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Be Your Own HR Department with These 5 Tools

Small business owners wear many hats when running daily operations – especially when they are just starting to build their company. Their tasks include administrative work, client servicing, finance requirements and more.

One of the most tedious tasks of running a business is taking care of HR requirements. Unfortunately, your HR responsibilities don’t end when an applicant signs the employment contract. This part of the business plays an important role in keeping the company running smoothly on a daily basis. However, small businesses don’t always have the luxury of hiring a dedicated team member to focus on these tasks.

Fortunately, there are a lot of available resources to help small business owners with these functions without having to hire an HR manager. Below are 5 tools that you can use to be your own HR department.

1. Online Recruitment Tools

Online recruitment software organize a company’s hiring process by providing end-to-end solutions to their recruitment needs.

Features of online recruitment tools include being able to post job listings on multiple job boards, search for applicants that fit the company’s job description, review and rank candidates, schedule interviews and organize them based on the stage of their application. It also helps a company build a talent pipeline should a need to fill in a new role arises. All of which helps prevent a hiring manager from overlooking pending and ongoing applications.

While this tool helps in organizing the whole recruitment process, it is also important to have proper documentation and formalities once you get your new team member on board. Remember to accomplish all the necessary employee forms to help make employment agreements headache-free.

2. Online Payroll System

Using online payroll or accounting software is an efficient way to manage your employees’ compensation package in a timely manner. These tools are designed to help calculate monthly wages, apply deductions as necessary, file taxes, manage your accounts, and pay employees via direct bank deposits.

Employees are asked to fill out forms initially but once everything is set up, the tool will do most of the work moving forward, relieving an individual from accomplishing monthly recurring compensation tasks.

3. Employee Performance Review Software

One of the most important functions of HR is looking after an employee’s career growth in line with the quality of his performance within the company. The most effective way to do this is to conduct regular performance reviews with each employee to check if they are on track with the goals set from their last evaluation.  

Small businesses can use performance review tools to help them keep track of their employees’ performance documents. It’s a helpful and efficient way to see agreed upon targets and career plans without having to dig through physical files that sometimes get lost in piles of other documents.

4. Time Tracking Tools

Time tracking tools help managers oversee the time being spent by employees and freelancers on each project, client or tasks so that it’s easier to calculate their time worked at the end of each month. This is particularly helpful in determining whether a particular client is profitable based on the numbers that an employee puts into the project when measured against the amount of money that the client brings into the company.

Other uses of time tracking tools include prioritizing and reprioritizing employee tasks based on current client requirements. It also gives managers great visibility when assigning new tasks and avoiding giving more work to employees who already have a lot on their plate as they can see the projects each team member is working on.

Time tracking tools can be used on the go and have mobile app versions making it easier for employees to record their hours anytime, anywhere.

5. Perks and Reward Tools

Particularly useful for output driven professions, an employee reward system works by scoring an individual’s performance, calculating “earned points” and rewarding them for their great work.

Employers can customize their rewards package and input prizes a team member is eligible to claim should they reach a specific number of points. While this tool is more of a nice-to-have instead of a must-have, it’s a unique tool companies can use when looking for ways to motivate and give back to their employees on a regular basis.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to motivate your employees for their great work, read this article about using rewards and incentives in the workplace.

Bottom Line

While double-hatting as an HR manager and juggling operational roles is a tedious task, taking advantage of available and easy-to-use HR tools online can significantly relieve an individual from juggling all of the different functions related to HR.

Most of these tools are designed to help individuals organize HR functions especially when handling recurring tasks. Once you are done with the initial stages of setting up these tools, they will do most of the work for you so you can focus on more important things such as scouting for new clients and bringing in more money to your business!

Can An Employer Ask About Your Age?

If a job candidate is googling this question after a job interview at your company, you may be headed for trouble.

At both the federal and state level, anti-discrimination laws exist to prevent businesses from hiring or not hiring based on personal characteristics that are not relevant to an individual’s ability to do the job. Age is one of them. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects people who are age 40 and older from being treated unfavorably because of their age during the hiring process—and when employed. In 2016, 20,857 age discrimination charges were filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the government agency that enforces ADEA.

For private businesses, the ADEA only applies to those with 20 or more employees, but why put your business at risk? If you intend to grow your business, doesn’t it make sense to establish policies and procedures now to help ensure you don’t become a statistic and possibly face a costly lawsuit?

You need to pay attention to every aspect of employment:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Compensation
  • Work assignments and responsibilities
  • Opportunities for career advancement
  • Training
  • Fringe benefits
  • Layoffs
  • Firing

Any other terms or conditions of employment are also subject to age-related discrimination scrutiny.

While the ADEA doesn’t protect younger individuals from discrimination in the workplace, some state laws do. So, you could put yourself in a tricky situation if you in any way let the age of job applicants or employees affect how you treat people. Also, just because your business falls below the 20-employee minimum for ADEA to apply to you, you might be subject to your state’s age-related anti-discrimination laws. For example, individuals in Arkansas can file a claim against employers with a minimum of 9 employees under state law. And in Colorado, all employers, regardless of number of employees, must comply with the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

What can you do to help keep your business from violating the laws protecting against age discrimination?

Below are a few tips that can help:

  • In your employment ads, avoid language that could land you in trouble. (For example, “Looking for a young, energetic professional…”) Generally, ADEA deems it unlawful to mention age limitations, preferences, and outright specifications in job advertisements.
  • Be cautious when asking an applicant to disclose her age or date of birth. While it’s not explicitly prohibited, that type of inquiry will be closely scrutinized to ensure it wasn’t asked in an effort to deter older workers from applying for a position or otherwise discriminate against them based on age. According to the EEOC, “If the information is needed for a lawful purpose, it can be obtained after the employee is hired.”
  • Don’t establish company-wide policies or practices if they will adversely affect applicants or employees who are age 40 or older. [Note that liability might not apply if a policy or practice’s impact is due to a reasonable factor other than age (RFOA)].
  • Make sure your business’s managers and employees understand that age-related harassment is illegal when frequent or severe enough to cause a hostile work environment.

Realize we’ve merely glazed over the tip of the iceberg with the considerations above, so I encourage you to consult with a human resource professional and/or attorney for guidance and feedback on your hiring and employment efforts.

While avoiding a job discrimination lawsuit shouldn’t be a concern that keeps you up at night, it is something you need to be vigilant about through having sound standards, procedures, and staff training in place. I know you’ve worked hard to bring your business this far; don’t let sloppy employment practices stand in the way of your success.

So You Want To Start An Accounting Firm? Here’s What You Need To Know.

If you’re a CPA, making the transition from working for someone else to being your own boss has probably crossed your mind. Self-employment offers an opportunity to have more control over your own schedule, allowing you to better balance your professional endeavors and personal life. It also enables you to manage your firm the way you want to manage it. Indeed, there are some attractive perks to starting your own accounting firm. There are also a lot of things to consider and accomplish in the process.

Think It Through

Before you move forward with launching your own business, make sure self-employment is the right choice for you. It doesn’t suit everyone, and it’s best to discover that before you devote time and money to the cause. Ask yourself:

  • What is motivating you to be a business owner? 

Think carefully about what’s driving your decision. If your motivation comes from the inability to deal with your boss or your coworkers, you might want to reconsider. When you have your own business, you’ll need to find ways to work harmoniously with many different people. Not all of them will be easy to get along with. Realize that starting a business won’t enable you to avoid interpersonal challenges.

  • Are you OK with assuming some risk? 

Starting a business comes with initially forfeiting a steady paycheck and paid vacation time. And with no employer-paid health insurance, you need to seek and pay for that necessity on your own. If your business doesn’t succeed or doesn’t grow as quickly as you anticipate, you might face some financial hardships. Are you willing and able to accept that?

  • Do you have enough capital to get started?

Many new businesses fail in their first few years of operation because they don’t have enough initial capital. Be realistic about your financing. Generally, it’s best to have enough money available to support yourself for at least six months to a year as your business becomes established.

  • Are you self-disciplined and driven? 

One of the biggest changes you’ll experience in going from employee to self-employed is holding yourself accountable for your work. With no boss to give you assignments and check in about their status, you need to keep yourself on track. You’ll need to be self-motivated and organized—your business success will depend on that.

  • Are you prepared to handle all the aspects of running a business? 

As a business owner, you’ll do more than just accounting work for your clients. You’ll wear many hats as you manage your business. Marketing your company, qualifying leads, negotiating contracts, dealing with IT issues…it all falls on you—at least in the beginning stages of your business.

If after that exercise you decide you want to pursue starting your own accounting firm, I expect you’re wondering, “Where do I go from here?”

To legitimately launch your business, here’s an overview of the seven legal steps to get there:

1. Select a business name

Think about whether you want to market your business using your own name (e.g., “Jane Smith, Accountant”) or create a business name (e.g., “Accounting You Can Count On”). As a solopreneur accountant, you might opt to use your own name because you and your brand are one in the same. On the other hand, choosing a business name might help you be perceived as well-established and experienced.

If you go with a business name, make sure it is available to use before you start printing it on business cards and other marketing materials. Check to see if the name is available in the state where you’re planning to operate your business by checking with your state’s secretary of state office. We have a free business name search tool here at CorpNet that can help, as well.

Also check to see if the domain name for your business is available (e.g., accountingyoucancounton.com). Sites like GoDaddy.com will let you instantly find out if there’s a suitable domain, and they will offer suggestions for alternate names if the one you want is already taken.

No one in your state is using the name you want? Excellent! Next, you’ll want to search the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to see if anyone has a pending request for or has successfully registered a trademark for the name. Don’t skip this step because you’ll land in legal hot water if you infringe on another company’s trademark.

2. Choose a legal structure and register your business.

The business structure you choose will affect your business from both legal and tax standpoints. Solo accountants and small firms often choose to register as an LLC (Limited Liability Company), PLLC (Professional Limited Liability Company), or PC (Professional Corporation). As state constructs, these business entities are subject to different rules in different states. You can find the specific rules for accountants in your state via the CorpNet website or you can call the Secretary of State’s office in your state to get the details you need.

3. Obtain the licenses and permits you’ll need.

Regardless of which state you’re operating your business in, you’ll need some form of licensing to provide public accounting services. You will need to hold a CPA license and your firm may need a public accountancy license. To determine the requirements in your state, check with your State Board of Accountancy.

Besides CPA accreditation you may also need other state and local municipality permits, as well. They might include a general business operation license, a signage permit, and possibly a home occupation permit (if you’re operating your business from home. CorpNet can help you determine the license and permit requirements applicable to you, or you can check with your local government office.

4. Apply for a Tax ID Number

Also called a Federal EIN (Employer Identification Number), this allows the IRS to track your business’s transactions. LLCs and corporations are required to have an EIN and many banks will require that you have one before they’ll allow you to open a business bank account.

5. Open a bank account exclusively for your business.

It’s important to keep your personal and business finances separate—for both legal and tax purposes. In fact, that separation is mandatory for LLCs and corporations. After you’ve registered your business with the state and have your Tax ID number, you will have the information you need to open a business bank account.

6. Get insurance to protect your business.

Even though officially forming an LLC or incorporating your business will help to lower your personal liability related to business debt and lawsuits against associates, it will not protect your personal assets if action is brought against you due to your own actions. That’s why it’s a good idea to consider getting an insurance policy for peace of mind. Talk with a knowledgeable and trustworthy insurance agent who understands the needs of accountants and other businesses in the financial services industry. A reliable agent can guide you to the type of coverage that will best protect you, such as a Business Owner’s Policy (BOP), Professional Liability, Insurance, Data Breach Coverage, or others.

7. Know your business compliance responsibilities.

Registering your business is just the beginning. LLCs and corporations have ongoing requirements to keep their businesses in good standing. For example, most states require LLCs and PLLCs to file an annual report each year and show proof of a valid certification. Corporations have more corporate compliance responsibilities. Besides annual reports, they must conduct annual meetings, prepare meeting minutes, and meet other compliance requirements.

I know it can be tough to keep up with everything that’s required and when it’s due, so I recommend using the CorpNet B.I.Z. (Business Information Zone) compliance tool. It’s a free monitoring tool that can help you stay on top of your state filings and fees due throughout the year.

The steps to starting an accounting business aren’t overly complex. To make sure you launch your business on solid legal ground, you’ll want to make sure you do it right. Consider talking with a legal professional who can guide you and look to CorpNet to ensure your business forms and filings are done accurately and on time.

If you want more detail about launching your accounting business, join me on Thursday, May 4, 2017 at 11 a.m. Pacific Time for CPAacademy.org’s upcoming webinar, “Steps to Start Your Accounting Firm.” Registration is required, so sign up today!

Avoiding A Job Discrimination Law Suit

Hiring the right people to be part of your team can greatly affect your business’s ability to succeed. It’s an important process—and a tricky one! When considering job candidates, you need to be careful or you could find yourself facing legal problems. If at any point during the hiring process you don’t comply with the federal and state (and even some local) laws that protect people from job discrimination, you risk having a lawsuit filed against your company.

When hiring employees, you must comply with all anti-discrimination laws. Even an unintentional misstep can cause major issues for your business.

Job Discrimination Complaints Happen: Don’t Become A Statistic!

The United States EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) received 91,905 complaints of discrimination in 2016. That doesn’t include any charges filed at the state or local levels.

If you want to avoid becoming a statistic, everyone involved in the hiring process at your company should pay careful attention to complying with anti-discrimination laws through every step of the hiring process. This includes hiring ads, job applications, interview questions, background checks, and review of job candidates’ social media accounts.

All of the above and any other aspects of hiring employees need to follow the laws the EEOC enforces, which prohibit various types of discrimination.

Keep in mind that what I’ll share here is to give you a sense of what you need to consider and learn more about. You should consult a human resources professional and/or attorney for more specific information and guidance.

  • Hiring Ads

Be careful in wording your job advertisements so they don’t imply any sort of bias. A few helpful rules of thumb include:

  • Use gender-neutral job titles. (Such as “sales representative” rather than “salesman” and “server” over “waitress”)
  • Avoid mentioning qualities that might imply you’re looking for or avoiding someone of a particular religious background. (For example, “traditional values” or “clean shaven”)
  • Keep age out of it. (Acceptable: seeking candidates with “fresh perspectives”; Not acceptable: seeking “young” candidates)
  • Don’t mention race, unless you’re participating in an affirmative action program. (And in that case, phrase it so that it conveys applicants can, if interested, complete a voluntary identification form.)
  • Be careful how you present the physical qualities needed in a job position so your hiring ads don’t discriminate against individuals with disabilities. Use specifics when stating physical requirements. (For example, “must be able to lift up to 30 pounds” rather than “must be strong” and “requires ability to travel between office locations” rather than “must walk to and from office locations”)

This is just a sampling, so I recommend you do your homework and get a professional to check your ad for compliance before you publish it in print or online.

  • Job Applications

Many states and some cities have set their own employment discrimination laws, which expand on the provisions of federal laws.

For example, “ban the box” legislation exists to help prevent criminal records from eliminating qualified applicants from being asked to a job interview.

To date, over half of the states in the U.S. have adopted ban the box laws, which outlaw questions like “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” and similar questions on job applications.

Also, keep your eyes and ears open about interest in legislation requiring removal of salary history questions from job applications. In January 2018, Massachusetts will be the first state to implement that law and other states and cities are considering similar legislation.

  • Job Interview Questions

As an employer, it’s important to recognize job interview questions that are illegal. You and anyone else on your team who will interview candidates needs to carefully formulate the questions you ask and take care not to overstep any legal bounds during interviews. At CorpNet, we have a standard set of best practices for interviewing job candidates, so our staff has clear direction when meeting prospective employees.

Steer clear of questions that guide job candidates into revealing information about their race, color, age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, marital status, disability, and genetic information.

Focus your interview questions on your candidates’ skills, behaviors, and work experience as related to the job position you’re interviewing them for.

  • Background Checks

When requesting financial or criminal background information, you must ensure you’re treating everyone equally. It’s illegal to only check the backgrounds of individuals you believe are of a certain age, race, color, national origin, sex, or religion or who have a disability or genetic disposition.

  • Review Of Job Candidates’ Social Media Accounts

As you well know, social media posts can shed much light on an individual’s personality, drive, and determination. As with background checks, you should have consistency in how you go about researching job candidates’ social media activity. Make sure you conduct your searches at the same points in the process for every prospective employee.

Keep in mind that the person you see online may not be a true blue picture of whom the individual is “in real life.” Rather than jump in and look at applicants’ social media accounts early in the process and unintentionally develop a mindset about the people you think they are, you might benefit from waiting until you’ve met them face to face. By doing so, you run less risk of being accused of selecting or disqualifying candidates based on characteristics like age, race, religion, marital status, etc.

With so many steps in the hiring process and points at which a slip-up could happen, it may seem intimidating to even consider bringing on employees. Take a deep breath! By educating yourself, seeking expert human resources and legal guidance, and putting procedures and standards in place at your company, you’ll be better prepared to hire with confidence.

By | April 14th, 2017|Business Operations, Hiring|0 Comments

Best Practices For Interviewing Job Candidates

Hiring the right people requires a sure-fire interviewing process. To effectively interview prospective employees, you need more than a little dedicated time and a list of questions; you need an understanding of how you can draw out the information you need about an individual’s knowledge and capabilities. You also need to tune into character nuances that might indicate how well a candidate will work with your team. And, of course, you need to do all of that without breaking any anti-discrimination laws.

Interviewing can be intimidating for not only prospective employees, but also for employers! By following some best practices for interviewing applicants, you can better ensure your interview process does the job well, allowing you to home in on that one individual who will be an exceptional fit for the position.

Get The Job Done Right: 6 Best Practices For Interviewing Job Candidates

  • Prepare.

Whether you alone will interview the job candidate or you decide to have multiple interviewers, everyone involved should prepare in advance.

Interviewers should know what experience, capabilities, and professional characteristics are critical to the job (it helps to rank them in order of most important to least important), so everyone is on the same page when assessing job candidates. Also, each interviewer needs to understand her role in the interview and have questions prepared that will draw out relevant information about the job candidate’s knowledge, skills, and experience. To do this, you all need to be intimately familiar with the job position’s requirements and the information a job candidate provided thus far (job application, resume, phone interview, etc.) that has awarded her an in-person interview.

  • Make It As Less Stressful As Possible.

To get things off to the best start, be on time. Making an on-time candidate wait around for you and other interviewers to finish up phone calls or run for coffee at the last minute will send the wrong impression and add to any nervousness she’s already feeling. Begin the interview on a friendly note with some casual small talk to make the job candidate feel comfortable and at ease. When excessively nervous, even an individual who is fully capable and competent will lose the ability to put her best foot forward in an interview. I would never want to count anyone out simply because of interview jitters. I’ve always found that breaking the ice with some light-hearted, easy-going conversation helps everyone relax and sets the stage for a productive exchange of information.

Also, set aside enough time for the interview so you aren’t rushing through it. If you’re constantly checking the clock, you won’t be concentrating as fully as you should be on the interview. Your applicant will sense that and may not answer questions in adequate detail because she doesn’t want to impose on your time.

  • Comply With The Law 

Federal and state anti-discrimination laws exist to protect applicants from biases of age, sex, race, color, national origin, religion, genetics, or disabilities. Everyone involved in the interviewing and hiring process should understand which job interview questions are acceptable to ask and the job interview questions that are illegal. Use questions that are focused on drawing out information about your interviewee’s skills, knowledge, and experience relevant to the job. That will help you avoid inquiring about personal situations and lifestyle preferences, which could raise suspicions of discrimination if a candidate isn’t hired.

  • Ask Questions That Allow The Job Candidate To Do The Talking.

The best way to learn more about a prospective employee’s capabilities, attitude, and professional style is to let her have the floor. Consider asking open-ended questions that solicit a more detailed answer than just “yes” or “no.” Also consider including questions that ask applicants to share about some past on-the-job experiences and hypothetical situations. These can help shed light on how well a candidate might deal with certain circumstances and challenges on the job.

Some examples of questions that might draw out meaningful responses include:

  • What interests you most about working for our company?
  • What did you like most about your most recent position with your former employer?
  • Describe a time when you had to share unwelcome but necessary news with a customer.
  • Tell us about when your presentation skills helped change someone’s preconceived ideas about something. How did you prepare for the challenge?
  • Suppose you were recently hired as a manager at a local restaurant. Every week, a certain customer comes in for lunch. And every week, that customer asks to talk to you to complain about the wait time, the server, or the food. How would you deal with this customer?

These types of open questions can help you gauge a job candidate’s communication abilities, problem solving skills, and professionalism. They will also help you get a sense for how an applicant may react under certain circumstances and how well she might adapt to your company’s culture.

  • Listen Well And Take Good Notes.

Minimize distractions so your attention doesn’t wander to other things while you’re conducting an interview. As your applicant is answering your questions, be fully present mentally when listening. And take notes. You may think your memory is good, but it’s probably not going to live up to your expectations! You’ll want to capture what you liked and didn’t like about how the job candidate responded to you. After interviewing multiple candidates, you’ll have your notes to refer back to as you assess each individual and decide whom you want to ask back to attend subsequent interviews.

  • Give The Job Candidate An Opportunity To Ask Questions

Remember, the interview process is also to help qualified candidates learn whether a position might be right for them. Be sure to provide ample opportunity for them to ask questions about the job responsibilities, your company’s policies, and the working environment at your company.

Interviewing, when done effectively, will reveal a lot about an applicant’s skills, experience, knowledge, and interpersonal skills. With proper planning and attention to the best practices I’ve shared here, your interviews can help ensure you hire the most suitable person for the job. For further guidance and to make sure you comply with all the legal requirements (thus avoiding a job discrimination lawsuit), consider enlisting the help of a human resources expert and/or attorney.  Doing it right from the start can save you time, headaches, and employee turnover and training costs.

7 Small Business Expenses to Account for in Your Monthly Budget

Budgets are essential to manage your costs and keep your small business profitable throughout the year. Due to the dynamic nature of any small business, you can’t just set a budget in January and let it sit unchanged until the end of the year. Every month, take stock of your business’ performance and expenses and use that data from the prior month to update your budget.

Your monthly budget needs to provide you with enough detail so that you can identify potential cash crunches in the near future as well as opportunities to make the most out of extra cash. To get that level of detail, let’s review seven key small business expenses to account for in your monthly budget.

1. Vehicle Expenses

With the tax deadline rapidly approaching, you may now know that you’ll be able to deduct vehicle expenses for business purposes. Go beyond just the number of dollars spent for gas and include applicable vehicle registration fees, repairs, and insurance payments. Also, keep track of business miles driven because you can deduct 53.5 cents per mile in 2017. For more details, consult Topic 510 from the IRS.

2. Advertising Expenses

Depending on your marketing budget and number of promotion projects that you have going on, you could be eating up your ad budget too fast (or even, too slow). Reconciling your monthly payments to advertisers allows you to fine tune your promotion efforts so that you have enough left for those peak periods, such as the summer or December holidays.

3. Tax Payments

Dude, where’s the budget for April? Your tax liability might have taken a big bite out of it, hurting your available cash on hand to pay suppliers and (gasp!) employees that month. Including all outgoing cash flows is a key part of building a budget for your small business, and tax payments are no exception.

4. Wages

As your small business grows, you’ll find yourself wishing that you could hire an extra help of hands to handle the extra work. But is it worth to have full-time staff throughout the entire year? By keeping track of wages every month, you’ll be able to determine if you could be better served by part-time, seasonal, or contract workers on specific months. Plus, it helps you to be ready for Form 941 every quarter and its equivalent at the state level, if applicable.

5. Expenses Related to Accounts Receivable

Your budget may have a category tracking one-time (or unusual) expenses. From that list, single out any charges for collecting money for sales made on credit, or write-offs from money that’s never recovered. Such charges will tell you the whole story about your sales numbers and whether or not you need to make changes to your policies for sales made on credit.

6. Cash Outflows from Operating Activities

When doing a cash flow analysis, you want to break down cash inflows and outflows into operating, financing, and investment activities. Get in the habit of reconciling your cash flow balance by adding and subtracting applicable inflows, such as depreciation and decrease in inventory, and outflows from operating activities, such as increase in accounts receivable and decrease in accounts payable, and you’ll have an indicator of potential cash crunches or opportunities for investment.

A number that’s too low for many months would indicate that you should start looking into forms of business financing and one that’s too high for many months would point out that your small business could afford to invest in a new piece of equipment, hire a new employee, or spend a bit more in promotion.

7. Loan Advances

If you have an existing term loan or line of working capital, write down how much you have used on the previous month. This allows you to evaluate your existing form of financing: Are you tapping into your line of credit only during certain months? Do you have adequate reserves for an emergency? Do you need to increase your limit?
As you can see, monitoring your business expenses is a great financial habit that allows you to make more informed decisions and reach your business goals. Depending on the size of your small business, hiring a bookkeeper to maintain your monthly budget and other financial documents, such as income statement and balance sheet, will free up your time and enable you to focus on the core activities of your operation.

Job Interview Questions That Are Illegal

As a small business owner, it’s important to understand which job interview questions are illegal. Laws at the federal and state level exist to protect people from being discriminated against during the hiring process. As an employer, you need to carefully formulate the questions you ask during a job interview. In our office, anyone interviewing a potential job candidate must follow a standard set of best practices for interviewing job candidates. Such practices are critical for avoiding a job discrimination lawsuit that could tear down the business success you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

So what types of questions should you steer clear from so your company doesn’t land legal hot water?

Generally, any questions that guide job candidates into revealing information about their race, color, age, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, or genetic information should not enter into your conversation. You also need to be careful about asking for criminal background information.

Several examples of questions you may want to avoid include:

  • Do you have a husband (or wife)? While you might want to ask this question to find out whether the candidate will have enough time to dedicate to the job, don’t ask this question. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, questions about marital status are frequently used to discriminate against women and illegally deny or limit employment opportunities. This type of question might also be construed as trying to get an individual to disclose gender or sexual orientation.
  • How many children do you have? By law, you cannot deny someone a job because they have children, are pregnant, or plan to have children sometime in the future. If the impetus to ask this or a similar question is to figure out how much time a candidate can devote to the job, then consider asking something like, “What hours would you be available to work?”
  • When did you graduate from college? Because this could enable you to figure out a job candidate’s age, you need to nix this question. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects prospective employees from being turned down because of their age.
  • What was the nature of your discharge from the military? The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) protects people from job discrimination based on their past, present, or future military obligations. You can ask a candidate about the skills and training they received during their military service but not why they were discharged.
  • Are there any religious holidays you honor? Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevents employers from denying employment based on an individual’s religious affiliation. Don’t set your business up for trouble by asking this type of question, even if your intention is simply to get a sense for how much time off a job candidate might expect.
  • Have you been arrested at any time in the past? Federal law doesn’t prevent you from asking about a candidate’s criminal history, but using that information when making a hiring decision might violate Title VII. And some states have made it illegal to ask about arrest records or to wait until later in the hiring process to inquire about them. Generally, you can’t disqualify a candidate because of a conviction record, unless the offense directly relates to the nature of the job. For example, someone with a child molestation conviction could be denied an elementary school teaching position.
  • Do you drink socially? Although you might be asking in a friendly way to break the ice, this question could be trouble for you. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 protects qualified individuals who have had problems with alcohol abuse.
  • When did you last use any illegal drugs? This is a tricky one. Although asking job candidates if they presently use illegal drugs (current users are not protected by the ADA), you may not ask about past drug use.
  • What is your first language? Avoid this and similar questions that could be interpreted as a way to determine where someone is from or what their nationality is.

Realize this list of examples isn’t exhaustive and it isn’t meant as a substitute for legal guidance. But I do hope it will give you a better idea about the types of questions you should avoid when interviewing potential employees. Typically, you can play it safe by focusing your interview questions on asking about your candidates’ skills, behaviors, and work experience as they relate to their ability to perform the job position you’re filling. Also, do your homework so you understand the laws that pertain to you at the federal level and within your state. I also recommend that you consider seeking direction from a human resources professional and/or an attorney. They can assist you in developing or reviewing your interview questions so you don’t unknowingly break the law and put your business at risk.

Six Tips To Help Business Leaders Gracefully Handle Adversity In The Office

In an ideal business world, everyone working at a company would always get along famously and harmoniously collaborate day in and day out toward shared objectives they all believe in passionately.

Sounds nice, right? Unfortunately, it’s not very realistic—neither for the entrepreneur starting a business nor the business owner running an existing business for years.

In all companies, leaders face adversity within their ranks at times. Adversity isn’t usually fun, but it doesn’t have to be debilitating either.

How can you manage adversity gracefully so it doesn’t hurt your business?

Below are some ways I’ve found to effectively work through it.

  • Leverage Relationships

By focusing on your shared goals rather than what you’re butting heads about, you can neutralize an at-odds situation and discuss issues openly. Realize you’ll have had to lay the groundwork first by building relationships with your employees. I’ve found having mutual respect is of the utmost importance when talking things out with employees.

  • Give Them A Chance To Vent 

Sometimes people just need to get dissatisfaction off their chests. The mere act of listening without judgment can diffuse irritability. I try to give my team the confidence and capacity to vent (with proper boundaries in place, of course) when something is bothering them. It gives me an opportunity to listen and learn about what’s upsetting them, to acknowledge and validate I understand their feelings, and to collaborate on a resolution.

  • Never Make Assumptions

You know what they say about assuming! It’s true. If you jump to conclusions and try to figure out what your employees are thinking without asking them directly, you will shatter their confidence in you. Only they can accurately express what’s bothering them and why it’s causing them to act they way they are.

  • Show Integrity—ALWAYS!

Even when you find it difficult to reason with someone, you need to keep a cool head and act professionally. It’s never OK to talk behind an employee’s back or otherwise discredit their feelings and concerns. Always take the higher road—and always follow through on what you say you will do when resolving an issue.

  • Do A Post-Mortem

Aim to figure out what series of events or conditions caused the adversity to occur. If it was something within your control, make an effort to avoid that perfect storm again in the future. And if justified, apologize! A simple “I’m sorry” can go a long way toward healing hurt and restoring trust.

  • Don’t Let It Ruin Your Day

Sometimes adversity happens despite your best efforts. As imperfect humans, we will sometimes have misunderstandings, be less patient than we should be, and point fingers at one another. Don’t take incidents of adversity personally. Often, they arise because every person’s frame of reference and degree of adaptability is different. Realize adversity happens in every business—and it’s something we can use to become better leaders. Each time we handle difficult situations, we learn more about our employees and ourselves. The key is to harness that knowledge and use it to more effectively communicate and resolve issues in the future.

Unfortunately the ideal world I described at the start of this article doesn’t exist. But by handling adversity more adeptly, we can get closer to creating it.

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Should Your Company Use a PEO?

Small business owners may be new to the world of PEOs, or professional employer organizations, but these companies have been around now for several years and changing the face of human resources management.

A PEO provides comprehensive outsourcing for all tasks and functions typically performed by an in-house human resources department. This may include employee job descriptions, benefits, payroll, insurance, and regulatory requirements.

PEOs act as a ‘co-employer’ with your company so that they share contractual obligations with your employees. Management decisions, however, remain with your company. You continue to guide the daily job duties and responsibilities of your employees while the PEO manages their benefits administration and related tasks.

According to the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations (NAPEO), small businesses that work with a PEO grow 70 to 9 percent faster, experience 10 to 14 percent less employee turnover, and are 50 percent less likely to go out of business. Although these sounds like terrific benefits for any small business owner, there are also some drawbacks to working with a PEO. Here, we discuss both the pros and cons of working with a PEO so that as a small business owner, you can make an informed choice before taking the next step and contacting PEOs.

The Benefits of Working with a PEO

There are many benefits of working with a PEO for a small business.

  • Saving Time:  Working with a PEO can save you considerable time. SCORE reports that 25 to 35% of a small business owner’s time is spent handling HR-related tasks, with 7 to 25% of that time alone spent on paperwork.  A business owner’s time is precious and the more time that can be spent on tasks to grow a business and increase revenues, the better. Every minute spent on paperwork decreases the amount of time you can spend growing and running your business.
  • Avoid penalties and fines: Tax laws continue to evolve into complex tangles that can be difficult for the average business owner to unravel. Missing deadlines or paperwork can lead to penalties and fines from the IRS, state or federal agencies. A PEO is skilled at handling all types of HR paperwork and takes the responsibility from your shoulders of managing deadlines, filing periods, and paperwork. It becomes their responsibility so you will not incur fines if problems arise.
  • Improved employee retention: Because the PEO handles questions regarding benefits, there’s always someone available to help your team understand their benefits and work through any questions or problems. Additionally, a PEO can find better employee benefits and draw upon their industry contacts and resources to improve the benefits package you can offer to your employees. This tends to increase job satisfaction and makes your company more appealing to work with, leading to better employee retention rates.

Drawbacks of Working with a PEO

There are also some drawbacks to working with a PEO that you should be aware of before embarking on a co-employment relationship. These drawbacks include:

  • Lack of control: The PEO manages all aspects of the HR department include health insurance coverage and other important benefits. They can, at their discretion, offer new policies or coverage to your employees. Sometimes this works out for the best since they can tap into their resources and can often gain better coverage than you can on your own. But this lack of control can be disturbing to a business owner used to retaining total control over all aspects of his business.
  • Impersonal service: All questions about HR and benefits are now handled by the PEO. Employees must call a hotline or 800-number instead of stopping by the HR department in your company. This may feel distant and unfriendly to some used to the former method of getting help for their questions. It does add a layer to your organization that may not be comfortable working through at first
  • Monetary risk:  Most PEO contracts require that their fees are paid in advance before work begins. If the PEO goes out of business or is sold to another company and you are unhappy about the new company, you may be out of luck and unable to break the contract. Choosing a stable, well-known PEO with a history of successful work helps mitigate this risk.

Is a PEO Right for Your Company?

A PEO arrangement can offer significant benefits to a small business, but they aren’t for everyone. Companies with less than five employees may not be able to find a PEO willing to work with them; the average contract size with a PEO is for five or more employees.  

Working with a PEO will cost your organization anywhere from $500 to $1,500 per employee. You may be able to handle your employee benefits administration and other HR tasks at a more cost-effective rate internally than by working with a PEO.

As the world of HR and benefits grows increasingly complex, small business owners may continue to turn to PEOs for help. But if you’re just looking for help with payroll or taxes, there are self-service options such as payroll software that may be a better option.

If you’d like to start looking for a PEO, consider this comparison of several services that offers insight into costs and features. And you may also want to file the link away for future reference, since as your business grows, so too will the number of employees needing benefits and other HR support. If a PEO isn’t right for you now, we hope you grow so big that you’ll need one someday!

By | March 22nd, 2017|Business Operations, Business Tools, Other|0 Comments