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Strategies to help businesses navigate an uncertain economy

It is an important component of the great American dream:  Be your own boss by starting your own business. The idea is great but the reality much more complex, and many small and medium-sized business owners find themselves plunged into a nightmare of infinite paperwork, economic woes, tightened budgets and the skyrocketing costs associated with owning a company. Many may begin to question, do I really own this business?

As the country starts to gradually recover from the recent economic crisis, many employers are wondering how they can move forward. Successful entrepreneurs know that in order to come out on top, chances must be taken and brave moves must be made. This can be accomplished with forward-thinking human resources (HR) strategies designed to help relieve administrative headaches and align the organization with new goals to help steer it in the right direction.

Here are some strategies to help business owners regain control and move forward with the company they have always envisioned.

-- Guard your business from government expansion. The role of government in small and medium-sized businesses has inevitably become more aggressive. As a result, instead of focusing on core competencies and growing the business, many business owners can find themselves trying to keep up with masses of paperwork, increases in corporate income taxes and other programs, and the rising costs of health care coverage.

One of the best ways to help safeguard your business is to stay up-to-date on all of the local, state and federal laws that could affect your organization. This includes taxes, workplace policies and potential health care reform. Familiarize yourself with these ever-changing laws and stay compliant. This can help you make informed decisions and avoid unnecessary fines and penalties that could potentially interrupt productivity and financially drain your business.

-- Enhance employee communication. It is only instinctive for employees to also have concern about the economic turbulence and how it will affect their job and workplace. Sharing information and allowing employees to address their concerns may help put any fears and tension to rest. Maintaining an open line of communication can also help improve morale and productivity.

-- Expand training resources. Take advantage of training opportunities during slower periods to help improve employee skills and productivity. Training can provide employees with the tools they need to enhance efficiencies that may avert the need to increase staff later during busier times.

-- Reduce operating expenses. Now is an ideal time to re-examine company expenditures to determine any additional areas that could be trimmed. For example, research your benefits options. Are there any areas that could be trimmed? Make sure you are getting the most for your money. While some options may have seemed important during more prosperous times, they could now be considered extra perks. You may be surprised at the end results.

-- Lessen employment threats. While making adjustments can aid the company, they can also open it to potential liabilities. Carefully analyze any changes to reduce potential employment claims or litigation that could disrupt productivity and negatively affect profitability. Proper assessment, management and communication can help potentially save thousands of dollars and even the business itself. There are many resources available to help you make informed decisions. Seek the advice of legal counsel when in doubt to avoid unnecessary risks.

-- Employ incentive compensation plans. Aligning new company objectives with individual or group job functions can be better accomplished with incentive plans. Transitions can occur more smoothly, and motivation and productivity levels can increase when an incentive is added to the mix. Simple gestures, such as paid time off, can help ignite the spark needed to achieve new goals and yield happier clients.

-- Exhibit empathy. Display kindness and maintain professionalism when employees leave your company. Whether you can offer outplacement services or provide referrals, there is something to be said about a company that goes the extra mile. It sends a positive message and can help improve staff morale. It also shows the community and future employees your true colors.

-- Revitalize your work force. Layoffs should always be a last resort and may not always be the best solution. One of the worst mistakes is to downsize staff only to find a big gap that affects productivity. In fact, many businesses have found that even the smallest reorganization can help streamline productivity. You may find that some employees may better serve in other functions. If you are considering hiring, know that you have the advantage of a bigger pool of talent to consider.

-- Seize additional initiatives. Someone else’s loss could be just the gain you need to revive your business. If you have been considering a new venture or adding a new product or service, now may be the best time to act on it. Many companies may be seeking ways to spin off their loss to the right buyer.

-- Proactively seek new business. Slower periods are often the best times to personally visit with clients and prospects. This demonstrates your company’s commitment to providing the products and services customers expect and prospects want. Rekindling relationships with former clients may also generate new business opportunities.

Despite the volatility of the economy, owning your own business is still the American dream. As the business owner and employer, you can reclaim control of your business with a strategic HR plan. By focusing on fundamental components and making the right modifications, employers may find that owning a company can be quite rewarding.

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Ross Astramecki is a regional vice president for Administaff (NYSE: ASF), the nation's leading professional employer organization (PEO), serving as a full-service human resources department that provides small and medium-sized businesses with administrative relief, big-company benefits, reduced liabilities and a systematic way to improve productivity. The company operates 50 sales offices in 23 major markets. For more information, call 800-465-3800 or visit www.administaff.com.