Columbus (2544)

Most employers would be happy if they had only one employee leave in a five-year period. For Sean Adkins, however, it brought about some ambivalent feelings.

Adkins was feeling a modest amount of pride for the showing West Monroe Partners LLC in Columbus had between 2007 and 2011. The business and technology consulting firm was growing, it was recognized as one of the best places to work in Columbus and had only one voluntary resignation during that period — all of which were almost unheard of during that recession-laden time.

After all, the employees were committed to the company mission — “to do the work we love with the people we trust” — and the development of a culture to fit that calling was coming true.

“But one of the things I have had to learn about my leadership style is you can’t also value culture without regard for business performance — because suddenly, this could turn into a country club,” says Adkins, managing director and office leader. “This has been my biggest leadership challenge.”

The heart of the matter for Adkins was the one employee who left during that five-year period.

“I actually started asking myself questions about this,” he says. “Was that good or bad? Am I not striking the right balance here? Maybe near-zero attrition is not a good thing because you are not pushing the team hard enough for results and not finding the right balance.

“I almost felt we ended up with the opposite situation. Where the culture was so valued that maybe we were missing some of the opportunities we could have had from a business perspective,” Adkins says.

“Essentially, I decided that the one turnover was probably not what I was aiming for,” he says. “Some attrition is probably healthy because that tells you that people are being pushed to where they are either going to excel or decide ‘this isn’t the pace I need to go, this isn’t right for me, and I’m going to move onto something else.’”

This year, there was a slight uptick in turnover: three employees voluntarily left. But that didn’t sound an alarm for Adkins.

“I’ve already had one come back three months later,” he says. “That’s another good sign of our culture. People don’t know what is on the other side of the fence.”

Here’s how Adkins tries to dodge the sand traps and water hazards so West Monroe Partners doesn’t become a country club, but a company where employees do the work they love with the people they trust, helping to generate $67 million in annual revenue corporate wide.

 

Set your core values and live them

Like many other companies do when they first launch, the founders of West Monroe Partners’ initial step was to write down their core values. Once established and followed, core values are designed to keep your company on track.

“You don’t try to fabricate a strategy you think will attract people or what may resonate in the market well,” Adkins says. “This is about describing a set of values that we individually believe in because that is the only way we are actually going to be able to live those values on a day-in and day-out basis.

“I think as we continue to grow as rapidly as we are, maintaining that culture is incredibly important,” Adkins says. “You can look at yourself five years from now and say, ‘Geez, we are a completely different company. Things have changed quite a bit.’ And that is exactly where we don’t want to find ourselves. It is something that we always have to work on.”

So to avoid an about-face in your company culture a few years down the road, there’s never a better time to start but at the beginning.

“The way we avoid being a country club is, No. 1, getting the right people on the team that are motivated to excel and achieve great things,” Adkins says. “Then the second step is having a vision that we aim for.

“We are not just trying to go through the motions each day and live to fight another day. What we are aiming for is something larger, and I can go talk to the team about what we are trying to achieve and why their contribution — and what I need from them — is so important.

“If I am clear on my expectations and my vision for where we are taking the organization, that gives me the capital to go to the team members and ask for more from them because it’s for a purpose. It is not just, ‘Please do more because we need more revenue,’ or, ‘Please do more because we have to get more clients.’ It has a bigger purpose.”

 

Put in a bit of intrigue

The earliest point at which you can determine if an employee is going to be a good fit for your culture is when he or she asks about the company culture during the job interview.

Adkins is prepared to give an interesting, and telling, reply.

“The answer without fail that I provide for them is, ‘If I am able to answer that question for you right now, I feel like it is doing it a disservice,’” he says. “I shouldn’t be able to describe my culture in words because it just feels like something our marketing team put together or someone has said and repeated.”

Once Adkins has crossed that threshold, he says the best explanation is how the company has a set of core values that hasn’t changed over time — and employees live them every day.

“Our culture is embodied in that ‘to do the work we love with the people we trust’ concept,” he says. “That says everything we want to say about our culture and what we expect from our people, and quite frankly, the environment that we want to provide for our people.”

Adkins observes the candidate’s reaction, which usually contains a degree of intrigue. Many express that they want to find out more, that there is something they may be missing.

“At the same time, we realize that people need facts, they need information to make a decision, and the best thing that we can point to is, ‘Hey, look, we have won several workplace awards across many of our offices as being a best place to work for four years running, and so I am not asking you to just believe me, we certainly have some proven results, but I’m not going to give you the rubric of exactly what that means because you have to experience it.’”

 

Watch for cracks in the foundation

Complacency is the enemy of success, it has been said. But there are warnings if too much comfort is starting to infect your business. You just have to develop your observation skills to spot them.

Adkins thought he might be seeing cracks in the company culture as 2012 unfolded.

“Some of these folks on the team didn’t appear to be going above and beyond, and I knew they weren’t, both in terms of their commitment to the organization from a time perspective, but also in how much activity they initiated on their part,” he says. “If you are waiting for someone to tell you, if you are waiting for someone to ask you for help, that is an indication that maybe it has become a little too comfortable, and you are not as motivated as you had been.”

Those were a couple of telltale signs he was seeing in the organization that he felt needed to be corrected while ensuring that the core values in the culture weren’t being disrupted.

“We needed our people to be around  ... If the clock says five o’clock, and people say, ‘I’m not really interested in seeing you until the next day,’ this doesn’t lead to good results in our view. We really want it to feel like family, and feel like these are people I enjoy being around on the day-in and day-out basis.”

On the trust aspect, you need people who are motivated by the same things that you are and want to achieve the same things in their career and in their marketplace that you do.

“You know that when you look to your left, and you look to your right, there are people who are marching next to you versus you having to pull them along at the pace you want to go,” Adkins says. “I think that is inspiring for our people to know that they have people in the fight with them.”

Consider a culture well developed when it can maintain itself.

“We have a concept of stewardship for the basic fundamental principle: ‘Leave this place better than what you found it.’ So everyone has to have a personal responsibility in that. It takes everyone’s participation for that to be a reality.”

 

Takeaways:

  • Set your core values and live them.
  • Put a spin of intrigue in your culture.
  • Watch for cracks in the foundation.

 

The Adkins File

Name: Sean Adkins
Title: managing director and office leader
Company: West Monroe Partners

Born: Cleveland. I grew up in Lakewood, went to Horace Mann Middle School and then to St. Edward High School. 

Education: Miami University. I have a bachelor’s degree in marketing and management information systems. 

What was your first job, and what did you learn from it? I was a caddy at Westwood Country Club in Rocky River after eighth grade. The thing I learned in that job and probably the subsequent jobs I had in high school was just the notion of serving — what customer service means. You learn what it means to provide a service to someone else and how to operate in that environment, which helped me learn quite a bit of what I use today. To be a caddy, you need to be there and ready to go quite early in the morning, and for someone who’s a freshman in high school, that might not be the easiest thing in the world. But the tips were pretty good. 

What is the best business advice you ever received? “The customer is always right” is one I believe in firmly. While there may be some finer distinctions in that, the attitude that I have to bring daily is that I am here to serve my customers. It doesn’t mean I always have to be accepting and obedient, but if I keep my overarching principle as I’m here to serve my customers, that sets the tone for me having a productive relationship with them. I firmly believe that. 

What is your definition of business success? It’s having a team and people motivated by a vision that is personally important to them. I firmly believe that is the way you achieve success. You don’t achieve success by turning the screws harder. You don’t achieve success by setting revenue goals and meeting them. It has to be about the people on your team motivated to do more, and personally motivated by what they are doing. 

If you could have dinner with anybody in history, who would it be? President John F. Kennedy. I find his life and existence to be extremely interesting and inspiring and have always looked upon his untimely death with quite a bit of interest. He has just been quite a bit of motivation for a lot of folks, and I always thought that it would be interesting to talk to him.

 

How to reach: West Monroe Partners LLC, (614) 372-7300 or www.westmonroepartners.com

So much of sales and marketing is understanding what customers really want and need from vendors and suppliers. Many times we feel that in order to obtain loyalty we need to invite customers to play golf, have open houses or entertain them over dinner or at sporting events. While these actions certainly reflect an investment in customer relationships, they do not make the list.

In preparing for this column, I reached out to 35 business-owning members of Vistage and the Women Presidents Organization for input on what they need from their vendors. Their insight speaks volumes and is a good reminder of how to best nurture customer relationships. Here are their top 10 preferences in order of ranking. 

Be responsive, honest, trustworthy and transparent

Be available when needed and resolve problems or issues openly and honestly. Respond quickly. Give customers your time and attention when it counts and be thorough — this demonstrates that customers are an important asset to your business and a valued relationship.

Be upfront and tell customers about any problems before they find out or something escalates out of control.

Use proactive and meaningful communication

Communicate often, but respect your customers’ time and don’t barrage them with meaningless communications.

When it is critical to your customers’ business, over-communicate. Stay in touch with customers to show that you are proactively thinking on their behalf and present them with ideas that will improve their business.

 Provide quality products or services

Do a great job and do it right. Give customers what they are paying for, deliver value and do it in a timely manner.

Deliver stellar customer service

Provide service, service and more service. Don’t let your customers down, and if something unfortunate does arise, provide alternative solutions with enough time to resolve the situation.

Offer competitive pricing and value

Respect customers’ budgets and provide a fair price that reflects the quality of the product or service. Provide customers with a recognizable value for the expense incurred. Always work to improve the value you are delivering. 

Understand customers’ needs and what’s important

Demonstrate to customers that you are a team member and a partner in their business. Value your customers’ interests. Be there for the long term and help your customers make good buying decisions based on their needs, rather than what you have to sell.

Be a solutions partner

Be a partner in creating solutions by being proactive. Your customers want you to do more listening than talking. Take the time to have a thorough understanding of your customers’ needs and come back with solid solutions that demonstrate you have thought beyond the initial discussion to find the best solution.

Do what you say you will do

Customers need to rely on quality, dependable and timely products and services.

Deliver when promised

Deliver products and services when you promise them and follow through. Be forthcoming when you cannot do so.

Listen and demonstrate an effort to be a better vendor

Care about the relationship by listening to your customers’ needs and/or pain. Ask them how you can improve the relationship and respond accordingly or formally tell them if you cannot. Be the better half of the relationship. Be engaged. Be positive. Be results-oriented. ●

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for GREENCREST, a 23-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the U.S. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, kborth@greencrest.com or on Twitter @brandpro. For more information, visit www.greencrest.com.

 

 

At first glance, dropping health insurance for employees and sending them to the exchanges sounds like a win for everyone. Companies can give raises to make up the difference for employees, who then buy insurance for less, and everyone saves money.

But that’s not the result when you factor in all of the numbers, says William F. Hutter, CEO of Sequent.

“Drop your health insurance and give employees the same money is the mantra we keep hearing. It is not a simple decision and should not be treated as such for middle-market companies,” Hutter says.

Smart Business spoke with Hutter about the costs associated with this decision, and its potential impact on your business.

Would companies rather not worry about health insurance because of its volatility?

Companies are tired of thinking about health insurance; it’s becoming another distraction away from their business. Of course, that’s just considering cost and not taking into account the cultural issues involved with the perception of whether you’re taking care of your employees.

For example, a client was advised that it could save money by sending everyone to the exchange and just giving employees raises. That has proven to be a fallacy. When you review all of the numbers, the savings are not there.

The company has 109 employees, and 79 are covered by the health plan. It has a high deductible, so the company contributes to a health reimbursement account (HRA) for employees.

Basic costs of the plan are:

  • Total insurance premiums — $653,000.
  • Company share — $522,400.
  • Employees’ share — $130,600.
  • Company HRA cost — $200,000.
  • Total cost to company — $722,400.

Dropping insurance and giving those employees $7,500 in raises each  — a total of $592,500 — would appear to save the company $129,900. But you have to consider the total cost impact, including deductible burden, taxes and penalties.

What are the tax implications under this scenario?

Because of the loss of the pre-tax deduction, employees and the company both pay more in taxes on the $592,500 in raises — $199,937 by employees and $73,395 by the company.

There’s also an Affordable Care Act (ACA) penalty of $114,000 the company would be required to pay because it would no longer be a health plan sponsor. And now the employees also are paying all of the plan deductible, so that’s another $158,000, assuming a $2,000 deductible.

When you consider all of those factors, the total cost is $779,894, or about $57,000 more to not offer health insurance. When shown the entire picture, the client was blown away.

Are there other variables to consider, even if dropping health insurance for employees made financial sense?

In addition to how it would be perceived by employees, there’s a concern about making a decision based on the short term. Organizations need to think more strategically, rather than looking just at how to fix a current problem.

No one knows how the exchanges are going to shake out. They are getting a tax subsidy for the first two years in the form of a $62 annual tax on every employee covered by an insurance carrier outside of the exchanges. In theory, that provides a pool of money carriers can draw on until the exchanges find their own balance regarding enrollees, costs and risks. That could result in a significant increase in premiums in two years when the subsidy goes away.

Also, you want to be cautious about dropping insurance and giving up the tax advantage of sponsoring a plan because it’s difficult to go back. That’s really the objective of the ACA — it’s a revenue enhancement bill rather than a health care bill. That goes back to the 2005 study by Sens. Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley, which flowed right into health care reform.

This analysis and case study is a dramatic illustration of how the changes written into health care reform are really about closing tax loopholes. Companies may be better off keeping the tax advantage of health care for themselves and their employees by providing access to predictable health care coverage.

William F. Hutter is CEO of Sequent. Reach him at (888) 456-3627 or bhutter@sequent.biz.

Insights HR Outsourcing is brought to you by Sequent

Not all high net worth individuals started out that way; they’ve spent years building a business and career, slowly accumulating assets and wealth. Even though they have more items to insure and face different risks, they often don’t adjust their personal insurance to reflect their changing needs.

“They are so busy building a business, they often don’t take the time to adjust their coverage as their needs and circumstances have changed,” says Marc McTeague, president at SeibertKeck.

Most of these people would never go without necessary coverages on their business, but there can be major inadequacies with their personal insurance, he says.

Smart Business spoke with McTeague about where high net worth individuals need more or different types of insurance coverage.

What is the biggest area that high net worth individuals underinsure?

The biggest concern is liability. While it is upsetting to lose an expensive piece of jewelry, it generally will not ruin someone financially; a liability claim, however, can. With inadequate liability and/or umbrella coverage, one incident can affect the total wealth and earnings of an individual and their family.

If the individual sits on non-profit boards, or is involved with charity work, he or she needs to consider increasing his or her limits and supplementing coverage with an umbrella policy. If a non-profit is sued, it is common to name all the individual board members in the suit as well. Without the proper coverage, you could be footing the defense or judgment bill yourself.

For example: A high net worth individual sat on a youth athletic league’s board of directors, and a former coach sued all board members for improper dismissal. Thankfully he had a personal umbrella policy that covered him for liability resulting from unpaid or voluntary positions and paid for his entire defense.

Auto accidents are a common source of claims and can result in financial pain if you and your estate are not adequately covered. For example: An individual has a $1 million umbrella policy over a $250,000 per person liability limit with his automobile policy. Unfortunately, he or she had an accident in which a child was severely injured. The child’s care will more than likely exceed $5 million within 15 years; his or her estate, business and earnings will all be at risk to cover this situation.

What problems do you see with homeowner’s policies?

Homeowners policies come with limitations on certain items like fur, jewelry, fine arts and firearms. These provided limits are not usually adequate for high net worth individuals. As individuals gather wealth, they tend to gather expensive items that with a standard policy have a very limited amount of coverage. It is important to review these items with your insurance agent to be sure the items are properly and fully covered. Collectibles and rare or unique items often require a separate policy, known as an Inland Marine Policy.

Making sure the values on your homeowner’s policy are correct, and ensuring you use insurance products that are designed for higher risk, will be extremely important in the event of a claim.

How should household help be covered?

If household help, such as a gardener, nanny, cleaner etc., doesn’t come from an established company, you need to pay workers’ compensation. This will protect you in case they are injured in your home. If the employee comes through a service company, ask for proof of coverage with a workers’ compensation certificate. It is also important to inquire with the company about background checks for anyone coming to work in your home to make sure there’s compatibility, experience and no other issues. Your insurance agent will be able to assist you with determining if the company’s coverage will extend to the employee, or if you need to purchase your own policy for them.

A good agent will do a risk management audit, asking what you’ve got to protect and walking you through the different items you have to ensure there’s adequate coverage. By spending time with a qualified high net worth agent, you’ll know your assets and income are properly insured.

Marc McTeague is president of SeibertKeck, Best Hoovler McTeague. Reach him at (614) 246-7475 or mmcteague@seibertkeck.com.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by SeibertKeck

Regulatory audits of retirement plans are on the rise — in number and scope — from both the Department of Labor (DOL) and the IRS.

“The DOL has hired hundreds of plan auditors and they are actively looking for violations. Trivial issues, or issues often overlooked in the past, are now being scrutinized during a regulatory audit,” says Mike Spickard, CEO and Chief Actuary at Tegrit Group. “The IRS or DOL will always find something during an audit; often, there are penalties, interest and some pain involved.”

Smart Business spoke with Spickard about avoiding regulatory audits, and what to do if that’s not possible.

Why has there been an uptick?

From the DOL’s perspective, the No. 1 trigger of a regulatory audit is a pattern of participant complaints. Additionally, the IRS and DOL have started to communicate with each other more frequently in the past four or five years. So, if the IRS tags you for an audit and auditors see problems within the DOL’s jurisdiction, you could be dealing with two audits.

How can plan sponsors avoid audits?

To prevent an audit, be an engaged plan sponsor. Know what’s going on with your plan and manage it as part of your corporate operations. Though a plan sponsor’s primary responsibility is running his or her business, it must be recognized that a retirement plan is both an asset and a liability, and needs to be managed as such.

Your plan must be amended if the law or your company changes. Everything needs to be up to date, and the plan administered pursuant to the terms of its document. At a minimum, have an annual review with all service providers, your recordkeeper, third-party administrator (TPA), financial advisors, etc., to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Further, it’s important to stay in tune with your employees. This enables you to deal with plan issues, real or perceived, before participants call the DOL.

What triggers a regulatory audit?

The IRS does not disclose how it selects plans for audits. Audits are partly random, but certain activities may raise flags, such as a late Form 5500 or negative publicity surrounding a troubled company. Certain Form 5500 responses also may trigger an audit. For example, one question on the form is: Did the plan have a fidelity bond in place throughout the plan year? A fidelity bond is required; a ‘no’ may indicate you don’t know what you’re doing, causing a response from the IRS.

What should you do if tapped for an audit?

When you get the initial audit notice, let all your service providers know. Often one service provider, usually the TPA, takes the lead. But it’s easier to respond if records are organized and information is readily available. Disorganization causes auditors to linger, which ultimately costs more.

The DOL or the IRS gives the sponsor, and its advisors, time to gather plan documents, amendments, payroll records, contribution reports, record-keeping reports, etc. Screen all necessary information, as well as any additional information that could be required later. Only give auditors what they ask for.

After the initial review, auditors decide if they want to do a deeper dive on specific issues, or expand the audit to additional years. If your service providers compare notes and plan, you can at least stay in step with the auditor, if not one step ahead.

Afterward, how can business owners thrive?

Pay attention to the audit findings, not only addressing problems throughout the audit, but also indications of future problems.

If you successfully defend an issue, the fact that an auditor challenged it is an opportunity to seek a better solution. For example, it was discovered during an audit that one small business mailed checks to its recordkeeper, delaying the deposit into participant accounts while the check was in transit. This delay isn’t necessarily a violation, but a better alternative would be an automated clearinghouse or wire transfer. Even in successful audits there are opportunities for improvement.

Mike Spickard is CEO, Chief Actuary at Tegrit Group. Reach him at (330) 644-2044 or mike.spickard@tegritgroup.com.

Insights Retirement Planning Services is brought to you by Tegrit Group

Pushing the envelope by implementing new Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services makes sense for forward-thinking companies. After all, streamlining data and communications allows you to become more efficient. And increased productivity translates to the bottom line.

However, it’s important not to jump on board with an inexperienced VoIP provider that hasn’t properly tested its technologies.

“Most people prefer something that is tried and true, regardless if it’s new or not,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net.

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about fully hosted and cloud-based telephone systems and what to look for in a VoIP provider.

What are some of the characteristics that make hosted and cloud-based telephone systems more attractive than traditional phone services?

Typically, with traditional premise-based private branch exchange (PBX), you buy a hardware solution and pay for the features that you want upfront. Until you need to renew the licensing or upgrade your system, you are pretty much set. However, adding services can be an arduous task because if you want to add lines or provide call queuing someone has to come out to manage the hardware and update the software at your location.

Hosted VoIP and virtual PBX are cloud-based, so when changes are needed it’s as simple as contacting your VoIP provider to remotely toggle a specific feature or service on or off.

How can companies feel secure about using cutting-edge technologies for their telecommunication needs?

New offerings are constantly coming out in the VoIP world, but the most important thing is that they are properly tested and correctly launched. You don’t want to take a gamble on a new VoIP technology that may or may not work for your business — you want to be sure that it will work.

Make sure you are working with a provider that has a history of telecommunications experience and focuses on staying ahead of the technology curve. It’s important to work with an experienced VoIP provider that can help you navigate through the new technology waters and figure out what will be best for your business.

What resources should a mid-market company evaluate when choosing telecommunication services?

The first resource that should be evaluated is technical talent: What kind of talent do you have available internally to assimilate VoIP technologies into your business model? Some companies prefer to handle their own problem-solving, and if they have capable IT personnel, this is a valid option. If you don’t have the technical expertise available internally, then you can use a VoIP provider that handles everything from setup to recommended upgrades.

Another resource to consider is capital investment versus a service model. If you want to buy a phone system with capabilities for popular services such as call recording, queuing, integration into customer relationship management software and fail-over services, there is going to be a significant upfront investment. However, if you want these services, but don’t want to pay for it all upfront, you can have a VoIP provider incorporate these services on a monthly basis.

How can a business save money by handling VoIP services internally?

If you have talent on-hand with time to spend on implementing VoIP services, then you can realize significant cost savings. Some VoIP providers make the learning curve very easy. For example, you can buy space on a virtually hosted cloud platform and have your personnel learn how to operate the system in a safe and secure environment, rather than trying to figure it out in a brick and mortar location.

Alex Desberg is sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. Reach him at adesberg@ohio.net.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation’s (BWC) Destination Excellence program allows employers to choose programs that best fit their risk management needs. It focuses on safer workplaces, return to work and savings options for administrative functions.

“These programs essentially offer discounts for things employers already do,” says Randy Jones, senior vice president of TPA Operations at CompManagement, Inc.

Smart Business spoke with Jones about Destination Excellence and how it fits with Ohio’s other premium discount programs.

What programs make up Destination Excellence and what are the discounts?

  • Industry Specific Safety Program — Complete one to three loss prevention activities related to your industry, depending on your total payroll, as well as an online safety management self-assessment. Activities include industry specific training classes, attendance at BWC’s Safety Congress & Expo and/or on-site field consulting with a member of the BWC’s Division of Safety & Hygiene. The benefits are an increase in workplace safety and the implementation of industry best practices. It offers a 3 percent discount.

  • Drug Free Safety Program — Prevent on-the-job injuries by integrating drug-free efforts into your safety program.  The benefits are an increase in workplace safety, productivity and morale. The basic program offers a 4 percent discount, while the advanced program offers 7 percent.

  • Safety Council — Regular attendance at safety council meetings in your community to increase awareness of workplace safety and health issues as well as affecting the frequency and severity of claims in your workplace. It’s a chance to learn best practices, increase collaboration among local business owners, improve public relations and increase safety. It also offers a 2 percent discount each for participation and performance.

  • Transitional Work — Program to return injured workers to productivity in the workplace by providing modified job duties and other methods that accommodate medical restrictions. There are 3-to-1 matching grants available from BWC to start a program. This could lead to lower injury downtime, improved employee recovery time and increased worker morale, all of which protect your workforce. It also offers up to a 10 percent bonus discount for using an established and approved transitional work program with applicable claims that have dates of injury within that policy year.

  • Go Green — Report your company’s payroll electronically and pay premiums in full on the BWC’s website. This reduces paperwork and helps the environment. It also means a discount of 1 percent of your premium, up to a maximum of $2,000 per policy period.

  • Lapse Free — Pay premiums on time without a lapse in coverage during the past 60 months and get a 1 percent discount on your premium, up to a maximum of $2,000 per policy period.

Are the Destination Excellence programs compatible with other BWC discounts?

While participating in the Destination Excellence program, employers can participate in the following programs:

  • Group Rating.

  • Experience Modifier cap.

  • $15,000 Medical-only.

  • Grow Ohio Incentive Program.

  • One Claim Program (private employers).

  • Early Payment Discount (cannot be combined with Go Green).

The Go Green and Safety Council discounts within Destination Excellence are compatible with the above programs, as well as Group retrospective rating, Individual retrospective rating and Large/Small Deductible. Small Deductible also can be used with the Drug Free Safety Program.

What are the enrollment deadlines?  

The private employer deadline is the last business day of February. For public employers, it’s the last business day in October. Employers wishing to participate in a Safety Council must enroll in a local program by July 31.

What’s the best way to calculate savings?

Contact your workers’ compensation third-party administrator to request a ‘feasibility study.’ It can help you evaluate how the programs could impact your costs.

 
Randy Jones is senior vice president of TPA Operations at CompManagement, Inc. Reach him at (800) 825-6755, ext. 65466, or randy.jones@sedgwick.com.

Insights Workers’ Compensation is brought to you by CompManagement, Inc.

Anyone surfing the Web has likely come across cybersquatters. The owner of a website stating, “This domain may be for sale,” might not actually have legal rights to the domain name.

“Third parties without any legitimate interest or rights in a domain name will often purchase one knowing that someone else owns the trademark rights to the name. This forces the true owner of the trademark to either purchase the domain name from the third party or seek out another avenue to acquire the domain name,” says Jeff Nein, an associate at Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter.

Smart Business spoke to Nein about the process of acquiring a domain name and what to do if someone already has the Web address you want for your business.

What is the most common source of domain name disputes?

Typically, it’s cybersquatters. They’ll buy domain names with the intent to sell them directly to the trademark owner, which is a blatant example of bad faith registration. Another scenario is called typosquatting — a third party will register a domain name that’s similar to the trademark but with a letter or two out of place. In that instance, the third party usually benefits by receiving click-through revenue from links on the page.

How should a business proceed with securing rights to a domain name?

First, be aware that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has created the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), which authorizes domain name registrars to forcibly transfer domains in the event an approved dispute resolution service provider determines a domain name was improperly registered. Utilizing this dispute resolution process is quick and relatively inexpensive compared to traditional litigation. Any legitimate registered domain name registrar will be subject to the UDRP, which means almost every domain name falls under the governance of ICANN.

Next, evaluate the circumstances. If someone owns a domain name that encompasses your trademark in whole or in part, determine whether your trademark rights predate the current domain name holder’s registration. If so, examine how the website at the domain name is being used, if at all. If the website is not being used for a legitimate purpose — say, for instance, there is nothing but text that says ‘coming soon’ — this will work in your favor.  

If your trademark rights do not predate the current domain name holder’s registration, the likelihood of successful transfer to you from the domain name holder dramatically decreases. Likewise, if the website is being used for a legitimate purpose, and the other party didn’t know you had trademark rights in the name and simply registered the domain name before you, there’s not much you can do. At that stage, the best option may be an offer to purchase the domain name from the other party.

What if they’re not using the domain name?

In those cases, we start by sending a letter outlining our client’s rights in order to effectuate transfer of the domain name without involving any sort of legal authority. If that doesn’t work, we file a complaint under the UDRP rules and start the arbitration process.

At arbitration you will need to show that you own the trademark, that the other party has no legitimate rights or interest in the domain name, and that the domain name was registered and used in bad faith. Once the other party is given an opportunity to submit its response, the arbitration provider will make a recommendation and advise the registrar on a course of action to take, which is often to immediately transfer the domain name to the trademark holder. The entire process only takes two to four months.

How can trademark owners stay ahead of the curve?

In light of the impending release of new generic top-level domains, trademark owners that want to avoid disputes should consider taking action now. Trademark owners have the option to register with ICANN’s Trademark Clearinghouse, which will verify your rights in any trademarks you submit for approval. Once you receive approval, the Trademark Clearinghouse will provide you with a defined window of time to purchase domain names that encompass your trademark at the new, generic top-level domains before they are publicly available.

Jeff Nein is an associate at Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter. Reach him at (614) 462-5418 or jnein@keglerbrown.com.

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Your company doesn’t need to have laboratories filled with beakers to be eligible for tax credits provided for research and development (R&D) activities.

“Many people don’t think they’re doing the type of research that qualifies. But in this context, research is a tax definition. And while there may be similarities to the laboratory sense of the word, it covers a wider range of activities,” says Christopher E. Axene, CPA, a principal in tax services at Rea & Associates, Inc.

Smart Business spoke to Axene about activities that qualify for credits and the application process.

What is the credit?

It’s an income tax credit available to U.S. companies for R&D activities within the U.S. While companies conducting research are already deducting those expenses, the credit is better because it’s a dollar-for-dollar reduction in their tax liability.

The credit has been around since the early 1980s, but has expired many times and continues to be extended by Congress every year. It’s set to expire again at the end of 2013 unless Congress takes action.

There are three main categories of credits:

  • Labor or the wages of people involved in R&D activities.

  • Supplies expended as part of the process.

  • Costs relating to hiring an outside company to assist with research, provided that the company paying for the services is at risk regarding the success or failure of the work.

For most companies, only the first two categories would apply.

There are two types of credits, a regular credit and a simplified credit. The regular credit is often referred to as a 20 percent credit, which is something of a misnomer because there’s an adjustment to prevent double dipping. Since companies are already deducting the expenses on their tax returns, the net credit given is 13 percent. Few companies claim this credit because of the detail required with the filing. The simplified credit is more common and is 4.5 percent of every R&D dollar spent.

Is the credit just for manufacturers?

No, it has wide potential applicability because it’s not limited to a particular industry. It’s truly about whether a business is performing qualified research. Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma certainly qualify, but so do other activities. For example, a software company that averages $10 million in annual revenues routinely gets $80,000 a year in credits because it continually upgrades and enhances its products.

There’s a four-part eligibility test for the credit:

  • There must be some uncertainty that the activity is undertaken to eliminate. If you know the result before you start a process, it wouldn’t qualify.

  • It must be for a permitted purpose, such as to develop or improve a product or process.

  • There has to be a process of experimentation. Failure is a good thing — it shows a process.

  • It must be technological in nature, which means it relies on a hard science. It’s physical, biological or computer engineering rather than one of the social sciences.


Why don’t more companies apply for the credit?

Many aren’t aware of the credit because advisers haven’t informed them or they don’t use advisers. Others don’t think they do R&D because they don’t have employees wearing lab coats.

There also are owners of pass-through entities who don’t bother applying because the tax credit is not available to individuals who are subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT). If it were allowed as a credit against AMT, the percentage of people taking the credit would skyrocket.

Keep an open mind, have a conversation and determine whether the benefit is worth the time and effort to file the necessary paperwork. Also explore the state-level R&D incentives that can apply regardless of whether or not the federal credit is claimed.

Christopher E. Axene, CPA, is a principal in Tax Services at Rea & Associates, Inc. Reach him at (614) 889-8725 or chris.axene@reacpa.com.

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As a marketing professional, I have consistently been involved in helping companies plan celebrations and communications with customers, employees and media during milestone years. Whether a company is celebrating 10 years or 100 years in business, it is a special time and an opportunity to be recognized for business longevity and best practices.

There are many ways to leverage a milestone year. In all cases, how you celebrate should be fun and consistent with your company’s brand. Here are some things you might want to consider for your business. 

Determine a promotional time frame

It is not unusual for a company milestone to be promoted six months in advance and continue six months following the milestone year. 

Develop an anniversary logo

Develop a special logo or adapt your current logo with a reference to the anniversary year. It is also common for companies to continue to use some form of that logo past the milestone year, sometimes as a standard part of the company’s corporate identity or logo and sometimes as a tag line.

Incorporate the logo on the company’s website, stationery, email signatures, social media sites, brochures (sometimes best done with a sticker) and other marketing and advertising materials. Also make it visible in all company office.

Ceate an anniversary theme

Creating a theme can be a fun way to tie-in a special anniversary message. The theme can play off the milestone year such as, “100 Ways We’ve Led the Industry,” or emphasize a competitive advantage such as, “Emerging Through Innovation.” Incorporate the theme in all marketing and employee communications. 

Document the company’s history

Creating a company timeline, incorporating archive photos and sharing tidbits of the company’s history can be fun ways to engage employees and social media contacts. Once documented, this information can reside on the company website and be incorporated into employee manuals and the on-boarding process. Another idea is to produce an anniversary video or a company history coffee table book. 

Celebrate with employees

Commemorating company milestones with employees builds pride. Companywide corporate and family events, commemorative shirts, hats and other items with messages of thanks go a long way. 

Celebrate with customers and vendors

Communicating the company’s milestones by mailing or delivering commemorative gifts. Planning celebrations such as open houses or plant tours and simple letters of thanks are great ways to involve customers and vendors. 

Share your story with trade and local media

A company that reaches a milestone year is not necessarily newsworthy to most media, but if you can tie in that message with what the company has done over time, now you are talking about something that might catch the attention of a reporter. Also, look to organizations like the Columbus Chamber or the Conway Center for Family Business — both of which recognize company milestone years. 

Be philanthropic

Giving back to the community in some way can also be a memorable way to share your milestone with all audiences. Choose a cause that your company is passionate about. Make a commemorative contribution such as 100 volunteer hours, 50 meals or a cash amount that ties back to your milestone year. 

So, don’t let a milestone year slip by unnoticed. Have some fun and celebrate these wonderful achievements. ● 

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for GREENCREST, a 23-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into market leaders. Kelly has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the U.S. Reach her at 614-885-7921, kborth@greencrest.com or on Twitter @brandpro. For more information, visit www.greencrest.com.

LinkedIn: http://bit.ly/SBN_KellyBorth
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GREENCRESTMarketing
Twitter (company): @GreenCrest
LinkedIn (company: http://www.linkedin.com/company/68562?trk=pro_other_cmpy
Blog: http://www.brandproblog.com/