HR Questions Every Small Business Owner Must Answer

As part of an ongoing series, Mind Your Business is sitting down with COSE Investor Level Members to get to know more about the issues facing their businesses. Today’s Q-and-A is with Cheryl Perez, president and managing partner of BIG-HR.

Navigating the ins and outs of HR issues can be challenging for many companies, but perhaps particularly so for smaller enterprises. Whether it’s understanding what you need to know before terminating an employee or untangling everything that goes into I-9 rules, there’s a lot to get up to speed on. We sat down recently with Cheryl Perez, president and managing partner of BIG-HR and a COSE Investor Level Member, to understand some of the most important questions every small business owner must be able to answer. Here’s what she had to say:

MYB: How would small business owners know when (and if) they can terminate someone?

Perez: Of course, one of the most frequently asked questions I receive whenever I am speaking with a small employer is: When can I terminate this person? Usually by the time I have received this question the employee has become so much of a problem that the employer can no longer even justify why keeping him or her on staff is critical. The best way for me to answer this question is really, unfortunately, with a question. And that question is: Where is the employee in achieving the action plan that you set during his or her most recent disciplinary or performance review conversation?

You see, whether you can terminate someone depends upon the proactive nature of your disciplinary and performance review processes. The most critical piece of supporting termination is documentation, and usually if someone has been doing a good job at documenting poor performance issues then it is clear to all parties involved when that termination is going to take place. The action plan that you set forth, in your most recent conversation regarding the behavior, is what sets the deadline for termination. Your action plan should be specific and say something like: In 30 days if we do not see improvement we know we will part ways. The main problem I see in getting this question is that there usually has been no prior disciplinary or performance review process in place that limits the employer’s ability to terminate. You know when you can terminate someone based upon the expectations you have set along the way. You may be in a no-fault state, but no fault does not equal no potential for wrongful termination suits.

MYB: What about breaks and lunches? Does a small business owner have to pay for those, or provide them?

Perez: In short, the answer to this question is: It depends. Each state will confirm how many hours an employee must work before breaks and lunches must be provided, and it will also determine how long those breaks and lunches must be depending upon employee age. Typically, if you are providing breaks and lunches for an employee they are paid but, again, it just depends upon the employee status and what your state regulates. For instance, Ohio labor laws require employers to provide employees under the age of 18 a 30-minute uninterrupted break (unpaid) when working more than five consecutive hours. Ohio does not require employers to provide breaks, including lunch breaks, for workers 18 years of age or older.

MYB: What’s the best way to handle I-9 regulations?

Perez: Most employers during the course of hiring an employee collect an I-9 form to verify citizenship or authorization to work in the United States from a new hire. Without really knowing what to collect and what dates to use an employer can be putting themselves at risk based upon the time the I-9 form is collected, the date that the information is verified by the employer, and the signatures that are located on the documents as it relates to the hire date listed. It is critical that employers understand and know when they are collecting an I-9 form from an employee what could make the I-9 form invalid or require that the employer collect a new I-9 form once the old form expires. The I-9 form contains two major sections (sometimes three), with the employee needing to complete section 1 and the employer needing to verify and complete section 2. Section 3 is completed when an employer is rehiring a previous employee.

The biggest piece of missing information that employers don't realize is that section 2 must be completed and verified within three business days of the date of hire listed on the form; otherwise your form is incorrect. Employers must retain I-9s for the later of three years from the date of hire or one year after the date employment ends. From time to time, the federal government may examine your employment records. If you fail to produce I-9s, you can be subject to civil and/or criminal penalties.

MYB: Are 1099 contractors considered W-2 employees?

Perez: 1099 versus W-2 is really related to the tax classification of a subcontractor or employee of an organization. The status refers to whether an employer should be taking out and paying taxes on behalf of the employee. If you are a 1099 subcontractor, the answer is no, the employer will not withhold taxes nor match them and you will be responsible for paying taxes on your own. If you are a W-2 employee your employer will withhold taxes from your paycheck and pay their portion for your employment. It is estimated that a high percentage of 1099 contractors are misclassified on an annual basis. If this misclassification applies then the employer is subject to severe penalties when, and if, an audit is performed.

The best way to determine whether someone is a W-2 or a 1099 depends upon their treatment by the employer. With a W-2 certain things will be specific such as a schedule will be determined, training will be provided, equipment will be given, and expectations will be set (as well as other specifications). With a 1099 a project/task is usually contracted with very little to no direction, no training, and no equipment provided.

MYB: And now for some shameless self-promotion: How have COSE events helped your business grow?

Perez: I just love the organization and the opportunities. It’s chock-full of education. I make friendships with the networking events. And I also learn something every single time I attend an event or speak with someone because it’s full of small business owners just like myself going through the same stuff every single day. I make great friends, great clients and there are great networking opportunities, so I’d like to say thanks COSE!

Cheryl Perez is president and managing partner of BIG-HR, which focuses on HR consulting and outsourcing. You can learn more about the company by clicking here. And you can also learn more about the benefits of being a COSE Member by clicking here. Or, contact our Membership Team directly via email at or by phone at 216-592-2355.

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  • Next up: If You’re Not Performing a SBU Analysis, You’re Holding Your Business Back

    If You’re Not Performing a SBU Analysis, You’re Holding Your Business Back

    Every business—even small businesses—are complex organizations with multiple business units layered inside. These are called Strategic Business Units.  SBUs have their own markets, products/services and pricing structures.

    For instance, a painting company could count as its customers:

    • residential
    • office
    • apartment building clients

    This is an example of one company having different strategic business units (SBUs) embedded in its corporate structure.

    In the above example, let’s say that residential accounts for 80% of this company’s revenue; office comprises 15%; and apartment represents 5%. Would it make sense for this painting company to treat each of these silos the same? If you answered “yes”, then you could probably consider enrolling in the COSE Strategic Planning Course, which delves deep into the magic of SBU analysis.

    Can’t wait for the Strategic Planning Course and want a little SBU insight right now? As a former graduate of the course, I’m happy to oblige. Here are my thoughts on the benefits a thorough SBU analysis can have on your business, and they happen to revolve around the way you’re currently looking at your company’s financial reports.

    The traditional income statement doesn’t tell the whole story

    You’re likely used to relying on your income statement to give you a sense of how your business is performing. The problem is, this statement doesn’t provide you a detailed look at where you’re making—or losing—money because it doesn’t dive into a detailed examination of the profitability of customer groups and product/service groups. Accounting systems that lump all sales onto a single line won’t give you any insight at all into the individual services and products you’re selling. Similarly, that same bundling of labor and/or material costs doesn’t help you figure out the real costs and benefits of a given product/service.

    A SBU analysis, on the other hand, can help you dig into the profitability of each of your SBUs and give insight into which businesses you should think about growing, or, perhaps, divesting. It helps you figure out where you’re making money and how to effectively revenue manage your product or service to best take advantage of this profitability. Different matches of products/services, priced incorrectly, can lead to underperformance.

    This, of course, is just scratching the surface of both SBU analysis and is just one example of the many lessons you’ll learn from COSE’s Strategic Planning Course. Again, I am a satisfied former graduate of the course and would be happy to answer any questions you might have about it. Please feel free to email me at if you have any questions about how the course can help you grow your business.

    Bob Dianetti is the owner of Team Dianetti, a professional business coaching and training organization with offices in Hudson and Akron. Reach him via phone at (234) 284-2333. 

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  • Next up: Iron Sharpens Iron: The Benefits of 'Mastermind' Groups

    Iron Sharpens Iron: The Benefits of 'Mastermind' Groups

    There is strength in numbers, especially when you're working with like-minded individuals. Behold, the power of "mastermind" groups.

    Freedom. Happiness. Adventure. Mmm. Three of my favorite words. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say, “Yeah, you know what, Chris?  I’d like less of those in my life. Tell me: How can I make that happen?” 

    And yet, at times, it can seem like that’s exactly what we signed up for in our lives as we accomplish more and more and more. Ahhh, yes. It’s that good, ol’ “Paradox of Progress”:  The more “success” we capture, the more complexity we often face. 

    We know that each business stage—and each life stage—introduces new challenges and opportunities for growth. If we’re somewhat truthful with ourselves, we can probably admit that we default to our typical, go-to, “This has always worked for me and I always operate this way,” strategy when we first encounter a new hurdle.  And if we’re brutally honest, we can probably acknowledge that we devote far too many resources—our time, our energy, and our money—as we confront these new hurdles. 

    We know that appearances never tell the whole story and while an outsider might conclude that everything’s marvelous because our businesses are successful, we may think differently. (After all, we’re the only ones who can truly define success for ourselves.)  Maybe we’re bogged down with employee problems and missing our kids’ soccer games because we’re “tied up at work.” Or maybe we’re taking a phone call in the car instead of singing along with the Boss on “Thunder Road” or joining Demi as she hits that high A on “Sorry Not Sorry.”  (Oh, come on. Don’t act like you haven’t been there.) 

    Maybe we’re checking our email too often while we’re on vacation. Or maybe we’re suppressing all those thoughts of discontent, justifying our situations as “the price of business,” not realizing that the ultimate outcome of this pattern isn’t satisfaction, but regret.

    I don’t think anyone who runs a business wants to earn more restriction, more stress, and more sacrifice.  I just don’t. We’re creators and we’re artists. We want to build our lives with more of the good and less of the bad.  We want to iron out wrinkles.

    The benefits of a mastermind group

    I can’t envision a tool better suited to smooth away the creases in our lives than a “mastermind” group. For those of us who are unfamiliar with the concept, simply put, a mastermind is a bunch of individuals united for one, overarching, common purpose: to help one another grow as “iron sharpens iron.” (Yes, I just used a different type of “iron” analogy.) The notion certainly isn’t new or novel and I’m convinced that joining a mastermind, or building our own, is, hands-down, the best way for anyone to win more clients and customers, serve them better, boost our income, and liberate our time. Masterminds mean more freedom, happiness, and adventure for everyone. 

    Think about it: Although we might have friends and family members who love and support us in a variety of ways, how many of them can truly provide us with an unbiased, objective “push” toward that next level? Imagine being in a group where people are open and honest about their personal and professional struggles and can receive input from other creators who bring unique perspectives and diverse experiences to the metaphorical table.  Picture nine or ten people who are “all in” on our success. 

    Good mastermind groups help clarify our definitions of success. They help us accelerate. They help us execute. They force us to share in one another’s lives and struggles. They keep us accountable. They motivate us.  They move us. 

    I mentioned that, if we’re honest with ourselves, we can probably admit to spending too many resources as we employ our typical “go-to” tactics to overcome new obstacles. Well, a mastermind group can be a new approach to success. It can counterbalance that “Paradox of Progress,” and it can eliminate stress and constraints. A mastermind can help drive us towards more freedom, happiness, and adventure—and those are outcomes we can all embrace.

    Christopher Leo is the owner of Flash Three Consultants and co-owner of Breakthrough to Billions. A former English teacher, newspaper editor, and football coach, Chris is committed to helping creators get what they truly want from their personal and professional lives through the power of masterminds. Visit,, or email him ( to continue the conversation.

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  • Next up: Knowledge Is Power: Begin Tackling The LTL Over Dimensional (OD) Rules Puzzle!

    Knowledge Is Power: Begin Tackling The LTL Over Dimensional (OD) Rules Puzzle!

    Here are questions you should ask yourself as you begin to solve the puzzle of LTL Over Dimensional rules.

    As the capacity crunch continues, freight capacity levels are at an all-time high. LTL carriers are now charging an Over Dimensional fee when a shipment contains an article that is eight or more feet in length. With some carriers, this charge will also be applied if an article is both six or more feet in length and six or more feet in width.

    How Can I Begin Solving The LTL Over Dimensional Rules Puzzle?

    Click Here To Solve The Puzzle

    Some of the things shippers can do to help prevent these charges are:

    • Know the carrier Over Dimensional restrictions / rules
    • Measure each skid or piece for accurate dimensions

    By partnering with a 3PL such as Ascent Global Logistics, you can rely on a knowledgeable freight partner to assist you in avoiding potential costly rebills.

    Contact our team of logistics professionals today to learn how we can help you reach peak logistics performance. Call us at 800.689.6255 Ext. 280 or visit us at

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  • Next up: Learning the Secrets of 'The Sales Doctor'

    Learning the Secrets of 'The Sales Doctor'

    As part of an ongoing series, Mind Your Business will be sitting down with COSE Investor Level Members to get to know more about their business and the guiding principles they use to build their business. Today’s Q-and-A is with nationally known sales trainer Marvin Montgomery.

    For nearly the past three decades, Marvin Montgomery has made it his mission since he launched his sales training business on Jan. 1, 1990, to improve the techniques of sales professionals in Northeast Ohio and beyond.

    A fixture at COSE events (and chairman of the annual BizConCLE convention for small- and medium-sized businesses), the “Sales Doctor” says he stands out from other sales trainers through his ability to provide not only substance in the training he provides, but plenty of motivation as well.

    “Some have the motivation, but leave the session feeling empty. Or, you have the substance but can’t stay awake long enough to get it because the sessions are boring,” he says. “I have been blessed to have both.”

    Mind Your Business recently had the opportunity to sit down with Montgomery to find out a little more about what he thinks sales professionals need to do to maximize their sales potential. Here’s what he had to say.

    MYB: How can a salesperson be viewed more as a trusted advisor than a salesperson?

    Montgomery: They need to begin every contact by asking questions. And then actively listening to the client’s answers and thinking about how your product or service can meet their needs. Don’t just jump into the sales meeting by dumping a lot of information.

    MYB: What’s the best way to overcome objections a client might have?

    Montgomery: Start out by identifying any surface-level resistance when you sit down with the client during your needs analysis evaluation. Asking the right questions will eliminate objections. You also need to be prepared for common objections in advance by having your answers ready and clarify the objection before responding by either repeating it back, asking a clarifying question, or just not saying anything at all.

    MYB: After the initial meeting, what’s the best way to go about following up?

    Montgomery: Agree with the client about what the next step should be moving forward before you end your meeting.

    MYB: What’s the best way to approach cold calling?

    Montgomery: Identify your target market. Determine your approach. Develop what I call your, “Formula for Success.” And then practice and schedule time to make the calls. Cold calling is not dead, but it has to be done in a professional manner and not like the annoying robo calls and emails that we all get.

    MYB: And now for some shameless self-promotion: As chairman of BizConCLE, what do you think are the biggest benefits to businesses of attending the event?

    Montgomery: I have been attending every year since I started my business in 1990. he said. You can network with other business professionals and share best practices. You can hear from relevant keynote speakers and attend workshops that will provide educational value to you and your business and you have a prime opportunity for business development in a non-threatening environment.

    Want to be featured in an upcoming business profile? Become a COSE Investor Member today and secure your spot in our special profile series. Learn more about the benefits of being a COSE Member by clicking here. Or, contact our Membership Team directly via email at or by phone at 216-592-2355.

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  • Next up: Lesson Learned: Make the Business Stand on Its Own

    Lesson Learned: Make the Business Stand on Its Own

    The latest piece of our “Lesson Learned” series has to do with the actions a small business owner should take to ensure her or his business is able to stand on its own.

    The COSE Strategic Planning Course offers small business owners invaluable advice on a range of subjects to help them grow their business. We asked some recent graduates of the program what their takeaways from the course were and during the next several weeks, we’ll be relating to you their insights. Today’s “lesson learned” comes from Tony Skerski of Transaction Realty, who talked about what entrepreneurs need to do to ensure their business can stand on its own.

    Q: Looking back at all the lessons you learned during the COSE Strategic Planning Course, can you pinpoint some things you have or plan to implement in your business?

    Tony Skerski of Transaction Realty

    Well one of the most important things I found from the class is I have to take myself out of the biz to make it an actual viable business to make it stand on its own.

    I can put procedures in place so that everyone throughout the company can do any of the jobs, and that will make the company be more sellable. And speaking of staffing, I also need to make sure I hire the right people and not train the wrong people.

    Some advice I would give other people who work in small businesses is that the old way of marketing your business is not the way of the future. You have to be giving content and that will give you the most marketing punch for your money.

    More COSE Strategic Planning Course takeaways

    Looking for more insight into the valuable lessons business owners learn while enrolled in the COSE Strategic Planning Course? Check out the other pieces of our “Lesson Learned” series

    Lesson Learned: Have an Exit Strategy

    Lesson Learned: Don’t Do It All Yourself

    Learn more about the COSE Strategic Planning Course

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