By Alex Gladu
With each New Year come new laws, new business tools and new beginnings. Whether you’re looking to start or grow your small business this year, there are new updates – some mandatory and others just recommended – to old tactics that could help your business compete with the big boxes and make useful connections in your community. In keeping up with the times, you’ll be growing your commitment to employees, customers and the community.
- Comply With Healthcare Reform’s Employer Mandate
The Affordable Care Act has been a long time unfolding. As of January 1, though, small businesses with 50 to 99 full-time or full-time-equivalent employees are required to offer qualifying health insurance to 95 percent of their full-time employees and their employees’ dependents. Similarly, businesses with 100 or more full-time or full-time-equivalent employees must offer coverage to at least 70 percent of their full-time employees and their employees’ dependents. Businesses that don’t comply with the threshold that applies to them will have to pay penalties. For more information, consult the official healthcare reform website.
- Raise Your Minimum Wage, If Necessary
The federal minimum wage hasn’t risen from $7.25 in more that six years, but businesses in several states must make sure their wages are significantly above that in 2016. On January 1, minimum wages in 14 states increased in accordance with previously passed laws. Those states are Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia. If you own a business in one of these states, check this list for details about your state’s specific increase.
- Become EMV-Friendly
EMV cards – also known as chip cards – are the new norm when it comes to credit and debit transactions. In addition to a magnetic stripe for swiping, these cards have a small computer chip in them that better protects users from identity theft. Banks have already started rolling these new cards out to their customers, but the migration to EMV technology will certainly continue throughout 2016. Small businesses should jump on board by installing EMV-compatible point-of-sale technology sooner rather than later. Beginning on October 1, 2015, the liability in cases of credit card fraud falls to the involved party that is less EMV-compliant. In other words, if someone in your store commits credit card fraud with an EMV card and you don’t yet have EMV technology, you’ll have to cover the cost of the fraud.
- Explore Apple Pay & Similar Technologies
While you’re evaluating your POS systems, consider also integrating technologies such as Apply Pay, Samsung Pay and the like. Doing so requires investing in a near-field communication (NFC) reader that allows customers to hold their devices in front of the reader in order to pay. This technology isn’t legally required by any means, but it could help your business serve a broader base of customers and stay on the cutting edge of technology.
- Revamp Your Social Media Strategy
It’s easy to see why social media can sometimes fall by the wayside for busy small business owners. While trying to keep up with the latest laws and technology opportunities, there’s not always time to devote to curating content and researching new tools within different social media platforms. Still, as more and more consumers look for product reviews online, search for businesses near them on the go and use their mobile devices at the check-out counter, there’s practically no denying that social media matters. For 2016, be on the lookout for interesting and buzz-worthy updates to social media platforms. For instance, Facebook could launch a live-streaming product similar to that of Twitter’s Periscope sometime this year. Take time to pay attention to these updates and experiment with them while they’re still new. You never know what kind of buzz an early adopter of social media can generate.
As you can see from this list, there are some must-dos and plenty of can-dos for small business owners ready to take on 2016. The buy local movement continues to grow, which means that more customers could be looking to your business than ever before. Make the most of those new beginnings and new opportunities by keeping up on your regulations and your business tools.
Independent We Stand is dedicated to helping independent businesses across the country engage their communities and encouraging customers to buy local. If you’re a business owner, get buy local resources, tips and news by registering for a business membership. Your business will also be included in our ‘locals only’ search engine and mobile app. If you’re a consumer, take the pledge to buy local to join the movement.