It’s Free!

free

It’s a typical day at Bob’s Company, Inc. Bob notices that a recently-hired employee is now eligible for dental benefits. So, Bob hands her an application. As he walks away, she asks, “What’s the cost?”

Bob’s reply? “It’s free. The company pays for it.”

If this was a movie rather than an article, the startling shower music from “Psycho” would come on at this point.

Or maybe it would turn into a take-off from “Young Frankenstein.” Instead of “It’s alive!” the line could be “It’s Free!”

Shame, shame on Bob. He wasted a terrific opportunity for a “teachable moment” with a new employee.

Of course it’s not “free.” Every benefit provided by the company costs good money.

Free. What was Bob thinking? He should have responded something like this: “Our dental insurance costs about $25 per month. The company pays for it. It’s part of your compensation – just as our other benefits are.”

Too often employees think only about base wage or salary when the subject of compensation arises. This happens because we business owners and employers let it happen. You’re likely to hear something like “I make $35,000 per year.” You are very unlikely to hear an employee say, “Well, my base is $35,000, but on top of that my employer generously pays another $12,000 for my health insurance. Counting my paid time off, my other benefits and my payroll taxes, I cost my employer a whopping $58,000 per year.”

So, how do we get our “bang for the buck”? How do we get our employees to recognize and appreciate all aspects of the compensation package – so the company can enjoy a fine ROI in the form of increased employee satisfaction, improved productivity and reduced turnover? How do we drive the “entitlement culture” out of our companies?

Here are some approaches to use:

  • During hiring interviews, listen for signals. If the candidate is focused like a laser beam on your vacation plan or grimaces noticeably when you explain that you don’t pay 100% of the health insurance, these are not good signs. (Note: Yelling “Next!” is not a tactful way to end an interview.)
  • Your candidate job offer letter should outline the entire compensation package and focus on the total value – not just the salary.
  • Make ongoing education part of your company’s culture. Talk about the cost of doing business. Let your folks know how much insurance rates go up every year. Make sure the employees know that they have a vested interest in the company’s success … if they help the company succeed, you can continue to subsidize their insurance costs and provide excellent benefits.
  • Print a year-end statement for each employee, showing his or her total compensation and benefits costs.
  • Consider all aspects of compensation costs when budgeting and projecting pay increases. Example: Let’s say you like to provide an average 4% pay increase per year, and your total company compensation expense (including benefits) is $800,000. A 4% overall increase is $32,000. If you expect your health insurance to go up $5,000, you now have $27,000 left for salary increases. (Back to education: Explain your rationale and the math to your employees. Involve them in the decision. Maybe they want more salary increases and are willing to bear more of the insurance costs. If they help make these decisions, you’ll get better buy-in.)

You invest lots of money in your company in the form of salaries and benefits. Chances are, payroll and related expenses are the largest line items on your income statement. Spend the additional time and effort to maximize the investment. Done right, it can pay you back many times over.

PS: Bob’s story has a happy ending. He realized the error of his ways and corrected his statement to his employee.


Track Your Numbers Manually

One of the best things to happen to small businesses – heck, to businesses of any size – is computerized accounting.

Can you even imagine someone sitting down with a two-column ledger book and documenting each individual sale, line by line? It’s the way companies did it for centuries, until recently. We’re fortunate to be living and running our businesses in the modern era.

Despite my high praise for computers and all the things they can do for your business, I still urge you to manually compute your most important numbers. That’s right – use a calculator and a pencil and write them down. Every month.

Here’s why:

It’s so easy to nonchalantly look at a report – like a computer-generated income statement or balance sheet – and put it aside. Critical numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page at you.

In fact, your basic reports may not even give you certain important ratios. If you track revenue per employee, the ratio of current assets to current liabilities, and other key ratios, you may well have to calculate these manually.

My recommendations:

  • Determine what numbers, ratios and other key performance indicators are important enough to track monthly.
  • Set an acceptable range – maybe even specific high and low “red flag” limits – for these indicators.
  • Create a routine for this work. Set aside some time, and use the same format each month. You might do your calculations in the margins of your computer-generated reports, you may use a blank sheet of paper, or you might design a fill-in-the-blanks form. It doesn’t matter how you do as much as that you do it.
  • Working from your computer reports, find the numbers that you’ll need and do your calculations. Do it religiously each month.

If everything is within acceptable range, terrific. Celebrate with your team and maybe even give out some sort of reward for a job well done.

When you find numbers that are out of whack, spring into action and do something about it.

Of course, timely monthly reports are key to making this work. If you’re getting your reports weeks after the month closes, that is a problem that also needs to be tackled.

Using this simple and low-tech approach, you’ll quickly develop a “feel” for your numbers and will stay on top of problems while they are still small and manageable.

7 Business Resolutions for the New Year

How is 2011 turning out for you? Check one:

[ ] Pretty rough
[ ] Fair
[ ] Great!

Even if you chose “Great”, it’s hard to be optimistic when unemployment is high and many of the most powerful people in our government seem determined to punish achievement via the tax code. Until fairly recently, entrepreneurs were celebrated and respected. It was all about the American Dream. Now … well, just listen to the words being used and the proposals being made. It’s clear that some folks don’t value what entrepreneurship represents: Pursuing dreams, hard work, jobs and a rising tide that floats all boats. When the dearly-held principles that made this country what it is today – including Capitalism – come under attack, it is difficult indeed to stay positive. Don’t fall for it. Here are seven resolutions for the new year to help you stay positive and improve your company’s performance.

1. I will not buy into the “the rich don’t pay their fair share” nonsense. The top 1% of earners pay 38% of all taxes. The top 10% pay 70% of all taxes. (This information is readily available on the IRS website.) You may not be rich but this ridiculous mantra is mutating into an indictment on all business owners. Get informed – immunize yourself against the negativity.

2. I will run my business by the numbers. It’s important to regularly review your progress and results, including:
• Sales and gross profit, broken down by product/service or customer segments
• Major expense line items
• Net profit
• Cash balance and cash flow
• Accounts Receivable, if applicable

Look at month-to-date and year-to-date results, and compare to the same period from the prior year. It’s also a good idea to look at your income statement numbers as a percent of total sales to spot trends early.

3. I will “hire hard” so I can “manage easy.” A bad hiring decision can haunt you for a long time. Don’t make a snap decision. Build a strong team who will grow with your company.

4. I will delegate. You can’t do it all yourself, so don’t even try.

5. I will connect with my customers. Find out the answers to these two questions:
• What’s important to you? (Quality, customer service, etc.)
• How are we doing in those areas?

Develop relationships with your customers. Find ways to stand out from your competitors and to become the supplier of choice.

6. I will make smart use of technology to improve my business. Technology has become so affordable and easy to use that no business has an excuse for not going high tech. Even the smallest home-based business can afford to level the playing field with larger competitors.

7. We will think like a growth company and will not participate in the poor economy. Get everyone in your company – starting with you and including all your employees – on this bandwagon. Think and talk about growth, pushing through challenges and achieving goals.

Be winners. Build on your successes and learn from your mistakes. Implement all these business practices, and go into the new year with the attitude that this will be your best year yet.