SWOT Analysis: Why It’s Important to Your Practice
Simply put, SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Conducting a SWOT analysis is an important exercise to enable you to see where your eyecare practice fits in the marketplace and what strategies you can develop to increase your market share.
There are two main processes to developing your SWOT analysis. First, you need to examine the external factors that will influence and impact your business. Then you can explore how these factors relate to your business in order to determine your SWOT.
The 5 external factors that will affect your business operations are:
1. Social and cultural trends
2. Technological tendencies
3. Economic movement
4. Political and legal requirements
Write down the external factors that you believe will possibly impact your business and then use this information to identify the following:
Strengths: What makes your practice better than your competitors.
Weaknesses: How does your practice fail to satisfy patient's needs and wants, what makes your practice weaker than your competitors and what are your competitor's weaknesses that you can use to your advantage.
Opportunities: Use the Strengths and Weaknesses of your practice and those of your competitors to establish what opportunities there might be for you to take advantage of.
Threats: Determine possible threats in the marketplace by understanding the external factors and your competitors.
The Strengths and Weaknesses of a business can be evident in such areas as:
- Financing and banking arrangements
- Service and patient value-proposition
Opportunities and Threats will be found by researching the following areas:
- The Economy
- Government regulations and policies
- Technological innovations, new and obsolete products
- Social values and preferences
Once you have completed your SWOT analysis, you can now develop strategies to capitalize on your Strengths, improve on your Weaknesses, recognize and act on Opportunities, and accept and reduce the effects of Threats. This isn’t a one-time analysis, but is one that you and your staff should devote time and thought to annually.
Hedley Lawson brings over 25 years of optical industry experience to Jobson Medical LLC. For over 10 years, he has been a contributing editor to VM, most recently as writer of the monthly column "Business Essentials."
He is the Contributing Editor of VM's E-Newsletter Business
Business Essentials with questions or comments.
Training Costs for Employees: Who Pays the Price?
If a specific certification is required in an employee's job, is my practice required to pay for the time spent attending training to obtain the certification? What about paying for the course itself?
A: Whether the
Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay for training time for non-exempt employees depends on the following criteria. Remember, all conditions must be satisfied in order for the training not to be considered compensable time:
- The training must be voluntary.
- The training must take place outside normal work hours.
- The training should not be directly related to the performance of the employee’s job.
- No work should be performed during the training.
Some of these requirements can cause confusion for employers. For example, if the training is outside normal work hours, has no job relevance, no work is performed during the training, but the training is required for the job, does that make it compensable? In most cases, the answer is probably yes, though it is important to understand that training is directly related to the job if it aids the employee in handling the present job better, rather than teaches the employee another job or an additional skill.
According to the
Department of Labor, “Of course, if an employee on his own initiative attends an independent school, college or independent trade school after hours, the time is not hours worked for his employer even if the courses are related to his job.” Additionally time spent by the employee in voluntary pursuit of a correspondence course is not compensable time, according to a 1963 DOL Opinion letter (Wage and Hour Opinion Letter No 207, Nov. 29, 1963).
Employers should consult the Department of Labor regulations on compensable training time under the FLSA and may want to consult their attorneys for further guidance.
The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also, remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
If you have a question or issue for one of our experts, contact
—Hedley Lawson, Jr.
E-Mail Tips to Follow Before Hitting the Send Button
The digital age has certainly arrived and e-mail has become the prevalent method of communicating in today’s business office environment. Whether employees are using desktop computers, blackberries or other mobile devices to communicate, e-mail is quick, doesn’t require scheduling a meeting or appointment, and allows the sender to convey their point quickly.
But e-mail effectiveness continues to be an elusive topic for many users, and it’s not uncommon for an e-mail message to be taken incorrectly by the reader. Following are some tips you can share with your staff to avoid these common electronic pitfalls.
It's easy to get the tone wrong in your business e-mails.
Of the following three examples, which conveys the most effectively?
Abrupt: Get me the revisions by Thursday.
Polite: Please be sure to get me the revisions by Thursday.
More Polite: I would appreciate your getting me the revisions by Thursday.
USE CAPITAL LETTERS SPARINGLY
Using all caps conveys an abrupt and demanding tone even if the subject is relatively tame. For example:
IF YOU ARE PLANNING TO ATTEND THE MARCH MEETING, WE NEED YOUR REGISTRATION FORM BY FEB. 15.
All caps may be used for emphasis without being offensive, for example: If you are planning to attend the March meeting, we need your REGISTRATION FORM BY FEB. 15.
What about all lower case? That gives the impression that you don't consider the message very important. For example: if you are planning to attend the march meeting, we need your registration form by feb. 15.
Make your e-mails easy to read, keeping in mind:
- Short sentences and paragraphs are easier to read than long ones.
- Lists are easier to read than sentences and paragraphs.
- Information is easier to follow when there is space between list items and paragraphs.
Avoid Fancy Type and Formatting
Special symbols, clever emoticons, icons, and clever formatting tricks may not show up on other peoples’ computers the way they do on yours. The same is true for complicated tables.
Typical problems often encountered with attachments are:
- E-mail refers to an attachment that isn't there. Recipients have to ask for it.
- There's an attachment that isn't mentioned in the e-mail. Recipients have to open the attachment to see if it pertains to them.
- Recipients' software can't read the attachment. Recipients have to get technical help or ask the sender to send it in another format.
- The e-mail message letter doesn't tell you what to do with the attachment—comment, revise, file, or forward?
As an alternative to attachments, put the contents in the body of the e-mail, or convert the attachment to a PDF format.
People pay attention to subject lines. Ineffective subject lines and more interesting alternatives don’t always convey the message the sender desires, so pay particular attention to what the subject says so it gets the reader’s attention. Here are a few tips to consider when writing subject lines:
Be Descriptive. Include enough information to pique the reader's interest.
Be Specific. Include enough detail to distinguish your e-mail from other similar e-mails. (This also helps recipients if they need to search for the e-mail at a later time.)
Be Concise and Clear. For example, replace the wordy and confusing “This msg inclds the details abt nu mkt pln” with “New Marketing Plan Details.”
Keep It Short. Because long subject lines are often truncated by messaging software, it's important to keep subjects short.
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U. S. Companies Plan Pay Increases, Cutbacks in Benefits
Over the past year, many U.S. employers have trimmed work forces and decreased work hours, with corresponding reductions in pay, as they struggled with cost-containment challenges. But salaries can only stay frozen for so long, and for those employees (67 percent) expected to receive a base pay increase before the end of 2009, salary budgets are projected to be 3.2 percent higher on average for employees overall, according to early findings from Mercer’s 2009/2010 U.S. Compensation Planning Survey. The results are based on responses from approximately 850 organizations across the U.S. as of April 2009.
On the flip side, the picture for employee benefits is not looking as rosy. Georgia-based supplemental health insurance company Aflac released two studies on June 15 that said small employers plan to reduce employee benefits, while a majority of employees are more anxious about medical expenses.
Of the 510 small employers surveyed, 43 percent said they were more likely to cut back employee benefits because of the current economy and 65 percent said they were more aggressively looking for ways to reduce insurance costs.
Of the companies surveyed that reported reduced revenues, 69 percent said they were finding it more difficult to offer strong benefits packages, as opposed to 56 percent of those companies whose revenue stayed the same.
A complementary survey of about 1,200 employees found that 56 percent were more concerned about an illness or an injury than they would have been a year ago and 52 percent were more concerned about out-of-pocket medical expenses than they were a year ago.
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State Mini-COBRA Laws for Small Businesses
Since the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in February 2009, at least 18 states and the District of Columbia have made changes to their mini-
COBRA laws—provisions enacted since the passage of the federal COBRA law in order to offer the health insurance continuation provided by the federal law to companies with fewer than 20 employees. Similar to the COBRA provisions in ARRA, most of these changes give some employees who have been involuntarily terminated a second opportunity to choose COBRA continuation. The stimulus bill itself provides that the COBRA subsidy is available for state continuation coverage.
Although much of the burden of complying with these state laws falls on insurance brokers, ECP owners and managers still need to be familiar with what their particular state continuation coverage law requires because the laws vary in several respects, including which employees are covered and the length of the subsidized coverage available.
So what exactly are mini-COBRA laws? The federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, known as COBRA, was enacted in 1986 to give employees who are separating from their employment—voluntarily or involuntarily—the option of continuing their health coverage temporarily at group rates by paying the full premiums. This can be quite costly for the former employees.
The federal act regulates only companies with 20 or more employees. States have to pass laws to offer the insurance extension to small businesses as well. These state laws are the mini-COBRA laws. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 40 states and the District of Columbia have some sort of mini-COBRA law. (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Montana, Pennsylvania and Washington had no such laws as of May 2009.)
Even before the recent changes, these laws varied from state to state. In Maine, for example, which has not changed its law since passage of the stimulus package, only employees at small businesses who are laid off temporarily or suffer an on-the-job injury qualify for continued coverage. Also, while most of the states with mini-COBRA laws allow coverage for at least nine months—the length of time the stimulus will help workers with payments—others limit coverage anywhere from one month to six months.
One of the many provisions of ARRA gives a 65 percent reduction in COBRA premiums to employees and covered family members who lost or will lose health coverage because of an involuntary termination of employment that occurs from Sept. 1, 2008, through Dec. 31, 2009. This 65 percent reduction is to be paid by employers, who will then be reimbursed by the federal government in the form of tax credits.
While the stimulus allows former employees of large companies who declined COBRA coverage before February 2009 to apply again for coverage and receive federal help paying the premium, states have to pass laws to allow similar action for former employees of small companies. As of June 3, 2009, the District of Columbia and 16 states had done so (California, Connecticut, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.) In Texas, North Carolina and Vermont, bills allowing a second election had been passed by both houses and sent to the governor.
Further, as of June 3, Georgia, Ohio, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and the District of Columbia had extended their coverage to nine months. In Texas and Vermont, bills extending the coverage period had been passed by both houses and sent to the governor. Oklahoma extended its period of coverage to four months, up from one.
Pennsylvania is considering enacting a mini-COBRA law, but the current bill doesn’t have a provision to allow retroactive enrollment.
Pursuant to the COBRA provisions of the stimulus bill, large employers covered by the federal law initially have to pay the 65 percent subsidy out-of-pocket. The employers get back the payments through immediate tax credits on their payroll tax returns. But, state COBRAs are not subject to the regular COBRA rules because of federal pre-emption issues and, therefore, the subsidy has to work in a different way.
The subsidy has to go through the insurance carrier. For example, an employer with 10 employees that lays off two employees because the economy is bad. The employer is fully insured with XYZ insurance company. It is the insurance company—not the employer—that must go out-of-pocket for the 65 percent of the cost of premiums, and it is the insurance company that gets the tax credit. So the insurance company gets a tax credit for someone who was never in its employ. The insurer needs to claim the credit on its own corporate tax return.
Source: Joanne Deschenaux is
SHRM’s senior legal editor.
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