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SurePayroll's Michael Alter Talks Small Business & Online Payroll Services

May 17th, 2010 | Interviews,Online & Small Business Resources,Small Business,Small Business Tips | No Comments »

In today’s KikScore blog interview, for the first time we are not profiling an actual small business.  Instead, to change up the pace for the community, we are profiling a company that small businesses rely on every day to perform a critical function – payroll.  As we do with many of our interviewees, we came across SurePayroll on Twitter and they graciously agreed to give us some insight into who they are, what makes them tick and also provide some fabulous guidance to the small business community.  Today’s interview is with Michael Alter, President of  SurePayroll.

1. Tell us about SurePayroll and who you focus on serving?

As the online alternative to ADP® and Paychex®, we’re dedicated to providing a simple, convenient and accurate online payroll service at a price small business owners can afford. Tens of thousands of small business owners across the U.S. rely on us to process payroll on demand, in as few as 2 minutes. We also offer efficient small business solutions for managing 401(k) plans, health insurance, workers’ compensation, HR compliance and employee screening. Our combination of online payroll service teamed with a small business focus has garnered recognition from PC Magazine, Inc. 500, Accounting Today, the American Business Awards and many others.

2. How did you get the idea for SurePayroll?

In the late 1990s, Chicagoland entrepreneur Scott Wald was running one of many successful small businesses and hated all the time he wasted faxing in payroll then rectifying the inevitable payroll goofs. He thought, “I should be able to do this online — and I bet I’m not the only small business owner thinking the same thing.” Because Scott’s the type of person who turns such thoughts into realities, he assembled a small team to make his idea a thriving business. He asked me to join him in this new venture, and I left my position with McKinsey & Co. We hit the scene in early 2000 with a staff of 10 in a small office in Highland Park, IL.

3. If you had 2 lessons learned from starting SurePayroll that you could pass on to others, what are those?

First Lesson: The last thing a small business owner needs is something that takes time. If you’re in business to help small business, your product is probably designed to save your clients money, but so does every other product like yours. Ensuring it also saves small business owners time is the emotional jolt that pushes them to buy — most sales aren’t closed on a logical rationale alone. Once you’ve saved them time, you need to own their worries. For example, SurePayroll tackles the most time-consuming aspect of payroll: paying and filing all federal, state and local payroll taxes. But this aspect is also the most difficult for most small businesses, and many who run payroll themselves incur frequent penalties from the IRS and other agencies. So we handle everything related to payroll taxes. If our clients receive notices from the IRS or other tax agencies, we’ll work directly with the agency on the client’s behalf. And if we make an error, we pay the fine.

Second Lesson: Never think what you’re doing today is what you’ll be doing 10 years from today. Markets change and products evolve. Learn to adapt quickly. While we’re still an online payroll company, we see the office moving from the computer to the smart phone. We’ve created a Mobile Payroll app for the iPhone® to keep up with our customers — and attract new ones.

4. Where will SurePayroll focus most of its energy in 2010?

The end of the twentieth century saw a massive expansion of the home office, and twenty-first century is greeting us with the burgeoning mobile office. When small business owners can keep their businesses running anywhere, anytime without computer access, they can spend more time closing deals and keeping clients happy. We started planning for 2010 a bit early with the launch of our Mobile Payroll app for the iPhone® in late 2009.

As the only company with a payroll app, we’re here to blaze the mobile payroll trail. This year we’re developing and launching an iPhone app for our customers’ employees to access their pay stubs and records. Later this year we’ll launch a payroll app for the Droid®, providing customers on two of America’s most popular wireless networks access to payroll from their smart phones. And, of course, all of our mobile apps are free to customers.

5. What do you see as 2 new trends in small business for 2010?

We are quickly reaching the tipping point when it comes to expectations that all things capable on a PC should also be capable on a mobile device.  More and more business applications continue to be built for smartphones, and more and more business owners consider the smart phones an essential business tool. Whereas most people rely on their iPhone, Blackberry or Droid to check and respond to email, smartphones will soon be a standard business tool for business owners and employees to conduct nearly all business functions.

Additionally, business owners will continue to see the value of Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions to enhance productivity. More business owners will turn to hosted software solutions that free them from the responsibility and the cost of updating, maintaining and securing and traditional software solutions — and most importantly — free them from having to be in the office, at a PC to use the software.

6. If SurePayroll could put together a top 5 list related to your business, your industry, your customers or anything else what would that top five list be and what would be on it?

If we could create a top-five list for our industry, it would be the top five benefits of outsourcing payroll.

The list would go a little something like this:

A. Avoiding IRS Penalties. It is estimated that 40% of small businesses pay an average penalty of $845 per year for late or incorrect filings. We take responsibility for all IRS penalties that are the result of our error.

B. Reducing Costs. Our research indicates that a small business of 10 employees will typically spend $2,600 per year in direct labor costs associated with payroll. We’re usually well less than half the cost of doing payroll yourself.

C. Offering Direct Deposit. Employees want direct deposit. More importantly for business owners, direct deposit eliminates time-consuming and error-prone paper handling and the need to reconcile individual payroll checks every month. Direct deposit is included with SurePayroll.

D. Leaving Technology to the Pros. Using the wrong tax tables in outdated software can result in stiff penalties. Our constantly updated technology removes those risks and keeps payroll running smoothly.

E. Ensuring Payroll Knowledge Doesn’t Walk Out the Door. If your bookkeeper or controller gets a new job, they will walk out the door with their knowledge of the payroll process and how you do it. We eliminate that business risk.

7. What guidance can you give based on your experience to help small businesses out there that are facing difficult times?

First, take some solace knowing you’re not alone. From Main Street to Wall Street, nearly everyone’s business plan required major readjustments starting as early as 2007.

Entrepreneurs are the most practical and simultaneously innovative group out there. If there is a less expensive, more efficient way to get business done, they’ll find it – and a lot faster than the big businesses that are weighed down by red tape and processes. This is true about staying in business in tough times, too.

As their workloads increased and it become evident they required more employees, many small business owners turned to contractors instead of new full-time employees. While certain stipulations apply to contract workers, if it’s a viable option, it’s worth looking into. You’ll save money on matching FICA contributions as well as other employee-paid taxes, while providing employment during tough economic times. While you’re operating on a project-by-project basis, using a contractor labor force enables you to hire on a project-by-project basis.

Now’s also a great time to save money by review your existing contracts. For example, if your workers’ compensation insurance, health insurance and 401(k) plans come from different providers, see if one company offers everything and can give you better rates. And it never hurts to call your phone company, Internet provider and consulting services to see if you can create a package deal or negotiate cheaper rates. Some of the services we’re convinced we’ll use when signing up turn out to be an expendable luxury.

8. Tell us one thing that is unique about the SurePayroll culture that you want small businesses to know?

We’re like a lot of Internet companies: casual work environment, foosball table in the break area and a relatively flat organizational structure so employees aren’t confined by an insurmountable chain of command. But unlike many of our peers, we embrace and encourage length of service. To show our appreciation for the number of years an employee invests in us, we offer an all-expenses paid trip to an exotic locale (like Mexico) for our employees after every five years of service — we even let each qualifying employee bring a guest. A good number of our employees will soon be eligible for their second “5-year trip.” Quite a statement for a company that opened just 10 years ago.

9. If SurePayroll had a theme song, what would it be and why?

Perhaps No Doubt’s “Simple Kind of Life” because that’s exactly what we provide our customers — at least as far as payroll is concerned.

10. Do you have any parting thoughts for our readers and the small business community?

Kudos to you for your resiliency during this tough economy. You’ve probably had to adapt your business to survive. The upside of doing this is that you’re learning adaptability, like I mentioned earlier. Once the economy hits and upswing, the adaptability you’ve learned will prove invaluable in the new economy.

If you have questions for SurePayroll, please leave them in our comments section.

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