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Zenefits: benefits startup takes the pain out of the process

Selecting, securing, and managing benefits for employees can be a daunting, confusing, outdated process, but a young startup seeks to change all of that, by streamlining and modernizing.

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Benefits in the modern world

From the perspective of an employee, one of the key perks of working a full-time job is receiving a great benefits package. Medical, dental and other day-to-day costs can accumulate quickly, and it’s helpful to have your employer help shoulder some or all of those financial obligations.

But from the corporate perspective, getting your company outfitted with a benefits provider can be a tedious process – you’re essentially seeking multiple forms of insurance for your entire employee roster, and investing tons of hours to do so.

Zenefits works to streamline this process by rounding up all of the normal benefits offerings and rolling them into one platform. Businesses can create a profile, select what kinds of coverage they need for their staff, and get quotes; once a decision has been reached, the company can launch these offerings for all of their employees.

There’s no need to sign any forms and send them in via fax or email. Everything is handled digitally, cutting down on the tedious task of filling out multiple forms per employee, and sending them in to a benefits provider.

Current benefits offered through Zenefits

Zenefits currently offers medical, dental, vision and 401K assistance, with plans to include cell phone and transportation benefits coverage in the near future. The ease of use factor extends even further to companies that currently use Intuit or ADP for their payroll, because this system can integrate with these payroll systems.

Instead of requiring employees to sign into different systems to access their paycheck history, vacation accruals and other benefits information, the systems are integrated, allowing users to input one set of credentials that will bring them to a central hub for their income and benefits.

Zenefits is targeting SMBs, hoping to alleviate the aches and pains that small business owners experience when attempting to launch standard benefits packages for their staff. The offering is meant to cut down on time spent on this undertaking, so that companies can focus more on running the business while still allowing employees to easily access the information they need.

Destiny Bennett is a journalist who has earned double communications' degrees in Journalism and Public Relations, as well as a certification in Business from The University of Texas at Austin. She has written stories for AustinWoman Magazine as well as various University of Texas publications and enjoys the art of telling a story. Her interests include finance, technology, social media...and watching HGTV religiously.

Business Entrepreneur

How freelancers can keep the peace with difficult clients

(ENTREPRENEUR) Freelancers are in a tight spot – keeping customers happy pays the bills, even when they’re impossibly difficult. Let’s discuss how to overcome this tremendous challenge.

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Freelancers have a myriad of benefits, but one distinct drawback is that there isn’t always a team to back you up if you find yourself working with a particularly nasty client. It’s especially important to keep clients — no matter how insufferable they may be — in good moods, so here are a few tips on keeping the peace with your most annoying customers.

It’s worth noting that you can often mitigate a large amount of potential misunderstandings — and thus, nastiness — by being clear with your intentions, terms, and rules up front and over-communicating at all times. A common issue for beginning freelancers is a tendency to settle on less-than-optimal terms for fear of losing a potential customer. A piece of advice – if they’re not willing to pay you what you’re worth now, they never will be.

It also helps to keep in mind that most obstinate clients are simply control-freaks who have found themselves outside of their comfort zones. Knowing that you aren’t dealing with inherently bad people can be the difference between snapping and having more patience.

Once you’ve established that your client is causing you substantial enough discomfort that their behavior is no longer acceptable, your first step should be to communicate to them the specifics of your problem. If possible, do this in writing – promises made via email tend to reinforce accountability better than phone calls.

Freelancers should also avoid using any additional stipulations or rewards for getting clients to cooperate. As long as they’re the one failing to hold up their end of the bargain, they should be the one to pick up the slack — don’t do their work for them (or, if you do, make sure you charge them for it).

Again, the majority of client-freelancer issues can be boiled down to miscommunication and shaky terms, so address all issues as quickly as possible to avoid similar problems in the future. And as previously stated, over-communicate at all times.

Of course, keeping the peace is only viable up to a certain point of abuse.

If your client doesn’t pay you by the agreed-upon due date, continuously disrespects you and/or your team, or keeps changing the terms of your agreement, you reserve the right to set the client straight, threaten to take them to small-claims court, or — if you haven’t initiated the work for your end of the deal — terminate the contract.

Remember, freelancers don’t owe inconsiderate customers the time of day, and for every non-paying customer with whom you waste your time, you’re missing out on a paid, legitimate opportunity.

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Business Entrepreneur

Is the best time to relocate your business before, during, or after the holidays?

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) If your business has outgrown its current space, it may feel like there’s never a good time to relocate. When can you pack everything up without disrupting operations, going offline, and sinking your sales?

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If your business has outgrown its current space, it may feel like there’s never a good time to relocate. When can you pack everything up without disrupting operations, going offline, and sinking your sales? The answer may be during that post-holiday slump.

Though the holiday season is marked by increased shopping and general economic activity during the run-up, once the holiday season actually begins, we tend to see a slowdown that leads to low first quarter profits. Decreased profits during this period don’t mean we’re looking at an overall economic slump, but rather that everyone is recuperating from holiday spending sprees, while companies assess and prepare to launch their start-of-year marketing strategies. It’s a time of renewal and reconsideration, from an economic perspective.

If you’re thinking about staging a move for your business this holiday season, you’re on track for decreased business disruptions, but that doesn’t mean you have an easy road ahead of you. Here’s what you need to know to execute the move smoothly.

Have A loose timeline

One of the most challenging things about planning a business move is that it can be hard to predict how long it will take to properly execute your move. That means, even if you tell your customers you’re relocating, you shouldn’t expect to give them a hard re-opening date. Rather, the length of time it takes to move tends to hinge on a number of factors, including distance, size of your business, infrastructure issues, and regulatory concerns, not all of which are easily predictable.

You’ll also want to leave some buffer time when planning your move because you can’t predict problems that might arise with the moving company. Bad weather or a broken down truck can delay a move, especially if you’re working with a small company. Moving companies may also offer you a lower rate if you’re flexible with your move dates.

Consider your employees

Another question you’ll want to ask before moving is, “Where are my employees in all this?” Some companies firmly believe in giving employees holidays off, even if it means closing a profitable business like a restaurant during an otherwise profitable time. Other companies, however, typically assume employees will be in the office during or immediately after major holidays.

Regardless of your usual philosophy, you need to determine what role your employees will play in your move.

While they shouldn’t be responsible for the physical process of moving, do you expect them to participate in packing and setting up the new location? You should be clear about your expectations while recognizing that moving is outside the scope of typical job duties. You also will need to budget to pay your employees during this downtime while also financing the move, even though you won’t be bringing in a profit.

Mind the locals

If you’re primarily an online business, you may not have to worry about how your move will impact customers – other than some downtime, these individuals will be minimally affected. However, for businesses that run a brick and mortar storefront, changing locations can have implications for your community relationships.

If you move outside your original area, for example, you may lose customer goodwill or even sacrifice some of your customer base altogether. Depending on the service you provide, they may come back, or they may find another option closer to home.

The holidays are a busy time in general, but they’re an unusual time for businesses since economically it’s the pre-holiday period that’s actually the most hectic. Take advantage of this imbalance to move your business with the least fuss during the last few days of the year or at the start of the first quarter. You’ll be pleased to find how smoothly a company move goes when customers are otherwise occupied.

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Business Entrepreneur

Hobby to profession: The new-age entrepreneurs

(ENTREPRENEURS) Turning your hobby into a career is harder said than done but a few knitters are putting on a clinic on how to do it.

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I’ve often heard the advice that you should follow your passion, and eventually, someone will pay you to do it. But the truth is, turning your hobby into a career is easier said than done. The process by which a person turns a hobby into a business is poorly understood by experts – at least partially because it’s so difficult to collect data on this topic. In order to separate the lifelong hobbyists from the entrepreneurs, you’d have to trace the activities of many hobbyists over many years to understand how their paths diverged.

An MIT Ph.D. candidate has hit upon a novel way to research the transition from hobby to entrepreneurship by following Ravelry.com, a social media and pattern-sharing platform for knitters and crocheters, often known as the “Facebook of knitting.” The site encourages crafters to keep track of and share their projects, tools, techniques, and patterns.

The Washington Post reports that by analyzing over 400,000 profiles on Ravelry.com and interviewing 100 knitters, found through an additional newsletter and three blogs, Ph.D. candidate Hyejun Kim was able to draw some interesting conclusions about what can “cause someone to flip the switch from ‘fun’ to ‘profit.’” Only 1.5 percent of Ravelry users become entrepreneurs who sell their own patterns, knitted items, or yarns. What sets this small number of knitters apart?

Although the internet provided the crucial data Kim needed for the study, it was, in fact, real-world connections and encouragement that turned out to be the tipping point into entrepreneurship for most knitters-turned-business-owners. When asked why they decided to start their own businesses, most reported that they were encouraged by their friends and spouses.

Most of the crafters who became entrepreneurs were already very skilled knitters, to begin with. Kim was able to isolate a number of knitters who joined in-person knitting groups like Stich ‘n’ Bitch. Those who joined a group were 25 percent more likely to become entrepreneurs than those who didn’t. That’s because their crocheting comrades would compliment their creations, boosting their confidence and inspiring them to take it to the next level.

It shouldn’t be overlooked that 96 percent of Ravelry users are women. The forces of sexism in the world of startups and the undervaluation and domestication of women’s handicrafts likely combine to give women the impression that their skills and talents are just for fun and shouldn’t be seen as an opportunity to make money. Kim’s research shows that when it comes to entrepreneurship, sometimes talented women just need a nudge in the right direction.

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