HR is a morass of laws, regulations and requirements. It’s easy to get twisted up and dumped into a black hole of time and money. But for most small businesses (fewer than 50 employees) there are three basic requirements for a sensible, practical HR program.
These basic requirements are:
- Creation and maintenance of three specific employee files
- Publication of an employee handbook with certain policies
- Posting of required state and federal notices
Without question, there is a lot more to HR than the three items listed above. But with regard to compliance with HR rules and regulations, this is where owners of a small business need to start.
There are three separate employee files that need to be a part of every HR program. They are:
- I-9 File
- Employee File
- Employee Medical File
Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification
The law requires that you have a completed I-9 on file for each of your employees. These forms must be available for inspection by authorized U.S. Government officials. It’s best to keep all I-9s in a single file.
You should create and maintain a separate file for each of your employees. This file is where you keep most of the information you collect on employees, such as:
- Resumes and employment applications
- Offer letters, employment agreements or contracts
- Payroll information
- Basic employment data including W-4s
- Information about participation in benefit programs
- Awards, recognition or disciplinary documents
- Performance evaluations
- Termination documentation and exit interview information
It’s best to assume all this information is confidential, so keep these files in a secure location. Only people with a compelling business reason should have access to these files.
Employee Medical File
IMPORTANT NOTE: Files related to an employee’s health or medical information must be kept in a separate and secure file.
You should create and maintain a separate medical file for each of your employees. This file is where you keep any information related to health or medical issues, such as:
- Applications for insurance
- Notes from a doctor excusing a person from work
- Medical examination information
- Information related to disability
Again, the employee medical file must be separate from the employee file. Keep this file secured in a locked cabinet. For small businesses, there is usually no reason for anyone (other than the owner) to have access to this file.
Employee Handbook with Company Policies
An employee handbook is the centerpiece of an effective HR program. The employee handbook explains your company’s policies and procedures, and communicates your expectations to employees. A good handbook also helps to protect your company in the event of a dispute.
As with many issues surrounding HR, the policies you include in your handbook can be comprehensive to the point of being ridiculous. For most small companies, an employee handbook with the following policies makes sense:
Employment in General
- Introductory Statement – Purpose of the Handbook and At-Will Employment
- Equal Opportunity Policy
- New Hire Policy
- Policy Against Harassment and Discrimination
- Open Door Policy
- Confidential Information
- Computer Use Policy
- Social Media Policy
- Employment at Will
- Immigration Law Compliance
- Employment Categories
- Work Hours
- Alcohol and Drug Policy
- Personal Appearance Policy
- Return of Property
- Solicitation Policy
Timekeeping and Payroll
- Timekeeping Procedures
- Pay Deductions
- Violence in the Workplace
- Workplace Safety
- Drug Free Workplace Policy
- Employee Conduct and Disciplinary Action
- Sick Leave
- Personal Leave
- Bereavement Leave
- Jury Duty Leave
- Military Leave
- Maternity/Paternity Leave
- Worker’s Compensation Insurance
- Healthcare Continuation
- Business Expense Reimbursement
IMPORTANT NOTE: Creating your employee handbook is a crucial first step. But it’s also critical that your employees read the handbook and agree to your policies as a condition of their employment. The best practice is to ask employees to acknowledge their acceptance and to store that acknowledgement in case it’s needed in the future.
Creating an employee handbook with the all the necessary policies seems like a daunting task. But there are resources available to help you get it done. A number of companies offer “Policies in a Box” software. Like everything else, these offerings vary in price, quality and time to implement.
As a small business, you may think it’s impossible to get the word out about what you do. That’s no excuse. And you don’t need fads or gimmicks. Follow the proven, timeless tips and techniques of these entrepreneurs to help get the word out about your business and watch it grow.
1. Give Your Stuff Away
Ari Fleischer and Aly Moler of Frozen Pints have grown their craft beer ice cream business by leaps and bounds by attending craft beer shows and farmers markets to do one thing–give their product away. Once customers taste this unexpected combination (which happens to be delicious) for free, they line up at their local store to buy it or even request that the store carry it.
2. Attend Networking Events…
Desiree Scales of Bella Web Design is a master networker. She attends and presents at almost every event in town. Her contribution to the overall community makes her one of the first people that come to mind when anyone looks for an expert in her area of concentration: small business websites and drip marketing.
3. …Or, Create Your Own Event
If you don’t like the events you are attending, invent your own! Darrah Brustein has created one of the most successful networking events in Atlanta: Atlanta Under 40. The event, which Darrah created to connect with other young entrepreneurs in her city, is now being franchised to other cities.
4. Volunteer to Lead an Organization
The secret to getting the most out of a group or organization is not just to attend but to lead. Take Lisa Calhoun of Write2Market. She served as the president ofEntrepreneurs’ Organization, allowing her to rub elbows and connect with the brightest minds of the fastest growing companies in the Atlanta market.
5. Start a Podcast
Todd Schnick of Dreamland Interactive is the first person I saw create his own podcast–he interviews other business owners. People love to tell their story, and by highlighting them on a podcast you make an instant and meaningful connection. It’s also a great way to get an education on a topic you are interested in.
6. Be Helpful
Most small business owners struggle to get their finances in line, especially when they move from an Excel spreadsheet to something as sophisticated as QuickBooks. Cathy Iconis of Iconis Group hosts a Quickbook Chat on Twitter every Thursday night at 7:00 EST to answer small business owners’ questions–and potentially find some clients.
7. Send a Weekly E-mail
If you want to stay in relationship with your customers, there is nothing simpler than creating a weekly e-mail that provides something of value. Rick Houcek of Soar With Eagles sends one out every Monday that he calls the 2-Minute Monday Motivator. I look forward to getting it every week and often forward his advice to others.
8. Support a Cause
Mary Hester of LAN Systems throws an annual cookout with purpose every Earth Day. Party-goers are encouraged to bring their “e-waste”–old computer monitors and CPUs. At their most recent event they collected more than two tons of IT equipment, keeping it out of the landfills and creating goodwill with their customers, current and potential.
9. Sponsor an Organization
Many local organizations are not that expensive to sponsor for a year if you consider the so-called per meeting cost. If your product or service is a good fit with their audience, you will get exposure every time the organization sends out an e-mail and a mention every time they meet. Attendees always remember and appreciate companies who sponsor their favorite organizations.
10. Create a Cool Giveaway
When thinking through what your company will give away make sure it’s something they won’t want to throw away or easily lose in their desk or bag (think pen).
In order to successfully grow your business, you’ll need to attract and then work to retaina large base of satisfied customers. Marketing emphasizes the value of the customer to the business, and has two guiding principles:
- All company policies and activities should be directed toward satisfying customer needs.
- Profitable sales volume is more important than maximum sales volume.
To best use these principles, a small business should:
- Determine the needs of their customers through market research
- Analyze their competitive advantages to develop a market strategy
- Select specific markets to serve by target marketing
- Determine how to satisfy customer needs by identifying a market mix
Marketing programs, though widely varied, are all aimed at convincing people to try out or keep using particular products or services. Business owners should carefully plan their marketing strategies and performance to keep their market presence strong.
Conducting Market Research
Successful marketing requires timely and relevant market information. An inexpensive research program, based on questionnaires given to current or prospective customers, can often uncover dissatisfaction or possible new products or services.
Market research will also identify trends that affect sales and profitability. Population shifts, legal developments, and the local economic situation should be monitored to quickly identify problems and opportunities. It is also important to keep up with competitors’ market strategies.
Creating a Marketing Strategy
A marketing strategy identifies customer groups which a particular business can better serve than its target competitors, and tailors product offerings, prices, distribution, promotional efforts and services toward those segments. Ideally, the strategy should address unmet customer needs that offer adequate potential profitability. A good strategy helps a business focus on the target markets it can serve best.
Most small businesses don’t have unlimited resources to devote to marketing; however, the SBA wants you to know that you can still see excellent returns while sticking to your budget if you focus on target marketing. By concentrating your efforts on one or a few key market segments, you’ll reap the most from small investments. There are two methods used to segment a market:
- Geographical segmentation: Specializing in serving the needs of customers in a particular geographical area.
- Customer segmentation: Identifying those people most likely to buy the product or service and targeting those groups.
Managing the Market Mix
Every marketing program contains four key components:
- Products and Services: Product strategies include concentrating on a narrow product line, developing a highly specialized product or service or providing a product-service package containing unusually high-quality service.
- Promotion: Promotion strategies focus on advertising and direct customer interaction. Good salesmanship is essential for small businesses because of their limited advertising budgets. Online marketing is a cheap, quick, and easy way to ensure that your business and product receive high visibility.
- Price: When it comes to maximizing total revenue, the right price is crucial. Generally, higher prices mean lower volume and vice-versa; however, small businesses can often command higher prices because of their personalized service.
- Distribution: The manufacturer and wholesaler must decide how to distribute their products. Working through established distributors or manufacturers’ agents is generally easiest for small manufacturers. Small retailers should consider cost and traffic flow in site selection, especially since advertising and rent can be reciprocal: a low-cost, low-traffic location means spending more on advertising to build traffic.
The aforementioned steps combine to form a holistic marketing program.
The nature of the product or service is also important in citing decisions. If purchases are based largely on impulse, then high-traffic and visibility are critical. On the other hand, location is less of a concern for products or services that customers are willing to go out of their way to find. The Internet makes it easy for people to obtain goods from anywhere in the world, so if you’re worried about reaching a certain market, selling your product online may do wonders for your business.
Marketing is the process that companies use to get consumers interested in the items they’re selling. Marketing is advantageous to your business for many reasons. Here are just two of the benefits.
- You alert customers to a product that suits their wants and/or needs.
- Marketing will net your company profits, which will allow you to continue to do business in order to meet future customers’ needs.
Marketing efforts are the most successful when they focus on what the consumer wants, not on what you THINK the consumer wants. Having trouble finding out information about your target market? Read this article to learn helpful hints and tips for researching your market.
How Can I Make My Customer Happy While Still Staying True to My Business?
The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines marketing as “the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational objectives.” Sounds complicated, but in order to be a successful marketer and businessperson, you’ll need to follow a few simple steps:
- Define a target market.
- Discover what products customers in your target market want to buy.
- Set a price for these products.
- Advertise your product to your customers.
- Make your product available to your customers.
What Activities Are Included in Marketing?
Marketing activities are numerous and varied. They include everything necessary to get a product off of a sketch pad and into the hands of consumers. Marketing includes activities such as:
- Designing a product to appear desirable to consumers
- Performing market research and pricing
- Promoting the product through public relations, advertising, marketing communications, and sales and distribution
Marketing requires the orchestration of everyone who plays a role in the common goal ofpleasing the customer. If you’re a small business owner with no employees, you may need to mentally break down the silos separating core business functions and think more holistically in terms of marketing strategies.
How Can I Incorporate Marketing Into My Company?
The following represents a comprehensive list of marketing ideas that we’ve compiled for you to help you understand customer needs and ways to satisfy those needs.
General Ideas | Target Market | Product Development | Education, Resources, and Information | Pricing and Payment | Marketing Communications | Media Relations |Customer Service and Customer Relations | Networking and Word of Mouth | Advertising |Special Events and Outreach | Sales Ideas | Marketing Performance
- Engage in at least one marketing activity every day.
- Determine a percentage of gross income to spend annually on marketing.
- Set specific marketing goals every year; review and adjust quarterly.
- Carry business cards with you at all times. You never know who you’ll run into!
- Stay alert to trends that might impact your target market, product or promotion strategy.
- Read market research studies about your profession, industry, product, target market groups, etc.
- Collect competitors’ ads and literature; study them for information about strategy, product features, benefits, etc.
- Ask clients why they hired you and solicit suggestions for improvement.
- Identify a new market.
- Join a list-serve (email list) related to your profession.
- Subscribe to a LinkedIn group or a list-serve that serves your target market.
- Create a new service, technique or product.
- Offer a simpler/cheaper/smaller version of your (or existing) product or service.
- Offer a fancier/more expensive/faster/bigger version of your (or existing) product or service.
- Update your services.
Education, Resources, and Information
- Establish a marketing and public relations advisory and referral team composed of your colleagues and/or neighboring business owners; share ideas and referrals and discuss community issues.
- Create a forum or environment for employees to offer their suggestions.
- Attend a marketing seminar.
- Read a marketing book.
- Subscribe to a marketing newsletter or other publication.
- Subscribe to a marketing list-serve.
- Train your staff, clients and colleagues to promote referrals.
- Hold a monthly marketing meeting with employees or associates to discuss strategy and status and solicit marketing ideas.
- Join an association or organization related to your profession.
- Get a marketing intern to take you on as a client; it will give the intern experience and provide you with you some free marketing help.
- Maintain a consultant card file for finding designers, writers, and other marketing professionals. Hire a marketing consultant and conduct several brainstorming sessions.
- Visit another city or county to observe and learn from marketing techniques used there.
Pricing and Payment
- Analyze your fee structure and look for areas requiring modifications or adjustments. Establish a credit card payment option for clients.
- Offer a discount to regular clients.
- Learn to barter. Offer discounts to members of certain clubs/professional groups/organizations in exchange for promotions in their publications.
- Provide cash discounts.
- Offer financing or installment plans.
- Publish a newsletter for customers and prospects (it doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive).
- Develop an online brochure of services.
- Produce separate business cards/sales literature for each of your target market segments (for example, government and commercial and/or business and consumer).
- Create a poster or calendar to give away to customers and prospects.
- Print a slogan and/or one-sentence description of your business on letterhead, fax cover sheets and invoices. Get your business out on the Internet.
- Create a signature file to be used for all your email messages. It should contain contact details, including your website address and key information about your company that will make the reader want to contact you.
- Include testimonials from customers in your literature.
- Test a new mailing list. If it produces results, add it to your current direct mail lists or consider replacing a list that’s not performing up to expectations.
- Announce free or special offers in your direct response pieces. (Direct responses may be direct mail, broadcast faxes, or email messages.) Include the offer in the beginning of the message as well as on the outside of the envelope for direct mail.
- Update your media list often so that press releases are sent to the right media outlet and person.
- Send timely and newsworthy press releases as often as needed.
- Write a column for the local newspaper, local business journal or a trade publication.
- Circulate reprints of published articles.
- Publicize your 500th client of the year (or other notable milestone).
- Create an annual award and publicize it.
- Get public relations and media training or read up on it.
- Appear on a radio or TV talk show…that said, we don’t want to see you on Jerry Springer or Judge Judy.
- Create your own TV program on your industry or your specialty. Market the show to your local cable station or public broadcasting station as a regular program, or see if you can air your show on an open access cable channel.
- Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or trade magazine.
- Take an editor to lunch to see what they’re writing out and explain how your business might fit in.
- Get a publicity photo taken and enclose with press releases.
- Consistently review newspapers and magazines for possible PR opportunities.
- Submit tip articles to newsletters and newspapers.
- Conduct industry research and develop a press release or article to announce an important discovery in your field.
- Create a press kit and keep its contents current.
Customer Service and Customer Relations
- Ask your clients to come back again.
- Return phone calls promptly.
- Set up an email or fax-on-demand system to easily respond to customer inquiries.
- Use an answering machine or voice mail system to catch after-hours phone calls. Include basic information in your outgoing messages such a business hours, location, etc.
- Ask clients what you can do to help them.
- Take clients out to a ball game, show, or another special event – just send them two tickets with a note. Hold a seminar at your office for clients and prospects.
- Send handwritten thank you notes.
- Send birthday cards and appropriate seasonal greetings.
- Photocopy interesting articles and send them to clients and prospects with a hand-written FYI (for your information) note and your business card.
- Send a book of interest or other appropriate business gift to a client with a handwritten note.
- Create an area on your website specifically for your customers.
- Redecorate your office or location where you meet with your clients.
Networking and Word of Mouth
- Join a Chamber of Commerce or other organization.
- Join or organize a breakfast or lunch club with other professionals (not in your field) to discuss business and network referrals.
- Serve on a city board or commission.
- Host a holiday party.
- Hold an open house.
- Send letters to attendees after you attend a conference.
- Join a community list-serve (email list) on the Internet.
- Advertise during peak seasons for your business.
- Get a memorable phone number, such as 1-800-WIDGETS.
- Obtain a memorable URL and email address and include them on all marketing materials.
- Provide Rolodex cards or phone stickers preprinted with your business contact information.
- Promote your business jointly with other professionals via cooperative direct mail.
- Advertise in a specialty directory or in the Yellow Pages.
- Write an ad in another language to reach the non-English-speaking market. Place the ad in a publication that the market reads, such as a Hispanic newspaper.
- Distribute advertising specialty products such as pens, mouse pads, or mugs.
- Mail bumps – photos, samples and other innovative items to your prospect list. (A bump is simply anything that makes the mailing envelope bulge and makes the recipient curious about what’s in the envelope!)
- Create a direct mail list of hot prospects.
- Consider non-traditional tactics such as bus backs, billboards, and popular Web sites.
- Project a message on the sidewalk in front of your place of business using a light directed through words etched in a glass window.
- Consider placing ads in your newspaper’s classified section.
- Consider a vanity automobile tag with your company name.
- Create a friendly bumper sticker for your car.
- Code your ads and keep records of results.
- Improve your building signage and directional signs inside and out.
- Invest in a neon sign to make your office or storefront window visible at night.
- Create a new or improved company logo or recolor the traditional logo.
- Sponsor and promote a contest or sweepstakes.
Special Events and Outreach
- Get a booth at a fair/trade show attended by your target market.
- Sponsor or host a special event or open house at your business location in cooperation with a local non-profit organization, such as a women’s business center. Describe how the organization helped you.
- Give a speech or volunteer for a career day at a high school.
- Teach a class or seminar at a local college or adult education center.
- Sponsor an Adopt-a-Road area in your community to keep roads litter-free. People that pass by the area will see your name on the sign announcing your sponsorship.
- Volunteer your time to a charity or nonprofit organization.
- Donate your product or service to a charity auction.
- Appear on a panel at a professional seminar.
- Write aHow To pamphlet or article for publishing.
- Publish a book.
- Start every day with two cold calls.
- Read newspapers, business journal, and trade publications for new business openings, personnel appointments, and promotion announcements made by companies. Send your business literature to appropriate individuals and firms.
- Give your sales literature to your lawyer, accountant, printer, banker, temp agency, office supply salesperson, advertising agency, etc. (expand your sales force for free)
- Put your fax number on order forms for easy submission.
- Set up a fax-on-demand or e-mail system to easily distribute responses to company or product inquiries.
- Follow up on your direct mailings, email messages and broadcast faxes with a friendly telephone call.
- Try using the broadcast fax or email delivery methods instead of direct mail (broadcast fax and email allows you to send the same message to many locations at once).
- Use broadcast faxes or email messages to notify your customers of product service updates.
- Extend your hours of operation.
- Reduce response/turnaround time. Make reordering easy – use reminders. Provide pre-addressed envelopes.
- Display product and service samples at your office.
- Remind clients of the products and services you provide that they aren’t currently buying.
- Call and/or send mail to former clients to try and reactivate them.
- Take sales orders over the Internet.
After implementing a marketing program, entrepreneurs must evaluate its performance. Every program should have performance standards to compare with actual results. Researching industry norms and past performances will help to develop appropriate standards.
Entrepreneurs should audit their company’s performance at least quarterly. The key questions are:
- Is the company doing all it can to be customer-oriented?
- Do employees ensure the customers are satisfied and leave wanting to come back?
- Is it easy for the customer to find what he or she wants at a competitive price?
Want to know one of the best ways to keep in touch with customers? The answer is as easy as 1, 2, E…Email marketing, that is!
Email marketing is one of the most effective ways to keep in touch with customers. It’s cost effective and, if done properly, can help build brand awareness and loyalty. At a typical cost of only a few cents per message, email marketing is quite a bargain in terms of price and time when compared to direct mail. In addition, response rates on email marketing are strong, ranging from five to 35 percent, depending on the industry and format. Response rates for traditional mail average much lower, barely cracking the three percent mark.
Still not convinced email marketing is for you? Keep reading. Another benefit of email marketing is the demographic information that customers provide when signing up for your email newsletter. Discovering exactly who your customers are—how old they are, what their interests are, what region of the country they reside in—can help you tailor your products and services to best suit their needs.
If you’re ready to ready to create your email newsletter, ask yourself the following questions before you begin:
- Should I use HTML or Plain Text?Response rates for HTML newsletters are generally far higher than plain text, and graphics and colors tend to make the publications look far more professional. The downside is that HTML email is slower to download, and some email providers may screen out HTML email.
- What incentive, if any, am I providing consumers?To get customers to sign up for your newsletter, advertise the benefits of receiving your newsletter, such as helpful tips, informative content or early notification of special offers or campaigns.
- Am I going the extra mile?Many studies suggest that email newsletters are read far more carefully when they offer information that is useful to the customers’ lives rather than merely selling products and services. Helpful tips, engaging content and humor are often expected to accompany email newsletters.
- Did I ask too many questions?Each demographic question you ask may reduce the number of customers signing up; therefore, it’s best to limit the amount of information you solicit or give customers the option of skipping the questionnaire.
Why You Should Establish a Web Presence
Today’s business emphasis is on eCommerce. Rapid business transactions and unparalleled access to information has changed consumer behavior as well as expectations. If selling your product online isn’t salient to you, there are benefits to establishing a Web presence for your business. A business website can be as simple as a virtual marketing brochure that you can update on demand with little or no cost. Just having your company’s information available to current and prospective customers can greatly impact your marketing efforts by offering customers everything from pre-sale information to post-sale support and service. E-marketing has lessened the disadvantage that small businesses have faced for years when competing with larger businesses.
To learn more about how your small business can take advantage of email marketing and eCommerce, check out the links below:
Provides must-read articles and information on topics related to eCommerce.
Offers online training, advice on how to set up your eCommerce site, and information and useful links to eCommerce topics.
The telemarketing industry is infamous for overly aggressive selling tactics and deceptive practices. While telemarketing is a great way to directly reach existing and potential customers, the industry is subject to a variety of rules and regulations to prevent abuse.
For example, commercial telemarketers are regulated by federal and state laws that establish curfews, do-not-call lists, and other requirements aimed at protecting consumer privacy.
Telemarketing is regulated at the federal level by two statutes: the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) derives its regulatory authority from TCPA, while the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is responsible for enforcing TSR.
The following resources describe how to comply with telemarketing rules and regulations.
Provides information on complying with a number of rules applying to telemarketers and direct marketers, including the TSR and 900 Number Rule.
Describes the types of businesses and activities that are subject to the TSR and explains how to comply.
Describes a telemarketer’s responsibilities under FCC rules. This document is written mainly for consumers.
Offers legal guides to businesses about telemarketing their products, whether for business, charitable, or political reasons, and provides information on do-not-call lists and registering to access do-not-call lists.
Explains the changes made on Aug. 1, 2006 to fax advertising rules, which establish a business relationship exemption concerning unsolicited faxes.
States can apply additional restrictions which can exceed either of the federal laws in scope. Some common state laws include do-not-call lists, curfews, and license requirements. Additional state or federal laws can apply based on what is being sold in the telephone call. Credit cards, insurance and other products are subject to additional laws applicable to the sale of that particular type of service.
A Do-Not-Call Registry is a list of phone numbers from consumers who have indicated their preference to limit the telemarketing calls they receive. The national registry is managed by the FTC, and several states have their own registries. Compliance is enforced by the FTC, the FCC and state officials. It is illegal for most telemarketers to call phone numbers listed on a state or national Do-Not-Call registry.
Provides information to telemarketers and sellers, who are required to search the registry at least once every 31 days and drop from their call lists the phone numbers of consumers who have registered.
Gives answers to frequently asked questions about accessing the National Do-Not-Call Registry, and outlines requirements for telemarketers.
Lists answers to frequently asked questions about complying with the rules governing the National Do-Not-Call Registry.
Registration for Telemarketing Companies
Several states require telemarketers to obtain a permit or license to operate. Many of these states exempt certain calls or businesses based on what is being sold, who it is being sold to, or the fact that the business has another type of state license. Cost depends on which exemptions are applicable to your business. States generally charge a fee for this license and some require that a bond be posted. Currently, state fees range from free to $6,000 per year, and bonds range from free to $100,000.
States Requiring a License for Telemarketers
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia