Hello, all! I’m Lauren, and I’m new here. Well, scratch that — I’m a regular visitor but a new contributor.
I’ve known Grace for a while now, and we share a passion for supporting and strengthening communities of women entrepreneurs, as well as a love of great design and independent spirit. We got a chance to connect further when my business partner Emira and I interviewed Grace for our book, The Boss of You: Everything A Woman Needs to Know to Start, Run, and Maintain Her Own Business. That conversation revealed that we had found a real kindred spirit, and so I was thrilled when Grace invited us to contribute to her Biz Ladies series here on d*s.
I’ll be covering a few different topics, but to start with I’ll be talking about HR for the self-employed. In this series of posts, I want to share some of the ways Emira & I have tried to be our own (and each other’s) best-ever bosses, by treating ourselves like valuable employees. Along the way, I’ll pass along some of the best advice I’ve received from other entrepreneurs, and tell you a few stories from our company’s nine-year history that I hope will help spare some of you the headaches we had.
I want to say up front that we still have a long way to go. I’d love to say that we have mastered work-life balance, and that we leave work at 5 o’clock every day and never work on the weekends, but I’d be lying. What I can do, though, is speak from the perspective of an entrepreneur who at least puts self-care on the agenda, and whose vision of success involves a healthy balance of hard work and well-earned rewards.
My goal here is to help all of you hardworking entrepreneurs, who are dreaming big and striving to leave your unique stamp on the world, spend a little bit of your tremendous energy making the journey towards that big dream as satisfying as the destination. It’s too easy for us to get caught up in the vision we’re driving towards and ignore our own health and well-being along the way. If you can have a life while you run your business — if you can lead a healthy, well-rested, diverse life, that is, rather than a workaholic one — your clarity, productivity, and creativity will all benefit. And those aren’t things that are just nice to have — they’re critical to your success as an entrepreneur.
With all that said, let’s dive in and talk about one concrete way Emira and I have tried to make our self-employed lives happier and healthier: by showering ourselves with job perks!
(OK, “showering” is an exaggeration… but I wanted to catch your attention. Did it work?)
CLICK HERE for the rest of Lauren’s post after the jump!
Very early on in our entrepreneurial adventure, we realized that in becoming our own bosses, we had lost many of the perks of being full-time employees: We were no longer eligible for employment insurance; we didn’t have extended health benefits; and perhaps most frightening of all, if one or both of us became unable to work (due to, say, those pesky repetitive strain injuries us geeky web designer types are prone to), both our financial futures were at risk. It wasn’t long before we were up to our eyeballs in scintillating literature describing disability insurance, health insurance, and retirement savings plans.
The exciting part was that we had the power to put together the best benefits plan we could imagine. The downside, of course, was that we were the ones who’d be paying for it. So we had to find the middle ground between subsidized-massage fantasy and fiscally-solvent reality.
Now, before I break down how we put together our benefits plan, I want to clarify why I think every entrepreneur should give themselves a benefits package. The short answer is that we all have days when we catch ourselves daydreaming about not being the boss anymore, and going back to working for someone else — days when it just seems infinitely simpler not to be the one making the big decisions and shouldering the financial risks. And when those days come, you need to have a stockpile of very good reasons to keep on truckin’. The lure of a steady paycheck and benefits is one of the most tempting things about that other life you could be leading, so I strongly suggest you set up your own company to be a viable competitor with the imaginary employer in your daydream. Think of it as your way of improving employee retention.
So, what do you need to put together a killer benefits package? It’s pretty simple, really. First, figure out what you need. Make a little wishlist. Use broad brushstrokes. Our list was: Health & dental package (with room for spouses & dependents); disability insurance; RRSP (that’s Canadian for 401(K)) matching; vacation; and reimbursed expenses. Once we had our list, we started asking around for help. We talked to an insurance broker about our insurance options, and we talked to all our entrepreneurial friends about what they were doing, what they’d tried in the past, and what they hoped to do in future.
Step two is to determine what the company can & should pay for. I suggest you talk to your bookkeeper and/or accountant about what’s smartest from a financial/business perspective. This will vary a lot from one region to the next, but for us, we discovered that we had to pay our own disability insurance premiums personally — the business couldn’t pay for those. And they weren’t cheap, but we decided we would sleep a whole lot better knowing that if, heaven forbid, one of us should develop carpal tunnel syndrome, we’d be provided for financially. So rather than have the business pay for the insurance, we factored the added personal expenses into our salary calculations and made a plan to increase our salaries accordingly, as soon as we could afford to.
That brings me to an important note: You’re probably all asking yourselves how the heck you’re going to pay for all this stuff. Well, we chose to look at it as an inevitable cost of business — something we were going to have to pay for sooner or later. If and when we brought on staff, we knew we’d want to provide them with a competitive benefits package, so why wouldn’t we expect one ourselves? And since we’re the ones who determine our pricing, ultimately we have the power to ensure our revenues are high enough to provide decent compensation. So we tackled it like we would any other expense: we shopped around, figured out a budget, and worked out a plan for phasing in the new costs.
It’s also worth asking your bookkeeper/accountant what expenses your business can pay for that might otherwise be incurred personally. For example, when we started our business, we immediately instituted a company bus pass policy: both of us get bus passes every month, and the company pays for them. (This benefit is now extended to our staff, too.) It makes good financial sense for stuff like this, i.e. personal expenses that relate to your work, to be paid for by your company, with before-tax dollars, rather than with your own after-tax money. The eligibility of expenses will vary, so do check with your favourite number-cruncher and get their advice on whether you can get your company to pay for things like work-related books, lunches with clients, or the CDs you play in your store. Obviously, there are limits on how much spending you want your company to do, but if it’s stuff you’d be paying for anyway, it’s valuable to examine where to draw the money from.
OK, I think that’s more than enough for one blog post. I’ll be writing more on HR stuff, from paying yourself a decent salary to improving your job satisfaction, as well as things like making your first hire. (I’ll also be posting occasionally on online marketing questions, since that’s kinda my day job.) If you’ve got questions you’d like me to address, please leave them in the comments. Thanks for reading!