The genius of using benefits as a strategic tool for competitive advantage

By Susan Solovic, THE Small Business Expert

If you’re a small business owner, staying ahead of recruiting and retaining top talent is one critical way to grow. Yet, when MetLife conducted its most recent Employee Benefit Trends Study (EBTS), it found that only 16 percent of small business owners are planning to change their benefits package in the coming year. This suggests that 84 percent are planning to maintain their “status quo” – and that can impede attracting and retaining top talent.

Don’t miss opportunities

As our economy has become information-based and service-based – and with technology constantly evolving – operations within small businesses require employees with much more knowledge, flexibility, and willingness to learn. Finding and keeping this kind of talent can feel challenging.

Not long ago I was holding “Outrageous Success” sessions at locations for small business owners across the country and more recently I’ve been conducting a series of webcasts in advance of my new book: The One-Percent Edge: Small Changes That Guarantee Relevance and Build Sustainable Success.

As I’ve talked to small business owners, they tell me how quickly markets and technologies are changing and how they alone can’t keep pace. They need to bring in others who are willing to share the load, grow, and change as the business moves forward. This is a far cry from the days of the neighborhood shopkeeper or even the corner garage, where owners could generally handle all aspects of the business.

Move forward

Here’s my question: Are you part of nearly 20 percent of small business owners looking to improve your employee benefits strategy? This will give you a marked advantage over your competitors who are satisfied with what they’re doing.

Let me show you how this can pay off in real terms. According to the MetLife survey, having the ability to customize the benefits you offer goes a long way toward recruiting and keeping the talent you need to run your organization:

  • 67 percent will be more loyal to their current employer, and
  • 70 percent will be more likely to accept a job with a new employer (one who offers custom benefits).

Differentiate your culture

I often talk about differentiation and its relationship to business success. Usually I cover the topic from the point of differentiating your product or service from the consumer’s perspective. However, the same principle applies to the culture you create in your business.

Here’s another question for you: Throughout your professional life, have you discovered companies that people really want to work at? I bet you could list some. A few things can make a company desirable in this way.

  • They are perceived as the industry leader.
  • They pay well.
  • They treat their employees great.

Now here’s the secret: Usually all of those attributes have come together in the organizations where people want to work. That’s not an accident and the most important single reason is third on my list: They treat their employees great.

When employees are happy and loyal, you put yourself in the position to become the industry leader and when you become the industry leader, profits increase and salaries alongside them. This positive triad of organizational attributes creates an unbeatable company culture.

Check your attitude

Understanding all of this, I want you to do a quick attitude check. What is your attitude about the benefits you offer your team:

  • Do you view benefits just as something you have to offer, or
  • Do you view benefits as a strategic element you can manage to push the success of your business?

I suspect that if I asked 100 small business owners why they offer benefits or not, many of them would simply answer, “Because we always have.”

I suggest you take a more strategic and proactive approach to benefits. Medical, dental, and vision are the most common and most well-understood benefits, but benefits such as disability, legal service plans, and accident insurance can also make your business attractive. And, some of these can be offered at little to no cost to the employer. You need to get yourself and your employees up to speed on the full range of benefits that you can offer.

Finally, MetLife recently joined with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to create a quarterly Small Business Index to monitor the state of small businesses.  The Q3 Index found that small businesses were doing quite well. Most (56 percent) said they saw sales increasing in the coming year and 61 percent reported being in good overall financial health.

Will there be a better time to put benefits in place that will make you more competitive going forward? I don’t think so.

To learn more about how small business owners can attract and retain qualified employees, download MetLife’s infographic on how to build culture and win with talent here.

Editor’s note: This is a sponsored post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.