‚ÄčAdvice for small businesses poised to hire their first employee

From affirming that the person you hire has the credentials to do the job and is the right personality fit for your organization, to ensuring you don’t run afoul of payroll taxes, workers’ compensation and other legal requirements, making that first hire requires a lot of preparation. When you’re getting ready to make that first all-important hire, keep some guidelines in mind:

Understand costs

You hire a first employee to help your business grow, but the costs associated with that growth can be significant. It’s important to weigh carefully the benefits of hiring against the related costs. According to the Small Business Association, these can include:

* Wages and taxes, including unemployment, Medicare and Social Security taxes

* Workers compensation insurance

* Recruiting and training expenses

* Benefits

* Payroll management

* Equipment, including software licenses and data plans, to help an employee do his or her job

Seeking candidates

Finding the right employee for your small business can also be a challenge. While professional hiring services can do the legwork for you, most small-business owners manage the hiring process themselves. You’ll need to consider where to advertise for candidates, what professional requirements you’ll want them to meet, what wage you’ll offer and how you’ll handle the interview process.

“We work with thousands of entrepreneurs and how to set wages is a frequent topic of interest,” says Michael Alter, president and CEO of SurePayroll, Inc., a Paychex company. Alter co-founded SurePayroll, and since then it has grown from a small business of four people to a company that employs more than 200 people. “As payroll providers, we know that wages are set by the market, not the employer. Researching and offering a competitive wage will help you to attract and keep the right candidate.”

Another critical component to consider is fit. A comprehensive pre-employment screening can help you make better hiring decisions. In addition to reviewing candidates’ resumes and references, your screening may include a background check, drug screening, behavioral assessments and skills testing.

Prepare for payroll

No one works for love alone. Your new employee will expect to be paid on time each pay period with the appropriate amount of withholdings taken out of his or her check. Managing payroll, however, can be costly and time-consuming; a small business with 10 or fewer employees may spend up to $2,600 per year on direct labor for payroll, according to SurePayroll. What’s more, if you don’t know or understand tax laws and requirements, you could find your company facing IRS penalties.

In the past, outsourcing payroll wasn’t always a practical option for small businesses with just one or two employees. Today, an online service such as SurePayroll can help small business owners manage their own payroll affordably, accurately and efficiently by paying employees and paying and filing payroll taxes. These services handle all the calculations for paying employees; calculating, paying and filing federal, state and local payroll taxes anywhere in the country; and notifying tax authorities of new hires. Mobile payroll apps also allow owners to run payroll on the go anytime, anywhere. Visit www.SurePayroll.com to learn more.

Next steps after hiring

In addition to completing necessary payroll tax forms, benefit enrollment forms and employee information files, you’ll need to complete a New Hire Reporting form that helps state and federal agencies track down parents in regard to child support payments.

You’ll also need to set up a storage system; the IRS requires all companies keep employment tax records for at least four years. Additional post-hiring tasks will include:

* Verifying an employee’s eligibility to work. Federal law requires employers to verify that an employee can legally work in the U.S. You’ll need to complete and submit an Employment Eligibility Verification Form within three days of making a hire.

* Fulfill your obligations under your state’s new hire reporting program. Federal law requires all employers to report all new hires to the state within 20 days of hiring.

* Secure workers’ compensation insurance.

* Establish a bookkeeping system.

Hiring that first employee can be exciting and challenging. Fortunately, with some planning and the help of online tools, you can ensure the hiring process goes smoothly, and each worker who joins your team contributes to your business’ continued growth.

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Simple solutions to common landscaping issues


There’s one in every neighborhood – the house with the bright green grass, perfectly trimmed shrubs and flowers in full bloom. As you look at your own lawn, plagued with weeds and sparse patches, you wonder how your neighbor is able to achieve such a beautiful outdoor space. The secret isn’t in how much time or money can be invested, but rather taking the right steps at the right time to eliminate lawn and garden problems.

 
Here are some common landscaping issues and the easy steps any homeowner can take to correct them:

 
Sparse, brown lawn
If your lawn is looking sparse and brown, the likely culprit is thatch. Thatch is the layer of dead grass, leaves and stems that block water and nutrients from reaching the roots. To revive your grass, you need to remove this layer and prime your lawn for strong regrowth.

 
A dethatcher, also known as a power rake, is the easiest way to get rid of the layer of thatch. Then you’ll want to use an aerator to poke small holes in the dirt so that nutrients, air and moisture can get to the roots. These two pieces of equipment are critical for repairing sparse, brown lawn, but purchasing them outright is costly. Consider renting them from your local rental store.

 
Weeds
No single method will eliminate all weeds, so the best action really depends on what types of weeds you have. Here are some tips on the most common:

 
* Dandelion – It’s imperative to dig out dandelions before they go to seed. You can also spot treat dandelions with a broadleaf weed killer. If you do this, make sure your product does not kill grass.
* White clover – This weed can spread quickly on undernourished lawn.  Combat by watering regularly and applying nitrogen fertilizer. You can also use a broadleaf weed killer for spot treatments.

 
* Crab grass – If it’s early in the season, consider applying a pre-emergence crabgrass herbicide. Because crabgrass thrives on shorter lawns, set your mower to a higher setting, about 2.5 to 3 inches.

 
Overgrown hedges, shrubs and trees

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Meticulously trimmed hedges and trees make a yard look perfectly manicured. The tools of the trade will make the job a breeze, but you don’t need to purchase a tree trimmer or chainsaw. You can easily rent those at your local rental store for a fraction of the cost of buying them. 

 
The most important consideration when operating a chain saw or trimmer is safety. When you rent, you get personalized training on the equipment. Tell the rental professional what you want to accomplish and they will help you find the equipment you need to get the job done, while providing you with tips on how to use the equipment and safety.

 
When you’re done trimming and clearing out your area, renting a chipper can make cleanup quick and easy. 

 
Wilting, dead plants
No matter where you live, if your outdoor plants start to wilt or turn brown, it’s likely that they need water. Sounds simple enough, but it’s also easy for plant novices to overwater – which can kill your plants and flowers just as easily as under watering them.

 
Start by always watering during the early morning or late evening hours. Watering during peak sun hours will cause most of the water to evaporate and little will reach the plants’ roots. Research the recommended watering schedule for your lawn and plants so that you can create a weekly watering schedule. Some plants may only need watering once a week, while others may need it daily. You can also ask your local nursery for planting and watering recommendations in your area.

 
Striped lawn
Nothing is more frustrating than the homeowner who spends lots of time on yard work only to wake up one day to a striped lawn. If you have healthy lines of green grass that alternate with yellow or brown stripes, likely the cause is uneven fertilizer application. 
The trick to fertilizing evenly with a drop spreader is overlapping wheel tracks by an inch or two. This will help ensure no area gets missed and any potential for stripes is eliminated.
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Create an outdoor sanctuary in your backyard


(BPT) – Coming home from a long work day to a place of peace, quiet, relaxation and even harmony is a dream for many homeowners. And by creating an outdoor sanctuary in the backyard, this private place of solace will become the first destination for all members of the family when they need a break.

Backyard sanctuaries incorporate peace of mind with a spa-like atmosphere. Some do this with plant features, others with water. Here are some tips to build an outdoor sanctuary in your own backyard.

1. Create a walkway – A beautiful walkway around your backyard, through different scenic zones, can help you to clear your mind of troubled thoughts. This walkway can be a paved path, or composed of stepping stones or gravel and woodchips. Consider planting different gardens close to the walkway, inviting walkers to immerse themselves within the blooms and scents wafting from the flowers.

2. Incorporate a seating area – This space doesn’t have to be large, but give it a sense of ambiance with an arbor made of cedar to allow plants to grow taller, or a pergola to provide shade and that wonderful natural aroma that cedar gives off. Natural materials like Western Red Cedar weather naturally, and are rot-resistant, giving homeowners a durable and long-lasting material to enjoy for years to come.

“Using Western Red Cedar for backyard sanctuary seating areas gives homeowners a variety of design options to work around,” says Mark Clement, a building expert and co-host of “My Fix It Up Life” which airs nationally on iTunes, Blog Talk Radio and myfixituplife.com. “This wood is sustainable, environmentally friendly, easy to work with, ages beautifully, and, when incorporated into an arbor or pergola design, makes a stunning visual element to the space.”

In this seating space, place a bench, outdoor patio furniture or even comfortable lawn chairs to encourage family members to stop for a rest and settle their thoughts for the day. If the family is into yoga or meditation, consider keeping mats in a nearby storage container for quick and easy access.

3. Design for both night and day – Sometimes a sanctuary space is most needed when the moon is shining brightly. Plan for this with a lighting design in the backyard. Provide illumination to pathways, the deck area, and in garden clusters to give a new sense of beauty to the plants. When designing your lighting scheme, be careful to avoid creating any scary shadows. If you notice this occurring, adjust the lighting to come from a different direction, or try using a different light. Also consider what form of light you would like. Would you prefer low watt electric lights, or candlelight, which would require a person to spend time preparing?

Once your backyard sanctuary is built, your family will have a place handy where they can escape for some peace of mind.

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Summer entertaining made easy

(BPT) – The weather is warming up and summer is right around the corner. From holiday celebrations to road trips, family vacations to block parties, it’s the time of year for cookouts. Make all of your summer cuisine extraordinary no matter what the occasion with these five simple tips:

* Kick seasoning up a notch – Spice up your main dish and sides by adding bold flavors through marinades and dips. Pair grilled shrimp with a homemade barbecue sauce or create a delicious horseradish sour cream for seasoned waffle fries.

* Create cutting-edge comfort food – When menu planning for summer get-togethers, add a twist to a classic recipe. It doesn’t have to be a large departure from a family favorite; try swapping out a regular hamburger bun with artisanal bread or include sweet potato fries as a side dish rather than traditional french fries.

* Add some color to your meal – Never underestimate the importance of an aesthetically pleasing meal. For an easy summertime side, try Alexia Sauté Reds – a delicious combination of roasted red potatoes, baby portabella mushrooms, whole green beans and onions bathed in thyme-infused 100 percent olive oil. This tasty side is made on the stovetop in less than 12 minutes.

* Incorporate the flavors of the season into your cocktails – Use seasonally fresh fruits and vegetables as more than a garnish to create memorable cocktails. Start with your spirit of choice and try the following refreshing flavor combinations: basil and grapefruit, apple and sage or rosemary and lime.

* Fill the grill – Simplify cooking – and clean-up – by doing as much cooking as possible in your outdoor kitchen. Sides such as Alexia Waffle Fries or Panko Breaded Onion Rings make summer entertaining a breeze when prepared on the grill and are delectable complements to a variety of grill-friendly fare, from steaks and sweet corn to barbecue chicken and asparagus (and beyond). To prepare, simply create a foil grilling tray using two pieces of aluminum foil by crumpling the top piece, creating an edge around the bottom smooth piece to make a tray, and grilling on medium for about 20 minutes.

Sophisticated summer menus are easy to create with help from Alexia Foods, a line of premium, all-natural frozen potatoes, breads and side dishes. For delicious seasonal recipes, visit www.alexiafoods.com.

Grilled Shrimp with Homemade Barbecue Sauce

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Grilled Shrimp Ingredients:

16 large jumbo shrimp

1/2 cup olive oil

Kosher salt

Fresh ground pepper

Homemade Barbecue Sauce Ingredients:

1 slice bacon

1 bunch fresh thyme

Extra-virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 cups ketchup

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup molasses

2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika (or smoked paprika if available)

Shrimp Directions:

Use a pair of scissors or paring knife to slit the backs of the shrimp and remove the vein. Combine the shrimp and olive oil in a bowl and toss evenly to coat. Cover and keep refrigerated until ready to grill. Prepare homemade barbecue sauce (directions below).

Prior to heating, spray grates of a large outdoor grill using PAM® Grilling, specially formulated for no-stick performance at higher temperatures. Next, heat the grill to medium-hot. Season shrimp with salt and pepper and place on the grill. Baste with the homemade barbecue sauce and grill for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Brush with more sauce just before serving.

Homemade Barbecue Sauce Directions:

Wrap the bacon slice around the bunch of thyme and tie with kitchen twine so you have a nice bundle. Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the bacon-wrapped thyme and cook slowly for 3 to 4 minutes to render the bacon fat and give the sauce a nice smoky taste. Add the remaining ingredients, give the sauce a stir and turn the heat down to low. Cook for 20 minutes to meld the flavors. Once the sauce is done cooking, remove the thyme bundle and discard. Take about 1 1/2 cups of the sauce and reserve for serving alongside the shrimp. Pair with Alexia Sweet Potato Puffs or try grilling Alexia Waffle Cut Sweet Potato Seasoned Fries.

Grilling Directions for Alexia Waffle Fries:

Preheat gas grill to medium (400-450 F.). Next, create a foil grilling tray using two sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil – crumple one sheet of foil and place it top of the second piece of smooth foil, folding up the edges of the bottom smooth piece to create a tray. Arrange waffle fries in a single layer on the grilling tray, place on grill and close the lid. Cook to desired color and texture, turning once or twice during the cook time, approximately 20 to 25 minutes.

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Revive your bathroom quickly, easily and affordably


Remodeling projects have increased in popularity over the past few years as homeowners have decided to improve on what they have, rather than take a risk in the real estate market. Whether you’re hoping to sell your home or create a more enjoyable living space, tackle home improvement projects that make a big impact and add value.

 
One of the top return-on-investment remodeling projects is updating a bathroom. Bathroom updates even outweigh kitchen projects in terms of getting back what you spend, according to CNN Money. And, if you take a cost-conscious approach and do the project yourself, your investment return will be even better. Renting tools is a key way you can cut costs and bring new life into your bathroom.
There are plenty of remodeling tasks that are easily accomplished by renting tools, versus the cost of buying expensive tools or hiring someone else to do the work. Visit www.rentalhq.com to find an American Rental Association member rental store in your area.
Bring new life to your bath with these tips: 

 
* Replace old tile. Outdated tile is a common problem that makes bathrooms look old. Replacing it with fresh new tile that is in style will instantly give the room a modern look. Tiling is a DIY project that anyone can tackle, with the right tools. Rent the necessary items like a tile stripper, a tile saw and a mortar mixer to keep your project costs down.

 

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* Refresh the ceiling. Ceilings can become dingy over time, and you might not suspect them as the culprit that’s making your room feel dull. You’ll notice a dramatic change if you liven it up with fresh new texture and paint. Texture sprayers are an unusual tool for most DIY warriors to own, but you can easily rent one to make the job quick and inexpensive.

 
* Add personality with paint. Another simple fix that can be done is adding a new paint color. It’s an easy, quick and cheap project and can totally change the look and feel of the room. Opt for one of your favorite colors or scour interior design websites and magazines to find a trendy color that gets your attention.

 
* Change hardware. Some faucets and cabinet hardware clearly show their decade of origin. Switching out old hardware is relatively simple and a great way to make a dramatic change in the look of your room.

 
These projects set the stage for creating a new feel for your bathroom. Make the revived space a reality by choosing a decorating theme and accessories that complement it. Items like window treatments, throw rugs and wall art make the room feel more complete and stylish. To get your project started, visit www.rentalhq.com.
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Driving student interest in STEM subjects helps foster innovation for the future


In a world that is defined by rapid change – particularly in technology – there are concerns that students today won’t be prepared for the challenges of the future. Of all U.S. high school students who graduated last year, only 45 percent were ready for college-level math and 30 percent for science, according to ACT, a college-entrance testing agency. As jobs increasingly require proficiency or expertise in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math), it’s more important than ever that children are inspired to explore these subjects and understand their real impact on our everyday lives.

STEM drives an incredible number of the innovations we see today, from the fastest jet planes to the cars in our driveways to the televisions in our living rooms. Even the video and computer games that children and teenagers turn to for entertainment are based on STEM.

However, interest among students in these important subjects is lagging. And with the extraordinary number of careers and opportunities for growth in STEM fields, many organizations in both the private and public sectors are taking action to bolster student interest and enthusiasm in this area. Samsung, for example, is working to make STEM fun and exciting with their STEM education program called Solve for Tomorrow. It’s a national contest that encourages teachers and students to creatively use STEM to explore and improve their local environment and community.

Our goal is to raise awareness and interest in STEM subjects, while providing teachers and students with the resources they need to innovate and grow, says David Steel, executive vice president of corporate strategy for Samsung Electronics North America.

We as a nation need to make STEM education a top priority, says Betsy Landers, President of the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), who joined as a program partner this year. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 15 of the 20 fastest growing occupations projected for 2014 require significant mathematics or science preparation. It is clear that making STEM education a priority is important, for our nation’s short and long-term future. We commend Samsung for their efforts in making a difference in the education and lives of children.

As the world continues to change in unexpected ways, the demand for technological developments will only increase. By equipping students of today with knowledge and interest in STEM subjects, we’re fostering the innovators of tomorrow.

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