How the Best Companies Develop Better Employees

Effective team building is often described as the most crucial skill for a business leader to have, likely because it’s both valuable and difficult. Coalescing a group of high-performing talents is easier said than done, but an effort well worth making if having a great company is your goal. The best organizations put a premium on creating and sustaining a workforce built to tackle hard tasks and grow seamlessly, and putting a team together to do accomplish this is frequently a matter of maximizing satisfaction and productivity in the people you’ve already got. 

Developing great employees is a multifaceted task, but much of it starts by addressing their needs as professionals. In any industry, development and fulfillment are the major aspects of professional satisfaction, and any organization that works hard to foster these two qualities will find itself enjoying the rewards–motivated, self-starting, hardworking employees. 

Wellness is a driving force in healthcare, so it stands to reason that the best employers in the field don’t only cultivate it in their patients, but also in the people entrusted to deliver great care. Studies have found job satisfaction to be an important factor in workers’ health, giving an extra relevance to the employee support offered by leaders in the health industry. There’s also a proven link between job satisfaction, engagement, and productivity, meaning an investment in worker happiness pays off through increased production. No business, healthcare or otherwise, would do well ignoring that fact. Here’s a look at the major aspects of developing a great workforce. 

Professional development 

Professional development takes many forms. In a field as ever-evolving as healthcare, staying on top of potential new courses of care and technology through seminars can be a productive way for employees to grow within their positions. Professional development courses can also encourage attendees to be better teammates, more supportive leaders, and more effective communicators. By investing in these qualities, the best companies ensure they stay the best. 

Employee loyalty is grown through thoughtful action, not purchased with higher salaries. If a worker feels as if their professional goals are being supported, they’re likelier to stay around longer and accomplish more work while they’re there. Ambitious workers who may otherwise be inclined to find opportunity elsewhere can be retained more easily if they feel their professional ambitions can be met within your organization. Developing their skills and giving them the chance to use them is how the greatest companies stay great. 

Personal wellness 

Sustaining a great workforce also means providing key support in times of need. A robust family leave and sick day policy demonstrate that employee wellness is a priority in a very concrete, quantifiable way. Competitive salaries and employee healthcare options accomplish the same thing. In a marketplace where great workers can be choosy, a full regime of benefits is how the best employers can continually attract top talent and keep them satisfied. 

Healthcare companies know better than most the importance of quality care, and extending their own high standard of wellness to their employees’ personal plans ought to be a matter of course. Considering the multitude of options at hand, an investment in comprehensive and affordable health care demonstrates a thoughtful touch that makes a difference for morale. 

Health coverage is only one aspect of worker wellness. You want your employees working at their best, and that often means allowing for time off when it’s needed. Not every personal need is met within the workplace, so a robust leave policy allows workers to take time when needed to regroup, heal, and return to work prepared to take on every challenge before them. 

Perks 

In addition to fostering a culture of individual growth and support, many employers rely on extra perks to truly stand out. Such benefits have the added effect of making the workplace a more desirable destination, a place where your employees find more than just tasks to do everyday. Recruiting gets a boost, as well, when you can entice prospects with a welcoming atmosphere for productivity. 

Meditation rooms are one especially holistic way for employers to offer a more wellness-based workday. Stress is said to cost up to $300 billion dollars a year to American businesses, a malady that can be fought right in the office with dedicated spaces for employees to relax, refocus, and re-energize. Other health perks like standing desks, yoga classes, and access to athletic facilities can encourage an atmosphere where wellness is a priority. The benefits of such extras not only make for healthier employees, but characterize your workplace as a place where worker happiness is valued. 

Such perks are an attractive lure for talented people, but without a strong foundational ethos of growth and teamwork they’ll amount to little more than window dressing. What the best companies do to develop and retain great employees isn’t rocket science; it can be emulated by companies of any size, in any industry. It just takes dedication, conscientiousness, and creativity on the part of those at the helm. 

In short, a great workforce becomes so thanks to thoughtful, purposeful leaders who prioritize employee wellbeing. It’s up to you to make your own workplace a great one, but it all begins with purpose.

Looking to Scale Your Business Faster? Be Smarter With Credit Card Points

Nearly half of small business owners use personal credit cards for business transactions, according to the U.S. Small Business Association. The idea of using a credit card for company purchases isn’t bad, but there are several reasons why it should be a company card, not your personal one.

The most obvious reason is the separation of finances. The line of credit for your business may be higher than your personal one, and business-specific terms can make it easier to manage. Racking up massive debt that you can’t pay off hurts you, whether it’s in your name or your company’s; however, in your name, it’s much harder to rebound from.

A less obvious reason is the greater ability to profit from rewards points by using several strategic business cards. Thirty-one percent of credit card users don’t take advantage of credit card rewards — and they’re missing out. Does your business involve a lot of traveling? Earning travel points can save your company tons on airline tickets and accommodations. Prefer driving instead? Choose cards with points toward gas, lodging, and food.

Even straight cash-back rewards can dramatically reduce your company’s overhead costs, making it easier for you to scale up at a reasonable but consistent pace. The trick is to know how to diversify cards and points so you can reap the biggest rewards from every dollar you spend.

Credit card points: A useful business tool

Any company that relies heavily on travel can point to it as one of its biggest expenses. That’s why travel points are among the most valuable rewards for company credit cards: They can reduce those costs by thousands or tens of thousands of dollars every year because redeemable point values stay relatively fixed.

For example, at any given time of the year, the cost for a round-trip business class plane ticket might fluctuate between a few hundred and a couple thousand dollars. It will cost even more if scheduled last minute. Yet you could redeem the ticket for the same amount of points throughout the year, even if you book it only days in advance.

However, if your business doesn’t require you or your employees to travel much, then collecting those points wouldn’t be worth it. Instead, you might consider cash-back rewards that you can reinvest or use to buffer other costs. If you travel for work somewhat and aren’t sure where your business would benefit most, then ask yourself these questions before you choose:

1. What are my biggest expenses?

Don’t assume that traveling is your biggest expense. Do the math and check the numbers twice to be sure. If it is, then you’ll typically want to choose business cards that offer the highest points-per-dollar-spent rewards on expenses like airline tickets, baggage fees, hotels and transportation. Use the points to travel comfortably and in style without draining your company’s bank account.

2. Could travel points really make a difference?

If travel costs aren’t your biggest expense but are enough of one to put a dent in your company’s overhead, then plan ahead to accrue just enough travel points to lessen that impact. Once you have enough, you can switch to cards with more profitable benefits, such as cash-back rewards and no annual fees. Or use the excess travel points to take a much-needed vacation.

3. If so, which airlines do I usually choose?

To make the most of those travel points, identify the airports that you’re most likely to visit. Major credit card companies often team up with major airports to offer regular business travelers a more enjoyable experience. For instance, the right card at the right airport could grant you complimentary lounge access while you wait, often with a guest at no extra charge.

4. Should I always get cards with transferable points?

The answer to this should always be yes. Transferable points are those you can use at various airlines, hotels, rental car companies and other partners whenever you choose. This means you can make the most of every travel point without being beholden to any specific partnering company, especially if that company devalues its points (which is a common practice throughout the year).

If you’re still using a personal credit card to manage some of your business expenses, then that may be a bigger hindrance to your success than you realize. Qualifying for a business credit card may be easier than you think. More important, the points you could accrue from choosing the right one could give your company the boost it needs to scale up to the next level.

How to Take Advantage of Word of Mouth Recommendations (And Get More of Them)

It can be easy to become hyper-focused on digital marketing and sponsored advertising when promoting your business. However, few messages are as powerful as a word of mouth recommendation from a satisfied customer.

This form of spreading the word can be hard to track and optimize, since it is largely up to a customer whether to share their satisfaction with friends and family in private conversations. However, there are ways to encourage and capitalize on word of mouth referrals.

While an overall marketing strategy and budget are critical, trusted recommendations from satisfied customers can help build brand loyalty and bring new customers into the fold. Here are some ways to make word of mouth recommendations work for you.

1. Give away branded items

Branded items serve two major purposes: they are a subtle way of putting your brand in physical spaces and building recognition, of course, but they are also effective reminders. Everybody loves free stuff, and the regular presence of your branding increases the likelihood that your satisfied customer brings your business up in conversation.

“We give customers nice branded items that they are likely to carry around like a Yeti tumbler, which is a great conversation starter and/or reminder,” said Shawn Breyer, owner of Breyer Home Buyers.

At the very least, circulating branded items starts to build general recognition of your business in public and, at best, starts a conversation that leads to more sales.

2. Implement a referral rewards programs

Naturally, people are more likely to offer recommendations if they’re getting something in return. Offering a reward, whether it’s cash, a discount or even something as simple as a raffle entry, can incentivize satisfied customers to recommend your business when they might have otherwise forgotten.

“[We] offer people a $1,000 referral fee if they recommend someone to us and we buy their house from them,” Breyer said. “We have a follow-up campaign to keep this in their mind in case they happen to come across a friend or relative that needs to sell.”

Of course, your reward doesn’t have to be cold, hard cash. Consider offering a discount to the referrer and the person they referred, thereby encouraging word of mouth recommendations as well as follow-through on the referred individual’s part.

3. Capture customer recommendations digitally

Although word of mouth recommendations aren’t digital, that doesn’t mean you can’t capture them and turn them into a pillar of your digital marketing strategy. If a customer offers positive feedback or refers new business your way, ask them if they would write an online review.

“Whether it be broad ratings and review sites like Facebook or Google, … industry-centric sites like Yelp or Angie’s List, or … a service like TrustPilot, the goal is to build word-of-mouth into public, accessible proof-points,” said Eric Quanstrom, CMO at Cience. “There are few elements of trust so powerful as seeing plenty of reviews for an SMB.”

Once you’ve captured some reviews, Quanstrom added, consider tying them into your referral rewards and customer loyalty programs for an added impact.

4. Send personalized follow-ups

As a small business, one of your greatest advantages is being personal and relatable. Large companies can simply not interact with customers the same way a small business can, even in the day and age of live chats and automated email marketing. Leveraging your close connection to the customer to personally thank them for their patronage or send a small gift could go a long way to starting a conversation.

“Remember, [small businesses] can do things that larger enterprises rarely can scale … like sending hand-written thank you [letters] or small tokens of appreciation, and incorporating individual customer’s feedback,” said Zach Messler, a small business messaging and positioning advisor.

5. Simply ask

Satisfied customers are often willing to spread the word if you just ask. Consider requesting a testimonial that you can use on your website and social media or send follow ups to customers asking for feedback and, if they’re satisfied, to spread the word or write a short review.

“[S]end an email from the president or CEO thanking them for their patronage and requesting that if they were satisfied, they leave a review on a particular site,” said Laura Troyani, founder and principal of B2B marketing company PlanBeyond. “The key to making this work is repetition. The entire process is a numbers game, meaning you have to cast a wide net and ask a lot of customers to get just one review.”

It all comes down to customer engagement

At the core of encouraging word of mouth recommendations is engaging meaningfully with your customers. Offering incentives is great, but you want to speak to your customers on the personal level that only a small business can. If you do so, you might find that people are more enthusiastic about spreading positive information about your business.

3 Ways to Reduce Travel and Expense Spending

The back office is arguably the most outdated department of the modern enterprise. Many companies have large accounting teams in place to control spending, but these processes can be tedious, time-consuming and wasteful. A huge source of leakage is travel and expense (T&E), which is the second-largest controllable business expense after salaries and benefits. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most complex and difficult to control. Over a third of T&E spend is wasted on out-of-policy expenses, mistakes and even outright employee fraud, according to proprietary data published in AppZen’s latest report, “The State of AI in Business Spend.”

While juggling so many other priorities, how do modern finance teams tackle the issue of T&E spend? It’s illogical, and likely not even feasible, to check every line of every receipt attached to an employee’s expense report. Below are three recommendations to reduce T&E spend based on real-world insights from aggregated, anonymized enterprise data from close to 1,000 enterprises.

Editor’s note: Looking for accounting software for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.

 

1. Outline what employees can and cannot reimburse  

First, setting clear expectations and guidelines around travel and expense is crucial. If you don’t already have one, it’s imperative to create a well-defined policy and clearly communicate to your employees what can and cannot be reimbursed. To create some useful benchmarks, we dug into our data to understand reimbursement trends. What do other companies allow? What thresholds do companies set without having to do approvals on a case-by-case basis?

Here’s what we found.

Expenses that increase connectivity and collaboration are very likely to be reimbursed: 41 percent of companies reimburse cell phone services and 37 percent reimburse internet services. Additionally, the majority of business travel expenses are reimbursed – air travel upgrades, which used to be considered a luxury, are increasingly being approved. Twenty-eight percent of companies will approve a flight upgrade within reason –under $50. However, less essential travel perks like room service (16 percent of companies reimburse) and minibars (15 percent reimburse) are still scrutinized. Non-essential items such as clothing (19 percent reimburse) and coffee card reloads (9 percent reimburse) are also less likely to be approved. We recommend you keep these spend averages in mind as benchmarks for a new or more thorough policy.

Another consideration for your expense policy is items for recognition and perks, which are increasingly being reimbursed. Health club visits (11 percent reimburse) and gifts for employees and customers (46 percent reimburse) are becoming more common and might be worth including in your standard policy. Although it may seem counterintuitive to recommend approving more of these seemingly frivolous expenses, in the long run, it will save your accounting team valuable time they would otherwise waste getting additional approvals back and forth in an endless chain of emails.

2. Stop manual audits and start using artificial intelligence

The next step is to gain visibility into your expenses without manually reviewing each report. On average, accounting departments at large enterprises processed 4,374 expense reports last quarter alone. With such a high volume, accounting departments just don’t have the resources or time to manually research the legitimacy of each expense report – and even if they did, finding an out-of-policy item can seem like finding a needle in a haystack. Today, most companies only review about 15-20 percent of their expense reports, and in an attempt to reach 100 percent audit, many organizations resort to offshoring their expense audit to outsourced teams. However, this process is usually after-the-fact when the money is already unrecoverable and is still tedious and costly.

What’s the solution? If you randomly sample expense reports, as many companies currently do, it’s mathematically impossible to catch every fraudulent expense. However, catching them is crucial. These items add up to over one third of total reimbursed dollars. We recommend companies implement artificial intelligence (AI) into their spend audit process, which over time will help identify spending trends, stop leakage, and influence T&E policy changes as needed. AI allows companies to reduce their expense costs up to 5 percent and cut down processes by over 80 percent – a win-win.  

3. Catch unnecessary spend before reimbursement

Submitting business expenses may seem like a straightforward process. You go on a trip, expense the flight, hotel and meals and get reimbursed in two weeks – simple, right? However, for some unscrupulous employees, it’s not so straightforward. We’ve seen it all – strip clubs, dog kennels, jewelry, cigarettes and gambling losses being among the most notable expenses submitted and caught by AppZen. Although these charges may seem like obvious violations that a human auditor could find, they often fly under the radar with generic names on their receipts, such as “K-Kel, Inc.,” which is actually a strip club, submitted under the guise of a business meal. AI systems can cross-reference online systems and learn over time which organizations fall into which categories, flagging fraudulent spend that human auditors would likely miss.

With a clearly-defined policy, visibility into expenses and a method for identifying fraud, your company will be well-equipped to innovate its back-office processes and reduce spending.

3 Ways to Jumpstart Your Digital Planning For 2019

There is no doubt that digital has shaped the way we live. While this digital landscape continues to provide boundless opportunities, it also brings oversaturation of numerous markets — largely in content-related fields such as publishing, marketing, and social media. 

To compete in an oversaturated market, you need a strong, bulletproof digital strategy. Engaging with your customer-base, potential or current, is about taking the time to invest in understanding them, so you can strategize around their selective actions. What made one consumer get to the end of the buyer’s journey just to close out of the cart on your e-commerce site? Pinpointing areas such as this will help identify where you may be faltering, and where the customer feels a bit left down. In 2018, 59% of consumers said tailored engagement based on their previous interactions with a business were key contributors to winning their business.

Translating this ideology into your 2019 business plan doesn’t have to be complex, but it will take time to plan and execute. Strategy doesn’t come from throwing money at things and hoping they work out — it comes from collaboration with a team dedicated to the same end goal as you: customer satisfaction that drives growth. 

Here are three ways to improve your digital planning during Q1.

1. Optimize for Mobile

With newzoo reporting that there are nearly 3.3 billion smartphone users worldwide, a smart place to start your digital planning is mobile optimization. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many websites aren’t entirely optimized for mobile. Whether it be the checkout cart or the entire display showing as a desktop browser (read: microscopic and illegible) on the five-inch screen of a smartphone, both are everyday examples of actions that drive customers away from doing business with you. 

This dampers their experience — who wants to click “check out” 10 times in a row only for nothing to happen while trying to make an on-the-go purchase via smartphone? While a percentage of users will take to their computers to finalize their purchase, you shouldn’t settle for lost sales due to the lack of optimization. 2018 was the year of personalization and customer-centric approaches in the marketing world, and 2019 will elevate these practices. Ensuring the experience you provide isn’t dampened whether someone interacts via desktop or mobile should be step one. 

Conduct a website analysis to ensure your message is still accurate and effective, and also uncover problem areas your site may be experiencing on certain devices or browsers. Additionally, video should be a part of your plan, regardless of your industry or market. Videos drive engagement and are time efficient when distributed in easily accessible ways. Any video with audio should be uploaded with subtitles for those that are unable to audibly tune in, yet still want the key takeaways from the content within. 

While ensuring your website loads in a mobile format when visited on an Android or iPhone will create the look and feel of a business that has a focus and is driven with purpose and an eye for the customers wants and needs; this is just the start. Now it’s time to dive inward and dissect. 

2. Utilize All Data Sources

If you’re already tracking your website’s analytics via Google Analytics or using a specific company to track your engagements, backlinks and site actions, then you’re off to a good start. If not, now is the time to rev up your research and invest in tracking your various metrics. 

When it comes to data, there’s much more to be analyzed beyond your main website. Take social media, for example. More than likely, your business has a presence on a few social platforms. You may even use a social media management tool like Hootsuite or SproutSocial to plan out your social content and browse through your feeds. 

These social tools aren’t here to simplify the streamlining process and to establish consistent posting patterns — though these are clear benefits. They also serve as data mines into the backend of your social profiles on these various channels.  

With these tools, you can search who you’re reaching on which platform, the demographics they make up, and research conversations taking place around your brand, or the keywords you hope to associate your brand with.  

3. Be Lean, But Intentional

Too often, businesses think to gain traction and elevate brand awareness, they must exist on every platform known to consumers, whether it’s pertinent to their business plan or not. While the idea at its core isn’t illogical, it simply won’t grant you results.

Instead of burning out your social media strategist, work smarter. Utilize the data you’ve gathered to make educated decisions on where you need to be — where your customers are engaging. 

Starting out with a lean and intentional game plan will allow you to remain consistent and goal-oriented. You’ll have the bandwidth on deck to plan out and engage with others on the various platforms you’ve selected to start your brand-building off of, and will be collecting the data needed to make pivots where need be. 

If you’re not utilizing disappearing videos because you’re not on Instagram, yet 75% of your target market spends three to five hours a day engaging with others on the platform, you’re losing out on quality leads brought on by simply connecting to them in their environment. 

It may take time to collect data that guides your business decisions from the jump, but this will put you in great standing to look back after quarter one of the new year and evaluate what worked and what needs to be adjusted. As long as your message is consistent and posted with known intent, your business will be in good shape. 

To grow in business, you must think, plan and act strategically. Focus on the fundamentals when you’re building out your digital plan for the new year and recognize that in 2019, it’s not digital perception that wins; it’s the experience you carefully craft online or in-store.

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