Top Tech Tools for Business
Small business owners have ranked their favorite tech tools and apps in a variety of categories in SurePayroll’s third annual survey, part of the SurePayroll Small Business Scorecard. Google Drive was reported as the most-used app, while Facebook and LinkedIn were cited as far more useful for business than other social media outlets, such as Twitter or Snapchat. (Surprisingly, Google Plus ranked higher as a social media platform for business than Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or Pinterest.) The top-ranked tools in the following categories were:
- Cloud Storage: Google Drive (Last year’s winner: Dropbox)
- Email Marketing: Mail Chimp (Last year’s winner: Constant Contact)
- Organization App: Google Drive
- Social Network: Facebook
- Social Media Management: Hootsuite
- Customer Relationship Management: Salesforce.
The full rankings are available at facebook.com/SurePayroll.
The State of Employee Benefits
Are you a business owner trying to make benefits affordable and worthwhile to your employees—and the bottom line? You’re not alone: Hub International Limited (HUB) conducted a survey of more than 400 senior-level HR and finance professionals and noted some interesting discoveries:
- Affordable Care Act (ACA) compliance is a top priority for just 58 percent of respondents, yet 64 percent said they would have trouble staying in business with full compliance. Their concerns ranged from the burden of calculating affordability to the calculation of full-time employees and equivalents—red flags for IRS audits.
- “Employee wellness and productivity improvements” and “cost management” are the top reported priorities, at 83 and 76 percent, respectively.
- Current efforts to improve employee health and performance are working, according to 66 percent of respondents. However, issues still remain regarding employee turnover (21%), absenteeism (18%) and chronic disease management (16%).
- Sixty-five percent believe they are doing everything possible to rein in rising benefits costs, but many are missing opportunities to leverage proven cost management strategies—with only 51 percent using voluntary benefits, 31 percent pharmacy carve-out, 18 percent self-funding, and 16 percent narrow network strategies to manage costs.
Source: Employee Benefits Barometer: SMB Perspectives and Priorities in an Era of Disruption, Hub International Limited
Millennial Entrepreneurship… By the Numbers
It’s a common trope: an up-and-coming generation foregoing the norm to take the exciting risk of starting a business. Some have claimed millennials to be the most entrepreneurial generation in history—but are they really? Derek Thompson of The Atlantic pulled together some numbers in a recent article “The Myth of the Millennial Entrepreneur,” suggesting otherwise:
- The average age of a startup company’s founder is 40.
- The percentage of individuals under the age of 30 who own a business is at a 25-year low, having fallen 65 percent since the 1980s.
- In the last two decades, the only age group that has seen a rise in entrepreneurial efforts is the 55-65 group.
- Accumulated debt is among the culprits: the average debt held by student borrowers grew 77 percent from 2004 to 2014, while the number of borrowers increased by 89 percent.
- More than 40 percent of surveyed millennials in 2014 indicated “fear of failure” as the reason for not starting a business, up from 24 percent in 2001.
Sources: The Atlantic, Kauffman Foundation, The Wall Street Journal, Federal Reserve
Workplace Writing 101
Are you a strong writer, or are your communication skills in need of a major overhaul? If you’re in the latter group, you aren’t alone. According to CollegeBoard research, half of surveyed employers consider writing ability a significant consideration in hiring. And yet, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills reports that more than 26 percent of college students had deficient writing skills—according to the employers who hired them—while CollegeBoard notes that more than $3 billion is spent by businesses on remedial writing training each year. So what can you do to improve your writing skills? Here are a few tips:
- Be concise. Keep sentences short enough to get the point across without losing your reader’s interest, and don’t use longer words when shorter ones will do. Reader understanding is always the top priority.
- Specify when possible. Avoid ambiguities, as readers may not be familiar with the topic at hand. Being specific does not mean being lengthy (see previous tip), but if you can avoid being vague, it is usually better to provide details.
- Be straightforward. Use active verbs (“I threw the ball”) instead of passive ones (“The ball was thrown by me”). Not only do passive verbs typically come with unnecessary words, they can give the impression of lacking accountability. For example, “I didn’t send the report” offers a sense of responsibility, while “The report wasn’t sent” implies lack of ownership of a mistake.
- Proofread. It is easy to assume you wrote good copy and move on, but it can make you appear lazy or careless when your writing includes simple mistakes in grammar or facts. (Especially the latter: getting the facts wrong can cause big problems!) Always take time to reread your writing and make sure everything is spelled correctly, worded properly and checked for accuracy.
Handwriting: An Essential Skill?
Amidst the continuous march of technology, some U.S. schools have decided to forgo teaching handwriting and cursive in order to focus on keyboarding instruction. Yet many experts on childhood education argue this could have negative consequences for literacy and brain development. On The New York Times blog, Dr. Perri Klass highlights a pair of studies which show the benefits of handwriting—and the reasons some schools are reintegrating it back into their curricula:
- The forming of letters on a page keeps the mind engaged in the meaning of the words, suggests a study from The Journal of Learning Disabilities (LDX). This helps children pay attention and absorb more information as they write.
- The forming of letters triggers activation in the part of the brain that involves the connection between visual cues and language acquisition, according to Dr. Virginia Berninger, who led the LDX study. This suggests the motor process of handwriting helps children to more quickly recognize letters and words as a visual sign of language.
- Studies suggest students with stronger handwriting skills may have improved grades, according to Dr. Laura Dinehart of The Journal of Early Childhood Literacy. Those who struggle with handwriting find that too much time is spent producing the letters—and the content of their writing suffers. Related studies suggest that students are less likely to remember information when they write via keyboard rather than by hand.
Business Myths to Squash
Starting up a business is a risky endeavor—but keeping it running is where the real challenge begins. Some classic bits of advice and age-old mantras, however, are not as useful as they once were. From Arthur Greeno and Bryan Smith’s recently released book Breaking Conformity, here are a few examples of business counsel that may require some fine-tuning:
- “Failure is not an option.” Failure in some form is unavoidable—and it may even be the preferred option. Sometimes it’s better to cut your losses and start over, than to throw more energy into an effort that clearly won’t have the desired outcome. Acknowledging that failure comes with the territory makes it that much easier to learn from it and move forward.
- “I tried my best.” It’s one thing to try and fail; it’s another to try and stop when there are still other options available. Trying your best isn’t a one-time deal—it involves adapting, trying new methods, finding new resources and exhausting all options before throwing in the towel.
- “If I can do it, anyone can.” This is almost never true, and can set someone up for disaster. The nature of business—and life in general—is that someone else will have the resources and connections that allow them to do something you can’t. It can also be a matter of timing—being in the right place at the right time. Failing to recognize this will only heighten a sense of inadequacy if your goals aren’t met. The key is to know what you have at your disposal, seek to collect what you need and build success from your own resources, without regard to what anyone else has done. iBi