Low or No Cost Ways to Keep Good Workers

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How can you help make your workplace fun and productive for your employees and  yourself? Treating your employees to special  perks will help them feel glad they work for you and can improve retention as well.

Here’s how to perk up your workplace with no- or low-cost benefits. (And we don’t mean just donuts.)

Perks Count

Even if you have a limited benefits budget, you can add lots of perks that will help your employees feel satisfied and recognized. Perk up your workplace with these no- or low-cost benefits.

  1. Compressed workweek. Allow employees to work longer days and let them take half-days or full days off. One-third of small businesses (defined as companies with less than 100 employees) and over half of firms in the financial industry implement this perk.
  2. Social activities. Go beyond the traditional holiday party and company picnic. For the cost of a DVD and popcorn, Sue Murray, President of EduCorp Training and Consulting, Inc. of Irving, Texas, holds movie night for her employees. The employees select the DVD, get comfortable in one of the firm’s newly decorated training rooms, and enjoy their peanuts, popcorn, and a little camaraderie while watching the big screen.
  3. Bring child to work in case of emergency. An employee whose child care just evaporated will appreciate this benefit; 43 percent of small firms allow this perk. Some firms provide childcare referral services and eldercare referral services.
  4. Classes. In addition to on-the-job cross-training and professional development through continuing education and conference, topics cover self-defense training (offered by three percent of small firms), on-site fitness yoga (five percent), English as a second language, a foreign language, and CPR first aid training.
  5. Casual dress one day per week. Sixty-seven percent of small firms offer this relaxing benefit, while 44 percent of small firms allow casual dress every day.
  6. Transportation subsidies. Some companies offer a carpooling subsidy, a parking subsidy, or a transit subsidy. One large bank offers a reimbursement for purchasing a hybrid car, according to a careerbuilder.com article. (Some of these ideas come from CareerBuilder.com’s advice for employers)
  7. Time off. Besides the traditional time off for holidays, vacation, and sick leave, five percent of small companies give employees a paid day off on their birthdays. Nine percent of small firms allow employees to volunteer during paid work hours.

Click here to read the complete article written by CPA Sandi Smith and get more tips on compensating your employees at little or no cost.

Reporting Work Related Injuries or Illnesses

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According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) an injury or illness is considered to be work-related if an event or exposure in the work environment caused or contributed to the condition, or significantly aggravated a preexisting condition.

As an employer you are required to report death, loss of consciousness, days away from work, restricted work activity or job transfer, or medical treatment beyond first aid. OSHA requires an annual form to be filled out to properly report these incidents, Form 300.

You can find the complete form packet here. This PDF includes instructions on how to fill the form out properly and includes the appropriate logs, summaries, and worksheets you will need to be in compliance with OSHA’s standards. It also covers in detail what needs to be reported and how to classify certain ailments or injuries. All OSHA 300 logs must be posted February 1-April 30 annually.

How to Verify Employee Social Security Numbers

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OVERVIEW

There are two Internet verification options you can use to verify that your employee names and Social Security numbers match Social Security’s records.

You can:
Verify up to 10 names and SSNs (per screen) online and receive immediate results. This option is ideal to verify new hires.

Upload overnight files of up to 250,000 names and SSNs and usually receive results the next government business day. This option is ideal if you want to verify an entire payroll database or if you hire a large number of workers at a time.

While the service is available to all employers and third-party submitters, it can only be used to verify current or former employees and only for wage reporting (Form W-2) purposes.

WHY SHOULD I VERIFY SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS ONLINE?

-Correct names and SSNs on W-2 wage reports are the keys to the successful processing of your annual wage report submission.
-It’s faster and easier to use than submitting your requests paper listings or using Social Security’s telephone verification option.
-Results in more accurate wage reports.
-Saves you processing costs and reduces the number of W-2cs.
-Allows Social Security to properly credit your employees’ earnings record, which will be important information in determining their Social Security benefits in the future.

To register for this verification service or read more visit the official Social Security website here.

Ten Things to Think About: Picking a Business Form

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1. Cost. A sole proprietorship or general partnership can be set up very inexpensively. A limited partnership and a limited liability company are more expensive to set up. Setting up a corporation can be a very expensive undertaking.

2. Ease. A sole proprietorship is easy to set up; sometimes all it takes is opening up a business checking account. Similarly, a general partnership is easy to set up, although a partnership agreement is something that the partners should create prior to beginning operations. A limited partnership, limited liability company, and corporation involve more work. Since all three entities must be recognized by the state, it is important to adhere strictly to the state requirements or run the risk of losing the advantages that the particular business entity provides.

3. Termination. Some business entities automatically terminate upon such events as death, the withdrawal of a partner, or even divorce. In addition, some businesses are allowed to exist only for a state-mandated period of time.

4. Public Information. How much information do you want the public to know about your business and finances? A corporation is required to provide much more information to the state, which is then available to the public, than a limited liability company or a limited partnership. Sole proprietorships and general partnerships offer the individuals involved a great deal of privacy.

5. Risk. If the business involves a great deal of risk a sole proprietorship or general partnership may be a bad idea because the owner and general partners are personally liable for the business debts and obligations.

6. Operation. The form of the business entity may dictate how it is operated. If you want total control, a sole proprietorship provides the businessperson the greatest degree of control (and the greatest degree of potential risk).

7. Capitalization. An undercapitalized business may result in a loss of protection provided by the business entity. In addition, some business forms make it easier to raise capital when it is needed.

8. Selling. A sole proprietorship is easy to sell; usually you sell the assets of the business, and your business ceases to exist. Selling a partnership interest or a member’s interest in a limited liability company can be tricky because it requires approval of the other partners or members.

9. State Taxes. Some states have begun to levy taxes on the business entity itself. This is becoming a big issue with limited liability companies. You should know whether your state will tax your business entity before setting it up.

10. Expansion. Every entrepreneur wants to be as successful as possible. Some business entities are limited to the number of shareholders they may have. A sole proprietorship ceases to exist the moment the sole proprietor takes on a partner. It is important to choose a business form that allows you the greatest room to grow if that is what you envision. Although the business form may be changed, this involves additional expense and energy.

For additional information on incorporation and legal structures, visit www.findlaw.com. FindLaw is the highest-trafficked legal Web site and offers a wealth of information on topics ranging all the way from starting a business to closing a business.

I-9 Forms, Are You In Compliance?

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WASHINGTON—U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will announce in a Federal Register notice Nov. 26, 2007 that employers must transition to the revised Employment Eligibility Verification Form (I-9) not later than Dec. 26, 2007. All employers are required to complete a Form I-9 for each employee hired in the United States.

On Nov. 7, USCIS announced the availability of the revised version of Form I-9 (includes the revision date — (Rev. 06/05/07)N printed on the lower right corner of the form) which is now the only version valid for use. In that Nov. 7 announcement, USCIS explained that employers would have 30 days, beginning on the date the Federal Register notice is published, to transition to the revised form. Accordingly, effective Dec. 26, 2007, employers who fail to use the revised form will be subject to applicable penalties.

Both the revised form and the “Handbook for Employers, Instructions for Completing the Form I-9” are available online at http://www.uscis.gov. To order forms, call USCIS toll-free at (800) 870-3676. For forms and information on immigration laws, regulations, and procedures, call the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283.

Click here to get the updated form via PDF.

Eleven Ways to Find Customers

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What’s the hardest thing about starting a business? For many new business owners, the answer is “finding customers.” Having a great product or service that you are sure many people will need isn’t good enough. Customers won’t find you or your Web site just because you have started selling a product or service. Indeed, most business owners have to go on regular and frequent fishing trips to find customers and keep new business coming in their doors. But how do you do that? Here are several suggestions to get you started.

Develop a plan

Consider who would make the ideal customer. If you sell to businesses, consider what department is most likely to buy your products or services, and what individual (what level of responsibility) would be the one to determine the specific purchase requirements. (Make some calls if you don’t know!) Then consider how that individual would normally find products or services like yours. What circles do they travel in? Who are they likely to listen to or where do they look when they want to buy a product or service. Find a way to put your information, or yourself, in their path.

Realize there is no one path to success

Sales often happen because prospective customers hear about your products and services in several different ways and from several different sources. The more often they hear about you, the more likely they are to consider what you have to offer when they are ready to buy.

Work your local newspapers

Daily and weekly newspapers are an incredible source of contact information and leads to potential customers. Watch for names of people who have been promoted, who have won awards, who have opened new businesses, or who in any way may be potential customers. Send those people personalized mailings letting them know the benefits of what you sell. Try to attend meetings they will be at, as well. When you meet them or send mail, let them know you read about them and congratulate them on their success or mention how interesting the article about them was.

Watch for events that may bring your potential market together

Contact the organizers of the event and offer to give away your product or service as a prize during the event in exchange for having the group promote you in their promotions.

Attend meetings and seminars that your prospects might attend

If you’ve been doing that and haven’t made contacts that could lead to sales, look in the newspapers to see what other organizations hold events that might attract your target market and attend some of those meetings.

Follow up after meetings

Contact the people you’ve met to see if they may be prospects. If they say they don’t need your services now, ask when a good time to call them back would be, or if they have business associates who could use what you sell now.

Give a little to get a lot

Give away free samples of your product and ask the recipients to tell their friends if they are pleased. Or, if you are a consultant, give away some free advice. This could be in the form of a newsletter that contains news or tips and hints, or it could be a free consultation during which you provide just enough information to help the client scope out their project and know that you have the ability to handle it.

Work your personal network

Ask your friends if they know of people who can use your services, or people who may know others who could use your services. If your pricing structure will allow it, offer friends and business associates a finders’ fee for referrals that turn into jobs.

Study your competition

Advertise where they do. Promote yourself where your competition promotes themselves.

Use multiple small ads instead of one big one

If most people in your type of business advertise to bring in customers, you should do the same. But don’t plan on making a big splash with one large ad. Plan smaller ads to run over a long time in the same publications that your competitors advertise in. The repetition will build name recognition. If you advertise in the yellow pages, consider taking out ads in multiple category headings. If you provide office support services, you might want to advertise under the Word Processing and the Typing headings.

Ask for feedback when prospects don’t buy

Did they find a product that better served their needs? Did they decide they don’t need the product at all? Did they just postpone their buying decision? Did they find it difficult to place an order on your Web site? Use what you learn to make needed changes and watch your sales start to grow.

Are You Paying Your Employees Enough $$?

We all know that finding the right candidate to hire is like looking for a needle in a haystack, but keeping your top talent on board is an arduous task as well.  Time after time, we hear about how our local small businesses are struggling to find qualified employees that actually want to work.  So, I’ve been thinking about why so many employers might be sharing this issue.  Yes, it could be that times have changed and our younger employees don’t have a strong work ethic, or it could be that all the talented folk have packed their bags to look for greener pastures.  -But my thoughts keep going back to the idea that we just aren’t paying enough.

I’ve recently heard both local small and big business talk about how they pay their employees less because Corpus Christi has a lower cost of living.  I agree that it is cheaper to live in C.C. compared to many other places in the U.S., but I’m not so sure that argument could hold up when you compare C.C. to other cities in Texas.    So, I’ve done a little bit of research (using Bankrate.com’s calculator) to see how much one would have to make in other metropolitan areas in Texas to enjoy a similar lifestyle to that of living in Corpus Christi making $30,000 a year.  Check out these numbers:

City                              Equivalent Income                Increase/Decrease
Corpus Christi              $30,000                                   N/A

Austin                          $32,662.97                              8.8% Increase

Houston                       $30,233.85                              0.78% Increase

Dallas                           $32,142.56                              7.14% Increase

San Antonio                 $31,129.65                              3.77% Increase

It doesn’t really seem that Corpus Christi is that much cheaper than some of the larger cities here in Texas.  I also checked out a Web site that allows you find out how much an individual needs to get paid in order to pay their bills and survive in our local area.  We all know minimum wage hasn’t increased in years, and $5.15 just isn’t enough.  Click here to see how much each one of your employees would need to get paid just to live here in Corpus Christi.

The Texas Workforce Commission has a pretty neat Web site that provides all sorts of labor market information that can help you set the wages you pay your employees. 

What are your thoughts?  Why do you think finding and keeping good employees is so difficult here in Corpus Christi?   Are their special issues that employers face specifically in this region?  What kind of assistance would be useful in helping you find a solution?