look for solutions. For the past few years, most employees have been reluctant to try to leave their current employers — after all, there was no guarantee that they could easily find a new job. There are still elements of a jobless recovery right now, but the overall economic situation is headed in a direction where many employees will feel better able to replace an unsatisfactory job.

As a small business owner, it is necessary to make sure that trained, valuable employees have little incentive to start job hunting. The shape your efforts will take depend on your industry, as well as the needs and expectations of your employees.

Image by Flickr user Bill Jacobus

Turning to a Global Workforce Creates More Small Business Opportunities

September 21st, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

At the end of the day, your workforce decides whether your business succeeds. You need good people at a price that leaves room for a return in your business. But the cost of hiring keeps going up, making it difficult to bring in the people that will really make a difference as your business grows. One option may be to consider a more global workforce.

In every business, there are plenty of tasks that don’t need to be done in your office. The number of tasks that can be handled off site keeps growing, as well: if you’ve got a few key pieces of technology, anything from bookkeeping to marketing can be done away from your office. That opens up the possibility of working with a remote team. Just who is on your team can also vary: it’s no almost as easy to hire a virtual worker in the Philippines or in India as it is to hire an employee who lives down the street from you.

Changing the Cost Question

There is one key factor when it comes to working with a global workforce, rather than a local one: cost. The monthly income for most jobs in the Philippines is under $500 (U.S. dollars) — an engineer might expect to earn a little over $400 while a receptionist would be closer to $150. There are other reasons that your overall costs would be less when working with a distributed team: you wouldn’t need to pay for office space for those team members located outside of your geographic area. It may take some investment in terms of hardware or software to make sure that your team can work well, but internet access and even computer ownership is becoming fairly common in most countries (at least in the bigger cities). A global workforce presents an opportunity for most businesses.

Considering Your Own Business

It can take some careful consideration to determine just what jobs in your company don’t need to be done in the office. There are also personal considerations: you may simply have a preference to have your bookkeeping done locally or something similar (although you might consider the opportunities available by choosing a bookkeeper who is local but also doesn’t come into the office. You may need to check out what tools and technologies are available for your industry — many fields now have specialized tools to make telecommuting and distributed workforces easier to manage.

In the most recent Small Business Success Index, many business owners reported less successes in training and developing employees, although there were moderate successes in improving employee productivity and rewarding employees. Turning to a global workforce can create more opportunities for small businesses to expand workforces and create better working environments, if only because of the relative costs involved in looking for new employees outside of the country.

Small Businesses Focusing on Increasing Training and Development of Employees

September 16th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

In the most recent Small Business Success Index, small business owners responded to questions about their workforce. They noted that concerns about workforce were less important than those about capital access or marketing and innovation, but are still ranked above those on customer service, computer technology or compliance. The workforce index score was 76 — a ‘C’ grade — which remains fairly constant from the last Small Business Success Index.

Slipping Workforce Scores

While the overall Workforce score did not dramatically change, it has slipped slightly, which could create concerns for most small businesses. Specifically, concerns seem to focus on training and developing employees: a year ago, the Small Business Success Index reported 65 percent of small businesses were successful in this area. In the most recent set of results, however, only 58 percent reach the same level.

Not all factors that the Small Business Success Index measures for creating an overall workforce score showed slips, however. Small business owners reported better results in rewarding employees and maximizing the productivity of their employees. Overall, however, the changing economic situation makes it necessary for small businesses to improve workforce factors in the near future — it may not be the highest priority in a business today, but it’s going to be increasingly important.

It is worth noting that 33 percent of small businesses have just one employee — also known as the owner. On average, a small business has two employees, typically still counting the owner. It may also be counting a partner or co-owner. That information does mean that workforce concerns look a little different for roughly a third of small businesses than all the rest: training, development and maximizing efficiency are at least somewhat higher priorities when the owner of a small business is the only person on the job. Rewarding employees and employee morale looks very different in such situations.

Spouse Participation

This Small Business Success Index brought interesting considerations about spouse participation to light. While every small business owner knows that, when you start a new business, having the support of your spouse or significant other makes your life a lot easier. But the numbers show that the participation of a spouse or significant other doesn’t have a discernible impact at first — whether or not your significant other is involved, you have similar odds of success.

But the long-term impact is much more dramatic. If your significant other takes on a full-time role in the business, it can lead to success. Businesses with spousal participation rank as more successful on the Small Business Success Index — a 76. In comparison, businesses where spouses play no role rank a score of 73, while businesses with spouses as silent partners rank a score of 72. Those numbers can have interesting ramifications for your workforce if your significant other is interested in getting involved with the business.

Image by Flickr user iyasser