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business operations Operate operations Structure Work

4 Partners that Have the Biggest Impact on Your Business

partners impact

No business is an island unto itself — companies need strong partnerships to survive. Every contract you sign, and every hand you shake represents the beginning of a relationship, one that can have an immense impact on how you do business. 

It can be difficult to know ahead of time how a certain partnership will affect your company. While you may never be able to know for certain whether or not a partnership will be symbiotic in the long-term, you can start by identifying the partners most crucial to your operations. While every company is different, they all need a key group of allies to survive, such as:

1. Accountants

You may make money, but accountants are the ones who help make that money work for you. Considering the key role that accounts play in making businesses work, far too many leaders don’t feel their trusted partners are doing enough. According to a report published by payroll services company OnPay, only 61% of small business owners are delighted with the range of services their accountant provides. If you want that partnership to work, you need to find an accountant ready to meet your needs.

Businesspeople tend to think of accountants as a homogeneous group, but this is far from the truth: up to one-third of accountants now consider themselves specialists, with even more on their way to becoming ones. Don’t feel the need to settle for the first accountant you come across; do a thorough search for an individual with specialties that match the way you do business.

2. Vendors

Your company needs stuff, and your vendors get you the stuff you need — simple, right? As most business leaders know, the reality is far more complicated than that. Working with vendors means managing logistics, costs, and establishing a healthy rapport, sometimes with dozens of different companies at once. It’s no wonder that, according to a survey done by TechRepublic, 57% of IT departments are now spending more time on vendors than they did just two years ago.

Working successfully with vendors means finding the right fit early on. While you may be tempted to jump on a good deal when you see one, you’ll have to work closely with a vendor for what may end up being years into the future — not even the best prices can save a doomed relationship. Ensure that other factors like location, company size, and client number all check out; the result will be better procurement for you in the long run.

3. Lawyers

While corporate spending on outside lawyers may be plummeting, most small and many mid-sized businesses simply can’t afford to have an in-house legal team. If you’re forced to have your legal work done outside the office, you know that the right lawyer can do wonders for your company — and the wrong one can hurt big.

Lawyers are even more likely to be specialized than accountants, so there’s no excuse not to find someone fully capable of taking on any challenge you may throw at them. Because most charge by the hour, you can also have several different lawyers, each prepared to take on whatever challenges they’re best suited for — whatever makes the most sense for your business.

4. Property Management

Never before has the importance of having a good relationship with your property manager been so clear: 25% of small businesses have not paid full rent on time since March, according to referral network Alignable. In times like these, having the right property manager is the difference between operation and eviction — a difference that can mean the whole world for some companies.

As with vendors, never choose a location based on price alone: you may be able to afford it now, but what will things look like if you have to delay payment for a couple of months? Connect with a property manager interested in more than just on-time payments; if you can find someone invested in your company’s mission, you’re bound to have a better relationship in the long run. 

If you can learn a lot about a person by meeting their friends, you can learn more about a business by researching their partners. The agreements you enter into will define your company for years to come, so be sure to choose them carefully.

Image credit: fauxels; Pexels

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GPO group purchasing organization Operate Small Business

7 Questions to Ask Before Joining a Group Purchasing Organization

group purchasing

There are a lot of situations where being smaller is an advantage, but negotiating with suppliers isn’t one of them. While giant corporations can negotiate on the strength of their purchasing power, smaller companies must find strength in numbers.

A group purchasing organization leverages the collective buying power of its members to secure deep discounts with vendors and distributors. Just as it’s cheaper to buy in bulk at Costco, a GPO can slash costs for your business and streamline procurement.

There are several factors to consider before joining a group purchasing organization. Here are seven questions you should ask when deciding whether to partner with one:

1. How big is your company?

In general, small- and medium-sized businesses benefit the most from joining a group purchasing organization. Large corporations typically have their own dedicated purchasing arms and massive buying power that allows them to negotiate the best prices.

McDonald’s, for instance, is the single largest purchaser of beef, which gives it enormous influence over suppliers. Unless your company has McDonald’s-level sway, a GPO can likely negotiate deeper discounts than your business ever could.

2. What are your company’s biggest expenses?

For most businesses, employee wages, benefits, and payroll tax are far and away the biggest expenses. If you’re looking for ways to cut costs without cutting jobs, you have to go farther down your P&L statement. 

One sneaky expense that can really cut into the bottom line is the cost of shipping and fulfillment. These costs can make up 15 to 20 percent of net sales, and many companies don’t realize that they’re overpaying for shipping. Joining a group purchasing organization could lower your shipping costs dramatically — even as much as 20 percent.

3. Do your employees travel frequently or use ride-share services?

The pandemic might have put widespread business travel on pause, but experts predict that those trips will ramp up again this fall. One study found that the average business trip costs companies $1,425 per traveler. (The largest expense was the employee’s hotel stay.) 

If your team travels frequently for business, you can save a lot of money by joining a GPO. Many group purchasing organizations have relationships with hotels, airlines, car-rental companies, and ride-share services. They’ve pre-negotiated the best rates for their members, which can save your business big. 

Another advantage to booking through your GPO is that it saves your team members time combing through hotel reviews. Finally, most GPOs take care of the billing or allow companies to prepay, which saves your team the hassle of submitting expense reports.

4. Does your company have a problem with maverick spending?

Just because your organization already has a procurement process in place doesn’t mean your team follows it consistently. Oftentimes, employees will book hotel rooms through popular discount sites or make small purchases without going through the correct process. 

Research shows that maverick spending can increase purchasing costs by up to 40 percent. Going through an unapproved vendor may also be a breach of contract under an existing company agreement.

Even the most rule-conscious employees can become maverick spenders if your current procurement process is too time-consuming. Working with a GPO can help discourage maverick spending by simplifying procurement for your team.

5. Has your business ever struggled with quality control due to a bad supplier?

Our world is more connected than ever before. Increased global competition drives down prices, but it also means that there are more low-quality products on the market.

Just recently, Peru purchased a large amount of cheap antibody testing kits from China to diagnose cases of COVID-19. Many of these kits were rejected by the United States because they didn’t meet standards for accurately detecting the virus.

For most businesses, quality control isn’t life or death, but poor-quality components can erode brand trust. If your company has experienced quality-control issues with suppliers, a GPO can help by providing a list of trusted vendors.

6. Is your business concerned about possible supply-chain disruptions? 

If the past year has taught us anything, it’s how fragile our supply chains really are. Global pandemics, natural disasters, and trade wars all pose a potential risk to supply chains. Since 2018, the US has been locked in a trade war with China. Talks for a post-Brexit trade deal between the UK and the EU are still ongoing.

While no one can predict the future, there’s safety in numbers. Joining a GPO gives your business more buying power whenever supplies are limited. If a particular vendor can’t get what you need, a GPO can work on your behalf to find a new supplier.

7. Could streamlining procurement free up crucial bandwidth for your team?

There’s a reason group purchasing organizations are great for the little guys. In smaller companies, the responsibility of procurement generally falls on one person’s shoulders. 

Vetting suppliers and developing those relationships takes time. So does drafting RFPs, reviewing supplier contracts, and renegotiating the terms of agreements. This is one reason why so many companies have informal supplier agreements rather than written contracts.

One benefit of a group purchasing organization is that it does the legwork for you. A GPO will comparison-shop and negotiate on your behalf. Many provide reporting and analytics, as well, which makes it easier to track company spending.

It’s difficult leading an organization in these uncertain times — particularly when you’re looking to reduce company spending. Small- to medium-sized businesses just don’t have the leverage of their giant corporate counterparts — at least not on their own. But by joining forces with a GPO, you can save money on the things your company already buys.

Image credit: Pexels

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Boundaryless onboarding Operate Productivity Remote Developer Onboarding remote developers Remote Engineer Onboarding Remote Jobs remote work Startups

How to Onboard Remote Engineers: A Practical Guide from an Expert

onboard remote engineers

Onboarding a new remote developer is arguably one of the most important things you can add to your core competencies if you want to assure your new hires’ success. Here is how to onboard remote engineers — with a practical guide from an expert.

Today, with COVID-19 making every new hire remote, excellence in onboarding has become even more crucial. Unfortunately, I don’t see nearly enough companies with a structured step-by-step approach to bringing new team members online.

Have you failed at onboarding?

Failed onboarding usually looks similar regardless of the company. Most of the time, companies that do a bad job fail to do the following things:

  • The new engineer isn’t briefed on the company, what they’re building, or what the mission is
  • The company hasn’t communicated KPIs and OKRs
  • Daily scheduling and communications policies are loose or absent
  • Failure to have the new hire meet with key people in the company to get them up to speed
  • The company hasn’t assigned a buddy to shepherd the new hire through their first three months.
  • No one has made it clear to the new hire what success looks like in their position
  • Checkpoints to evaluate onboarding success have not been established in advance, and the developer doesn’t know what’s going to under evaluation

When things go wrong with an onboarding process, the problems usually start one the very first day when critical information doesn’t get transmitted. Once things get off-track, you will lose hours of productive time for your team and the person you’re onboarding.

By the time you know you have an issue, a mutual loss of confidence between you and the new team member is likely. By then, you might be better of starting with a new candidate from square one. To avoid a predictable outcome, I recommend, and personally implement, a highly structured approach.

My company, Turing, specializes in the sourcing, vetting, and management of remote developers. We have over 160,000 developers on our platform from over 140 countries capable of writing code in more than 50 programming languages. We want to make sure that every time we match an engineer with a company, individuals get up to speed and seamlessly integrate into their new team as quickly as possible.

Here’s how we do it:

Remote Developer Team Integration Done Right

When I think of onboarding, I look at the process along three primary dimensions. The first is making sure they have the right business context. The second is making sure they have the right “people context.� And the third is making sure that you have the proper checkpoints in place to verify that the new hire is ramping up at the rate that you expect them to.

Business Context

First, let’s talk about the business context. When I’m preparing a company to onboard new engineers, I want them to provide their new employees with certain key information. These include:

  • A short description of what the company does and what product they are building
  • The mission & core values of the company
  • What is the strategy to accomplish this mission
  • The high-level quarterly OKRs or goals for the business
  • A copy of the org chart

Communicating this information makes certain your new additions will have the right kind of business context about what’s essential to succeed at your company.

I also verify that the right kind of communication expectations in place in terms of time zones. It is imperative to establish working hours, so everyone knows the hours during which the developer will be available and when they will be working.

Communication synchronization is of the utmost importance when you’re working with distributed talent. You want the developer and your team to be calibrated on the time window during which everyone is going to be available and reachable.

People Context

One of the most important things you could share is your company’s org chart in terms of the people context. You can also use high-level visualizations that show all the different projects in the company. The goal is to convey how those projects connect.

Who’s driving those projects, and who are the people in those various projects. Giving a developer this conceptual understanding of all the different projects that might be going on in a company is very important.

During onboarding, I also ask our clients to tell us who are the four people in your company that this new developer has to speak with in the first month to get fully ramped up.

Make sure that the developer has an assigned buddy and knows who that person is. Having a buddy for the first three months is incredibly helpful. A buddy is a person that the developer can ask any questions about the company that they might not know who or where to go.

Who managers this new developer? Have they been introduced? While I realize this should be obvious when someone is remote, this isn’t always the case. It’s good to be explicit by specifically letting the developer know, for example, who will be doing their weekly one-on-one, who makes sure that weekly one-on-ones happen, and how they will be evaluated.

New engineers should also know when performance reviews will happen. What’s the cadence? What’s the format? And essentially, the answer to the question, what does it take to succeed in this organization? You want the person that you’re onboarding to have a good idea of what to expect.

Checkpoints

And third, in terms of successfully checking how well this person has ramped up, you want to do 30, 60, and 90-day check-ins with the person that you’re onboarding. You want to let the person know who does that check-in, and what will they evaluate during that point.

Conducting regular check-ins gives you a valuable opportunity to course-correct in case something hasn’t gone per plan.

Beyond Basic Onboarding

You’ll save yourself and your company from future headaches if you make sure that any new hire has completed any forms and that you’re aware of any regulations specific to that person or the country where they reside.

Also, decide if your company needs any confidentiality or IP assignment agreements. Is this expertise is outside the skills within your organization? Then invest in the services of a company that specializes in navigating what can be tricky territory. At Turing, we like Remote.com for this service.

Mundane Details

As part of my communications onboarding process, I also deal with the somewhat mundane details of provisioning the new hire with all the team’s technology. Including setting up the developer’s email and ensuring they have access to the company’s Github account, Slack channels, Trello, Jira, Google Docs, Zoom, and any other mission-critical software you expect the developer to use as part of their workflow.

Think through security, access privileges, mailing lists, etc.

Another part of setting your new hire up for success includes making sure they know about staff meetings, company-wide meetings that this person has to attend, and Slack channels they should join.

You should also try to communicate to your developer what your company culture looks like and what’s unique about your company. By making sure that all these types of nuts and bolts are tight, your new hire will be more confident in their interactions with their team, and they’ll integrate more fully into your company from day one.

One of the biggest challenges you’ll typically face is developing and maintaining company culture when a large portion of your company is remote. Company culture is a tricky territory that deserves a separate post.

The most important thing I do to instill culture is to make sure people understand my company’s core values. For example, a Turing, we have three core values. The first is to move fast. The second is continuous improvement. And the third is a relentless focus on long-term customer success.

Know your company’s core values and make sure you communicate them clearly to the person you’re onboarding.

Finally, it’s crucial to make sure that any new hire has access to all the tools they need and is confident in their use. It doesn’t hurt to check to verify that your new hire is familiar with the tools you use and to train them if they’re not.

If you require a very high degree of proficiency for certain positions, be sure to demand and vet for that skill before making a critical hire.

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Operate supply chain in pandemic supply chain management vendor relations

Is Your Supply Chain Worth Re-Examining in a Pandemic?

supply chain in pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t just been hard on people. Supply chains everywhere are struggling. 

Shortages of masks have made headline news. Meat processing facilities around the country have closed, causing grocery stores and restaurants to run low. Across the business world, companies are having trouble getting the goods they need to operate. 

The good news is, shortages also present opportunities. You may not see weak spots in your supply chain until a shipment is late, or the cost of something you take for granted, like paper or ink, skyrockets. 

Seize the silver linings of this crisis. To shore up your supply chain:

1. Map it Out

In our globalized world, supply chains are complex. The first step to strengthening yours is to understand its full scope. 

You know your first-tier suppliers, but what about those down the line? How would your company be impacted if a second- or third-tier supplier shut its doors? Does that first-tier supplier have backups?

Beware that vendors may not tell the truth about their own suppliers. The reason is that they don’t want to show weakness. If customers worry about their ability to deliver, they may take their business elsewhere.

Supply chain security and simplicity are popular reasons companies work with group purchasing organizations like Una. A direct purchasing strategy is simply too complex for all but the biggest procurement teams. Plus, GPOs always have backups in case a supplier of a certain good goes bust. 

2. Avoid Risky Suppliers

If you do decide to stick with direct procurement, check your mapping for risky suppliers. These suppliers are likely to be adversely affected by economic or political conditions. They may engage in deceptive or immoral practices, such as child labor. 

Another place to look for risk? Product recalls. Suppliers who tend to ship a lot of defective products have weaker foundations than their peers. Not only is something they send you less likely to be usable, but they may not be in business for long. 

When in doubt, work with regional suppliers. With regional shipments, there are simply fewer miles and national borders to cross. Proximity is a primary reason why 33% of global supply chain leaders have moved their operations out of China, or plan to in the next few years. 

3. Digitize Your Supply Chain

Despite the trend toward paperless offices, many companies still rely on paper invoices and book-keeping. Not only does that make errors more likely, but it makes managing the whole procurement ecosystem more difficult. 

Experts suggest that identifying points of volatility and waste in a supply chain requires 70-90% visibility, but most companies have just 20% visibility into theirs. These companies may be able to track shipments once they’ve left a supplier’s office, but they’re in the dark about pre- and post-shipping processes. 

Do all that you can digitally. Invest in an inventory management system, and encourage your suppliers to hook their own systems up to yours. Set up notifications so you and your suppliers know when you’re running short. 

4. Understand the Impact of Tariffs 

When the pandemic hit, employers found it difficult to secure personal protective equipment. While part of the reason for PPE shortages was demand, a close second was tariffs. The United States levies tariffs of 15-25% on many imported medical products. 

It only takes a small supply chain hiccup for the same dynamic to play out with other products. What if your office was suddenly unable to get computers, printers, or keyboards? What if shortages caused them to double or triple in price?

Tariffs add risk to a supply chain. If any of your goods are imported, find out whether they’re subject to import taxes. If so, be sure you have a backup in each category from a nation that isn’t affected by them.

5. Keep Just Enough on Hand

If there’s one thing this pandemic has taught supply chain professionals, it’s the importance of being prepared. Stockpiling ensures you aren’t left empty-handed if a critical supply runs short.

Although having a safety net of supplies is important, you don’t want to go overboard. With perishable goods, in particular, stockpiling may result in you having to throw out unused supplies. Even if not, stockpiled supplies take up valuable warehouse space and cost money to move.

Inventory management is a balancing act. If in doubt, ask your procurement team’s opinion: How much of each supply should be kept on hand? Which supplies tend to run short soonest? Which ones are easy to get, even when the economy hits a bump?

6. Have a Backup Plan

Keeping extra supplies on hand is never a bad idea, but they won’t last forever. What if your supplier is still shut by the time those extras run out?

You can’t predict the future; what you can do is prepare for it. Have a plan of action for each key supply, whether it’s printer paper or product packaging.

Build your backup plan with a 360-degree approach: What alternative suppliers can you call on? What money do you have saved that can be used if an emergency strikes? How will you communicate with your customers if there’s a delay?

7. Be as Transparent as Possible

The reality is, supply chain disruptions happen to every company. However well you prepare for them, you’ll eventually have to make some hard choices. 

You might be tempted to hide disruptions from your customers, but that could do more harm than good. If anything, you should be more transparent than ever.

Tell the truth: Why aren’t you able to honor your product or service commitments? When might you be able to deliver what your customers ordered? What are you doing to expedite the process? The sooner you level with them, the more they’ll respect you for it. 

The coronavirus pandemic was a once-in-a-century disruption. But there are all sorts of other reasons your supply chain could take a hit. Don’t be blindsided. It’s time to adjust to the “new normal,� and that means buttoning up your supply chain sooner rather than later.

Image credit: Tom Fisk; Pexels

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manufacturing Operate workforce management

Can Other Industries Replicate MyWorkChoice’s Manufacturing Overhaul?

Automation is often seen as manufacturers’ ticket to the future. Lately, however, it’s a new labor model that has been drawing jealous stares from other sectors.

Upending how manufacturers get work done are platforms like MyWorkChoice, an hourly workforce management platform. MyWorkChoice uses smart matching technology to build custom communities, onboarded according to each client’s specifications.

By letting workers choose their shifts, MyWorkChoice cuts manufacturers’ absenteeism rates from around 35 percent to just 3 percent. For plant output, managers’ stress levels, and company culture, that’s a night-and-day difference.

The question: Could MyWorkChoice’s model work for other industries? Maybe so — but only if they can fit two puzzle pieces that, frustratingly, never seem to go together: flexibility and dependability.

Engineered for Flexibility

For years, many white-collar workers have enjoyed the flexibility to work when and where they want. Until recently, however, blue-collar sectors like manufacturing have pigeonholed workers into 40-hour-per-week arrangements.

Understandably, blue-collar workers want those same freedoms. What broke the dam, according to MyWorkChoice CEO Tana Greene, is the coronavirus pandemic.

“The traditional staffing agency model is dead,� explains Greene. “Prior to the pandemic, flexibility was supporting both workers and companies who needed to scale their workforce at any given time; today it’s a critical piece of the puzzle to keep our supply chain moving and put healthy people to work.�

Instead of requiring a rigid schedule, MyWorkChoice lets the company’s regular workforce sign up for four-hour blocks on the days they choose. Many opt to work a full 40 hours per week, producing a dependable primary workforce.

Workers understand that MyWorkChoice isn’t just another day-labor app, nor is it a split-shift system. They stick with it because of its flexibility, enabling the companies they serve to build tenured hourly teams.

Could sectors outside of manufacturing make that model work? Sure, Greene says: MyWorkChoice has applied it to call centers, distribution centers, and more. But before they make the leap, they need to solve for the second part of the equation: dependability.

Solved with Scale

Shorter shifts are a big reason why MyWorkChoice delivers workers reliably. But there’s a second factor that, for industries looking to follow the manufacturing sector’s lead, may be more difficult to replicate: scale.

Largely because of the flexibility it offers workers, MyWorkChoice is the largest recruiter in most markets it operates in. That ensures it has the bench strength to make the model work, covering gaps in a company’s regular workforce. Access to a larger, scalable workforce creates a secondary line of defense while eliminating the need for overtime.

A larger labor pool, combined with shorter shifts, lets employers accommodate all sorts of life situations. The result is MyWorkChoice’s third talent stream: nontraditional workforce segments, such as seniors and college students, who wouldn’t otherwise look for manufacturing work.

Many of these MyWorkChoice workers have responsibilities outside the platform that would make it tough to work longer shifts. Its model makes tough-to-fill times less onerous. For example, the second shift is typically the most difficult to fill, but when flexible four-hour slots are made available, stay-at-home parents and second incomers flock to this shift, making it one of the most coveted on the platform.

In the industries MyWorkChoice operates in — manufacturing, call centers, and warehousing — that three-pronged approach proves flexibility works. In more niche ones, it may not.

Take surveying. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are fewer than 50,000 surveyors in the entire U.S. Because it’s a specialized field, no amount of flexibility could help employers build secondary and tertiary teams. In all but the largest of labor markets, there simply aren’t enough surveyors to go around.

Making Flexible Work Work

Plenty of industries struggle to fill open positions, despite the economic downturn. Plenty of workers in them want flexibility. So what can employers in other sectors do to marry the two?

One option is to transition hourly workers to an employer-of-record model. Because MyWorkChoice is the employer of record, it handles worker’s compensation, unemployment claims, and other back-office matters that employers otherwise have to deal with.

The other option is to bring new demographic groups into the fold. Look for ways to increase flexibility: If possible in your industry, consider making work-from-home options permanent. If not, perhaps you could give workers more choice over their hours.

The final ingredient? Client service. MyWorkChoice provides regional managers to its clients, ensuring that workers are happy, safe, and getting the job done.

Without someone on the ground who knows the rules, no amount of software can make workforce management a hands-off process in industries like manufacturing. Technology can make matches, but it takes a human being to make sure those matches actually work out.

Great client service exists in every industry, as do flexibility and reliable workforces. In manufacturing, what MyWorkChoice has done is put them together in a lasting, harmonious way. Whether that can be done in every industry, however, is a challenge waiting to be conquered.

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