Ringing in the New Year With 401(K)

From letting go of vices to dedicating time for some inward reflection, there is no denying that the start of every new year is a time for reflection, looking to the future, and abandoning what didn’t work in the past.

When was the last time you examined your 401(k) business plan? Do you have a 401(k) plan for your business? Are you sure that your current plan is doing everything for you and your employees that it can? If you answer any of these questions with uncertainty or hesitation, it may be time to spend some of that reflection time on your retirement planning strategy.

401(k) Plan Types and Benefits Offerings

A 401(k) is a product that is often purchased by a business when their income begins to increase. Attractive to new and potential hires, a Safe Harbor 401(k) Plan is a type of plan where you, as a business owner and your employees, can defer up to $18,500 of pre-tax dollars into the plan.

When your business begins to become even more successful, then the day may come when the formula will need to be analyzed to see if it is truly maximizing what it can do for you and your employees. This is the point where a Safe Harbor New Comparability Formula may prove helpful financially for the businesses owners.

And then last but not least, if there’s a big need for tax deductions, and because your once-humble business has now become extremely successful ($270-thousand-dollar+ revenue per year), then you may be looking for something a bit more supercharged than what a standard 401(k) profit-sharing plan can offer. In cases such as these, a Defined Benefit Plan could allow employers/business owners to receive well above the $50 to $55 thousand dollar-a-year limit that can then be put into a traditional profit-sharing plan. A Defined Benefit Plan allows significantly higher contributions than a Profit Sharing Plan.

Participation Is Key

401(k) plans are available to companies both big and small with no minimums. It is crucial however to pick a provider that does on-site enrollments rather than just having the employees visit a website to learn about the plan. Ultimately, a website is never going to excite an individual into putting their own money in and if they don’t contribute, then the plan won’t work as efficiently as it could if the employees decide to contribute.

If your business does not offer a 401(k) plan as a part of its benefits package, you could be missing out on valuable talent that may seek work elsewhere—perhaps with other businesses that do.

business group writing on white board

Beyond Health: The Ancillary Benefits You Need

We’ve all heard of health insurance, but it’s not uncommon to hear the term “ancillary benefits” in the same sentence. But while everyone is familiar with health insurance, not everyone is equally familiar with ancillary benefits. So, what exactly are they and should you be offering them to your employees?

First and foremost, while health insurance is just health insurance, ancillary benefits can be made up of a variety of different insurance and benefits offerings made available to your employees. Oftentimes, instead of listing out each and every benefit and insurance offering a company may offer, the term “ancillary” may be used instead.

Potential Ancillary Benefits Offerings

But despite the unfamiliarity of the term, the types of insurance benefit offerings it can refer to are all too common. Offerings such as dental and vision insurance, term life insurance, long-term disability insurance, identity theft protection, pet insurance, among many others are among the most popular ancillary benefit offerings companies and associations can offer their employees.

Dental and Vision Insurance

Providing your employees with dental insurance can benefit you as much as them. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular dental check-ups can improve an individual’s personal health and having dental insurance can help save your employees from additional costly expenses should more serious treatments be needed. As is the case with anything health-related, regular check-ups are the key to catching any potential problems early and avoiding costly procedures later on.

Like dental check-ups, regular eye exams not only diagnose vision problems but can also provide early detection of serious health problems. Vision insurance is frequently offered alongside dental insurance and can be every bit as beneficial for employees to have as poor vision can result in everything from migraines, to blindness, and more.

Term-Life Insurance

Life insurance provides crucial financial protection for your family if something were to ever happen to you. An offering like this would help to give your employees peace of mind and let them know that you are looking out for their family’s financial future. It is not uncommon for accidental death & dismemberment (AD&D) insurance to be included as well.

Long-Term Disability Insurance

Long-term disability insurance has been designed to help protect your employee’s financial well-being in the event an accident or illness occurs outside of the workplace. It is estimated that just over one in four of today’s 20-year-olds will become disabled before they retire. Long-term disability insurance helps your employees replace their lost income if they have an accident or illness that prevents them from working. Leading long-term disability insurance provider Guardian, can provide your employees with up to $10,000 in monthly disability coverage.

Identity Theft Protection

In today’s internet age, you can never be too careful when it comes to protecting your identity. According to the 2020 Identity Fraud Study, conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research, $16.9 billion was stolen from consumers in the U.S. in 2019. With cybercriminals showing no sign of slowing down, it falls on individuals to protect their identity with smart banking practices and monitoring services.

Identity theft protection is a great ancillary benefit for employers to offer to their employees and is becoming arguably as important as health insurance to have.

Pet Insurance

Nothing will show your employees that you value them and their happiness more than by offering pet insurance for their four-legged friends. Just like the health costs for your employees, vet bills can be every bit as expensive. But by offering your employees pet insurance, they will be able to make sure that their pets stay as healthy as possible and be reimbursed for their vet visits via their pet insurance company.

Virtual Meeting Etiquette

The Covid-19 pandemic forced companies around the world to adjust their business practices, including shifting to a work-from-home model. This change resulted in the emergence of the virtual meeting. And even as lockdown restrictions loosened, many businesses have allowed their staff to continue working from home.

Virtual meetings are becoming the norm, but it’s still a new experience for many – so it’s important to practice proper etiquette while everyone gets more comfortable with this new model. Below are a few tips to help you conduct a focused and efficient virtual meeting.

1. Introduce everyone when the meeting begins.

It would be inappropriate to start a conversation between two acquaintances who have never met before without first introducing them, just as you would not do in a real meeting or social function. The same procedure should be followed for a virtual meeting. Ensure that all attendees are introduced at the outset of the event. This will establish a welcome environment and inspire interaction among attendees.

2. Make sure you’re prepared.

When preparing for your meeting, review the objectives, familiarize yourself with the attendees, create a clear agenda, set a time limit, and make a list of notes to follow once it begins. When appropriate, invite attendees to contribute to the planning of the meeting. Preparing ahead of time is always good practice, and can often be the key factor in making a meeting successful.

3. Keep distractions to a minimum.

Before starting a virtual meeting, make sure that you silence your mobile phone and disable any applications on your computer that have the ability to push notifications to you. No one wants to  hear your phone ring, or hear your computer “bing” every time you receive an incoming email or chat. It’s also a good idea to close any web browser tabs that aren’t pertinent to your meeting, as they sometimes involve background processes that can slow down or even freeze up your computer.

4. Prepare a clean, business-appropriate setting.

If your meeting involves video, you want your participants’ attention to be focused on the meeting content rather than on your cluttered office or your impressive art collection. By creating a clean environment you can reduce the likelihood that participants will become distracted. You should also make every effort to attend the meeting from a calm location where there is little background noise or movement. Some platforms such as Zoom even offer a virtual background feature, which can be a valuable tool for reducing background distractions.

5. Other quick tips.

  • Look into the camera. Ensure that your camera is placed at eye level, and look directly into it during the meeting. Looking around your room can give the impression that you are distracted, bored, or disengaged.
  • Use the mute button wisely. You definitely want to close off your mic if it’s picking up on feedback or echoes, but many times your subtle sounds – such as an “mmhmm” or a giggle – can improve the fidelity of the dialogue.
  • Hosts should be the last to leave. As a general guideline, meeting hosts should wait until everyone else has left the room before ending the meeting, allowing attendees to leave at their own pace and to say anything additional they want before disconnecting. A host abandoning everyone else in the meeting is like leaving your own party without telling anyone.

 

How Student Loan Debt is Impacting Businesses and Employees

According to The Federal Reserve, U.S. student loan debt reached $1.7 trillion in 2020. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided some relief by pausing eligible federal loan payments, but experts predict that loan deficits will continue to be a concern for years to come – not only for borrowers, but also their employers. Let’s look at a few ways this can affect businesses, and what employers can do about it.

Employee Moonlighting

With the average student loan debt reaching almost $37,000 (at the time of graduation), it’s no surprise that borrowers are taking on second jobs to help pay down their loans. In 2018, almost 8% of the U.S. workforce was working more than one job – a trend that has increased steadily since the mid-1990s.

But working multiple jobs can have drawbacks. For instance, more time on the job means less time sleeping, eating, resting, and practicing self-care. When this cycle continues for a period of time it can lead to fatigue, exhaustion, and workplace burnout – which can take anywhere from weeks to years to recover from. So while working additional jobs may seem like a good solution, it can actually cause a cascade of problems for both employees and employers.

Mental Health

Financial debt has been known to cause serious emotional effects, such as depression, anxiety, and stress. While moderate and manageable levels of stress, also called eustress, can be beneficial, higher levels of stress can have a damaging effect. Chronic, heightened stress has a direct link to poor physical and mental health. In a study by the American Psychology Association, results showed that 64% of graduate students say their financial debt distresses them to the point of interfering with their “optimal functioning”. Financial burdens have been tied to issues with absenteeism, presenteeism, and decreased productivity – all of which have resulted in billions of dollars in losses by U.S. businesses.

Addressing the Need

Companies are waking up to these issues. As awareness grows, businesses are implementing loan repayment assistance benefits. In just a single year, the number of companies offering these benefits doubled in an effort to increase employee satisfaction and retention rates. According to one survey, 86% of employees said they would entertain a five-year commitment to a company that helped them repay their student loans.

If financial wellness isn’t already a part of your company’s employee benefits package, it may be something to consider adding.

The Benefits of Building a Customer Loyalty Program

In the US, there is currently a staggering 3.8 billion memberships spread across numerous customer loyalty programs. You may be asking yourself, why are so many brands investing in this tried-and-tested customer strategy still when there are more innovative solutions available.

Although the approach has been in place for decades, the dynamics of loyalty programs are always changing to appeal to the interests of newer audiences, meet the needs of the moment, and keep up with the ever-increasing competition.

What Is Customer Loyalty?

Loyalty among customers is defined as the act of consistently choosing the products and services of a certain company above those of its competitors. When someone is loyal to a certain company their purchasing decisions are not impacted by price or availability considerations. Most people would rather wait – and even pay more – to receive the same product and quality of service that they are accustomed to and value.

How Customer Loyalty Programs Work

A customer loyalty program is a marketing strategy that recognizes and compensates customers who make repeat purchases or engage with a brand on a regular basis. Customers who spend more money with a company may be rewarded with points or privileges, and their loyalty levels may rise as a result. As such, loyalty programs can have lasting effects on customer retention.

Advantages of Loyalty Programs

1) They establish an emotional connection. For example, curating a variety of third-party promotions (such as access to restaurants, theaters, spas, and merchants) can help to create a sense of community and a “lifestyle” perception among customers, which will aid in emotionally connecting them to your business. If you’re able to combine this with personalization, the impact will be even greater.

2) They create repeat customers. Existing customers are 50% more likely than new customers to try new products. They also spend 31% more per purchase. And attracting a new customer can cost five times as much as keeping an existing one. Finding new customers is important for growth, but keeping existing ones is the key to long-term success. A customer loyalty or incentive program can help you prevent high turnover rates by building important, long-term relationships with existing consumers. (It’s also a cheap way to boost sales.)

3) They engage customers. Customer engagement has a direct impact on the long-term viability of a brand. A brand that fails to connect with its target audience has a low recall value – and has difficulty establishing a trustworthy image in the marketplace. A customer loyalty program is an excellent method of promoting client involvement. When customers are members of a loyalty or rewards program, they are more receptive to receiving emails or other marketing materials from the business. These programs can provide comprehensive client engagement and contribute to the strengthening of the relationship between the brand and its customers.

4) They create brand advocates. A satisfied customer is a happy consumer. Implementing an effective and relevant customer loyalty program can help nurture brand advocacy through a loyal customer base. Brand advocates have a favorable impact on their network of family and friends, and serve as an ambassador for the brand’s message. A referral program can aid in the creation of brand supporters as well as the generation of additional referrals.

5) They deliver insights. Loyalty programs should be designed to provide the greatest possible benefit to your customers – while also benefiting your business. Today’s digitized rewards programs give you access to real-time data about how your customers interact with the program and with your brand as a whole. This information allows you to design unique and successful ways for boosting not only your loyalty program but also your reputation.

Digital features enable you to experiment with different incentives, find the prizes that are most appealing to specific types of clients, and detect the rewards that aren’t receiving as much attention. Rewards programs can also help you gain a more personalized perspective on your customers’ purchasing habits.

Creative Ways to Engage Your Social Media Audience

As of 2021 more than 4.5 billion people utilize social media. This represents tremendous potential for your brand to interact with. Practicing good social media engagement is the key to effectively tapping into that audience.

Social media engagement includes comments, likes, mentions, clicks, and shares. Many people believe that their success is determined solely by their number of followers – but the most important metric of social media success is actually an engaged audience. (Quality over quantity.)

Using this method of communication and outreach, you can overcome many of the obstacles that traditionally impede outbound marketing efforts, allowing you to reach a much larger audience of potentially interested individuals – many of whom could turn into leads and customers.

Creative Ways To Increase Social Media Engagement

You might cross your fingers and hope that your followers spontaneously begin to engage in conversation, but most will require some encouragement. Fortunately, there are a variety of tricks of the trade which can be used to increase interaction and make your digital platform a success:

1. Make Your Own Hashtags

Hashtags can help you organize your posting strategy and give interested subscribers a method to follow up with things that pique their interest. They can also help you attract new subscribers. Additionally, other brands may follow suit and tag you in comparable posts that use the same hashtag, which can increase interaction among your fans. Hashtagging is a unique and fun way to reach out to both existing and new audiences.

2. Create and Join Q&A Sessions

Participating in Q&A answer sessions is a great approach to provide users with value while also establishing your brand as a helpful one. If you’re able to provide appropriate responses to questions and initiate dialogue with prospective consumers before your competitors do, you can establish yourself as the go-to service provider or supplier in your industry.

3. Organise Online Competitions

Competitions on social media have been around since the inception of the digital revolution – and are one of the most effective techniques of increasing participation. Contests, on average, can contribute to a 34 percent increase in the size of your fan base. Keep these considerations in mind when orchestrating a competition:

  • Clarify the Rules: Ambiguous or hidden rules can frustrate users, leading some to believe they’ve been duped.
  • Give Yourself Adequate Time: Too much time is just as bad as not having enough time. To ensure that your content remains at the forefront of your audience’s minds, keep the length moderate. See what others are doing before finalizing your contest’s timeframe.
  • Choose a prize that is appropriate for the situation: Generic showy prizes attract leads that aren’t interested in your product, so try to find something that uniquely appeals to your target audience. You may get fewer participants, but those that do participate are more likely to stay for the duration of the event. For example, giving away an iPad will almost certainly garner a lot of attention. But if the prize has little or nothing to do with your company, the attention you receive is unlikely to translate into qualified leads.

4. Connect With A Social Cause

Emotional content is significantly more successful than logical and dry content. A social cause is the ultimate emotional motivator, and may help your business stand out from the competition. Here are a few tips to help get you started:

  • When researching potential causes, look for those that align with your brand’s principles. Choosing a social cause doesn’t necessarily have to be directly related to your industry, but it’s easier to fight for something that you are passionate about.
  • Tap into your customer base for advice on which cause to take on. Utilize a poll or quiz to find out which issues resonate with your audience.
  • Once you decide on a cause, create a list of ways that you can make a difference. Fundraising is a popular method, but caring and raising awareness might have a greater impact in some situations. Invite individuals to share personal stories on your channels. Demonstrate your support for the organization. Promote acts of goodwill. These will all help you reach your goals.

5. Host a Social Media Takeover

Sometimes the best way to breathe new life into your social media feeds is to hand them over to someone else. Partnering with an influencer or celebrity who has a large, engaged audience is a great approach to get your brand in front of some fresh faces while also injecting a new voice if you’re running low on post ideas. Make a list of business partners and industry contacts that you think might make ideal candidates. Takeovers are intended to increase exposure, so it’s best to partner with someone whose target audience is similar to your own.

Getting Familiar With Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization is one of the most viable and cost-effective ways to market to your audience. It makes your website more accessible, which results in more visitors and more opportunities to convert prospects into customers. It can be an effective tool for increasing brand awareness, developing relationships with prospects, and establishing oneself as a trustworthy authority in your field of expertise.

While it would take more than a single blog post to fully explore SEO, let’s look at some of the primary components that you can familiarize yourself with before undertaking an SEO effort.

Content Creation: Content SEO refers to the process of developing content that can help your web pages rank higher in search engine results. Search engines read the text on your website, and so the words you use there will help decide where your site will appear in their results pages.

Keywords Research: This is the process by which you investigate common search terms that people input into search engines and strategically integrate them in your content so that your material ranks higher on search engine results pages.

Local SEO: Local SEO is a method that helps your business appear more prominently in local search results when people search for it in their area. Local SEO can be beneficial to any company that has a physical location or that serves a specific geographic area.

On-Page SEO: On-page SEO involves optimizing both the text and the HTML source code of a particular page, as opposed to an off-page SEO strategy that involves links and other external signals.

User Experience: Creating good content is not only important to SEO – it can also help improve the usability of your site and foster a seamless user experience. For instance, make sure your website is responsive so that users can access it from mobile devices. And work on increasing page load speed, which will lower your bounce rate and encourage users to stay on your site longer. (The average bounce rate for pages loading within 2 seconds is 9%. That rate jumps to 38% if it takes more than 3 seconds.)

Website Authority: Although the concept of authority is relatively new in SEO, it is becoming increasingly significant to search engines as online users become more aware of its significance. For the most part, authority indicates that your website is trustworthy, of high quality and relevance, and that it has something to offer visitors. When your website has greater authority, it will rank higher in search results and more prospects will come to trust your brand.

Website Traffic: Increased web traffic is one of the primary objectives of SEO. Approximately 33% of all clicks are sent to the first ranking page, and the top five listings receive more than 75% of all hits. If you want more prospects to see your website using a search engine, you need SEO strategies that will help you rank at the top of the search results page.

The use of SEO can assist you in developing stronger relationships with your audience, improving the customer experience, increasing your authority, driving more traffic to your site, giving you a competitive advantage, and increasing conversions – all of which can lead to increased sales, more customers, and greater growth for your company.

COVID-19 Pandemic Gives Rise to Telehealth Technology

Social distancing guidelines and safer-at-home recommendations that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic forced families, businesses, governments, schools, and healthcare systems to figure out entirely new ways to operate. Ingenuity, innovation, and new technologies have allowed many to adapt to this new way of life.

One of these breakthroughs has been the emergence of telehealth / telemedicine. Usage soared in the last year, with consultations rising by 89%, according to First Stop Health. Many are still unaware of the benefits of this new service, so let’s review a few of them.

Reduced Exposure to Illnesses

Flus and viruses normally travel from person to person through respiratory droplets, and the COVID-19 virus is no different. Researchers consider COVID-19 to be a highly contagious virus, with each infected individual possibly infecting up to two or three additional people. Being able to visit a doctor from the comfort of your home eliminates contact with other people and crowded waiting rooms filled with sick patients. This can be especially helpful for those with pre-existing conditions, as they may face more severe complications.

Saves Time & Money

The convenience of being able to talk to a board-certified physician from the comfort of your home means less time spent in a waiting room and less time out of your workplace. This is especially helpful if the medical specialist happens to be located far away from your home. Most virtual telehealth visits last only 17 minutes, compared to in-person appointments, which average two hours (including travel time).

One of the best things about telehealth is its affordability. With many employers expanding their benefits package to include telemedicine, a virtual session can end up being more affordable than a trip to an urgent care center.

On-Demand Healthcare

Telehealth can allow you to receive medical treatment at a moment’s notice – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whether that is on a lunch break from the confines of your car, or in the middle of the night when your child comes down with a fever, a medical professional will be available to assist you.

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