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White-in-article.jpgAre you a business owner with 50 employees or fewer? Are you unsure how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) affects you and your business?

Here are seven features of the ACA that every small business owner should know:

  1. Starting January 1, 2014, health care insurance companies will have to offer insurance coverage to any individual who applies, regardless of past or current medical conditions.
    This means everyone can get health care insurance. We call this part of the law “guaranteed issue.”

  2. Starting January 1, 2014, everyone has to get health care insurance – or pay a tax penalty for not having coverage.
    There are a few exemptions, but for the most part, everyone has to get coverage – or pay penalties.

  3. Most insurance plans are now required to pay 100 percent of the cost of many preventive services.
    The list of these preventive services is long. It includes mammograms, HIV testing, well-woman visits and diabetes screening.

  4. Starting in October 2013, online insurance shopping centers known as exchanges (or marketplaces) will make it easier for consumers to get coverage.
    Everyone can use these exchanges. But shoppers who qualify based on their income can get financial help from the government.
    Many states are setting up their own online exchanges. Other states are letting the federal government set up and run these exchanges.

  5. Starting in October 2013, small businesses will be able to shop at online insurance centers through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP).
    This new program can provide you with new options when shopping for a health plan.
    SHOP plans will offer four levels of coverage: bronze, silver, gold and platinum.

  6. The government announced in July that one portion of SHOP is being delayed a year.
    That portion is the “employee choice model.” It would have given workers a choice of health plans. The government has delayed it because of start-up issues.
    Instead, you will be able to choose a single plan from SHOP. This will be similar to how you buy health benefits for your employees today.
    You can learn more by going to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Insurance Marketplace.

  7. The new law offers potential increases in tax savings for small businesses.
    Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, the small business health care tax credit can cover up to 50 percent of what you pay toward premium costs for low- to moderate-wage workers. Since 2010, the maximum credit has been 35 percent for small business employers.
    Not sure you qualify? The IRS offers guidelines. You can also estimate your potential tax credit by using this calculator.*


Additional resources:


*  This tool is not intended to provide tax or legal advice. You should not rely on the information provided without first consulting a tax professional on any questions you have relating to your unique circumstances

Aetna is the brand name used for products and services provided by one or more of the Aetna group of subsidiary companies, including Aetna Life Insurance Company and its affiliates (Aetna).

©2013 Aetna Inc.

14.22.300.1-Aug (8/13)

MultipleLocations_Body.jpgby Robert Lerose.


When Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast last year, thousands of businesses suffered devastating damages, prolonged power outages, and disrupted sales. Now, imagine a small business owner who operated at multiple locations, some far removed from the hurricane's path and you'll see an unexpected benefit from having several business locations.


Of course, avoiding a natural disaster is probably not the first reason that a small business owner would open secondary locations. But whether you set up in a distant geographical area or just across town, success in managing multiple sites ultimately comes down to formulating prudent strategies, installing competent people in leadership roles, communicating clearly and frequently with key team members, and tracking results.


Consistent procedures

Expanding your business provides many advantages, such as not starting from scratch. You can use some of your existing infrastructure and systems already in place for the satellite locations.


"If you open up another location, most likely you aren't going to have to duplicate everything that's in the company," says Tim Smith, principal of The Plaid Group, a Houston-based operations consultancy. "You could add sales by building on what you have without having to increase as much back office [support]."


Putting some standard operating procedures in place can result in a consistent, streamlined organization that delivers the same efficient response at each location. For example, Smith says, having a procedure for handling seven to ten core daily activities of the business is a great foundation.


Establishing measurable targets and making sure that every employee knows what the business owner expects is vital. "The person who is responsible for the second location needs to share the definition of what good performance looks like," Smith says. "It could be customer service, profitability, on-time performance—whatever criteria the owner uses to determine that the second location is doing well." business owners must also stay in touch regularly with the teams in the branch locations. In one scenario that Smith was intimately involved with, the operations manager at an industrial distribution company has a conference call with the managers at all his locations every other week. On off weeks, the ops manager checks in with the branch managers individually. The calls serve multiple purposes: they announce initiatives that are underway, and they also allow managers the opportunity to talk about things that they might be wrestling with. "It creates collaboration," Smith explains. "The next time that a branch manager has a problem, they'll turn to their peers before they go to the owner to borrow his time."


This kind of collaboration and relationship building can lead to handsome payoffs. For example, Smith once worked with a company that was suffering because it had 15 locations, and each one had their own individual protocols. Smith got all the branch managers to hammer out consistent procedures for their core activities, document them, and train everyone uniformly across the company.


"One of the concrete benefits that came from that is we reduced inventory losses by 75 percent within two years," Smith says. "We also improved our relationship with our suppliers, because the accounting department now had proof that they received the product and could pay the invoice."


MultipleLocations_PQ.jpgPractice the basics

Besides a hedge against turbulent weather, having more than one location may increase your buying power.


"Since you're buying for multiple locations, you should be able to participate in some additional discounts from your vendors," says Bert Martinez, president of Bert Martinez Communications, who operates offices in both Houston and Phoenix.


In some instances, it may not be possible to come up with a mirror image of the main office in an outside location. "The mistake most people make is that they don't investigate the new area enough," Martinez says. "Opening up that second store needs to be treated like a brand new business—not like you're duplicating an existing business—because typically that new store has a new neighborhood and a new set of demographics. You might have to market that business slightly differently."


Still, like Smith, Martinez sees the big secret to success as having a documented system that can be replicated and taught to the key people in your workforce—then verified that they are using the system properly. For example, retail small business owners could send a secret shopper into a store location to see if sales members are following established selling procedures. Or, have a friend call a business site and take notes on the conversation to see how the in-office customer service team handles phone calls and other issues. Lastly, test your managers—literally.


"When you're having your weekly meeting, drop down a pop quiz," Martinez explains. "And be open-minded enough to know that you might have to make a system change. Little problems can be addressed and dovetailed right into the system."


Managers who depart from proven protocol on their own might be surprised at how fast things can turn sour. For example, Martinez was hired by a CBS affiliate in Los Angeles to improve the sales for one of their radio programs. After implementing a comprehensive new set of procedures, sales jumped from around $10,000 a month to $50,000 a month in only three months. But when Martinez did an audit of the program six months later, he discovered that the manager had begun to deviate from the system and to cancel the weekly meetings. Result: sales plummeted by almost half.


"Your results get better and better and better as long as you continue to get brilliant at the basics," Martinez says. "The system is responsible."


Trust others

On a personal level, small business owners also need to be honest with themselves and accept that they will have to trust others to oversee operations without their direct supervision.


"If you like to micromanage, then you're probably going to be frustrated," says Randy Moon, president of RMoon Consulting in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. "Don't be afraid to hire someone smarter than you or better than you in other ways. Combined, you can be a powerful team."


When Moon consults with a business about expanding, he does an assessment on the industry itself to see if there are other cases of stores that operate multi-site locations in the same niche. He also recommends that small business owners take full advantage of technology to stay in touch, whether in a video chat on Skype, or by cell phone or email. That said, it is critical that owners still show up regularly at their various locations.


"You have to make your presence known periodically, especially in certain types of labor intensive businesses where there are a lot of employees," Moon says. "They expect to see the owner. When the owner shows up or has lunch with the employees, it makes people feel that they're not out there on an island."

One summer, I interned at a law firm in San Francisco. I wanted to impress the partners so that they would offer me a job after I graduated the following year. This was back in the day when law firms really wined-and-dined their potential associates.


Man, I loved that summer.Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png


The partners took us river rafting, invited us to fancy dinners and drinks at their homes, and yes, they even took us in a hot-air balloon. Oh yeah, we also did a little work too. Needless to say, I really wanted to work at that firm. Well, I got my chance a year later, and let’s just say that the real world was a tad different than my summer of fun.


It turns out that many businesses are learning that one of the smartest things they can do, especially at this time of year, is to take advantage of the natural rhythms of the season and give employees their own summer fun.


In fact, if you take a close look at the latest edition of the spring 2013 Bank of America Small Business Owner Report (SBOR), it turns out that many employers are taking this idea of creating a strong culture seriously. The Report found that almost nine in 10 small business owners offer some type of benefits to their employees.


Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss


If you want to engage your employees this summer, here are a few tips mentioned in the SBOR that will make your employees feel more engaged:


1. Offer flexible work hours: Forty-five percent of the entrepreneurs surveyed in the SBOR said that they reward their staff with flexible hours and/or they let them work from home. While this used to be an exotic idea, it is much more commonplace today. Between the cloud, smart phones, apps and laptops, anyone can work anywhere at any time. let them.


Especially during the summer, it makes sense to give employees some flexibility and some time to enjoy the nice weather.  By allowing your employees to get work done at a time more convenient for them, they will reward you with their loyalty and hard work.


2. Share amenities like free lunch, massages, etc. When you visit a large, successful Internet company like Google or Facebook, one thing that is very noticeable is the amount of free (or subsidized) food available. No, it’s not cheap, but it is a benefit that keeps people at the office and not taking two-hour lunches.


For small businesses, one alternative might be to provide free, healthy snacks like fruit and water, which are affordable and appreciated.


Pull Quote.png

3. Lead team building events:  According to the SBOR, only about 25 percent of the small business owners surveyed used this tactic, and I think that is a mistake. In the summertime, when everyone is thinking about a lot more than just work, a fun event together away from the office is often just what the doctor ordered. Whether it is going out to dinner, a game, or a concert together, a team-building event is the best way to grow as a team and build a strong culture.


4. Allow social media at work: This is a tricky one. Twenty-four percent of those surveyed said they use this tactic to reward employees. However, as we all know, social media can easily gobble up a whole lot more time than one anticipates and potentially decrease productivity in the office. I recommend offering this perk to employees as it is a great way to take a short mental break from work, but certainly speak up if you feel the privilege is being abused.


5. Give unexpected freebies: Give employees some free time off. Have a spontaneous contest and give the winner a pair of seats to a game. Buy gift cards from Starbucks and hand them out. Give everyone an unannounced afternoon off.


This is the time of year when people like to take advantage of the outdoors. Let them and you and your business will both be rewarded.


What are some techniques that you use to engage your employees? Share your story below.


About Steve Strauss


Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

QAWeinschenk_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.


Want to get something done? Well, stand up straight when you’re talking. Keep your hands with open palms at a 90-degree angle from the body with your fingers together. And here’s a bonus: Remember that you don’t just like chocolate—you are a chocolate eater. Those are a few of the clever, sometimes-subliminal tricks described in How to Get People to Do Stuff: Master the Art and Science of Persuasion and Motivation, a new book by behavioral psychologist Susan M. Weinschenk. The Psychology Today blogger and business consultant known as “The Brain Lady” has mined academic and scientific journals for the subtle psychology that helps people better communicate their wants and needs, and the art of slyly getting others—like employees and customers—to do what you want them to do via physical and verbal cues.


Among her strategies:


  • People unconsciously interpret and react to body positions in conversations. Face your colleague directly (it shows confidence), don’t tilt your head (an angle can convey submission), and keep your weight balanced on both feet (slouching undermines your authority).


  • When you’re talking to a group, keeping your palms open and at a 90-degree angle from the body with fingers together shows you have confidence and expertise about what you’re saying, Weinschenk says. But touching your face, hair, or neck makes you look nervous or tentative, as do hands grasped together in front of you.


  • When asking people to do stuff, use nouns rather than verbs. When you invoke a sense of belonging to a group, people are much more likely to comply with your request. For example, research shows that if people say: “I am a chocolate eater” versus “I eat chocolate a lot,” it affects the strength of their preference for chocolate. “Eater” is a noun. “Eat” is a verb.


How to Get is a great read for anyone trying to lead people. Writer Erin McDermott recently chatted with Weinschenk about the strategies she describes, adopting a “persona” to get things done, and how all of these behaviors can translate online.


EM: Is there one physical gesture or stance that you think is paramount for leaders to consciously think about? And one they should also avoid?

SW: It’s so hard to pick just one.  I think eye contact is critical, as well as a hand gesture for when they are sure of what they are saying. Men should avoid putting their hands folded in front of their body. Women should avoid tilting their head.


QAWeinschenk_PQ.jpgEM: I had a doctor tell me about his ‘doctor authoritative persona’ that he adopts on the job. How can a small business owner find that “voice” and stick to a persona, particularly if they’re not so authoritative outside of the office?  

SW: Some professions have certain types of influence ‘built in,’ for example, the doctor you mentioned. Doctors can easily use authority. But other professions may need to try a different method. You should use what comes naturally to you. You want to amplify your own persona so that it comes across as natural and sincere.


I had a client whose natural persona was very high-energy, and kind of funny and clever. He thought that to be a successful consultant he had to be very serious, calm, and authoritative. I convinced him to try being more himself, and showed him how to use his naturally high-energy level, sense of humor, and cleverness to be effective. I had him practice by answering questions and presenting on camera and then we would watch the videos together, so he could see what he was doing and what impression he was making.


EM:  How can you deal with someone who resists being “shaped”?

SW: If you are doing shaping correctly, there isn’t resistance. The key is to pick reinforcements that match the person—that are what the person really wants.


Image-CTA-v2.1[1].gifLet’s say I’m trying to get one of my employees to speak up at group meetings. He seems reluctant to do that, so what I do to shape the behavior is to “reward” him—offer reinforcement—when he looks like he is engaged in the conversation. If he’s looking down at his notes, I don’t reinforce that behavior, but if he looks attentively at the people talking, then I do offer reinforcement. But what should the reinforcement be for the first step of this shaping behavior? If he doesn't like speaking in front of the group, if he doesn't like being singled out, then calling on him, or calling attention to him might not be reinforcing. So I don’t want to say, ‘Kevin, you look like you have an idea. What do you think about this?’ Instead, I might decide that what Kevin really wants is to feel like he fits in and that others like him. Therefore, I might try just a small fleeting smile in his direction when I notice that he is actively engaged with eye contact with others. It’s subtle, but it’s an important difference.


EM: How can a teacher/manager learn to control their instincts, which may be to correct what an employee is doing wrong at each step of an instructional process? And if the mistakes continue, what’s the best way to address them so that it stops?

SW: Being a good teacher means applying the science. It means working on it over and over until the “right” behavior on your part is the new instinct. You have to train yourself before you can teach others.


Let’s say that a manager is constantly correcting each small step and you want them to wait and only correct after the task is completed. First, draw their attention to the fact that they are interrupting with constant feedback. They may not realize they are doing this. Then model for them—for example, with role play—how and when you want them to interrupt with feedback. Now practice in a simulated situation where they are giving feedback. Every time they do it “wrong,” ignore them. Every time they do it “right,” reinforce by letting them know they’ve done a good job. Keep track of their progress—to invoke the desire for mastery—until they are only interrupting at the correct intervals.


EM: You’ve also done a lot of work with user interfaces and design in the digital world. So one natural question arises from your book—how do you get people to engage with a small business online, whether it’s social media or a blog?

SW: Everything in the book can be applied to the digital world. Think about which of the seven motivational drivers will speak to your particular customers, and then decide how to use that driver. It’s different for each small business. For some small businesses, their customers will be most motivated by belonging to a group, and for others it might be that the desire for mastery is the strongest motivation. Do your homework and understand which of the seven drivers are the most important for your audience.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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