Business owners are still cutting corners to cut costs and stretching their staffs in an attempt to stretch their budgets, but a lackluster economy shouldn’t be the only thing affecting their business decisions.
When companies try to manage “on the cheap,” the result can be anything but savings. The price of cutting corners in HR can lead to escalated risks, decreased productivity, increased turnover and ultimately higher costs.
Risk of noncompliance
To mitigate risk and minimize costs, HR compliance should be a constant consideration for business owners. Employment laws govern how companies hire, schedule, compensate and behave toward their employees. Adhering to these and other government regulations is not just the lawful thing to do, but it’s also the smart thing to do to protect a business from unnecessary risks.
Federal wage and hour laws are one of the most common noncompliance violations for companies. According to one report, the average settlement per case is nearly $13 million.
Allegations include employers’ failure to pay minimum wage, unpaid overtime and inaccurate “exempt” or “nonexempt” employee classifications. Exempt, or salaried, employees are not eligible for overtime pay regardless of extra hours worked, while nonexempt, or hourly, employees can earn overtime.
Corporate anorexia and the cost of turnover In a lean economy, making do with less is simple common sense, but when companies try to operate with too little staff, the unhealthy result is what some experts call “corporate anorexia.”
Remaining employees are expected to carry a heavy portion of the company’s workload. When consistently stretched too thin, employees become less productive, and the most marketable and highest-performing employees eventually look for better opportunities.
Experts estimate that turnover costs companies anywhere from one-half to five times an employee’s annual wages depending on his or her position within the company.
While that may sound like an exaggeration, consider the hard costs of recruiting and training a new employee. Add to that the softer costs of lost productivity and lost opportunity.
So why would a business owner ever choose to ignore employment laws? Or risk losing the most experienced staff? For most, it’s not a conscious choice but an unavoidable outcome.
When a company is making do with less, its HR function is often severely understaffed or nonexistent. How can a small business owner or a one-person HR department effectively manage the volume of duties and stay abreast of constant changes in employment law?
HR experts suggest that when limited means dictate that companies cut corners, they should focus on the fundamentals. That includes a comprehensive employee handbook and regular compliance audits.
A handbook is the first line of defense in employee matters. It outlines company policies and establishes a guideline for behavior. When employees review and sign a handbook, they acknowledge that they have reviewed and understand the company’s policies and intend to abide by them.
Regular compliance audits can help ensure a company is properly meeting its obligations and can help identify potential risks before they become costly oversights.
Business owners can also augment their HR by outsourcing part or all of the function. Professional employer organizations and HR outsourcers employ experienced human resource professionals who have extensive knowledge in a variety of HR disciplines.
PEOs and HROs also dedicate significant resources to developing proven processes and systems that can help minimize the most common and costly mistakes. As for cost, many qualified firms cost roughly the same as one full-time HR employee.
Cutting costs can be smart, maybe even necessary, but cutting corners on critical functions or deeply into staff can backfire. If you cant cover all the bases, focus on HR’s fundamentals and enlist assistance where needed.
John Allen is president and COO of G&A Partners, a Texas-based HR and administrative services company that manages human resources, benefits, payroll, accounting and risk management for growing businesses. For more information about the company, visit www.gnapartners.com.
Over the past few years, employees have been trading in company-issued phones and bringing their own personal devices — phones and tablets — to connect to work servers. They want to carry a single device to access both work and personal material.
“Many companies have said there are enough people doing this that they no longer need to issue phones. They can just allow everyone to bring their own phones and connect them into the environment,” says Brian Thomas, partner in IT advisory services at Weaver.
However, the bring your own device (BYOD) trend comes with risks that companies need to recognize.
Smart Business spoke with Thomas about BYOD and practical steps to lessen risks.
How is the BYOD trend developing?
This is a strong trend among midsize businesses. As for the Fortune 500 organizations, it depends on the nature of the business. If a company has a lot of sensitive information, it will not necessarily adopt a pure BYOD strategy or will do so with an abundance of caution. Large corporations have information security departments that have been quick to identify the risks. In midsize organizations, there are simply not as many people to force a discussion about risk. Regardless, this is a broad trend that affects many businesses.
What are some of the risks?
The two primary areas of concern are physical access and the users themselves.
The No. 1 risk with mobile devices is that it’s not a matter of if they get lost, but when. If companies enable these devices to connect and receive company data, some of which will stay on the phone, then how do they protect that data when the device is lost and presumed to be in the hands of someone else? The primary methods for mitigating this risk are encrypting the phone’s contents, setting passwords to prevent unauthorized access and remote-wipe features that enable the company to delete the phone’s contents once lost. However, this is complicated in a BYOD scenario because users can connect a multitude of devices to the network, some of which will not support all of these features.
The reason users are a concern with BYOD is because they are often unaware of the risks associated with their mobile device activities. Because they own the phone, they may feel entitled to do with it as they please, including removing security features.
Do certain devices make companies more vulnerable to these risks?
In some ways, yes. The iPhone, for example, is a phone manufactured by one company with one operating system. There are multiple versions, but the uniformity of the product makes it simpler to manage and secure. In the Android world, vulnerabilities are more case-by-case. Similar to Windows PCs, anybody can manufacture the Android phones, and the operating system has to be reconfigured to work with different devices. As a result, updates to address vulnerabilities cannot always quickly be distributed by manufacturers and carriers.
What can be done to manage the risks?
A combination of training and technology can be used to reduce the risks associated with BYOD.
Companies must educate employees about the responsibility they bear when accessing company data on their personal devices. Employees must also be educated about the risks associated with disabling security features, jailbreaking their phone, downloading apps from unknown sources, using open wireless connections and other activities that can compromise security. Employees need to understand that using their personal devices for work purposes requires them to give up a certain amount of freedom. Companies can have employees sign a contract that outlines the rules and consequences for violations, along with the company’s right to remove company data from the phone at any time.
Companies should use technology to enforce a central policy that applies minimum security standards on devices. Many companies implement mobile device management solutions, which assist with enforcing security polices to address the risks associated with lost or stolen phones.
Finally, this is a fast-changing technology area, so companies should always keep an eye on what’s new and assess how it affects their organizations.
Brian Thomas is a partner in IT advisory services at Weaver. Reach him at (713) 800-1050 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blog: To stay current on audit, tax and advisory issues that may impact your business, visit Weaver’s blog.
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Interaction with an employee forms the basis for a customer’s perception about a company, which makes customer service a great opportunity to showcase the company’s brand, says Jo Ann Lofton, senior vice president, retail executive, Cadence Bank.
“It’s all about knowing your customer — they trust you and you trust them. That’s the basis of a good relationship,” she says.
Smart Business spoke with Lofton about best practices for good customer service.
What is the value of good customer service?
Good customer service creates loyalty, generates customer retention and ultimately brings in revenue. It also creates an avenue for referrals. Word-of-mouth endorsements are extremely important, especially when based on a strong and proven relationship. Creating that is an exception and people talk about exceptions.
What are the top elements of high-quality customer service?
Listen and get to know your customers and what’s important to them. It’s critical that you understand the customer’s concerns in order to offer help and solutions.
Employ people who like people, have good judgment skills and an innate desire to help others. Make sure employees have the attitude that you want projected. If there’s friction in the office, call the staff together, acknowledge it and find solutions to create a positive atmosphere. It’s amazing how a friendly and peaceful office will give energy to customers who call or walk in.
Train your people diligently. They need to know exactly what’s expected of them, both with external customers and co-workers. They must have the tools and the authority to bring about swift solutions to problems, and they should be acknowledged for good performance.
Be responsive, whether by email, phone or to a customer in front of you. It’s unacceptable not to respond. Even if you don’t have an answer or solution, you can thank them, tell them you’re looking into it and promise to get back in a timely manner.
Finally, honor what you promise the customer. Customer relationships are built on trust, respect and integrity. These qualities determine the strength of your relationship and give the customer confidence in the decisions that are being offered. You have to know when to be flexible to meet a need. Customers relate your resolve and decision-making ability to their overall impression of the company, and that can have a lasting impact.
How do you instill a culture of service excellence?
A service-centered culture begins with a leadership team committed to a philosophy that advocates exceptional service and employees who are deeply dedicated to fulfilling that promise.
It’s also essential to know your target market and how to respond to them. Different cultures, for example, have specific expectations that may call for distinctive interaction in certain situations. Understand the differences and what’s important to each culture, and see how you can meet the needs of those customers with the resources you have available.
What are some lessons you’ve learned from disgruntled clients?
The greatest lesson is to know that you can help resolve any issue by listening, staying calm, and using common sense and good judgment when offering solutions. And remember it’s not just what you say, but how you say it — your body language speaks volumes.
If what you’ve proposed does not work for the client, work with him or her to devise an agreeable and suitable solution that meets his or her needs, and then take action immediately. Most importantly, take the opportunity to learn from the experience and make improvements.
What would you consider an out-of-the-box convenience to offer customers?
It doesn’t have to be dramatic. If you have conference rooms, you can offer them to good customers. You can invite customers to have lunch with the chairman, and have an open discussion on the economy and what’s happening. It’s more than just taking on a little inconvenience in the hopes that maybe you’ll get something out of it. If you really want to help them they will sense that.
Jo Ann Lofton, is senior vice president, retail executive, at Cadence Bank. Reach her at (713) 807-1336 or email@example.com.
Cadence Bank offers a host of resources for small businesses through all of its branches. Find the nearest location.
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Ronald Reagan was well known for not only his confidence but also his positive outlook and sense of humor. He had a way of never taking himself seriously and always found a way to find humor even during the direst times.
In fact, following the assassination attempt, he told his wife, “Honey, I forgot to duck.”
His constant positive outlook made him appealing to voters and is one of the reasons he continues to score high in polls ranking presidents.
Do we approach life and leadership the same way that Reagan did? Do we always take a positive outlook into the start of each day?
Some CEOs act as if being in charge makes them a victim and complain of the burden. Leadership is a privilege that all of us should learn to enjoy. We have to train ourselves to enjoy the process, not just the end result.
Let’s take some time to reflect on the victories, no matter how small, and celebrate them. Learn to reflect on the great clients we have and the great people who work for us instead of focusing on the one unhappy customer or an employee with a bad attitude. But most importantly, we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.
Each day that passes is a day that we do not get back. We have to look at each day as a series of moments and find the happy things that put joy in our life.
These can be simple things — a funny comment from your child, something silly you heard on the radio or a bright, sunny day. When we start focusing on these small joys in life and start stringing them together, we’ll find that an entire day has become joyous. Enjoy the time you are in now and don’t spend so much time fretting about tomorrow. Be intentional: Start by writing down four little things a day at work that bring you joy on a daily basis and build from there. This can even be a conversation around the watercooler that makes you laugh. String together a few days like this, and we are well on our way to a more joyous life.
By developing this habit, we will be more inclined to treat people better, and they, in turn, will treat others better, which will increase the overall positive culture of our workforce. The work environment is a bigger factor in why employees leave than money is, so focusing on providing a more joyful environment will also help your business in the end.
Whether in business or in life, it all comes down to being joyful. Happiness is fleeting based on circumstances, but joy becomes permanent once we have cultivated it. Start by focusing on the little joys and build from there. Remember, people won’t remember what you said, but they will remember how you treated them.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The more there is available of something, the less it costs. Conversely, when there’s a limited quantity of that same something, the more it’s coveted and the more expensive it is. This is a rudimentary concept, but few companies know how to effectively manage the process to ensure they balance supply with demand in order to maintain or improve the profitability of a product or service. Of course, before you can maximize profitability, you must have something customers want, sometimes even before they know they need it.
Think about precious metals, fine diamonds and even stocks. The beauty and a portion of the intrinsic value of these things are effectively in the eyes of the beholder. In reality, much of their value or price is determined by the ease or difficulty of obtaining them.
As for equities, as soon as everyone who can own a given stock has bought it, then, in many cases, the only direction that stock can take is down because there are simply more sellers than buyers. On the flip side, when few people own a stock but everybody decides they want it, for whatever the reason, that stock may take a precipitous upward trajectory.
A case in point is Apple. At one time, when its per-share price was more than $400, $500 and even $600, everyone thought the sky was the limit and the majority of institutional funds and many home gamers, aka small individual investors, jumped on the bandwagon. The stock reached $705 a share in the fall of 2012, and just when all of the market prognosticators were screaming, “Buy, buy, buy,” there were too few buyers left (because everyone already owned it) and the stock fell out of bed. In many respects, Apple was still the same great company with world-class products, but there were simply more sellers than buyers and — poof — the share price evaporated, sending this once high-flying growth stock to the woodshed for a real thrashing.
The question for your business is how can you manage the availability of your goods or services to maximize profit margins? The oversimplified answer is once you have something of value, make sure that you create the appropriate amount of tension, be it requiring a waiting list to obtain the product or service or underproducing the item to create a backlog. However, this is a delicate balancing act, because if it’s too hard to get, then customers will quickly find an alternative, and your product will become yesterday’s news.
Some very high-end fashion houses, such as Chanel, have it down to a science. It can be very difficult to walk into a marquis retailer today and obtain one of its satchels without being made to jump through waiting-game hoops, just for the privilege of giving the store your money in exchange for the fancy schmancy bag. That stimulates demand and keeps the price up because customers tend to want something they can’t seem to get.
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at email@example.com.
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When Jason Bernal started teaching at YES Preparatory Public Schools 15 years ago, he began every day by picking up students in a van — and he quickly learned that going the extra mile would be routine in this job.
“I would have four stops, picking up students in a van and then bringing them to school every single day,” he says. “I can’t tell you the amount of time that just not me but every teacher put into every single student.”
He often took students home at night, when they stayed after school to crack the books.
As a charter-managed school organization whose goal is to give low-income students exposure to high-quality educational opportunities, YES Prep knows about engaging both teachers and students. In a big-city setting, where in the past, quality education for low-income families was hard to find, YES Prep has a current enrollment of 7,000, a waiting list of 7,000 students and is recruiting to boot.
“Our big focus is increasing the number of low-income Houstonians who will graduate from a four-year college or university,” Bernal says.
In order to graduate from the high school, students have to be accepted to a college or university.
“Currently, we have 80 percent of our kids who have graduated from college come back to Houston to work. From the very beginning, we always talked to our kids about, ‘We want you to be leaders in your communities. We want you to go to college, and we want you to come back and work in your community.’”
Driving that kind of visionary change begins with people who have a mental picture idea of what the educational process should be like, Bernal says.
Here’s how Bernal, president of the 700-employee organization of 11 schools (and growing) uses engagement so students and teachers will burn the midnight oil — and help drive visionary change.
Get in at the ground level
Every vision has a beginning, and every company has a founder. Chris Barbic, the founder of YES Prep, wasn’t satisfied where his children were going after they left his sixth-grade classroom. It was the impetus for the open-enrollment YES Preparatory Public Schools, which operates on $77 million revenue, including state funding, donations and fundraising efforts.
Simply defined, a vision is where you want to be or what an organization wants to realize at a certain point in time.
“To YES Prep, it’s really just raising that bar and how we meet the needs to make sure that every student becomes successful in life,” Bernal says.
Getting quality front-line managers — in this case, the teachers — is so important that numerous steps are taken. If applicants pass the first screening process, they then go through a series of interviews. The candidate is then interviewed by a school leader, the equivalent of a principal, who sets up a sample teaching lesson for the person to be delivered to a class — where the candidate can be viewed in a virtual on-the-job experience.
While the hiring process takes an extensive look at the candidate, it’s only the beginning of how deep YES Prep will go to support the right teacher.
Mold your new faces
Call it on-boarding or orientation, the process of bringing new employees into the fold is receiving more attention now from companies and organizations than ever. And no wonder when there is so much competition for good talent.
“When we are hiring brand-new teachers, we have to make sure that they have the necessary training to go into the classroom day one and be an effective instructor,” Bernal says. “We don’t have time for a teacher to get his or her feet wet for a few months or even a year.”
A Teaching Excellence program trains the first-year teachers, starting in July before classes start in the fall. This intense two-week induction program focuses on the basics: what it is to be a YES Prep teacher, what the expectations are and best practices to be a good teacher.
While that step is similar to what happens in many fields with new employees, the next step is less common but is very effective.
In addition to the training, the teachers are paired with an instructional coach, a non-evaluative mentor, Bernal says. The coach meets weekly with the new teacher.
“That is extremely important,” he says. “There are lots and lots of observations, lots of communication.”
Once a month, on Saturdays, the teachers also have professional development time as well as on Wednesdays when schools are let out early to accommodate the program.
The Wednesday sessions are kind of quality control meetings, organized by grade level, and they address concerns and other issues.
“You have your logistical items of what has to be taken care of, but you spend the majority of the time in those meetings talking about individual students and how you can meet students’ needs,” Bernal says.
“You need to have a full network of support counselors at every school so when you have a student that is a concern, you’re not a teacher on an island. In fact, we make sure that our teachers bring up those concerns with other teachers in the meetings or with school counselors to ensure that we find a way to help the student.”
Consider salary bands on merit
When it comes to the subject of wages and salaries, it’s one topic no company or organization can afford to ignore. Some companies put a salary cap on positions, limiting advancement and often denoting a dead-end job.
However, YES Prep realized that there are some people who just want to teach and be great teachers so a pathway called Teacher Continuum was created, a system on how teachers are paid based on performance and not tenure.
“With the Teacher Continuum program, we have teachers who start out at in a certain band; if you are a first-year teacher, you start off at the novice level,” Bernal says. “Then you can move throughout the bands to mastery teacher. So based on how your performance is throughout the year, you can move into a higher position.”
This is the second year of the program, and there are no mastery teachers yet.
“A big part of this is that we don’t want to lose great teachers and people who don’t necessarily want to go on to be administrators,” he says. “They just love teaching. We want to keep those teachers. It gives teachers the incentives just to continue doing really well in the classroom.”
Commit with a contract
Another part of the engagement process involves a contract — contract learning, while not a new concept, serves in a way to bind the teacher, the student and the family.
“We sit down with the parents, talk about what YES Prep is, and we have the teacher sign a contract basically stating that the teacher will be there with the students 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to ensure that that child can receive the support to go to college,” Bernal says. “Parents do the same thing; students sign the contract too.”
YES Prep keeps the contract all the way through graduation. Though not a binding legal document in the strictly legal sense of a contract, the support the document provides offers one more layer to the commitment process that can lead to graduation.
Actually, 100 percent of the seniors are accepted to college and matriculate, but this is a tricky statistic because students who are retained as juniors or choose to leave the school on their own accord aren’t calculated in that number. A little more than 90 percent of the class is retained each year. Currently, 72 percent of alumni are enrolled in a four-year college or university or have graduated.
While some critics may require numbers to provide success rates, Bernal sees it otherwise.
“I think the nice thing today is our next campus, Campus 12, will be opened in 2013 by a YES Prep alum,” he says. “More than 20 of the students that have graduated from YES who went off to college have now come back and are teachers, administrators, school leaders and school directors. It is really cool to see how this whole thing comes full circle.” ?
How to reach: YES Preparatory Public Schools, (713) 967-9000 or www.yesprep.org
The Bernal File
YES Preparatory Public Schools
Born: Denver. I’m a big Denver Broncos fan. Later, when I was in third grade, we moved to Montana.
Education: I graduated from Helena High School and went to Montana State University-Billings. I have a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Sam Houston State University.
What was your first job?
During college, to try to make ends meet, I did what any college kid would do — shovel snow before class, and in the summers, I worked for the city as a garbage man.
Who do you admire in business?
Our founder, Chris Barbic. He was the visionary for YES Prep. He is definitely the one whom I look up to. Another one is my sister, Michelle Berg. I would not have gone into education if she didn’t encourage me to apply for a job with YES Prep.
What is the best advice you ever received?
When I took this position over, I had a case of nerves when I started, and Chris Barbic said, ‘Just be yourself.’ Maybe it’s too simple but that’s the best advice. Things won’t work out if you are trying to be someone you aren’t, and it’s going to come across as not being genuine. That has gotten me through a lot of difficult situations.
What is your definition of success?
When I think about success at YES Prep, I think I always want the best for students, to provide great opportunities for them. It’s students going to college, graduating from college, doing something that they love to do and being leaders and seeing that every day. I think that’s an easy way to define success for our kids. And I want to be able to create opportunities for our staff members, too, so they excel, so they grow professionally, and that they are doing things they never thought they would be able to do.
Ravi Kathuria: An elephant-sized issue -- How to realize that realigning perspectives is a key to departmental teamworkWritten by Ravi Kathuria
Have you read the ancient Indian story about the elephant and the six men? The story holds an important lesson for organizations.
In the story, six friends blindfold themselves and play a game where they try to identify objects they come across. As they venture out, they come across an elephant. As the story goes, none of them had seen an elephant before. Each one of them proceeds to feel different parts of the elephant.
After careful analysis, the first man declares the object is a large drum. He was touching the elephant’s stomach. The second man objects vociferously. It is a rope, he asserts as he feels the tail. The others vigorously forward their assessments: the trunk of a tree, a fan or a curved stick.
Finally, when they cannot agree on their assessments, they take off their blindfolds to discover that the object they were envisioning and the real object are starkly different. While their individual assessments were based on valid information gathering and analysis, they realize they could not have been more wrong.
Different points of view
The different teams and departments in a company more often than not act like the six blindfolded men. They view the company and the issues it faces from their distinct perspectives, which leads to different assessments of what is important or what is urgent and, unfortunately, sometimes a lack of respect for the viewpoints and capabilities of the other teams.
For instance, in many companies, sales and operations departments do not share a high opinion of each other. The operations team may feel the sales team makes unrealistic promises to customers. The sales team, on the other hand, may feel the operations team is unable to deliver the quality and timely performance necessary to thrive in the marketplace.
The issues exist at all touch points and involve all the teams. While teams have their heart in the right place and want to contribute, they are caught up in their way of thinking and fail to see the big picture. Their hard-nosed assessments do more harm than good.
Re-engineering and realigning perspectives
As a leader, you must recognize the severity of the problem and address the issue diligently. Ensuring that your teams develop a broader perspective and solve problems from a company perspective rather than a departmental perspective is a crucial component of your job.
Changing the perspectives of successful departmental leaders who have a good measure of self-esteem (read it as ego) is an excruciating task. To encourage a company perspective, invest heavily in cross-functional, companywide initiatives. For instance, develop, crystallize and propagate a detailed and meaningful mission to unite the teams. A strong mission would serve as a higher purpose than individual departmental interests and concerns.
Emphasize improvement and performance themes that are cross-functional in nature and scope. Hoping that the teams will just rally around companywide goals is not a good strategy. Generate a vigorous discussion with all the teams present so they can appreciate the goals and develop joint ways of achieving them.
For example, achieving revenue goals cannot be the sole responsibility of the sales department. If it is perceived that way, the probability of success is lower.
Similarly, efficiency cannot be a goal of the operations team alone. All the other teams, from sales to customer service, HR, IT and accounting have to understand and respect the value of operational efficiency and provide their full support, ideas and active cooperation and contribution.
Help your team members recognize and appreciate the elephant so they are not lost in their individual parts. ?
Quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and WorldNews, Ravi Kathuria is a recognized thought leader. Featured on the “BusinessMakers” show, CBS Radio, and “Nightly Business Report,” he is the author of the highly acclaimed book, “How Cohesive is Your Company?: A Leadership Parable.” Kathuria is the president of Cohegic Corporation, a management consulting, executive and sales coaching firm, and president of the Houston Strategy Forum. Reach him at (281) 403-0250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the biggest differences between running a business on the side and quitting your job to run it full time is that you lose the security of a steady paycheck. That loss of income and the uncertainty as to whether it will ever come back is enough to make anyone pause and reconsider quitting their day job.
But what if your part-time venture is beginning to pick up steam, and you earnestly believe that it needs your full, undivided attention? While it can be scary, there are steps you can take to make such a leap less daunting.
When you begin your business in earnest, take time to reduce your clutter. Working out of a messy office will eat much more time than it takes to get everything organized.
Speaking of time, making the transition to full-time business owner means also becoming much more self-motivated and coordinated. There is no one to remind you to clock in or to hound you about being late.
It’s great to go about the day without being micromanaged, but be careful. It’s just as easy to slip into a state of complacency. Organize your space, set a schedule and stay disciplined.
There is always going to be some element of risk involved in whatever you decide to do next. But there are also actions that a new full-time business owner can take to reduce some of that risk.
As a part-time owner, chances are high that your business is a sole proprietorship — sort of the default business structure. Unfortunately, that means that you are responsible for your business’s debts, and if things go south, debt collectors may start trying to take your personal assets to pay for those business debts.
When you jump to full-time, consider forming an LLC or S corporation. There are different advantages and disadvantages to these structures, but they will help protect your personal property by separating you and your business’s debts.
Make saving a priority
Take full advantage of that steady paycheck for as long as you have it and save. Anyone looking to branch out and start a business has to use every cost-cutting measure out there so they have breathing room when trying to get their new business to turn a profit. Advisers typically recommend having enough saved up to pay for four to six months of living expenses. Luckily, if a business is being run part-time, it may be pulling in money already.
There is no magic number for saving — it just needs to be enough so that you don’t have to dig for change to pay your electric bill. Meet with an accountant, crunch the numbers and make sure you’re comfortable with the recommendations they give on budgeting and working with your financial situation.
Part-time owners know their company can draw customers, sell a product or service and bring in money since it has already been doing just that. This insight makes it very tempting to throw caution to the wind and jump into full-time ownership without making the necessary preparations.
But don’t take a huge leap without ensuring your fall is cushioned. Take your time, get everything in order, protect your assets and meet with an accountant to solidify a plan. Next, take a deep breath and put in your two weeks’ notice — you’re now a full-time business owner.
Business owners have exposure to financial fraud for all payment methods.
In 2011, 66 percent of businesses faced attempted fraud, according to a survey by the Association for Financial Professionals. Although three-quarters didn’t have losses, the remainder had an average loss of $19,200, which can be devastating to small or middle market companies.
“This tells us that business clients in particular need to take measures to prevent fraud — whether it’s internal or external,” says Kacy Karl Owsley, senior vice president and treasury management sales manager at Cadence Bank. “Businesses should work with a financial institution that can offer solutions and best practice recommendations to help them mitigate theft.”
Smart Business spoke with Owsley about fraud risks and preventative measures businesses can take to avoid being a victim.
Describe today’s fraud landscape?
Sophisticated database technology, online information exchange and mobile access devices make payment fraud a global issue that can be completed anywhere. Checks, despite their declining use, continue to be the leading target for paper and electronic fraud, primarily because each contains relevant financial information — account and routing numbers.
A business only has 24 hours to dispute an electronic transaction after the debit hits its account or funds might not be recovered. Fraud often is directed at business accounts for the larger available balances and transaction volume.
What solutions can banks provide?
Among the products banks offer to protect accounts from electronic or paper fraud is business online banking, which allows accounts to be viewed daily to ensure only intended debit and credit transactions are made.
Positive pay operates as a fraud prevention system, allowing businesses to export check registers so the bank can match checks through an item-processing network or at the teller line. If there’s a problem, the bank alerts the business, usually via mobile device, and the employer decides to pay or return the item.
Automated Clearing House (ACH) positive pay or block works much the same way to prevent electronic fraud. Business owners can set up approved vendors that are automatically paid, as well as maximum dollar filters. Other transactions generate an alert, so employers can make a quick decision within the 24-hour window.
Businesses can utilize credit cards to eliminate sharing bank account information. Cards have cash rebates and point systems, and allow for integration to post to an accounting system.
Through lockbox services, businesses can accept payments directly at their bank rather than at their business location. Banks can manage payment processing, data entry and deposit preparation, and help prevent internal fraud by segregating these duties.
Finally, with account reconciliation services, banks assist in payment reconciliation to ensure timeliness and swift detection of suspicious activity.
What internal controls or preventative measures should a business implement?
A bank’s treasury management team can consult with clients on financial transaction best practices. Some suggestions are:
• Separation of duties for those creating versus signing checks.
• Having a dual control process for vendor acceptance or setup, as well as any financial transactions.
• Ensuring financial transactions are done on a dedicated computer.
• Downloading a software application like Trusteer Rapport™, which many financial institutions offer free of charge. It’s an additional layer of malware or anti-virus monitoring that notifies the bank and business when a PC downloads a virus. And the bank can instantly disable the user login.
• Knowing your employees by doing background checks, and pursuing any unusual behaviors or transactions.
• Setting up tight policies around email and Internet usage. Also, keeping anti-virus software up to date.
• Hiring an external firm to run a mock attack to test anti-fraud measures to ensure they cannot easily be broken.
• Conducting an annual audit, review or compilation.
Kacy Karl Owsley is a senior vice president and treasury management sales manager at Cadence Bank. Reach her at (713) 871-3917 or email@example.com
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In August 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a final rule regarding the conflict minerals disclosures mandated by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Act). Public companies will be required to disclose whether they use conflict minerals such as tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold in their manufactured products — and whether the minerals originated from one of the “covered countries” defined by the Act.
“This rule could be very broad reaching, with the SEC estimating approximately 6,000 issuers will be required to provide new disclosures under the rule. Many private companies may also be impacted,” says Dale Jensen, partner-in-charge of Weaver’s SEC practice.
Smart Business spoke with Jensen about how to prepare for compliance.
Why do companies need to be concerned with supply chains now?
Hundreds of products contain conflict minerals, from cell phones and laptop computers to jewelry, golf clubs, drill bits and hearing aids. The SEC estimates that thousands of public companies will have to provide the new disclosures, and many private companies that are part of the impacted public companies’ supply chains may also be affected. Additionally, they estimate the initial compliance costs to be $3 to $4 billion, with subsequent costs of more than $200 million annually.
Who is impacted by this new rule?
Public companies, foreign private issuers, emerging growth companies and smaller companies must all comply. Packaging essential to the product’s function, such as a tin can, is also covered, but materials purchased or inventoried before Jan. 31, 2013, should be outside the rule’s scope.
Retailers are not required to report on products bought or resold, only manufactured or contracted to manufacture. When contracting, the retailer’s degree of influence determines compliance, though it doesn’t need to be substantial.
What’s involved with complying?
First, a company should determine whether any products it manufactures or contracts to be manufactured contain conflict minerals necessary to functionality or production. If the minerals are necessary, but they didn’t come from covered countries or are from scrap or recycled sources, the company’s inquiry method and conclusion has to be annually disclosed on SEC Form SD. This information must also be posted on the company’s website.
However, if there’s reason to believe the minerals originated from covered countries, their origin is unknown, or they may not be from scrap or recycled sources, the company must perform due diligence on the source and chain of custody of the minerals.
After due diligence, if the issuer determines that its conflict minerals are from a covered country and not from scrap or recycled sources, the company will be required to file a Conflict Minerals Report as an exhibit to Form SD. An independent audit of the Conflict Minerals Report is required. The SEC estimates that 75 percent of companies subject to the Act will need to develop a Conflict Minerals Report and have it audited.
What is the timing for compliance?
The first filing isn’t due until May 2014 for the 2013 calendar year, but complying may require substantial preparation for public companies. Companies will also need to file a new Form SD annually by May 31.
What are some next steps for companies?
Management must determine whether the new rule impacts the company, prepare cost estimates for compliance and put a plan in place. Companies should identify products that may contain conflict minerals as soon as possible, keeping in mind that they must comply even if the product contains only small traces of a mineral. Companies should be prepared to report results on a product-by-product basis. Finally, they should work with advisers to develop policies and procedures for supply chain vetting, filing Form SD, and if needed, conducting due diligence and preparing and auditing Conflict Minerals Reports.
Dale Jensen, CPA, CFE, is partner-in-charge, SEC Practice, at Weaver. Reach him at (972) 448-9283 or Dale.Jensen@WeaverLLP.com.
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