The small business owner carries many responsibilities for their business. From providing customer service, hiring and managing employees, creating work schedules, dealing with finances and accounting, maintaining current marketing plans, engaging with new technologies, fulfilling orders, keeping supplies, and managing a personal life. Per statistics from the United States Small Business Administration (SBA), small business owners represent 98 percent of all employers. Since 1995, small businesses have generated 64 percent of all new jobs created, and paid 44 percent of the total United States private payroll.
With so many individual tasks on which to focus, smart owners of small businesses understand that engaging with professionals helps to make their businesses run more smoothly. Most business owners already use the resources of outside consultants—from their accountant to their suppliers. In a constantly-changing benefits market, wouldn’t it be just as wise to work with a benefits consultant?
Benefits consultants can help a small business owner when their company needs help in attracting and retaining quality employees. According to the SBA, every company, regardless of size, relies on their human resources to maintain a positive relationship between employer and employee, whether that be an owner/operator or a department. The objective of human resource management is to serve as a consultant for the small business owner and maintain harmony between employees, reducing spending, and making maximum use of their resources to provide a safe and equitable environment.
What is a Benefits Consultant?
A benefits consultant is a professionally-trained contract worker who will focus on a small business owner’s needs. Working with a company over time, a benefits consultant will work to become part of the company culture and familiarize themselves with all aspects of the business, its needs, and the needs of its employees. Similarly, these consultants have a background in a variety of business ventures, and will use market trends and their expertise to recommend action to uncomplicate human resources models and operations work in order to provide those key employee-building processes and money-saving solutions to address key concerns.
When a small business keeps the same human resources roles for decades, or when offered benefits haven’t been reviewed in years, there has been a breakdown in the management process. Sometimes, for example, if a company is having trouble in hiring and retaining hardworking and skilled employees, the benefits consultant can help the small business owner review the outdated benefits policies and find better-suited alternatives.
Good consultants work within the framework of the company they’re representing, and will provide existing management all the vital information to build and maintain their employee base.
Step One: Considering Needs & Setting a Budget
Before meeting with a benefits consultant, it’s important to fully understand the outcomes or goals of the business fully. Are costs too high? Is the business having trouble retaining skilled employees? Are workers unhappy with their benefits or requesting raises in pay? Making a list of questions or concerns helps organize one’s thoughts visually, and understanding the scope of these problems more fully can help a business owner create a budget and focus on finding a qualified consultant that works with their needs.
Consider the current costs of a business’s benefits plans and match that to the total salaries paid. This information is important in understanding one’s benefits burden. Benefits consultants have access to plans and insider knowledge in ways to reduce this burden or to provide different benefits—from health insurance and paid time off, for example—and will be able to work within a business’s budget to find the perfect product from a reputable company in an oversaturated and competitive market. Working with a consultant can cut overall organizational cost by finding savings for the business.
Step Two: Finding a Qualified Consultant
The benefits market is one of the largest-growing industries in the United States. With all the new insurance companies, consulting firms, and web-based benefits management solutions, finding solutions with staying power—the ability to last over time—becomes even more important. Small business owners are inundated with offers from other small businesses—insurance agents focused on selling their product or brokers who over-charge for comprehensive plans but do little to ingrain themselves in the business. Hiring an experienced and qualified consultant can provide expert advice on picking a healthcare plan that can be modified to suit a business’s evolving needs over time.
The first question a small business owner must ask themselves is, what do I need from a business consultant? The easy answer is to consider the process of hiring a consultant to that of hiring an employee (however, instead of receiving applications, the business owner must now make their own phone calls and complete research on their own).
In the same way an employer vets potential employees, ask for potential consultants’ resumes or work histories. Gaining a full understanding of the consultant’s educational background and past work projects gives scope to experience and lets the small business owner know about satisfactory work. Make sure that the consultant has experience with specific needs. Every industry has different needs, and working with a benefits consultant who is familiar with those needs makes the process run more smoothly.
Step Three: Plan In-Person Meetings
After researching consultants, the next step is to plan in-person meetings. Just like working with an employee, the interview process is incredibly important and illuminating. Making certain that the business owner and benefits consultant are on the same page and have the same goals in mind for the business leads to affinity, which benefits all sides during the consulting process.
During the interview process, make sure all fee scheduling makes sense and that the business owner is sure about the rate for work completed and all total charges for consulting services. Whether the project be paid on an hourly basis or per project, before hiring a consultant, make sure the consultant is willing to sign a contract that clearly states all intended goals, and sets a time frame, measurable expectations, and payment schedule based on work completed or deliverable goods. Just like the employer/employee relationship, get the fundamentals on paper to protect both sides.
Step Four: Allow the Benefits Consultant to Do Their Job
Once retained, a benefits consultant will get to work on solving the needs of a business. Individual processes vary, but the first step is for the consultant to ingrain themselves in understanding the business, its culture, and its needs. Once a consultant has been retained, the most important step is for the in-house team to allow them to do the work outlined in the mutual contract, setting up goal points and meeting regularly with the appropriate stakeholders to make sure those goals are being met.
In a specialized field like benefits consulting, each business has its own needs and goals. Like any contract worker, it’s important for a benefits consultant to provide quality service and get a good reference from an organization. Scouring the open market and local exchanges for opportunities unavailable to many human resource officers, benefits consultants will provide a variety of options to illustrate the scope of available insurance plans in order to provide accessible service and to remain competitive to skilled workers but at the same time determine whether or not a business is paying for more coverage than they need in relation to their area—saving the company time and money.
Once the costs and scope of available plans are shown to the employer, a benefits consultant will help in the purchasing and execution of the plan, enrolling current employees in to the appropriate systems, providing educational opportunities that focus on benefits and goals, and managing the plan over time to ensure that the plan is implemented follows appropriate state, federal, and local regulations. Then, the benefits consultant should provide access options to a business owner, so that they can manage the plan as time goes on—throughout the healthcare and retirement processes.
Benefits Consultants Are Great Additions to Any Team
Sometimes, a business can find itself in a difficult situation with high turnover rates or negative environments. Most unhappiness in the workplace comes from the confusion of feeling undervalued. When one’s healthcare or other benefits become hard-to-use or expensive according to the total amount paid, a benefits consultant can bring new perspective to the team and use benefits strategy to retain those skilled employees. Knowing the needs of the business helps tailor the appropriate products, and by proving an outside perspective on a solitary business, this plan offers collaboration and discussion between rising technology and an industry with standards that can require a team of benefits specialists and support staff to understand.
That’s why hiring a benefits consultant makes so much sense of a human resources manager or business owner. Sometimes, we really think the problem is in the employee base when wages and benefits remain artificially low. Working with a benefits consultant maintains that sense of wider community guidelines and helps grow a hirable and healthy employee base.