April 24, 2024

High-Tech Hiring

Barbara Miracle | 4/1/1999
Tim Fargo has found a strategy that helps him compete with larger Florida companies for employees. He's turning to the Internet. "The market is so competitive, you want to use as many options as you can to find someone," says Fargo, owner of St. Petersburg-based Omega Insurance Services, an insurance fraud investigation company with about 60 employees.

Many small companies such as Omega are posting their job openings on the Web, particularly when they're looking for technology-savvy workers. Most small businesses, however, don't generate a lot of traffic to their company Web sites. One solution is to post job openings on a Web site designed specifically for matching resumes posted by people looking for work with job descriptions from companies looking for workers.

Here's how it works: The employer posts a job opening by filling out a form online or by mailing or phoning in the information. Costs range anywhere from $50 to nearly $400. Job seekers search the listings and, when they find one of interest, can link to the company's Web site, where they can find more information on the available position as well as details of how to apply for the job. Posting jobs online "keeps our name out there and gives people a nice seven-days-a-week information portal," explains Fargo.

Cool Sites

• Headhunters.com. This Web site, originally designed solely for technology industry jobs, now links job-seekers in a variety of industries. It does not accept commercial advertising. Employers pay $108 for their company profile and $45 for a 25-word job description that is posted 90 days.

• Monster.com. There are more than 1 million resumes in this database, which can be sorted to eliminate resumes that don't meet the recruiting company's basic requirements and to prioritize those that do. The cost is $225 for 60 days and includes a full page for job description, company profile, etc.

• Jobtrak.com. Nearly 800 college and university career centers nationwide are linked through this site. For employers, the cost is $18 to post with one school, $90 for five to seven schools and $395 to cover the entire database of schools. Time period for posting varies.

Florida small businesses may want to target potential job candidates at universities, also. At the University of Florida, for example, the Grad system (Gator Recruiting Activities Database) charges recruiters $50 to match students with companies, using criteria such as course of study and job skills. FSU has a similar system, called Seminole Profiles, coming online this fall. "It's an interesting time in recruiting because the Web has changed so much," says Rick Sayers, associate director for employer relations at the UF Career Resource Center. He recommends that businesses reinforce their Internet advertising by advertising in college newspapers, participating in college career fairs and building relationships with academic departments and professors.

Building Loyalty

You've found good employees, now how do you keep them? While salary and other monetary benefits such as bonuses and retirement plans are important, there is a lot more involved in satisfying employees. "Give them freedom not only to do the job but to have the room to improve it," suggests Tim Fargo, owner of St. Petersburg-based Omega Insurance Services. Have a clear objective, but allow employees to use their own style. If you're too rigid, you'll stamp out their flame.

A few tips for keeping employees happy:
• Assess Interests and Skills. Take the time to ascertain employees' strengths and weaknesses. Matching the employee to the right job is critical.
• Instill Confidence. If an employee is struggling, help him or her out. Sit down for a talk and find out what part of the job is the problem. Perhaps a few days of training will make the difference and prevent the employee from quitting.
• Offer Praise. Remember, everyone needs positive recognition. Sometimes a brief note or a few complimentary words to an employee will go further than a few more dollars in their paycheck. Let employees know when you're pleased; it encourages them to continue to do well.
• Promote From Within. Let employees know that they can achieve their goals and aspirations within the company. Sit down with employees periodically and find out about their career goals. When possible, be flexible about the credentials required for a job. Says Fargo, "Don't spend too much time looking for pedigree." -- Mindy Tanenbaum

Fidelity Offers Internet 401(k)

In the past two decades, there has been a sharp increase in the popularity of 401(k) plans as large employers embraced retirement plans funded primarily by employees. Small businesses haven't jumped on the 401(k) bandwagon in large numbers, though, fearing a deluge of administrative paperwork.

This summer, Fidelity Investments, the nation's largest mutual fund company, will begin offering small businesses an Internet 401(k) plan (www.401k.com or www.fidelity.com). Called the Fidelity "e401(k)," it's designed to be easier to manage and less expensive than a traditional 401(k). The mutual fund company hopes that the retirement product will be particularly appealing to professional service, software, engineering, biotechnology and other high-tech companies.
Employers will sign up for the plan and handle all administration, from recordkeeping to employee enrollment, on the Internet. Employees also will be able to access information about their accounts online.

The e401(k) will give small business owners choices in terms of how much of employees' investments the company will match, vesting schedules and eligibility. Fidelity will offer a menu of about 35 of its mutual fund investments, including domestic and international equity, fixed-income and money market funds. Small business owners may, however, choose to offer a more limited number of funds to its employees.

Finance: SBA Targets Rural & Inner City Areas

The U.S. Small Business Administration is working on an ambitious package of tax credits, loan guarantees, investment capital and technical assistance to spur business growth in distressed rural areas and inner-cities. The proposals are part of President Clinton's federal budget for fiscal year 2000. "The real focus for us is new markets," says Aida Alvarez, SBA administrator, who adds, "A lot of the focus is on smaller-size businesses."

The SBA's "New Markets Initiative" is designed to stimulate $15 billion in new public and private investment in underserved U.S. communities. The package includes:
• New Markets Venture Capital Companies. If the idea is approved by Congress, SBA will begin a pilot program to develop 10 to 20 private, for-profit venture capital companies that will help small businesses in low to moderate income areas -- census tracts in which at least 20% of residents are below the poverty level or the median family income is less than 80% of median family income for the surrounding areas. "With the new market venture capital companies, we're looking to serve a need for equity-type investments of $50,000 to $300,000," says Alvarez.
Each venture company will be required to raise at least $5 million in private investment capital; SBA will match the funds with up to $10 million in long-term government loans. Interest on the debt will be deferred for the first five years to allow the venture capital companies time to grow small businesses without the immediate pressure of producing returns on their equity investments. Private investors also must agree to provide at least $1.5 million in technical assistance for each venture capital company, with SBA providing a 30% match in the form of technical assistance grants.
• New Markets Lending Companies. The SBA will open up its popular 7(a) loan program to approximately 10 non-bank lenders that target small businesses in distressed urban and rural areas.
• New Markets Tax Credit. To bolster support for the new market venture capital companies and other investment funds, President Clinton's budget proposes a 25% tax credit for investments serving "new market" communities.
Other parts of the initiative include incentives for small business investment corporations (SBICs) that target distressed areas and BusinessLINC, a public-private partnership designed to encourage large businesses to work with small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Building Cyber-Portfolios

LightPort.com is pitching its Web design services to independent financial advisers, brokerage firms and mutual funds.

When Jonathan Bentley launched LightPort.com in New Port Richey two years ago, he faced an uphill battle. His plan, to build Web sites for money managers, was ahead of its time. The problem? The independent financial advisers didn't think their wealthy clients -- mostly elderly -- were interested in monitoring portfolios on the Web. About half the money managers he contacted indicated their clients weren't the types to use the Net to follow the markets, Bentley says.
News reports of seniors' increasing use of the Internet, however, are changing investment advisers' attitudes, albeit slowly. When Bentley, 44, opened LightPort.com, he estimates that only 2% to 3% of advisers had Web sites; now it's about 15%. "We're adding 40 to 50 new firms a month," he says.

Clients pay LightPort.com $3,000 on average to build a "virtual office" site, which typically includes information about the adviser, links to key financial resources and client portfolios -- updated weekly, monthly or quarterly. There's a $200 monthly hosting fee. And although LightPort.com will maintain the site for an additional fee, clients can do it themselves.

Bentley, who spent 20 years in the brokerage business at Merrill Lynch and Raymond James, has tinkered with computer applications for investment work for years. Bentley left Raymond James in the mid 1990s and opened his own investment advisory firm, Walker & Bentley, where he designed the company's Web site. Soon he abandoned the advisory business to focus full-time on Web design.

Today, LightPort.com employs 20 programmers, Web designers and sales staffers in its small-town Pasco County location. In 1998, the company posted $500,000 in sales to 150 small to mid-size advisory firms that typically manage $100 million to $1 billion. Bentley projects a sharp increase in the number of advisory firm clients and a dramatic increase in sales to $4.5 million this year -- the result of LightPort.com's recent deals with three financial powerhouses: California-based Advent Software, Performance Technologies (a subsidiary of Charles Schwab) and Fidelity Investments Institutional Brokerage Group.

To finance LightPort.com so far, Bentley has spent just under $1 million -- partly his own savings and the rest from a half-dozen outside "angel" investors. Now, he's trying to raise venture capital. At first, "we thought $1 million," he says, adding, "It might end up being $2 million to $3 million."

For now, Bentley isn't ready to jump on the Wall Street bandwagon for Internet initial public offerings. He asserts, "That market is so hot, it's like a bubble that could pop."

Small Talk


Arthur Andersen's Center for Family Business is sponsoring "Managing Succession Without Conflict," a two-and-a-half-day conference on May 5-7 in Orlando. The program is designed to help family-owned and closely held businesses and their management. Conference topics include growth and profitability in a changing marketplace, effective management during a generational transition and strategies for balancing the needs and desires of the present owners and successors. The cost is $2,000 for the first participant, $1,500 for each additional participant from the same company. For more details, call 800/924-2770 or check the Web (www.arthurandersen.com).

Safety Strategies

A new edition of "The OSHA Answer Book" is available from Jacksonville's Moran Publishing Co. The 320-page book, published in December 1998, presents plain English explanations of Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards and compliance requirements. The book includes information on inspector visits and OSHA compliance, including training, recordkeeping and reporting. To purchase ($59 plus $6 handling), call Moran Associates at 800/597-2040 or order online (www.moranbooks.com).

Small Biz Concerns

The top 15 small business concerns revolve around healthcare, taxes and capital, according to National Small Business United, a bipartisan small business advocacy organization. Participants at the group's Small Business Congress in February chose healthcare reform as their top priority. Other key issues include tax parity and 100% deductibility of health insurance; availability of capital; elimination of the death tax; fundamental tax reform through the "fair tax"; pension reform and simplification; bankruptcy reform; regulatory reform; and capital for small business technological development.

Small-Business Adviser Technology by Edwin Bailey

Your Future Employee's Past
Technology is letting employers more easily perform background screening on prospective employees -- and imposing a higher standard if they don't. "Negligent hiring is a lawsuit waiting to happen," says Joe Langford, senior vice president of Melbourne-based Edge Information Management, a national background screening provider. In the Information Age, employers are increasingly held accountable for their employees, Langford says. "You wouldn't have been as liable 15 years ago because (criminal background) information was not as readily available as it is today."

Nursing homes and home healthcare companies are required by law to perform background screening on potential employees, a requirement that was expanded last year. If a prospective employee hasn't lived in Florida for more than five years, a more extensive background check is required, including a possible FBI fingerprint check. "That's not to say that a person with a criminal record doesn't need to work," explains Langford, "just maybe not in that particular job."
Langford says that the way the state of Florida manages criminal history information it's much easier to service companies' requests for background checks here than in most states. "Florida is technologically more advanced in maintaining and disseminating criminal information," he says.

Edge sells software that a company can use to record data on a prospective employee, such as name, Social Security number, birthdate, etc. That information is transferred by modem to Edge, along with parameters, chosen by the employer, defining the desired depth of the screening. Edge researchers perform the screening and report back to the employer. In addition to a fee for software, clients are charged for each background check. Rates depend on the type and depth of the search.

"Because we're such a litigious society, background screening is growing by leaps and bounds," says Langford. "It's not the only test in finding a good employee," he adds, "just an important piece of the puzzle."

Gun Ban
Some Florida gun dealers are smarting from a decision by eBay, the Web's largest person-to-person auction, that it will no longer permit firearms or firearm accessories to be sold through its Web site (ebay.com). Worried about possible illegal transactions, eBay says it will no longer accept listings for any firearms, including antique pistols and rifles that federal regulations do not even govern. Subsequently, eBay held an on-site forum that attracted hundreds of gun users, most of them voicing their displeasure at what they called an unfair policy.

"I really think it's a mistake," says David Seltzer, owner of Bird Road Gun Shop in Miami. "When you sell a gun through the Internet, it has to go to a licensed gun dealer. That way, a background check is done on anyone who buys a gun. If you sell through a newspaper ad, you have no idea who's getting it." Seltzer has listed guns on eBay and on his own company's Web site (americangun.com). Even though he has a physical store, he says the Internet accounts for a "certain portion" of his revenue. The Internet is an ideal place for gun sales, according to Seltzer, because guns are a niche product. "If someone is selling an Olympic target rifle, there may be one person looking for it. The Internet gives you a broader base of customers" all over the U.S.

Audit Odds
If you haven't filed your income taxes yet, you should check out an interesting tool on Money magazine's Web site. "Are You Audit Bait?" will calculate the statistical probability, based on your itemized deductions, of your being audited by the IRS. The calculator is based on a formula written by statistics professor and author Amir Aczel.

Tags: Florida Small Business, Politics & Law, Business Florida

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