Small business and startups: 5 great self-service HR resources

The everyday grind of running a business can be tough. I am not talking about wooing potential partners at fancy lunches, or drinks with clients after work, or even the whiteboard sessions that can fill our days. I am talking about the nitty-gritty reality of operating a business, paying the bills, washing the dishes, and managing employees.

Most small businesses and startups do not have a dedicated human resource professional to manage the endless details of benefit plans, recruiting, payroll, and records keeping so those tasks typically fall to a founder or general manager. The responsibility to deliver for your team never ends and can sometimes be overwhelming in its complexity and detail and it is critical that you get it right all the time, every time.

I have found a number of great resources that help me in this day-to-day process, keep me on top of the details, and make sure that nothing falls through the cracks. My approach is to leverage as many ‘self-service’ resources as possible and there are tons available online for everything from template forms to payroll services to insurance marketplaces. These services are efficient, inexpensive, and accessible from anywhere at anytime. If you choose carefully you can save a great deal of money, increase your own productivity, and keep your employees happy with the benefits and services you provide them. Remember, other companies are lurking in the dark, waiting to steal away your most valued team members. The happier the team is, the less likely they will listen to the siren song of your competition and choose instead to stay with you!

Here are 5 great online resources to help with your own human resource needs:

1. Recruiting and screening. There are several good options for recruiting and screening online and sites like CareerBuilder and do a fair job. On these sites an employer can post openings and search for a good match with relative ease and at a low cost. But the results are often less than stellar, with many applicants sending out resumes en masse without taking the time to read the posting or check the job’s requirements. LinkedIn provides some great tools for identifying and screening candidates and allows a business to leverage their own network and word-of-mouth to identify the most qualified candidates. Tow other good online resources are Ceridian and both of which can help you to manage the search and the screening process.

2. Payroll and record keeping. Payroll can be the most time-consuming of HR activities and it is critical that you get this right. When there is a mistake in an employee’s payroll, believe me you will hear about it. And if those accounts don’t reconcile properly at the end of the year, the consequences can be painful; the IRS frowns on employers who don’t do this work carefully and your accountant will become an evil, fire-breathing demon if things don’t match up. We use SurePayroll, a Chicago-based startup (now a division of PayChex) and their solution is economical, simple, and reliable. Once you have your company set up in their system, payroll is accomplished in 3 or 4 clicks of the mouse and you can be assured of its accuracy. SurePayroll’s reporting tools are powerful and detailed, Quickbooks integration is straightforward, and the interface is clean and intuitive. Another interesting resource for online employee record keeping is EffortlessHR, which provides a rich variety of forms which can be completed and uploaded to the site and can be used to manage timesheet reporting, employee history, benefits management, and the like.

3. Health and disability benefits. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009 requires all states to set up health insurance exchanges by January of 2014. These exchanges will allow small and mid-size businesses (as well as individuals) to compare health insurance benefit plans for their employees. Several states already have their HIX up and running and others are poised to follow soon;  Massachusetts Connector, the Utah Health Exchange, and New York’s HealthPass are operational and businesses can use those today. In the meantime there are also several private exchanges that operate in much the same way. One of the leading private exchanges is eHealthInsurance which allows small business owners to compare a variety of medical, dental, and vision plans side-by-side to find the best match for their company.

4. Employee review and evaluation Critical to managing your team, developing great employees, and determining bonuses or other incentive-based compensation is the evaluation process. We use an internal version of a balanced scorecard approach and collaborate closely with each team member to develop the criteria on which they will be evaluated and rewarded. This has taken us a great deal of time and effort, but we believe deeply that the prices merits the effort. There are now some online resources which can assist with this process and may help small businesses execute. One of these is targeted to law firms – SkillsScorecard, is an online performance review and  career planning resource that provides tools which law firms can use in their own review, feedback, development planning and evaluation process. A great guide to the balanced scorecard approach can be found in the classic 1996 book by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton. “The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action” (Harvard Business School Press, Boston)

5. Retirement benefits. A retirement plan is not just a great benefit for your employees, but is also a competitive necessity when recruiting talent at the highest levels. This investment in your employee’s future is also an investment in your company’s future; by helping your team to feel safe and confident and by showing your generosity to them with every payroll you will reap the rewards that come with being a great employer. Sure, this will add an additional 3-5% to your payroll cost, but I would argue that it more than pays for itself when you land that great employee right out from under a Fortune 500 company! Many online resources are available for retirement planning, but one of the leading services is provided by Sage, the accounting software and business services giant. SageRetirement’s CARE program can help Sage customers establish their plan quickly and easily at a competitive cost.

Photo: Frank M. Rafik